Butch and the Kid

How did these two friendly-looking fellows, Butch Cassidy - far right, and the Sundance Kid - far left, end up in a very distant place called Bolivia? It did not help that they were part of the Hole in the Wall Gang, and in this photo, the Wild Bunch. Robbers, especially adventurous robbers, need to stay on the move, maybe that's why.

Chased by the law, by Pinkerton guards, Butch and Sundance escaped to South America with the hopes of putting down roots. But to get the ranch of their dreams, they needed to pull off one last job.

Haven driven mule trains from Argentina to Bolivia, Butch heard of the rich mining payrolls transported around Bolivia's trails and back-roads. It would be simple to hold one of them up.

On the trail somewhere near Tupiza, Bolivia

And so they did, taking a payroll from the Aramayo mining company on Dead Cow Hill on November 6, 1908. They then rode north to evade detection, holing up in the village of San Vicente for the night. There, they had their last meal, and that night, were shot dead in a shootout with Bolivian pursuers.

In other words yes, these guys went to a distant, wild country where they didn't speak  the language to get involved in a gunfight.

So what did hard riding cowboys like BC&SK drink on and off the trail? Water maybe, but water in cities and towns would have been highly suspect, and on the trail, water would have to be found from mountain streams uncontaminated by animals. This was 1908 after all.

It is said they ordered a beer as part of their last meal. Probably much safer than asking for water. But how easy was it to get beer way out in the Bolivian outback?

Shootout, San Vincente

A German mining engineer, Valentine Vollmer, initiated the first beer venture in the area, at Potosi, in 1907.  Vollmer had to raise money, import equipment, have it shipped to the interior and assembled, locate barley and hops (from Argentina probably), have bottles and labels made, hire and train workers, and get through interminable amounts of government red tape to get operations going. Once beer was actually being bottled, he would have to establish a distribution network and get his product out to all the towns and villages for hundreds of miles around.  This was when the main means of transport were mules and llamas, and there were no roads, just trails.  So, in 1908 maybe Butch and Sundance found beer, but it couldn’t have been easy, especially outside of Potosi itself.

Lacking beer, there was a highlands home brew they could try, made for thousands of years by local Quechua and Aymara.  Indian beer is made from corn.  Women sit in a circle and chew corn kernels until soupy, then add the results to a large communal bowl.  Often it was a job for older women, too weak to work the fields.  The mix eventually ferments.  Traditionally it was served as is.  Indian beer could have been something BC&SK had available to them.

Then there was Singani.  At that time, Singani had been distilled in Bolivia for over 350 years.  It had been created specifically for wealthy families involved in the mining trade back when massive amounts of silver were being extracted from the Potosi.  It was the Bolivian national drink, known by everyone, and had been well and widely distributed for a long time.  In fact, Singani was first distilled a mere 100 miles from San Vincente.  All expats in Bolivia drank Singani in those days.  The odds of not finding Singani everywhere were small.  Should Butch and the Kid have ever stopped at a cantina, they would have had a choice of Singani or... Singani.

Unfortunately, no photos of the boys catching some R&R in a cantina have surfaced.  However, it is not difficult to imagine what they would have been served there.  And having tried it, it’s not difficult to imagine what they would subsequently ask for.  Singani.  Same as it was when BC&SK were on the trail.

Last known photo of Butch (right) and Sundance (left)
somewhere near Tupiza, Bolivia, 1908