When thinking of the Old West, various scenes start to play; a bar brawl between two cowboys driven by one too many shots of whisky; the famous gunfight at the O.K. Corral; Will Smith and Kevin Kline battling a spider-like machine; Clint Eastwood’s rugged features in spaghetti western flicks. Whatever thoughts come to mind, there will always be a looming figure in the background, guns loaded, ready to cause trouble. Yes, indeed, these Western outlaws (or cowboy bandits) truly ran the American frontier… or did they?
Billy the Kid
Born Henry McCarty and sometimes referred to as William H. Bonney, our famed “gunslinger” was often described as charismatic and well-spoken but with a violent attitude. But with the help of dime novels over exaggerating his exploits, Billy was accredited with nearly 21 killings when in fact, it was only four. As they say in the modern world of print media, don’t believe everything you read!
Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid
Notorious bank and train robbers and ring leaders of the Wild Bunch outlaw gang, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid led a per se successful criminal life, becoming America’s most wanted criminals. After establishing their fame in the Old West, the outlaw duo set their sights on Argentina and fled the country. A few bank hits later and Lady Luck’s flame began to burn out. They became western desperados and, according to one theory, perished at the hands of the Bolivian police. Oh how the mighty have fallen!
Jesse & Frank James
Jesse and Frank James are likely to be the most widely celebrated Western bandits in American history, though much of the attention was focused on young Jesse James ( just ask Cher). Beginning their aspiring career as murderers and robbers as a pair, their lives eventually went separate directions. Jesse James was shot from behind by Robert Ford as he turned to straighten a picture frame. Frank surrendered to the authorities but was never convicted so he led a happy life as a happy farmer. The moral of the story? Don’t turn your back on people.
Charles E. Boles, dubbed the Black Bart by local newspapers, was the fearsome robber of the Wells Fargo stagecoach who demanded the loot in such a courteous manner and occasionally left a poetry verse behind. His years of crime finally came to an end when Wells Fargo pressed charges after, what would be Black Bart’s final robbery and was sentenced to 6 years in jail. When his sentence was served, his health had deteriorated, ultimately ending his passion for crime. And that’s what I call poetic justice.