Born in about 1878, nothing is known of Etta’s life before she met the Harry Alonzo Longabaugh, better known as the Sundance Kid. In fact, even her real name is a mystery. “Place” was the maiden surname of Longabaugh’s mother, Annie Place. In recorded history, she variously used the names of Etta Place, Ethel Place, Mrs. Harry Longabaugh, and Mrs. Harry A. Place.
Though some accounts state that she was a school teacher from Texas, most historians suspect that she was actually a “soiled dove” working in Fannie Porter’s brothel in San Antonio when the “Kid” met her in about 1899. She, herself indicated that she was originally from the East Coast, but never revealed an exact location.
Those who met her described her as strikingly pretty, having a very nice smile, that she was cordial, refined, spoke in an educated manner, and was an excellent shot with a rifle. The Pinkerton Detective Agency described her in 1906 as having, “classic good looks, 27 or 28 years old, 5’4″ to 5’5″ in height, weighing between 110 and 115 pounds, with a medium build and brown hair.”
Eyewitnesses indicated that she was one of only five women known to have been allowed into the Wild Bunch hideout at Robbers Roost in southern Utah. The other four were Will Carver’s girlfriend Josie Bassett, Butch Cassidy’s girlfriend Ann Bassett, Elza Lay’s girlfriend Annie Rogers, and gang member Laura Bullion.
In December 1900, Etta Place and Harry Longabaugh reportedly married but there are are no marriage records to prove this. The next month, the couple visited his family in Mont Clare, Pennsylvania and in February 1901, made their way to New York City, where the two posed for a portrait in Union Square.
On February 20, the couple, along with Butch Cassidy, boarded the British ship Herminius bound for Buenos Aires, Argentina. There, they settled on a ranch near Cholila on the east bank of the Blanco River.
On March 3, 1902, Etta and Longabaugh returned to New York City on the SS Soldier Prince. Pinkerton detectives later found evidence that Place was homesick and wanted to visit her family, but they were unable to identify who her family was. During this trip, the couple was known to have visited New Jersey and Colorado before they returned to Argentina in July. In the summer of 1904, they returned to the United States, visiting New York, Fort Worth, Texas, and St. Louis, Missouri, before returning south.
In May 1905, the trio, fearing that law enforcement had located them, decided to sell their ranch in Argentina and fled to Chile. By the next year, however, Etta was tired of living life on the run and at her request, Longabaugh accompanied her from Valparaiso, Chile to San Francisco, California in June 1906. The Sundance Kid then returned to South America where he and Butch Cassidy were thought to have been killed in Bolivia in 1908.
In the meantime, the last known whereabouts of Etta Place were in 1907 when she was still living in San Francisco. Afterward, her location is unknown.
©Kathy Weiser-Alexander, December 2018.