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Train robberies. Horse thievery. Cattle rustling. Shootouts. Cold-blooded murder.
The most notorious outlaws of the Wild West have long been romanticized as daring robbers and swashbuckling killers since their stories first hit early American tabloids. In many ways, their narratives have been shaped—in dime-store novels, TV shows and Hollywood films—to fit the frontier ideals of rugged individualism and pioneering spirit.
"Americans love an underdog, a person who stands up against perceived tyranny,” wrote Bill Markley in Billy the Kid and Jesse James: Outlaws of the Legendary West. “Jesse James and Billy the Kid personify that rebellious spirit. Americans overlook the crimes and see the romance of the rebel.”
We rounded up five of the 19th century's most infamous outlaws, whose popular legends endure, despite their history of violent crime.
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Born in Clay County, Missouri in 1847, Jesse James grew up as part of a Confederacy-supporting, slave-owning family. As a teen in 1864, James and his brother Frank joined a guerrilla unit responsible for murdering dozens of Union soldiers.
For some historians, James never stopped fighting the Civil War, translating his fury over the defeat of the secessionist cause into a career sticking up banks, trains and stagecoaches. At times, he saw himself as a modern Robin Hood, robbing from the politically progressive Reconstruction supporters and giving to the poor.
According to the State Historical Society of Missouri, the James-Younger gang operated widely, from Iowa to Texas to West Virginia. Overall, between 1860 and 1882, they are believed to have committed more than 20 bank and train robberies, with a combined haul estimated at around $200,000. While they usually focused more on robbing train safes than individual passengers, they did ruthlessly murder countless people who got in their way.
WATCH: The James Gang: Outlaw Brothers on HISTORY Vault.
As newspapers began to mention James, his love for the attention grew.
"He was audacious, planning and robbing banks in the middle of the day and stopping the most powerful machines of the time—railroad engines—to rob their trains and successfully get away,” wrote Bill Markley in Billy the Kid and Jesse James: Outlaws of the Legendary West.
The James legend grew with the help of newspaper editor John Newman Edwards, a Confederate sympathizer who perpetuated James's Robin Hood mythology. "We are not thieves, we are bold robbers,” James wrote in a letter Edwards published. "I am proud of the name, for Alexander the Great was a bold robber, and Julius Caesar, and Napoleon Bonaparte."
But while he did steal from the rich, there's no evidence James gave to the poor.
In 1881, the governor of Missouri issued a $10,000 reward for the capture of Jesse and Frank James. On April 3, 1882, at the age of 34, James was shot and killed by one of his accomplices, Robert Ford, who was found guilty of murder but pardoned by the governor.
READ MORE: 7 Things You May Not Know About Jesse James
Billy the Kid
Legend says the Wild West outlaw Billy the Kid—cattle rustler, gunslinger, murderer, escape artist—killed 21 people before he turned 21 years old, his age at death. The reality may be closer to nine. But the early days of Henry McCarty, later known as William Bonney, "the Kid," are murky.
Billy the Kid was likely born in New York City in 1859, later moving to Indiana, Kansas and Denver before his family settled in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Orphaned as a teen after his mother died of tuberculosis, Henry was separated from his brother and placed in foster homes. It wasn’t long before he fell into petty theft. After a September 1875 arrest for stealing clothing from a Chinese laundry, Henry reportedly shimmied up the jailhouse chimney and escaped, ultimately making his way to southeast Arizona.
READ MORE: 9 Things You May Not Know About Billy the Kid
In 1876, he took up with an Arizona gang known for stealing horses. In 1877, after being charged with murdering a blacksmith, he fled home to New Mexico and joined another band of thieves. In 1878, he joined a posse called the Regulators set on revenge for a cattleman's murder in what came to be called the Lincoln County War. By 1880, his name was spread across tabloid newspapers.
“Billy became the symbol of the American loner: the little guy fighting against all odds; the misunderstood youth who battled the combined corrupt government and business forces hell-bent on his destruction,” wrote Markley. “Everyone wanted to be associated with Billy the Kid—he stayed at their ranch or he stole one of their horses.”
With a $500 reward on his head, the fugitive was gunned down by New Mexico Sheriff Pat Garrett on July 14, 1881.
READ MORE: How Did Billy the Kid Die?
Born to a well-to-do, Confederate-sympathizing family, Myra Maybelle Shirley Starr—later known as Belle, and, eventually, the "Bandit Queen"—was a teenager in Scyene, Texas, in 1864 when outlaws Jesse James and the Younger brothers used her family’s home as a hideout.
In the years that followed, Starr married three outlaws: Jim Reed in 1866, who ran with the Younger, James and Starr gangs and was killed in 1874 by police; Bruce Younger In 1878; and Sam Starr, a Cherokee, in 1880.
After Belle and Sam Starr were later charged with horse stealing, a federal offense for which she served time, she was again charged with horse theft in 1886. This time, because of her legal skills, she was acquitted. But in the meantime, her husband and an Indian policeman had shot each other to death.
Starr herself was murdered February 3, 1889, at the age of 40, close to her Oklahoma cabin in the Cherokee Nation. Some suspect her son, Ed Reed, whom the Texas State Historical Association asserts she had recently beaten for mistreating her horse. The crime has never been solved.
Two days following her death, The New York Times called her “the most desperate woman that ever figured on the borders.”
But according to Glenn Shirley, author of Belle Starr and Her Times: The Literature, the Facts, and the Legends, the only truth in the report was the fact that she had died.
“Almost overnight, the name of Belle Starr became a household word throughout the nation,” he writes. “She had been elevated to a seat of immortal glory as a sex-crazed hellion with the morals of an alley cat, a harborer and consort of horse and cattle thieves, a petty blackmailer who dabbled in every crime from murder to the dark sin of incest, a female Robin Hood who robbed the rich to feed the poor, an exhibitionist and clever she-devil on horseback and leader of the most bloodthirsty band of cutthroats in the American West. All this despite the lack of a contemporary account or court record to show that she ever held up a train, bank or stagecoach or killed anybody."
READ MORE: 6 Daring Train Robberies
Born Robert LeRoy Parker in 1866, in Circleville, Utah to devout Mormons, the famed outlaw who later adopted the moniker Butch Cassidy grew up dirt poor, one of 13 children. As a teen, working on a nearby ranch to help feed his family, legend has it he met Mike Cassidy, a cattle rustler and mentor, who taught him, according to Time, "how to make a better, if distinctly dishonest, living."
Landing in the gold rush town of Telluride, Colorado, Cassidy, along with three other men, on June 24, 1889 committed the first crime attributed to him—a bank robbery, during which the trio made off with $20,000.
Adopting his new name (some say "Butch" comes from time spent working as a butcher) and hiding out in Wyoming, he began adding outlaw cowboys to his gang, known in the press as the "Wild Bunch." They included Harry Longabaugh, aka the Sundance Kid.
READ MORE: 6 Things You May Not Know About Butch Cassidy
After spending 18 months in prison for horse theft in 1894, in 1896, Cassidy’s Wild Bunch robbed a Montpelier, Idaho bank, stealing $7,000. The gang went on to commit several other robberies in the Southwest, including a $70,000 haul during a Rio Grande train robbery in New Mexico.
With the authorities hot on their trail, Cassidy and Longabaugh eventually fled to Argentina. Eventually, Cassidy went back to robbing trains and payrolls up until his alleged death in 1908.
Now, about that death: Most historians say Butch and Sundance, immortalized in the Robert Redford/Paul Newman movie, died in a shootout in Bolivia, but others theorize the pair escaped, living out their lives under aliases.
READ MORE: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid: Their Biggest Heists
John Wesley Hardin
Did he kill 20 men? Forty? Fifty? The total body count may be unclear, but according to John Wesley Hardin, they all deserved it. "I never killed anyone who didn't need killing," he famously said.
By all accounts, Hardin was one of the most dangerous gunslingers in the American Southwest. “When compared with John Wesley Hardin, Billy the Kid was a rank amateur,” wrote Lee Floren in his book John Wesley Hardin: Texas Gunfighter. “For by the time Wes Hardin reached his 21st birthday, he was credited with killing 27.”
Born in 1853 in Bonham, Texas to a Methodist preacher, Hardin displayed his outlaw nature early: He stabbed a classmate as a schoolboy, killed a Black man during an argument at 15 and, as a supporter of the Confederacy, claimed to take the lives of multiple Union soldiers soon after, according to the Texas State Historical Society.
More than a dozen killings later, he surrendered in 1872, broke out of jail, joined the anti-Reconstruction movement and just kept killing, the society reports. Fleeing capture with his wife and children, he was nabbed by Texas Rangers in Florida in 1877 and sentenced to 25 years for the murder of Charles Webb, a deputy sheriff. During his prison term he tried repeatedly to escape, read theological books, served as superintendent of the prison Sunday school and studied law, according to the society. He also wrote his autobiography. Hardin was pardoned on March 16, 1894, and subsequently admitted to the bar.
But life on the straight and narrow didn’t last long. According to the society, Hardin hired assassins to murder one of his clients—with whose wife he was having an affair. And on August 19, 1895, Constable John Selman, one of the hired guns, shot and killed Hardin in the Acme Saloon—ironically, it is believed, because he had not been paid for the hit job.
5 notorious outlaws from Alabama's Wild West days
Most people don't think of Alabama as part of the "Wild West," but at one time, the territory was considered pretty far west and had its share of truly wild outlaws.
In the first half century of our country's existence, Alabama was viewed as a land of opportunity as settlers moved from the country's first settlements along the east coast.
But in those early days, the land was harsh, the settlements were scattered, and people had to be tough to survive. It was a perfect setting for lawlessness.
Here is a look at five notorious outlaws from Alabama's Wild West days, excerpted from the 2014 book "Alabama Scoundrels: Outlaws, Pirates, Bandits & Bushwhackers."
Bloody Bob Sims
Initially, Robert Bruce Sims, born in 1839, seemed an unlikely outlaw. A Confederate veteran who fought with the Twenty-Second Alabama Infantry, Sims was injured and captured by Union troops and imprisoned at Camp Morton in Indiana. Sims returned home to resume farming in the Womack Hill community of Choctaw County and, at one time, served as county road surveyor.
He was a church-going man, but as Sims' beliefs grew more divergent from standard teachings, he was at odds with local pastors and founded his own church. The sect would become known as "Simsites."
The trouble for the Simsites started when Bob Sims began a moonshine business. Because he believed God's was the only true law, Sims refused to be bound by man's laws and believed he did not have to pay taxes on land or goods or his liquor.
In 1891, the first episode of violence started what was known as the Choctaw County War. One of Sims' followers wanted to court the daughter of the Rev. Richard Bryant Carroll, a pastor from Soulwipa who preached against Sims' moonshining. Carroll sent the suitor away, refusing him access to his daughter. The next morning, May 1, Carroll was found shot to death on his porch. Although no one was arrested, members of the community suspected Sims and his followers.
After several more volleys in the Sims War, Sims' violence reached its height on Dec. 23, 1891, after Sims and his men attacked and burned the home of local merchant John McMillan, who was one of several people in town who had reported Sims to federal authorities. Those living inside the home - including women and 10 children - awoke to the smell of smoke and, one by one, ran from the burning home. As they exited, Sims and his followers opened fire, indiscriminately killing anyone who ran out. When the shooting stopped, one adult and three children were dead. At least nine others, including Belle McKenzie, a young teacher boarding at the home, were wounded. Belle died from her wounds three weeks later.
Determined to capture Sims and his followers, a posse and hundreds of outraged residents surrounded the Sims home on Christmas Eve, cornering Sims, his wife, their children and several church members. Finally, on Christmas day, Sims agreed to give himself up if the sheriff would promise to protect him and his followers from the angry mob.
The sheriff agreed and took Sims and his followers into custody.
The sect members were escorted toward jail by 25 men for protection. Soon, the angry mob caught up to the wagon and the four men were jerked from inside and hung from nearby trees. The women, however, were spared.
Sims' family and followers who were lynched that Christmas season were eventually buried in Sims Cemetery, where their tombstones remain a testimony to the war begun by the man who came to be called "Bloody Bob Sims."
Reuben Houston Burrow was the son of a witch . or so people said.
He was born one of ten children to Allen and Martha "Dame" Terry Burrow near the town of Sulligent in Lamar County. Dame Burrow had a reputation for faith healing and some say she could cure cancer simply by uttering an incantation.
Rube Burrow, sometimes spelled "Burrows," was born in 1854 or 1855 and raised on the family farm in this atmosphere of superstition where items in the larder might include eye of newt, toe of frog, wool of bat and lizard's leg.
He would also witness illegal activity and brushes with the law when his father, a Confederate veteran, supplemented his income as a moonshiner.
Rube was especially close to his younger brother Jim, born in 1858, and the two were fascinated by tales of Jesse James and his gang of outlaws.
Rube began following in James' footsteps early: When he was only 15 years old, Rube reportedly donned a mask and robbed a neighbor at gunpoint but his father discovered him and make him return the money.
Soon, with James as his inspiration, Rube would turn to robbing trains after his attempt to be a farmer and family man failed.
In 1872, when he was about 18 years old, Rube left the family farm and moved to Stephenville, Texas. He tried to live the life of a respectable family man but when he failed at farming, he and his brother Jim began a career as criminals.
From 1886 to 1890, the Burrows and their gang robbed express trains in Texas, Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Indian Territory, all the while eluding capture by lawmen and investigators from the Pinkerton National Detective Agency.
Burrow and his men eventually returned to Lamar County, Ala., with the knowledge that Rube's large network of siblings would give them safe haven. Into 1889, they stayed successfully hidden until Rube murdered a well-known and respected local postmaster, Mose Graves. Graves had refused to hand over a package to Rube, thinking it looked suspicious and Rube shot him. The package contained a wig and false mustache for Rube to disguise his appearance. By this time, even Lamar County residents were turning against Rube.
Burrow robbed two more trains later in the year and was pursued by Pinkerton detectives.
On Oct. 9, 1890, Rube was captured by Jesse Hildreth and Frank Marshall at George Ford's cabin in Marengo County, Alabama. He would be shot to death by local merchant Jefferson Davis Carter during an escape attempt.
The body of the notorious outlaw was shipped to Lamar County by train. It would make several stops along the way to let people view the body. In Birmingham, thousands of people reportedly turned out to view the corpse and to snatch souvenirs such as buttons from his coat, snippets of hair and even his boots.
Rube's father met the train when it arrived in Sulligent. When the coffin was opened to allow him to make positive identification, he reportedly said, "It is Rube."
Rube Burrow was buried him in Fellowship Cemetery, where his grave is marked with a simple concrete stone with his named crudely etched into its surface.
A man who came to be known as Railroad Bill carried out his lawless acts in southern Alabama and northern Florida in the mid-1890s. His activities took on to mythic proportions in life and his legend continued to grow after his death.
Even though Bill McCoy - aka Morris Slater or Railroad Bill - was reportedly killed in 1897, Louisville & Nashville Railroad workers to this day report seeing the image of a man limping along the tracks that run north to south from Alabama into Pensacola, Fla. Many witnesses say the man watches them very closely, almost menacingly, but never speaks. If he is watched too long, the mysterious man will walk into a nearby forest and disappear. Railroad employees and locals feel this mysterious spirit is that of Railroad Bill who, during his time terrorizing the area, never shied away from letting people think that he had supernatural powers. Many mysterious qualities were attributed to Bill in life, including were shape shifting and the ability to disappear and make bloodhounds lose their smell. Others said Bill could only be killed with a silver bullet.
The legend of Railroad Bill began in the winter of 1894 when railroad employees began noticing a vagrant illegally riding the trains on the L&N Railroad line in southern Alabama near the Florida line. Bill eluded them, hijacking a train car in the process.
This incident initiated a manhunt after the railroad detectives gathered a posse and began tracking the man they were now calling Railroad Bill. The posse spent several weeks tracking Bill and, following leads, they finally arrived in Bay Minette on April 6, 1895. Details on what transpired in the town that day are sketchy, but historians report that the posse of about 20 men confronted the man they thought was Railroad Bill and a gun fight broke out. When the gunfight ended, Baldwin County Deputy Sheriff James Stewart was dead and Railroad Bill was still on the loose, now wanted for murdering a lawman.
As the legend of Railroad Bill grew, robberies of every train and business were attributed to him, although he could not possibly have committed them all. The claims only fueled the myth, putting law enforcement officers, railroad security and multiple private detection agencies on his trail.
It was the middle of the afternoon on a clear day in Atmore when Railroad Bill met his demise: J. Leonard McGowan squeezed the trigger of his rifle, firing the round that mortally wounded Railroad Bill. Less than one second after the outlaw was struck by McGowan's rifle round, his body was struck a second time by buckshot from a local shopkeeper's shotgun. The rest of the posse, hearing the gunfire, arrived on the scene and also opened fire on the corpse of Railroad Bill. After years of looting, robbing, and murdering along the Alabama-Florida line, the notorious outlaw was dead.
Because the outlaw was so well-known and feared, authorities wanted to prove to residents that Railroad Bill had been killed, so his body was put on public display. The body was first displayed in Brewton, where hundreds of people came to view it. Curious souvenir hunters even went so far as to pay 50 cents for a photo of McGowan with his rifle standing over Railroad Bill's corpse.
The preserved body reportedly remained on display in Brewton for a week before being transported to Montgomery, to be displayed for another week where it attracted thousands of spectators, before then being transported to Pensacola, Fla., where even more curious onlookers paid 25 cents to view the body. After this stop, Railroad Bill was quietly buried in an unmarked grave outside of the city.
Clay Allison and his own outlaw justice
A Civil War veteran with a head injury, Clay Allison was known for beating up, flinging knives at, or outright killing those who displeased him. The man truly believed he had the right to track down lawbreakers. "I have at all times tried to use my influence toward protecting the property holders and substantial men of the country from thieves, outlaws and murderers," he explained. So saying, the gunman dealt with suspected serial killer Charles Kennedy by lassoing him around the neck, dragging him behind a horse until he was dead, beheading him, and depositing his noggin on a fencepost. There was also Cruz Vega, whom History says Allison helped hang before shooting the corpse and dragging it "over rocks and bushes until it was a mangled pulp."
Allison's other victims included Chunk Colbert, with whom he dined before shooting him. A warrant was issued but Allison never answered for it. Marriage and children seemed to settle him down, although he did take umbrage with a dentist who mistakenly worked on the wrong tooth. Allison straddled the man and yanked the dentist's own tooth out with a pair of pliers. Eventually he died in a freak accident when a wagon wheel rolled over him, breaking his neck. His epitaph reads, "He never killed a man who did not need killing."
‘Men with the instincts of a manhunter could take on a rare challenge remaining in Arizona Territory. Even in the early 1900s bank and train robbers, murderers, rustlers and any other lawbreaker with a fast horse stood a reasonable chance of remaining free from arrest in the vast sweep of sparsely settled land’
Half an hour before midnight on October 23, 1904, Joe Bostwick slipped through the rear door of the Palace Saloon in Tucson, Arizona Territory. His face was shrouded in a red bandana, complete with eyeholes, and he brandished a long-barreled Colt .45. &ldquoHands up!&rdquo he shouted.
Four regulars were on duty in the Palace: a bartender, a craps dealer, a roulette dealer and a porter. There were four customers, one of whom, M.D. Beede, slipped out the front door onto Congress Street. Perhaps not noticing the missing customer, the masked desperado nervously ordered, &ldquoThrow up your hands and march into the side room.&rdquo As the men filed by, the jittery bandit snapped, &ldquoHold &rsquoem up higher&mdashhold up your digits.&rdquo Then Bostwick edged toward the craps table, where money lay scattered beside the dice.
Outside on Congress Street, Beede spotted an officer wearing the star badge of an Arizona Ranger. Sergeant Harry Wheeler had just emerged from Wanda&rsquos Restaurant. &ldquoDon&rsquot go in there,&rdquo Beede said when the Ranger turned toward the Palace. &ldquoThere&rsquos a holdup going on!&rdquo
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&ldquoAll right,&rdquo Wheeler calmly replied. &ldquoThat&rsquos what I&rsquom here for.&rdquo
The sergeant pulled his single-action Colt .45 and stepped to the front door of the saloon. Bostwick spotted him and whirled to fire his revolver, but Wheeler triggered the first shot. The heavy slug grazed Bostwick&rsquos forehead above the right eye. Bostwick fired wildly, then Wheeler drilled him in the right side of the chest. Mortally wounded, the stricken bandit groaned and collapsed to the floor.
When interviewed by a reporter for The Tucson Citizen, Wheeler commented: &ldquoI am sorry that this happened, but it was either his life or mine, and if I hadn&rsquot been just a little quicker on the draw than he was, I might be in his position now. Under the circumstances, if I had to do it over again, I think I would do exactly the same thing.&rdquo Indeed, Wheeler did exactly the same thing&mdashwith exactly the same results&mdashin 1907 and again in 1908. And so did other fast-shooting men who wore the star during the brief existence of the early 20th-century Arizona Ranger company.
The Arizona Territorial Legislature created the Rangers in 1901 (various short-lived ranger forces had come and gone in the territory during the 19th century), more than a decade after the 1890 U.S. census had pronounced the frontier closed. For more than seven years Arizona Rangers rode across mountains and deserts in pursuit of cattle rustlers and horse thieves, and, blazing away with Colts and Winchesters, shot it out with desperados in saloons, dusty streets and desolate badlands.
Outlawry was rampant in the territory at the dawn of the 20th century, and Congress consequently refused to consider statehood. Arizona cattlemen, mine owners, railroad officials and newspaper editors pressured Territorial Governor Nathan Oakes Murphy to combat lawlessness with a special force modeled on the famed Texas Rangers. As early as October 1898 an editorial in The Phoenix Gazette decried rustling and proclaimed the need for a band of Rangers: &ldquoWhen such conditions exist, a company of paid &lsquoRangers&rsquo are required to stamp out and destroy the characters that bring about such a state of affairs. Let us have a Territorial Ranger Service.&rdquo
In early 1901 Governor Murphy presented a Ranger bill to the Republican-dominated 21st Territorial Legislature, which quickly enacted it. The company would be launched on September 1. Murphy asked cattleman Burt Mossman, who had helped frame the Ranger Act, to serve as founding captain. The act authorized a 14-man force&mdashone captain, one sergeant and 12 privates. Two years later the Legislature expanded the force to 26 men&mdashone captain, one lieutenant, four sergeants and 20 privates.
Captain Mossman recruited outdoorsmen for his force&mdashmen who could ride and trail and shoot, men who had experience as cowboys or peace officers. Murphy questioned some of the captain&rsquos selections. &ldquoNow, governor,&rdquo replied Mossman, &ldquoif you think I can go out in these mountains and catch train robbers and cattle rustlers with a bunch of Sunday school teachers, you are very much mistaken.&rdquo
Men with the instincts of a manhunter could take on a rare challenge remaining in Arizona Territory. Even in the early 1900s bank and train robbers, murderers, rustlers and any other lawbreaker with a fast horse stood a reasonable chance of remaining free from arrest in the vast sweep of sparsely settled land. Rangers were given carte blanche to pursue badmen, authorized to make arrests anywhere in the territory. A Ranger could pin on a badge, saddle up and, in the righteous cause of justice and the territorial statutes, ride up into the mountains and across deserts in pursuit of society&rsquos enemies. And just like in the old days on the frontier, these early 20th-century lawmen sometimes had to match bullet for bullet.
Two of the first Rangers to enlist, Carlos Tafolla and Duane Hamblin, found themselves in a deadly gun battle within weeks of joining the new company. Privates Tafolla and Hamblin had joined a posse in pursuit of the Bill Smith Gang. The men trailed the rustlers into the rugged mountain wilderness of eastern Arizona Territory. At sundown on October 8 the lawmen moved into position to attack the outlaw camp in a gorge at high elevation. Tafolla, Hamblin and Bill Maxwell, an excellent scout, approached the camp from the front in open snow. Maxwell called out an order to surrender.
&ldquoAll right,&rdquo answered Smith. &ldquoWhich way do you want us to come out?&rdquo
&ldquoCome right out this way,&rdquo directed Maxwell.
Hamblin flattened onto the snow as Smith walked toward the lawmen, dragging a new .303 Savage rifle behind him. Smith suddenly brought up the lever-action repeater and opened fire from a distance of 40 feet. Tafolla went down, shot twice through the torso, while Maxwell, hit in the forehead, died on the spot. Smith darted back to camp as gunfire exploded from both sides. Tafolla gamely worked his Winchester.
Hamblin moved to the outlaw remuda and scattered the mounts, putting the gang afoot. Two outlaws were wounded, and Smith led a retreat into the surrounding timber. With a sudden mountain nightfall the outlaws escaped on foot.
Back in the clearing Tafolla lay on his back, begging for water. Before he died, the Ranger pulled a silver dollar from his pants pocket. &ldquoGive this dollar to my wife,&rdquo he gasped. &ldquoIt, and the month&rsquos wages coming to me, will be all she&rsquoll ever have.&rdquo Tafolla left three children and his poor widow. His wages for less than a month&rsquos service totaled only $53.15. The Legislature voted Mrs. Tafolla a small pension, and Mossman dutifully brought her the silver dollar.
Mossman resigned after one year to return to the cattle business. The new captain was Tom Rynning, a cavalry veteran and lieutenant with the Rough Riders in Cuba. With his military background, Captain Rynning imposed training and marksmanship practice.
The Ranger Act required that each man carry a single-action Colt .45 revolver and an 1895 Winchester, the first lever-action repeater to use a box magazine instead of the old tubular magazine. Invented by John Browning, America&rsquos foremost genius in arms design, the Model 1895 carried five rounds in the box, with the chamber accommodating a sixth.
Rynning moved Ranger headquarters from Bisbee, a thriving mining town near the Mexican border, to Douglas, a new mining boomtown to the southeast and smack on the border. The Cowboy&rsquos Home Saloon was the center for drinking, gambling and dancing in Douglas. One of the three men who ran the saloon was Lon Bass, a Texan who resented the presence of Rangers and who threatened to kill Private W.W. Webb the next time he entered the Cowboy&rsquos Home.
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On Sunday evening, February 8, 1903, the town dives were doing a roaring business when shots went off near the Cowboy&rsquos Home. Privates Webb and Lonnie McDonald heard the gunfire and hustled to the scene.
As the Rangers entered the Cowboy&rsquos Home, Bass sighted them from a rear room where he was dealing monte. He promptly stormed into the main saloon, ordering Webb off the premises and threatening to &ldquobeat the face off him.&rdquo
Webb responded by whipping his Colt .45 from its holster, cocking it and firing point-blank at Bass. The bullet spun the saloonkeeper around, but Webb thumbed back his hammer and fired again. The second round also went true, hurling Bass to the floor.
&ldquoOh, my God!&rdquo he gasped as he went down. Both slugs had torn into Bass&rsquos torso, and one apparently struck his heart. He died on the floor. A few feet away McDonald also sagged to the floor, struck in the midsection by a stray bullet, perhaps a slug that had passed through Bass.
Captain Rynning and Private Frank Wheeler (no relation to Harry Wheeler), patrolling the streets on horseback, quickly arrived at the saloon. So did a couple of other Rangers, along with Town Constable Dayton Graham, who had signed on as the first Ranger sergeant in 1901. Graham arrested Webb, but since there was no jail in Douglas, the constable conveniently directed the Rangers to take their comrade into custody. (Webb did eventually stand trial, but a jury found him not guilty in June 1903.)
Physicians probed unsuccessfully for the slug that struck McDonald. Douglas had as many hospitals as jails, so his fellows carried the bandaged lawman to the two-room adobe that served as Ranger headquarters. Captain Rynning&rsquos house was nearby, and his wife tended the wounded McDonald. The next morning she was horrified at the breakfast the Rangers had cooked for her patient: &ldquoa big round steak with a lot of greasy spuds and some gravy that a fork could stand up in.&rdquo Instead, Margaret Rynning fed him soft-boiled eggs and other light fare, and McDonald slowly recovered.
One of Rynning&rsquos most notable recruits was Sergeant Jeff Kidder, a superb pistol shot who practiced incessantly with his silver-plated Colt. 45. Normally stationed in Nogales, he was called to Douglas to help control troublemakers on New Year&rsquos Eve 1906. That night Kidder and a local peace officer were patrolling in the vicinity of the railroad roundhouse when they encountered local saloonkeeper Tom T. Woods, who emerged from a rear door and scurried through the rain across the railroad tracks.
&ldquoHold on there!&rdquo shouted Kidder. &ldquoWe want to look at you.&rdquo Woods instead broke into a run, then turned and fired a pistol shot at Kidder. The Ranger quickly drew his Colt and blasted out three rounds. One slug slammed into Wood&rsquos right eye, dropping him on the spot. He died later that night.
Another deadly Ranger was Sergeant James T. &ldquoShorty&rdquo Holmes, who was stationed at Roosevelt, northeast of Phoenix, where the Roosevelt Dam was under construction. On October 31, 1905, Holmes intercepted Bernardo Arviso, a bootlegger suspected of selling liquor to Indians. Arviso tried to fight his way past Holmes, sparking a furious pistol duel. A government teamster named Bagley tried to help Holmes but caught a bullet in the arm from the bootlegger. The Ranger fired back with lethal aim, killing Arviso on the spot.
Within four months Holmes again engaged in a fatal gunfight near Roosevelt. On February 18, 1906, he clashed with an Apache known as Matze Ta 55 and shot the outlaw to death. In 1907 Holmes was in action again, this time trading shots with smugglers. During his years as a Ranger, Holmes never suffered a wound, and he was cited for distinguished service in the 1906 and 1907 engagements.
Arizona malefactors became wary of the sure-shooting Holmes. In 1907 a man named Baldwin murdered a Mrs. Morris and her daughter near Roosevelt. A couple of months later Holmes intercepted the murderer just outside town. Baldwin surrendered to Holmes, but the Ranger&mdashnever kindly disposed toward murderers&mdashbeat him over the head with a frying pan. Then he tied a rope around Baldwin&rsquos neck, mounted his horse and spurred away, dragging the prisoner into Roosevelt.
In late June 1907 Ranger Frank Wheeler, by then a sergeant, rode for five days through the desert of southern Arizona Territory in pursuit of rustlers Lee Bentley and James Kerrick. Yuma County Deputy Sheriff Johnny Cameron and two Indian guides accompanied the sergeant. Saturday, June 29, was the worst day&mdash35 miles of blazing heat through cacti and blistering sands. &ldquoOur horses went without water the entire day,&rdquo reported Wheeler, &ldquoand the water in our canteens was so hot we couldn&rsquot even drink it.&rdquo
The next morning the guides found the outlaw camp at Sheep Dung Tanks, about three miles west of the mining settlement of Ajo. Approaching furtively on foot, Wheeler and Cameron found six horses staked out, while the two rustlers slept, rifles close by their sides. The officers readied their own rifles, and then Wheeler called out a command to surrender in the name of the law.
Both rustlers scrambled up, groping for their rifles. Wheeler and Cameron again directed them to give up, but Bentley raised his weapon and triggered a shot. For a moment the flat explosions of Winchesters broke the desert silence as each man brought his rifle into play. Kerrick, a killer and ex-convict, fired a shot at Cameron, but the deputy dropped his antagonist with the first round from his .30&ndash30.
Wheeler emptied the five-shot magazine of his Model 1895 into Bentley. The first slug punched into Bentley&rsquos belly, but the outlaw held his kneeling position. The Ranger pumped three more .30&ndash40 bullets into Bentley&rsquos torso. Yet somehow the stricken rustler stayed up, gamely trying to get his gun back into action. Wheeler&rsquos final shot drilled into Bentley&rsquos left temple, ripping through his head and out his right ear. Bentley fell face forward, dead when he hit the ground. Wheeler later testified that Bentley &ldquoshowed more nerve under fire than he had ever seen displayed by a man before.&rdquo
Wheeler and Cameron cautiously walked over to the fallen rustlers, but both were dead. The Rangers collected several new Winchesters from the camp, threw the two bodies across a pair of stolen horses, packed everything else that needed to be hauled out and headed north. By the time they reached Ten Miles Well, a journey of 25 miles, the corpses had swollen badly in the heat. The officers sent word to Sentinel to wire for the Pima County coroner, but he refused to come. The justice of the peace at Silver Bell, who had jurisdiction over the Ajo area, also refused to come.
While waiting for Sheriff Nabor Pacheco, Wheeler and Cameron fashioned two rudimentary coffins and lowered the bodies into temporary graves. But the sheriff did not get there until Monday afternoon, and even though Pacheco brought ice, by then the bodies had decomposed beyond recognition.
Harry Wheeler, who had enlisted as a private during the Ranger expansion of 1903, soon earned promotion to sergeant, then lieutenant. In 1907 Tom Rynning was appointed superintendent of Yuma Territorial Prison, and Lieutenant Wheeler was elevated to Ranger captain. Of 107 men who served as Arizona Rangers, Wheeler was the only one who held all four ranks: private, sergeant, lieutenant and captain. He was a superlative lawman.
Harry Cornwall Wheeler was the son of a West Point graduate and colonel in the U.S. Army. Harry grew up on a series of military posts, learning to shoot on the post ranges and becoming an expert marksman with rifle and pistol. Enlisting in the U.S. Cavalry, Wheeler rose to the rank of sergeant. His last duty post was Fort Grant, Arizona Territory. Leaving the Army in 1902, he joined the Ranger company the next year. He brought to the Rangers a strong sense of duty, meticulous administrative skills, a love for fieldwork and his extraordinary gun skills&mdashas he proved to holdup man Joe Bostwick in Tucson in October 1904.
Lieutenant Wheeler was in Benson, north of Tombstone, when he engaged in one of the great mano a mano duels in Western history. On February 28, 1907, Wheeler was made aware of a life-endangering love triangle. En route to town by train, a newly arrived couple at Benson&rsquos Virginia Hotel had sighted the woman&rsquos former sweetheart, J.A. Tracy. The jilted lover had pursued the couple to Benson, arriving on a night train. Presenting Lieutenant Wheeler a photograph of Tracy, the couple appealed to the Ranger for help.
Wheeler left the hotel and crossed to the depot. He found Tracy sitting on the steps of a dining car, but as the Ranger approached, the man&rsquos former lover emerged from the hotel with her new beau. Tracy jumped up cursing and pulled a revolver from his pocket. &ldquoHold on there!&rdquo barked Wheeler. &ldquoI arrest you. Give me that gun.&rdquo
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A furious pistol duel ensued. Wheeler advanced relentlessly, firing methodically and ordering his quarry to surrender. Tracy&rsquos third shot wounded Wheeler in the upper left thigh near the groin, but the Ranger drilled him four times, in the stomach, neck, arm and chest. Tracy tumbled onto his back. &ldquoI am all in,&rdquo he gasped. &ldquoMy gun is empty.&rdquo
Wheeler dropped his Colt, having fired his five rounds (many Westerners carried only &ldquofive beans in the wheel,&rdquo leaving the hammer at rest over an empty chamber for safety). The wounded officer limped forward to secure his prisoner. But Tracy had two bullets left and more cartridges in a pocket. He treacherously opened fire again, striking Wheeler in the left heel. The fearless Ranger began hurling rocks at the downed man, whose revolver finally clicked on an empty cylinder. &ldquoI am all in,&rdquo Tracy repeated. &ldquoMy gun is empty.&rdquo
But Tracy still refused to surrender his gun to Wheeler. Men in the gathering crowd threatened the gunman, but the bleeding Wheeler managed to calm onlookers and disarm Tracy. Someone brought a chair for the wounded Ranger. &ldquoGive it to him,&rdquo said Wheeler, gesturing to Tracy. &ldquoHe needs it more than I do.&rdquo
Wheeler turned over Tracy to a Benson peace officer, then extended his right hand to the wounded man.
&ldquoWell,&rdquo said Wheeler, &ldquoit was a great fight while it lasted, wasn&rsquot it, old man?&rdquo
&ldquoI&rsquoll get you yet,&rdquo muttered Tracy with a hint of a smile. The two men shook hands.
Wheeler then retrieved his revolver and limped away to seek a physician. Authorities decided to send the grievously wounded Tracy to a hospital in Tucson and placed him on a cot in the baggage car. The train had not gone 10 miles down the tracks before he breathed his last. Wheeler later learned that J.A. Tracy had been wanted for two separate murders in Nevada, with a $500 reward on his head. One of his victims was the brother of former Ranger Dick Hickey. Nevada officials offered Wheeler the reward, but he promptly turned it down. Wheeler would have no part of blood money, instead urging that the $500 be given to the widowed Mrs. Hickey.
As a sergeant Harry Wheeler had killed Joe Bostwick, as a lieutenant he had killed J.A. Tracy, and in May 1908 as a captain he killed George Arnett. Considered by Wheeler &ldquothe worst man in Cochise County,&rdquo Arnett for months had been stealing horses in the county and driving them across the border to sell in Mexico. Acting on a tip, Wheeler enlisted Deputy Sheriff George Humm to help set a trap in a canyon east of Bisbee.
On the fifth night of their vigil, the two lawmen heard a horseman approach. The rider was leading another horse. As the rider approached within 20 feet, Wheeler and Humm each beamed a bull&rsquos-eye lamp at the man later determined to be Arnett, ordering him to surrender.
Wheeler had leveled his revolver, and when Arnett snapped off a shot, the Ranger captain instantly triggered his .45. He heard Humm&rsquos revolver go off beside him. The rider bolted, firing a second pistol shot before disappearing over a ridge. After retrieving their own horses, Wheeler and Humm searched the area by lamplight. Finding Arnett&rsquos two horses, they realized the outlaw probably had been injured.
Within an hour they found Arnett&rsquos corpse no more than a quarter of a mile from the site of the shooting. The outlaw had been hit twice. At dawn authorities brought a coroner&rsquos jury to the rocky canyon, and an inquest was conducted that afternoon. &ldquoI have heard a relative state that Arnett had said he would never submit to arrest,&rdquo testified Wheeler. The jury exonerated Wheeler and Humm, finding it &ldquothe general opinion of the public that a dangerous man has met his end.&rdquo
In April 1908, the month before Captain Wheeler bested Arnett, Sergeant Jeff Kidder was not so fortunate in a gunfight just across the border. Wheeler had moved Ranger headquarters to the border town of Naco and ordered his men not to cross into Mexico. But when Kidder rode into Naco from his post at Nogales, Wheeler was away, and the sergeant&mdashhis Colt .45 concealed in his waistband beneath his coat&mdashsauntered with friends into Mexican Naco.
In a cantina Kidder had trouble with a senorita. Two members of the policía hurried to the commotion, and one officer gutshot Kidder. The wounded Ranger palmed his Colt and dropped both officers with leg wounds. Kidder then staggered outside and reached the border fence a quarter mile away. Under fire he wounded the chief of police, who was the brother of the officer who shot Kidder. Once out of ammunition, the Ranger surrendered.
The chief and his men dragged Kidder to jail, where they robbed him and roughed him up. Although permitted visitors from the American side, including physicians, he died 30 hours after being shot. Jeff Kidder was 33.
That summer Ranger Billy Speed had a confrontation with hard-driving ex-convict William F. Downing, a terror in Willcox, Arizona Territory, where Speed was stationed. Downing, who toted a revolver in his hip pocket, ran the Free and Easy Saloon and clashed openly with many local men. Although threatened repeatedly by Downing, Speed was not intimidated, and he remained mindful of Wheeler&rsquos admonition that &ldquoif anyone must be hurt, I do not want it to be the Ranger.&rdquo Kidder&rsquos recent death was on Wheeler&rsquos mind, and he wrote Speed &ldquoto take no chance with this man in any official dealing you may have with him.&rdquo Wheeler left no doubt as to his meaning: &ldquoI hereby direct you to prepare yourself to meet this man&hellipand upon his least or slightest attempt to do you harm, I want you to kill him.&rdquo
On the night of August 4 Downing hit and then gouged the eyes of saloon girl Cuco Leal, who lived and worked in the Free and Easy. She swore out a warrant, and Constable Bud Snow&mdasha former Ranger&mdashsought Billy Speed&rsquos help. Speed advised they wait until morning. Early on the 5th the still drunk Downing emerged from his saloon shouting crude threats against Speed and Snow. The lawmen armed themselves and split up to corral Downing.
As Speed turned down an alley, a bystander shouted that Downing was coming up the street. Winchester at his shoulder, the Ranger emerged and ordered Downing to throw up his hands. The saloonkeeper raised his arms and walked unsteadily toward Speed. When he was less than 30 feet from the Ranger, Downing suddenly groped with his left hand at his hip pocket, apparently forgetting he had left his revolver at the Free and Easy. Still he kept advancing, and Speed again shouted for him to throw up his arms.
Left with little choice, Speed finally squeezed the trigger of his Model 1895 Winchester. The .30&ndash40 slug ripped into Downing&rsquos right breast, exiting beneath his right shoulder blade. The impact threw him onto his back, and within minutes he was dead. Captain Wheeler took the first train to Willcox, where a coroner&rsquos jury had ruled Ranger Speed &ldquoperfectly justified&rdquo in killing Downing. Wheeler reported to Governor Joseph H. Kibbey, &ldquoThis is the first time I have ever known a killing to meet absolute general rejoiceing [sic].&rdquo
The deaths of Downing and Arnett in 1908 left no other prominent badmen in Arizona Territory. The Rangers had relentlessly hounded most other criminals. For instance, during the fiscal year of 1904&ndash05 they made 1,052 arrests. But by late 1908 the company had virtually achieved its goal of cleaning up the territory.
Harry Wheeler&rsquos report for the month of August 1908 revealed the Rangers had made fewer than two-dozen arrests. He reported, &ldquoThe whole country seems remarkably quiet, and scarcely any crimes are being committed anywhere.&rdquo With obvious disappointment, he added, &ldquoThere has been absolutely no trouble of any kind, and I am getting tired of so much goodness, as are all the men.&rdquo
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The Rangers had worked themselves out of a job. Several Arizona sheriffs complained about the authority Rangers exercised within their jurisdictions. Many Democrats, resentful that the Ranger company was a creation of Republicans, clamored that to continue it would be a waste of funds. In February 1909 the Democrat-controlled Territorial Legislature abruptly disbanded the company&mdashwith Rangers still in the field. Wheeler had not been permitted to testify on behalf of his beloved Rangers.
From late 1901 until early 1909 the hard-riding, quick-triggered band of riders had brought into a new century the crime-fighting traditions of Wild Bill Hickok, Pat Garrett, Commodore Perry Owens and other members of an earlier generation of frontier lawmen. The gunfights presented here were the ones with fatal consequences, but there were many other shooting incidents involving Rangers. While there was occasional gunplay during Arizona&rsquos early statehood period, the Rangers had claimed the last sustained gunfighting adventure of the no-longer-so-Wild West.
Texas State Historian Bill O&rsquoNeal is an award-winning author of many books and magazine articles about the Old West. For further reading see two of his books: The Arizona Rangers (1987) and Captain Harry Wheeler, Arizona Lawman (2003).
Train robber, bank robber and leader of the "Wild Bunch," Butch Cassidy is one of the most famous American outlaws. Hollywood has produced countless films and television shows about him.
Issac "Ike" BlackTom Horn was present at the infamous O.K. Corral in Tombstone, Arizona, where his brother Billy was supposedly killed in the clash against the opposing group of lawmen that included lawmen, Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday. Issac "Ike" BlackTom Horn pressed charges for the death of his brother but lost.
7 Of History's Forgotten Female Outlaws
Growing up, children's imaginations are filled with stories of bandits and sheriffs, and everyone knows the name of some of history's most infamous outlaw cowboys — but what about all the female outlaws you never heard about? Contrary to popular belief, they existed. And some of them were just as infamous as their male counterparts.
If you think about it, it made sense that the American frontier provided an opportunity for women to turn to life of crimes. Free from the conventions of proper city life, women experienced a lot more social and economic freedom. They could run businesses, own land, and engage in politics or crime if they wanted. Often the two were somewhat related.
Many of the women taking advantage of this freedom found their livelihoods through gambling or prostitution, two professions that brought them in close contact with gangs that roamed the frontier. Other women owned homesteads and worked with cattle. But what these women all had in common was a need to survive in an extremely trying environment. Some turned to crime or other "unladylike" ventures — but most are forgotten.
Sure, we remember Annie Oakley, the shotgun shooting star of Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show, or Belle Starr, the "bandit queen" who stole horses and sold bootlegged liquor. But there are probably more than a few of their associates that history has forgotten.
From a young age, Laura Bullion was destined to be an outlaw. Her father was a Native American bank robber, and while working as a prostitute in Texas she joined the Wild Bunch gang, where she ran with outlaws like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Bullion helped the gang with their robberies, and came to be known as "Rose of the Wild Bunch." Bullion would help sell the stolen items, forge checks, and is suspected to have disguised herself as a man to help with heists. In 1901 she was arrested for robbing a train. After serving a three-year sentence, she appears to have retired from her life of crime.
Rose Dunn fell into a life of crime when she fell in love with George "Bittercreek" Newcomb. Newcomb was one of the members of the Doolin Gang, which robbed banks and trains in the Indian Territory for two years. Dunn was a full member of the gang for the most part, and though she didn't take part in the heists, she provided them with ammunition, helped Newcomb escape from authorities, and nursed him back to health. Newcomb was later killed after Dunn's brothers (also outlaws) turned him in for a bounty. After that, the appeal of crime seemed to wear off for Dunn, who went on to marry a politician and settle down.
While Mary Fields, often called "Stagecoach Mary," wasn't an outlaw, she was definitely way tougher than most of the women on this list. Fields was born into slavery around 1832, and after being emancipated at the age of 30, made her way west to Montana. Fields, who was very tall and extremely strong, worked as a general handyman and laborer at a school for Native American girls. She had a reputation for being strong, blunt, and more than willing to get in fights with people who annoyed her. At one point the local medical examiner claimed, she had "broken more noses than any other person in central Montana."
One popular story cites a time that Fields got stranded on a supply run and fought off wild wolves at gun point. Given her penchant for fighting and refusal to put up with bullshit, Fields was fired from her position after having a shoot out behind the school (during which she literally shot her opponent in the butt). At age 60, Fields went on to work for the U.S. Postal Service, becoming the first black woman to work for the service. After 10 years of driving coaches and traveling hundreds of miles, Fields retired and started a cleaning service. But she didn't stop fighting.
Lillian Smith was the only woman with the potential to eclipse Annie Oakley, but instead she's an often forgotten figure from the Wild West. Smith gained popularity after she joined Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show at age 15. Like Oakley, she was an incredible shot — but she favored the rifle, instead of Oakley's preferred shotgun. Because of her young age, colorful clothes, and penchant for swearing, Smith was substantially younger than Oakley, and the two were rivals. But while touring in London, Smith shot so badly that she was ridiculed. Soon after, her career ended.
Big Nose Kate
Big Nose Kate, whose real name was Mary Katharine Haroney, had an unfortunate nickname. While working as a prostitute in Kansas in the 1870s, she adopted the name as a way to differentiate herself from another prostitute named Kate. But while in Kansas she met Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday. She would go on to be in a relationship with Holliday. On at least one occasion Kate helped Holliday escape custody by setting the jail on fire and threatening a guard at gunpoint. She stayed with Holliday until his death several years later.
Although Pearl Hart may have been inspired by Annie Oakley, the two women were very different. While Oakley shot for show and entertainment, Hart used her skills for crime. Hart was Canadian, but found herself in Arizona after her second husband went to fight in the Spanish-American war. After hooking up with a man named Joe Boot, she also disguised herself as a man, and she and Boot robbed a stagecoach. But they weren't very good at it, and were promptly caught. During her sentencing, Hart delivered the wonderfully feminist statement, "I shall not consent to be tried under a law in which my sex had no voice in making." Unfortunately, the law didn't care. After serving some of her sentence, Hart became pregnant while in prison and was quickly pardoned by the governor. Her life after prison is a relative mystery.
First and foremost, Eleanor Dumont was a businesswoman. Although her background is unclear, when she showed up in Nevada City with a French accent and a plan to open a casino, she was an instant success. She was a hit among the gamblers, and her business was so profitable that she opened a second casino as well. But over time she grew tired of the life, bought a ranch, and fell in love with a man named Jack McKnight. But as it turns out, McKnight was a conman, who sold her ranch and ran away. Not one to let that stand, Dumont tracked him down and shot him dead. Broke, but free of charges, Dumont went back to gambling, and created an even larger name for herself. There were (largely unsubstantiated) stories of her foiling robbers, or threatening steamboats at gunpoint. She eventually killed herself when her gambling debts became too large, but her reputation lived on.
Historic Photos of Outlaws of the Old West
The romantic myth of the Western outlaw still remains central to American identity. If we are part Puritan, we also like to think of ourselves as the kind of anti-social cowboys who go out and manifest our own destiny. It’s no wonder that we have a tradition of valorizing outlaws like Billy the Kid, the Dalton gang, and Frank and Jesse James, transfiguring their bullying and theft into a kind of partisan resistance to hegemony. These men did not steal from the rich to give to the poor, yet we like to pretend that they were Robin Hoods. Turner Publishing’s new collection Historic Photos of Outlaws of the Old West presents 200 archival images of infamous (and not so famous) robbers, road agents, and rascals in the kind of gruesome detail that outlines just how awful these people really were. The Old West isn’t so romantic after all.
The book moves from the beginning of photography in the early 1850s to the unlikely end of an era, the 193os when the West Coast finally settled down and civilized (at least a little bit). Larry Johnson provides informative and unobtrusive text, letting the stark and often grisly photos convey the tone and emotion of the book. Simply put, this isn’t for kids. There are plenty of dead bodies, many hanging from nooses or laid out in a row, like this charmer of the Dalton gang–
Or how about Ned Christie, unfairly framed for the murder of Deputy Marshal David Maples in 1887, Oklahoma? This picture of Christie reveals that the emerging art/science of photography allowed for a certain fetishizing of the dead body–that the corpse, via mechanical reproduction, might somehow live on. Grisly.
We can see the same fascination with death in this famous image of Jesse James, who was shot in the back by Robert Ford while adjusting a picture. (Their complicated story is told in the brilliant revisionist film The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, by the way).
There are less famous but equally intriguing figures as well, like Benjamin Hodges, a black Mexican cowboy who made his living as a con artist in Dodge City. Here is the confident confidence man–
The images in Outlaws of the Old West are both fun and unsettling, and Johnson never glosses over or sugar coats the ugly truths behind these images (he even points out that, though we see the shootout at the OK Corral as a kind of archetypal battle between good vs. evil, the Earps and their pal Doc Holliday were hardly angels). The pictures in this book gel more with the imagery we find in revisionist Westerns like Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian or Sam Peckinpah’s bloody films, which is another way of saying that they aren’t for the faint of heart–and I enjoy that about the volume. Check it out.
10 Gunslinging Outlaws of the American Wild West
The American Wild West includes the history, folklore, people, and events of the mid-1800s to the beginning of the 20th century (though some people date it up to the 1920s). During this time of expansion from coast to coast, many people rose to fame through their exciting (and often illegal) lives. We still remember these men and women today and this list looks at ten of the most fascinating and memorable.
&ldquoCurly Bill&rdquo was so-called because of his head of thick, curly black hair. After the death of &ldquoOld Man&rdquo Clanton, he became the leader of the &ldquoCowboys&rdquo gang of cattle rustlers in Tombstone, Arizona. He also worked for a while as a tax collector for Cochise County Sheriff John Behan. Curly Bill was a heavy drinker who became even more rambunctious when drunk. One night, while drinking with other Cowboys, he was asked by Marshal Fred White to give up his pistol. In handing the gun over to the Marshall, it accidentally discharged, hitting White. Fred White, who had been friendly with Curly Bill, made a statement on his deathbed that he believed the shooting was an accident and Brocius was acquitted. Wyatt Earp testified in his defense, but later shot and killed him in retaliation for the murder of his brother Morgan Earp.
Sam Bass started out an honest man. After running away from the abusive uncle who raised him, he went to work in a sawmill in Mississippi. His dream was to be a cowboy and he eventually made his way to Texas. After one season, he decided he didn&rsquot like it. In 1876, Bass and a rough character named Joel Collins drove a herd of longhorns up north where the prices for cattle were higher. They were supposed to go back to Texas to pay off the owners of the herd, but instead they took the $8,000 profit for themselves. He and Collins wasted the money from the cattle drive on gambling in Deadwood. A few months later, he and Collins went into another venture- stagecoach robbery. After holding up seven stagecoaches, they didn&rsquot make much money. They set their sights on bigger prizes and turned to train robbery. Bass and his gang robbed the Union Pacific gold train from San Francisco, netting over $60,000, which is to this day the largest single robbery of the Union Pacific. He was wounded by Texas Rangers on the way to rob a small bank in Round Rock, and died two days later on his 27th birthday.
Myra Maybelle Shirley was born in Carthage, Missouri. As a young lady, she attended the Carthage Female Academy where she excelled in all subjects and became an accomplished pianist. She grew up with Cole Younger and later befriended the James brothers. When the outlaws of the James-Younger gang needed to hide out, they often stayed at the Shirley family farm. It wasn&rsquot long before Maybelle was introduced to a life of crime and earned the nickname &ldquoThe Bandit Queen.&rdquo In 1866, Belle married Jim Reed, a former Confederate Army guerrilla. Jim Reed tried to live the honest life of a farmer, but when that didn&rsquot pan out, he fell in with the Starrs, a Cherokee Indian family notorious for stealing horses. Along with his wife&rsquos friends, the Jameses and Youngers, they planned and executed many daring heists. Jim was killed while trying to escape from the custody of a deputy sheriff who had arrested him for one such robbery. After the loss of her husband, Belle made her living organizing and planning robberies, as well as fencing stolen goods. When she was unable to bribe the law into looking the other way, she would seduce them to get what she wanted. She married Sam Starr in 1880, and two years later, both of them were convicted of stealing horses. They were released a year later and went right back into lawlessness. Belle was murdered on Feb. 3, 1889, two days before she was to turn 41. She was shot in the back while riding home from the general store. Her killer has never been identified.
Cole Younger&rsquos life was forever changed when his father was murdered by Union Captain Walley. Mr. Younger had given Walley a severe beating for making advances on his daughter (Cole&rsquos sister). Cole was already a member of Quantrill&rsquos Raiders but after the murder of his father, he joined the Confederate Army. It is not for certain when he went into banditry, but the first time he was mentioned as a suspect was after the 1868 robbery of Nimrod Long & Co., a bank in Russellville, Kentucky. Cole and his brothers formed a gang with Jesse and Frank James. They robbed stagecoaches, trains, and banks in Missouri, Kentucky, Kansas, and West Virginia. Luck ran out for the Younger boys on September 7, 1876 during a botched bank robbery. Cole and his brothers Jim and Bob pled guilty to avoid the hangman&rsquos noose. They were sentenced to life, but were paroled in 1901. Cole toured the nation with Frank James giving speeches about the Wild West. He later became a Christian and renounced his criminal past and died peacefully 4 years later, with 11 bullets still embedded in his body.
James Miller was also known as &ldquoDeacon Jim&rdquo because he went to church and did not smoke or drink. Despite his piousness, he was actually one of the deadliest guns in the Wild West. He openly stated that he would kill anyone for money, and his rate was reported at anywhere from $150 to $2,000. Miller&rsquos usual method was to ambush his victims at night using a shotgun and wearing a black frock coat, making him hard to see in the darkness. His coat also concealed a steel plate he wore on his chest to protect him from opposing gunfire, an early version of a bullet-proof vest. He is known to have committed 14 murders, but rumors swelled that number to 50. He was arrested in Oklahoma, for the murder of A.A. &ldquoGus&rdquo Bobbitt. Not wanting to leave it up to a jury, a lynch mob dragged Miller and three others out to an abandoned stable to be hanged. Before he died, he made two requests. He wanted his ring to be given to his wife (who was a cousin of John Wesley Hardin) and to be allowed to wear his hat while being hanged. He went out on his own terms, shouting &ldquoLet &lsquoer rip!&rdquo before he jumped off his box to his death. His body and the bodies of the other three men lynched that night were left hanging for hours until a photographer could be found to immortalize the event.
The Sundance Kid (Henry Longabaugh) earned his nickname when he was caught and convicted of horse thievery in Sundance, Wyoming. Despite his reputation as a gunfighter, he is not certain to have actually killed anyone. After his release from jail in 1896, he and Robert LeRoy Parker aka &ldquoButch Cassidy&rdquo formed the gang known as the Wild Bunch. They were responsible for the longest string of successful train and bank robberies in American history. Due to the pressure of the Pinkerton Detective Agency on their trail, Sundance, Butch, and Etta Place left the United States for Argentina to let things cool down. He is believed to have been killed in a shootout in Bolivia, but several family members claim he actually returned to the states, changed his name to William Henry Long, and lived in the small town of Duchesne, Utah until 1936. As of this writing, Long&rsquos body has been exhumed and is undergoing DNA testing to determine the truth.
In 1879, at the age of 13, Robert LeRoy Parker (Butch Cassidy) lived and worked with his family on the ranch of Jim Marshall in Circleville, Utah. It was there that he met his friend and mentor, Mike Cassidy who gave Bob his first gun and taught him how to shoot. Years later, Bob would take his last name, Cassidy, as a tribute. His first run-in with the law occurred when he rode into town to buy a new pair of overalls. The general store was closed, so Bob let himself in, found a pair that fit, and left a note promising that he would be back to pay later. The merchant reported him to the Sherriff, but he was acquitted of any crime. On June 24, 1889, he and three others robbed the San Miguel Valley Bank in Telluride, netting $21,000. With this money, he bought a ranch near the infamous &ldquoHole-in-the-Wall&rdquo outlaw hideout. Parker, by this time &ldquoButch Cassidy&rdquo, was never a very good rancher, and it is believed to have simply been a cover for his illegal activities. In 1896, he became the leader of the infamous group of criminals known as the Wild Bunch that included some of the most well-known outlaws of the Wild West. As with the Sundance Kid, it is unknown if he really died in Bolivia, or if, as some relatives claim, he returned to America.
The son of a Methodist preacher, he was named after the founder of the Methodist faith. When he was only 14 years old, he stabbed a boy for taunting him. A year later, he was playfully wrestling with an ex-slave named Mage. He scratched Mage&rsquos face, and the next day, Mage hid on a path and attacked Hardin in retaliation. Hardin fired three warning shots, but when Mage didn&rsquot back off, Hardin was forced to shoot him in self-defense. Mage died as a result. Since many of the Texas State Police were themselves former slaves, and Hardin was a &ldquoJohnny Reb&rdquo, he didn&rsquot stand a chance of a fair trial. He went into hiding and was warned by his brother when the police found out where he was. He did not run, but stayed and fought instead. He killed all three policemen and evaded the law. Several arrests and escapes later, he ended up in Abilene, Kansas, where he befriended &ldquoWild Bill&rdquo Hickok. While in Abilene, he stayed at the American House Hotel. When the stranger in the next room wouldn&rsquot stop snoring, he fired a gun into the ceiling twice. The first shot woke the man up, and the second one killed him. Hardin made his escape out of the window and left for Texas. Many skirmishes with the law followed, and he was finally captured, convicted, and went to jail for seventeen years. During his time incarcerated, he finished his law degree and practiced as a lawyer upon his release. He died when he was shot in the back of the head while playing dice.
Jesse James was born in Missouri, and along with his brother, Frank, was a Confederate guerrilla fighter during the Civil War. After the war, the James boys joined the Younger brothers and formed the James-Younger Gang. Together, they robbed banks, stagecoaches, and trains. In 1869, the gang held up the Daviess County Savings Association in Gallatin, Missouri. Jesse shot and killed a clerk, believing him to be someone else. When he realized his terrible mistake, he began a correspondence with John Newman Edwards, editor and founder of the Kansas City Times. Edwards had fought for the Confederacy also, and was sympathetic to the James brothers. He ran many admiring articles about the gang and published Jesse Jame&rsquos letters to the public, in which he declared his innocence. These articles raised his public profile and made him a kind of folk hero. Though he was famous while alive, he became even more so in death, when he was shot in the back of the head in his own home by trusted friend Robert Ford. His mother, Zerelda James chose this epitaph for her son : &ldquoIn Loving Memory of my Beloved Son, Murdered by a Traitor and Coward Whose Name is not Worthy to Appear Here.&rdquo
There is no outlaw more legendary that Billy the Kid. Countless books, movies, and songs have been written about his life, but the reality was not quite as sensational. Often portrayed as a cold-blooded killer, he entered a life of crime out of necessity, not malice. People who knew him personally called him brave, resourceful honest, and full of laughter. Under different circumstances, he could have been a successful man. It has been said that he killed 21 people, one for each year of his life, but he was probably only responsible for four. In 1877, he went to work as a cattle guard for rancher, John Tunstall. Tunstall was embroiled in a bitter dispute with the local merchants Lawrence Murphy and James Dolan. On February 18, 1878, Tunstall was murdered by Murphy&rsquos workers while herding his cattle in the open range. He was unarmed and alone. This event started what would be called The Lincoln County War. Enraged, the ranch hands, including Billy, were deputized and given the warrants to bring in the Murphy men. They called themselves the Regulators. Due to the corruption of the day, the governor sided with Murphy, and the Regulators became the enemy. After a daring escape from jail, and a few years on the run, he was shot and killed by Sheriff Pat Garrett while hiding out in a friend&rsquos home. Over the years, several people have claimed to be Billy the Kid, but the chance that he survived and/or his body was misidentified are highly unlikely.
This is a fun one. While all of the madams of the Wild West lived life on the edge, Fannie jumped right over it with both feet. Her legend includes being close friends with Butch Cassidy’s gang, willingly providing her brothel as a hang out for cowboys on the run, and playing matchmaker for outlaws.
Fannie’s family arrived in Texas when she was just one year old, immigrating from England. Growing up as both an immigrant and in the middle of the Wild West may have inspired her to enter “the sporting life”, as she took up the trade as a teenager and opened her own brothel at age 20 in San Antonio. It was known as a high-quality establishment and outlaws loved spending time there following their successful heists. Most famously, the mysterious Etta Place is said to have met the Sundance Kid while working for Fannie. One would have loved to have been a fly on the wall in that place! Fannie was trustworthy, known for never giving up information about any fugitive customer.
Fannie was successful partially because of her shrewdness. When public opinion started to turn aggressively against brothels, she closed up shop and quietly shifted careers. She drifted into obscurity, with various theories about what she did with the remaining years of her life.
10 of the most dangerous lawmen of the Old West
The Old West produced a bunch of legends. As a matter of fact, if there’s one thing it was consistently good at, it was taking outlaws and turning them into icons. Men like Billy the Kid, Butch Cassidy, and John Wesley Hardin became part of American culture despite that they were aggressive criminals. In a time of lawlessness and disorder, there were lawmen who commanded respect and weren’t afraid to stand up to outlaws. In the process, they created the model of the Western hero. These men made a difference.
10. Pat Garrett
Patrick Floyd Jarvis “Pat” Garrett was an American Old West lawman, bartender and customs agent. In 1880s, Garrett became the Lincoln County Sheriff and secured his reputation when he gunned down one of the most popular bad guys in the Old West, William H. Bonney aka Billy the Kid. According to legend, Garrett and Bonney knew each other and they were even supposedly often seen together gambling in saloons. Anyway, as soon as Garrett became sheriff, his duty was to bring Billy the Kid to justice. The $500 reward just placed on Bonney’s head probably helped, too. On July 14, 1881, Garrett tracked down the Kid near Fort Summer and shot him. The shot hit the Kid in the chest just above the heart, killing him.
9. Bill Tilghman
William Matthew “Bill” Tilghman, Jr. was a lawman and gunfighter during the Wild West days of Kansas and Oklahoma. During his career, Tilghman earned the admiration of many gunslingers like Wyatt Earp, Virgil Earp, the Mastersons, and Wild Bill Hickok. Tilghman developed the status of a man who only resorted to violence when it was absolutely essential, but was known to be deadly efficient in its use as a last resort. Deputy U.S. Marshal Bill Tilghman, along with two others, Chris Madsen and Heck Thomas, were known as The Three Guardsmen, a name popularized in Old West literature describing the three lawmen who became legendary in their pursuit of many outlaws of the late 19th century.
8. William “Dave” Allison
Allison has been described as the most efficient lawman in Texas. In 1888, at the age of 27, he became the youngest sheriff in the Lone Star State. In the process, he became the youngest sheriff in Texas history. Allison was well-known for his confidence, but also had a dark side, as he was quite a bad gambler. Sometimes he left his positions under a cloud of suspicion. He is most noted for leading the group that caught and killed the Mexican revolutionary turned fugitive Pascual Orozco in 1915. Later on in life, Allison became a detective. While operating for the Texas Cattle Raisers Association, Allison built a case against two cattle rustlers in Seminole, Texas. In 1923, on the night before the trial, he was shot down and killed in his hotel room by the same two notorious cattle rustlers.
7. John Hicks Adams
John Hicks Adams first came to California as a forty-niner during the Gold Rush. Adams began his political career by running for and securing the office of County Supervisor of Gilroy and Almaden Township in the September election of 1861. In 1863, John ran for Sheriff, defeating William Aram by more than 500 votes. Shortly after that, a group of Confederate partisan rangers, known as Captain Ingram’s Partisan Rangers from the San Jose area, who had committed all sorts of crimes in Santa Clara County, robbed two stage coaches in the Bullion Bend Robbery near Placerville. Adams was close to getting the gang on several occasions, but they always managed to slip away. However, an information filtered to Sheriff Adams that the Confederates were holed up in a shack near Almaden. Sheriff Adams and a posse of Deputies surrounded the shack, and requested their surrender. The robbers failed to comply with the order and tried to escape. All of the rangers were caught or killed in the gunfight that resulted. Sheriff Adams was wounded when a bullet struck his pocket watch and glanced into his ribs.
6. John Barclay Armstrong
John Barclay Armstrong was a Texas Ranger lieutenant and a United States Marshal. In 1875, he joined the Special Force, and as second-in-command to Captain Leander, he earned the nickname “McNelly’s bulldog.” Armstrong is usually remembered for his part in the pursuit and capture of the most dangerous gunmen in the Wild West, John Wesley Hardin. Hardin had been captured once by rangers, but he managed to escape. Armstrong found himself in a train coach in a standoff against Hardin and four of his men. Armstrong killed one of the men, knocked Hardin unconscious, and disarmed the other three. He then safely escorted Hardin to Texas, where he received 25 years in prison. Besides this famous incident, Armstrong also helped track down outlaw King Fisher and was part of the group that killed violent train robber Sam Bass.
5. Harry Wheeler
An Arizona lawman who was the third captain of the Arizona Rangers, as well as the sheriff of Cochise County. Harry Wheeler was involved in some of the last true Western gunfights. In October 1904, Wheeler killed an outlaw at the Palace Saloon in Tucson. It was a classic shoot-out between two men. Wheeler turned out to be the fastest gunslinger. Just a few years later, he was involved in another classic gunfight, a shootout in Benson, where he killed a second man, named J.A. Tracy. In that second incident, Wheeler was wounded but made a full recovery. Later he earned a position as Cochise County sheriff and in 1917 Wheeler took part in the Gleeson Gunfight, one of the last shoot-outs of the Old West.
4. Heck Thomas
Henry Andrew “Heck” Thomas was a lawman on the American frontier, most notably in Oklahoma. Another member of the Three Guardsmen, along with two other deputy U.S. marshals, Chris Madsen and Bill Tilghman. The Three Guardsmen were credited with the apprehension of more than three hundred outlaws over the next decade, killing several. In August 1896, Thomas Heck led a posse that tracked down and wiped out outlaw Bill Doolin, who had already been captured by Tilghman, only to escape from prison, on July 5, 1896. By 1902, much of Oklahoma had been settled down. Thomas was dispatched to Lawton, where he was elected as the first police chief in the town. He served in that rank for seven years until his health began to fail.
3. John Hughes
Texas Ranger and cowboy of the Old West. Hughes On May 1886, when thieves stole his neighbor’s horses, Hughes pursued the band, killing two of the men in the process, and capturing the remaining thieves in New Mexico Territory, returning the horses to his neighbor. The pursuit lasted for several months and brought him to the attention of local Texas Ranger Ira Aten. Word of Hughes’s exploits spread fast and soon reached renowned Texas Ranger Ira Aten, who asked Hughes’s help in apprehending escaped murderer Judd Roberts. After shooting the bandit, Aten convinced Hughes to join the Texas Rangers. After the 1893 murder of Texas Ranger Captain Frank Jones, killed during an ambush by bandits, Hughes led a group of Rangers in a hunt for the killers, most of whom were members of the Olguin family. Hughes managed to obtain the names of all bandits involved in the killing of his captain, 18 men in total. He then took his rangers and tracked down every single man on the list, and either killed them all in shootouts or by way of hanging. These daring actions of Hughes led to many books, including “the Lone Star Ranger”, and his apparent inspiration for the Lone Ranger character.