Etta: A Novel

Etta: A Novel

4.4 15
by Gerald Kolpan

View All Available Formats & Editions

Beautiful, elusive, and refined, Etta Place captivated the nation at the turn of the last century as she dodged the law with the Wild Bunch, led by Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Her true identity and fate have remained a mystery that has tantalized historians for decades. Now, for the first time, Gerald Kolpan envisions this remarkable woman’s life in a


Beautiful, elusive, and refined, Etta Place captivated the nation at the turn of the last century as she dodged the law with the Wild Bunch, led by Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Her true identity and fate have remained a mystery that has tantalized historians for decades. Now, for the first time, Gerald Kolpan envisions this remarkable woman’s life in a stunning debut novel.

Kolpan imagines that Etta Place was born Lorinda Jameson, the daughter of a prominent financier, who becomes known as the loveliest of the city’s debutantes when she makes her entrance into Philadelphia society. Though her position in life is already assured, her true calling is on horseback. She can ride as well as any man and handle a rifle even better. But when a tragedy leads to a dramatic reversal of fortune, Lorinda is left orphaned, penniless, homeless, and pursued by the ruthless Black Hand mafia.

Rechristened “Etta Place” to ensure her safety, the young woman travels to the farthest reaches of civilization, working as a “Harvey Girl” waitress in Grand Junction, Colorado. There, fate intervenes once more and she again finds herself on the run from the ruthless Pinkerton Detective Agency. But this time she has company. She soon finds herself at the legendary hideout at Hole-in-the-Wall, Wyoming, where she meets the charismatic Butch Cassidy and the handsome, troubled Harry Longbaugh, a.k.a. the Sundance Kid. Through a series of holdups and heists, Etta and Harry begin an epic and ultimately tragic romance, which will be the greatest of Etta’s life. Then, when Etta meets the young and idealistic Eleanor Roosevelt, her life is changed forever.

Blending a compelling love story, high adventure, and thrilling historical drama, Etta is an electrifying novel. With a sweeping 1900s setting, colorful storytelling, and larger-than-life characters, Etta is debut that is both captivating and unforgettable.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The sketchy details of the life of Etta Place, outlaw and paramour of Harry "Sundance Kid" Longbaugh, are imaginatively filled in by first-time novelist Kolpan in this winning tale of the Wild West. After her wealthy father's disgrace and demise, Etta departs Philadelphia society and heads west to become a Harvey Girl on the railroad in Colorado, where a series of misadventures leads her to the Hole-in-the-Wall gang. Romanced by Longbaugh and the fugitive lifestyle, Place earns an integral part in the gang through her shooting and riding skills as well as her beauty and sophistication. Pursued by the police, Pinkertons, the Black Hand and rival desperado Kid Curry, Etta and the Sundance Kid make their way across the country, diving from one daring adventure to another. The novel is not without its flaws: Etta's friendship with a young Eleanor Roosevelt and her encounters with other luminaries can seem precious, and her proto-feminism feels too canned. But the wide-screen drama of Etta's life makes these choices forgivable, and Kolpan's snappy storytelling makes it impossible not to want to ride along as the characters careen toward their tragic ends.

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Library Journal

Etta Place was not only the paramour of the infamous Sundance Kid. Knowing her way around horses and guns, she became a key member of Butch Cassidy's notorious outlaw gang, the Wild Bunch. But her name was an alias, and no one knows where she really came from. Emmy Award-winning Philadelphia television reporter Kolpan steps into the historical void, penning a novel that speculates on Etta's life. He gives her a privileged Philadelphia background interrupted by family scandal and sends her out West as a Harvey Girl. But when her good looks get her into trouble, she falls in with the Wild Bunch. Hiding out at the encampment of the Hole-in-the-Wall Gang in Wyoming Territory, she ends up a one-woman banker for the group. Later, she goes undercover in New York City, becoming dear friends with Eleanor Roosevelt and working as a stand-in for Annie Oakley in Buffalo Bill's Wild West show. Incorporating Etta's diary entries, telegraph messages, and news clippings into the narrative, Kolpan vividly tells a tale that is both outrageous and entertaining, sure to be compared favorably with Larry McMurtry's novels of the Wild West. [See Prepub Alert, LJ11/1/08.]
—Keddy Ann Outlaw

Kirkus Reviews
Emmy Award-winning TV journalist Kolpan extends his resume impressively with this picaresque debut novel, focused on "the woman" who knew Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Born Lorinda Jameson and forced to flee her Pennsylvania home when Sicilian "Black Hand" gangsters plot revenge for her late father's gambling defaults, she moves to the West, first working as a Harvey Girl waiting tables at a Colorado railroad restaurant. Thereafter, the plot thickens every several pages, as the fugitive beauty now known as Etta Place turns her gun-toting and equestrian skills to violence, dispatching a would-be rapist, then hightailing it to Wyoming, where she falls for charming bad man Harry Longbaugh (aka "Sundance"); joins the notorious Hole in the Wall gang; and accompanies an ill-gotten treasure to safety in New York. There Etta encounters a virginal Eleanor Roosevelt (who, soon enough, becomes her beloved "Little Nell"), and she joins Colonel William Cody's Wild West show (where she subs for the departed Annie Oakley). Are there more adventures yet to come? Yes there are. Reconnecting with "Sundance," Etta joins him in Argentina, where Harry's newfound revolutionary ardor does not dissuade him from attempting one last robbery. Consequently, Etta returns to respectability, fortune and the matured and muted love of "Little Nell," who has been reinvented-as First Lady. Technically, there's too much muchness in this sprawling narrative, which is festooned with newspaper stories, letters (Harry's, sent to his respectable dad, are particularly delightful), journal entries and communiques detailing investigations conducted by busy Pinkerton agents. But any reader who cherishes the beguiling talltales spun by such masters as Charles Portis and Thomas Berger is unlikely to object. Few will have any more success resisting Etta than do the many men, women and other critters encountered during her memorable adventures. Great fun and-beneath the hijinks-a surprisingly substantial novel. Agent: Katharine Cluverius/ICM

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
Sold by:
Random House
File size:
2 MB

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Among all the other things her father liked to call her, he could now add “thief.”

 He had always had pet names for her. He would refer to her as “lamb” and “angel” and “picky,” which he explained was short for “pick of the litter.” When he was the worse for drink, he had other names for her. If the spirits had made him happy, he called her “pharo,” after his favorite game of cards; “lucky” if he was winning. If the whiskey had turned him maudlin, the tears running down his cheeks, he would sometimes confuse the girl with her mother. “Anna,” he would cry, “Anna, you’ve come back,” though the fantasized return would bring no comfort to him. When demon alcohol turned him angry he would accuse her of being disloyal or spoiled. He would even say she was never wanted. 

And always in the sober light of morning, he would beg her forgiveness; always she would grant it. 

Over the years, she had learned to dismiss both the drink and the words. He was her father, and she preferred to think of him only at his best: the father who had taught her what he knew, the father who, she became convinced, had loved her as best he could. 

He had bought Bellerophon in Virginia only the year before from a genteel man named Mr. R. C. Campbell. A month prior to the purchase, the breeder had stood helplessly by as the stallion bit and kicked two of his stablemates to death. Campbell had sold the horse to Father at a bargain price, stating that he was “doing the Lord’s work by lowering the tariff on a devil.” Less than five minutes after the deal was struck, Father was astride the giant animal, digging his spurs into the fat sides and galloping across the green meadow, his crop driving the demon toward everhigher speeds. Whooping and hollering, he had disappeared from sight for over an hour, and when he finally returned the horse was covered in foam and he himself drenched in sweat. As the big man dismounted, the stallion reared and attempted to trample him. Father reached up and grabbed the bridle of the beast, pulling hard and laughing. With the help of half a dozen grooms, he managed to return the stallion to his paddock, complimenting the astonished Campbell on the quality of his stock. 

“This devil will do fine for me,” he told the breeder. “Either he will kill me or I will kill him. In either situation, the world will be minus one more ne’er- do- well.” 

Now, as Lorinda rode Bellerophon through the fields she knew so well, the stallion felt ready to rebel beneath her; and so she rode him close, her mouth nearly kissing the black of his mane. It had been the work of months to get this far. She had waited until dusk every day, when she knew her father would be in the library of the main house, seated beneath his hunting trophies and too drunk to hear or interfere. As they raced across the lawns of the estate, she murmured as if to calm the horse, trying to allay both her own fears and his instincts to murder. The wind’s tears welling in her eyes, she flew with him, her auburn hair strung behind her in near-perfect imitation of his swirling tail, her stomach vibrating with thrill and fear. 

The hours in the saddle that began with her first pony, the equestrian competitions she had begun winning at the age of six, and all Father had taught her had led to this moment. As she plucked the Winchester 94 from her saddle, the long gun buzzed with an electricity that seemed to flow through her arms toward trigger and stock. With the strength born of a life on horseback, she clamped her legs to the leather of the hunting saddle and, using only her thighs to guide him, maneuvered the demon around the circle of four targets. 


The first shot was wide of the center, landing in the red area of the target a centimeter or two from the dark bull’s- eye. She kicked Bellerophon nearly deep enough to draw blood, battling him into position, and then fired from fifty feet. The black of the second target exploded, the paper shredding into ribbons. 

Crack! Crack! 

With the stallion dead between the next two targets, she twisted her body first to one side of his mane and then the other, destroying the dark centers of the two final bull’s- eyes. With the last report of the rifle, she sheathed her weapon just as Bellerophon reared in an attempt to shake her from his back. With no time to spare she leaned into his mane, holding fast to the thick leather reins. Facing the wind, a large dollop of his foam brushed her breast and neck. Now she could hear his front hooves regain the ground and fall into a gallop. The calming speeches were gone. She cursed and commanded the monster, her message clear: It would take a better man than him to break her heart. 


A fourth shot rang out, soft and distant. For a moment she looked down at her side, straining to determine if the Winchester was still sheathed in her saddle; if somehow in her excitement the weapon had come undone and fired. But the shot had echoed from a distance. It vibrated inside her with a menacing sustain. It was, she remembered later, a sound to change a life. 

She pulled hard on the reins of the bridle, causing the Spanish bit to slash hard against the stallion’s mouth and tongue. Nearly exhausted, she managed to turn him to the right and toward one of the hedgerows that crossed the estate. Her eyes blurred with tears and sweat, she dug her heels deep into each black haunch. As Bellerophon landed hard on the far side of the hedge she swore at him again and again, spurring him to higher speed. 

When she reached the house, the chief groom looked up in terror at the sight of the hell horse in hands not those of his master. Covered with foam, his tongue bleeding from the bit, Bellerophon slowed down only long enough for the young woman to jump from his saddle and race toward the door of the great house. Snorting and pawing, the big black kicked high in the air as the grooms garlanded him in lariats. At the entrance to her father’s study, the housekeeper stood in the girl’s way. “No, miss,” she implored. “Please! Please don’t go in, for the love of the Savior, Miss Lorinda! For our Savior, miss!” 

The girl was tall and strong and dwarfed the tiny Scotswoman. She gently but firmly placed a hand on each of the housekeeper’s shoulders and in one hard motion moved her from the door. 

Her father had been in a sitting position when she heard the shot’s echo and so he remained. Graham David Jameson was as always elegantly dressed. His collar was pure white, offsetting the subtle blue stripe of the shirtfront below. For this occasion, he had chosen a dressing gown of mandarin scarlet with oriental symbols embroidered in its silk. The Navy Colt revolver hung still in his left hand beside his sharply pleated charcoal trousers. His face bore no expression, neither of peace nor horror, grace nor curse. The left temple, where the bullet entered, was neatly penetrated. The right, where the slug had made its exit, was a red mass stretching to the shoulder, punctuated here and there by the gray of brain and the cream- white of bone. 

Lorinda’s pale face became a mask, unreadable and plain. She stood for a long moment before the weeping servants and then, with one swift motion, removed a flowered and fringed cloth from a nearby table and covered her father, head to waist. She was in charge now. There were no older brothers; no married sisters to lean upon. It would not do to fall apart before the retainers who had served her father for so long, tolerating his benders, pretending that the women in his private apartments of a Saturday morning were the sort worthy of a Jameson. 

Lorinda glanced sidelong at the housekeeper. “Mrs. Reeves,” she said, “I will ask you to kindly clear all the staff from this room, as I would prefer my father neither to cause upset nor to be made a spectacle by his current condition. If you will do this, please, I will telephone the police and in due course engage the services of Kirk and Nice.” 

At the mention of the venerable undertakers, the Scotswoman crossed herself, then wiped the tears from her eyes and complied. The room was shortly empty of all souls save the daughter of the deceased. Lorinda picked up the newly installed telephone, asked for the operator, and only then turned in hot tears from the gory husk that had been David Jameson. Outside the lead casement window, Bellerophon reared one final time before the grooms led him to his stall. As Lorinda fell to her knees, all she could hear was the drumming of his hooves, threatening to shatter the paddock door. 

Then, through her tears, she noticed for the first time, nearly hidden in the upper corner of the desk blotter, the small sheet of monogrammed notepaper. It was upon this rich pure- white stock that Father had always sent the most personal of his messages. On it she had read his congratulations for every ribbon won at a horse show, every fine grade earned at school, every expression of gratitude at her forbearance, every apology for this or that weakness. 

Lorinda reached for the note. The paper felt more like cloth in her fingers, so fine was its weave. But now, instead of some last comfort, its message led only to a last bewildering rage. My dearest Lorinda, it began, the greeting followed only by the single letter: I. 

Below were two marks. One was red, a spot with a long tail that ran to the paper’s edge. The other, a gray streak, ended in a sudden burst, like the period on a sentence her father would never write. 

From the Hardcover edition.

Meet the Author

Gerald Kolpan is an Emmy Award-winning television reporter in Philadelphia. Prior to his television career he wrote for newspapers and magazines nationwide and was a frequent contributor to NPR’s All Things Considered. Etta is his first book.

From the Hardcover edition.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >

Etta 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 15 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
sandiek More than 1 year ago
In Etta, author Gerald Kolpan takes the reader on a rollicking ride that explores the life and times of Etta Place. For those for whom this name does not ring a bell, Etta was the mistress/partner of The Sundance Kid and a member of the Hole In The Wall Gang which included Butch Cassidy, Kid Curry, Peg Leg Elliot and a host of others. Although this gang were bank robbers and held up trains, they enjoyed a popularity in the general population for their insistence on stealing only from the rich. Since little is known of Etta's life, Kolpan is free to make up an interesting tale. What is known is that Etta was a beauty, who dressed fashionably and could ride and shoot like the best cowboy. In Etta, the name is a pseudonym for a rich girl who grew up riding; the daughter of a wealthy man without a son who taught his only child to ride and shoot and be adventuresome. This background makes the character believable in terms of what is known about her. From that point, various storylines from the era are brought into the story. Koplan gives Etta a famous friendship. He has her meet and become best friends with Eleanor Roosevelt in her pre-marriage days when she spent her time in New York working in a settlement house. Etta is also portrayed as replacing Annie Oakley in the Wild West show of Buffalo Bill Cody. She also has run-ins with various Pinkerton detectives, especially the top operative who spent years looking for her and the rest of the gang. Readers will enjoy this look at the last of the Wild West. The privations of frontier life are shown. Badmen and lawmen alike are featured, with often only fate separating the two. An underlying theme is the way the poor are mistreated by the wealthy, and the lengths that fair-minded people are driven to as they attempt to remedy this disparity. The characters are engaging, and the tone is breezy. The reader is swept along on a rollicking tale that they will hate to see end. This book is recommended for all fiction readers who enjoy a great tale about a time in our country's history when life was less structured and men made their way by various means to survive.
cenarae More than 1 year ago
i actually won this book in a give-away but i would gladly pay for it. i thought it was an interesting premise and executed beautifully.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Dulcibelle More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book. Etta of the title is Etta Place, the reputed girlfriend/wife of the Sundance Kid. Very little is known of this young woman's life before or after her association with the outlaws of the Hole in the Wall Gang. Koplan has written an entertaining tale of who Etta may have been - based on speculation and news stories of the time. He tells the story with alternating chapters of narrative, diary entries, letters, and news stories. All these help ground the novel in the time depicted. Koplan stays true to history where possible, but does have his Etta rub elbows with some of the mighty of the time. Recommended to anyone who enjoys a good Western.
Nebraska More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book because I love that time period. To find out Etta was real was interesting. I quickly became discouraged that there is no information out there (search engines) about Etta to speak of. How can no one know who she was?
PAA More than 1 year ago
Good writing style and interesting story. Gave you a good insight into the difficulties women had to deal with in that era. It was embracing to find a woman with such ambition, nerve and senstivity. Would suggest this book to others. Most enjoyable and enlighting.
JFJ More than 1 year ago
This was a super-fun book to read. Though history evidently records the fact that Etta Place was her name, this story is fiction and could very well be true! The story itself is full of adventure, challenge, near misses and gives a pretty decent review of what America was like in this time. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid are portrayed as likeable (they were lovable in the movie, but maybe that's because we were looking at Newman and Redford!!!!) and you don't meet them until midway through the book. Plus the way Etta comes to the Hole in the Wall Gang is another story in itself. Historical fiction is one of my favorite things to read -- this ranks up near the top!
maggiesaunt More than 1 year ago
It's difficult to read this book without constant flashes of "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" in your mind, but it is very readable and believable, until the arrival of Eleanor Roosevelt. Her involvement in the plot demanded more than I was willing to devote to the work. However, unlike several other recent title I have purchased, I finished this one and enjoyed the trip. It might make a good summer reading "modern American novel" for high schoolers because it is engaging, based -- to a degree -- on fact and makes several good points for readers to ponder. I passed it on to my friend and she passed it on to others, so it is enjoying some popularity among my reading group.
Frisbeesage More than 1 year ago
Etta is the story of Etta Place, the Sundance Kid's beautiful, mysterious lover. Little is known about her, so Gerald Kolpan imagined her story. This novel is first and foremost a classic western full of train robbers, gun fights, and wild, untameable horses and men. But running through the story and defining it is Etta's unforgettable and unique voice, tough and no-nonsense, never shying for the hard or gruesome facts of her life, yet also refined, intelligent, and passionate. Etta is a complex and fully drawn character that I felt had become a good friend by the end of the book. I listened to this book on audio and Kirsten Potter does an admirable job of bringing Etta to life. I found it highly entertaining, the perfect escape from the stress of everyday life.
ddeditor More than 1 year ago
Etta is a fun book. Kolpan is a clever writer and has created a wonderful fictionalized life for Etta Place, the Sundance Kids paramour. Etta is such a strong character and her life so plausable, I had to keep reminding myself this was fiction. Whether you like the American West time period or not, this is historical fiction not to be missed. More than 1 year ago
Etta Gerald Kolpan Random House Publishing ISBN: 9780345503688 Reviewed by Debra Gaynor for 5 stars Fictionalized history. Forget the movie! Little is known about the woman that loved the Sundance Kid and rode with the Kid and Butch Cassidy. Who was Etta Place? Gerald Kolpan has created a life for Etta Place. Kolpan's image of Place is one of a young girl raised by a single father. She was taught to shoot and ride. After her father's suicide, she was forced to change her name. The Black Hand was after her for her father's unpaid debts. When a man accosts her, she kills him in self defense. His family accuses her of murder. She takes refuge with Butch Cassidy's gang. Her life was one of adventure. She robbed trains, pretended to be Annie Oakley, and befriended Eleanor Roosevelt. She and Sundance considered themselves champions of the poor. My review can never do justice to this book. Gerald Kolpan has captured the essence of Etta Place. This book is captivating. I enjoyed every page. I felt Etta's fear, triumph, sadness, and joy. I will look forward to more books by this author.
psychomamma More than 1 year ago
I received this book from Library Thing's Early Reviewers program. It is due to be released in March. I was dubious - to say the least - not being a fan of historical fiction or the Wild West. But I feel an obligation to read these early releases quickly and get a review out. And so I began.

Boy, was I surprised! Apparently Gerald Kolpan became fascinated with Etta Place some years ago when he realized that the notorious companion of The Sundance Kid was a vast mystery. Almost nothing is known about her. So Kolpan has proceeded, in this book, to craft a fictional account of what her life might have been like - where she came from, how she happened to mix up with Butch Cassidy's gang, and her romance and life with the Sundance Kid. The result is a book you can't put down. This story is imagined so well that it could actually be her life - in fact, I wish it was a true story. This book is about as close to perfection as it gets for me. A little bit of suspense and intrigue, a good solid love story (without too much sappy-ness), and a deep character study.

In the past, books where the author tries to intersperse news articles or journal entries has seemed jarring to me. In this book, Mr. Kolpan does a great job of weaving them into the story. In fact, I have no criticisms of this book at all. Read it. You'll love it, even if you think the Wild West holds no interest for you. This is a story about a woman's life, and an fascinating one at that. But plan wisely, you'll be reading late into the night!