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The Top 5 Most Notorious Outlaws

BOOK: The Top 5 Most Notorious Outlaws
10.29Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
The Top 5 Most Notorious Outlaws: Jesse James, Billy the Kid, John Dillinger, and Bonnie & Clyde
Table of Contents
The Top 5 Most Notorious Outlaws: Jesse James, Billy the Kid, John Dillinger, and Bonnie & Clyde

By Charles River Editors

About Charles River Editors

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Jesse James (1847-1882)

“There is a hell of excitement in this part of the country.” – Jesse James

The Wild West has made legends out of many men after their deaths, but like Wild Bill Hickok, Jesse James was a celebrity during his life. However, while Hickok was (mostly) a lawman, Jesse James was and remains the most famous outlaw of the Wild West, with both his life of crime and his death remaining pop culture fixtures.

James and his notorious older brother Frank were Confederate bushwhackers in the lawless region of Missouri during the Civil War. Despite being a teenager, James was severely wounded twice during the war, including being shot in the chest, but that would hardly slow him down after the war ended. As he recuperated, some of the men he was known to associate with during the war robbed Clay County Savings Bank in Liberty, Missouri in 1866. While it’s still unclear whether James was involved, he was soon conducting his own bank robberies.

Young Jesse became notorious in 1869 after robbing the Daviess County Savings Association in Gallatin, Missouri, during which he murdered the bank cashier in the mistaken belief that the cashier was Union officer Samuel Cox. Despite being officially branded an outlaw, public resentment with government corruption and the banks helped turn James into a celebrated “Robin Hood” type of robber, despite the fact he never actually gave anyone money.

Eventually James, his brother and their infamous gang became the most hunted outlaws in the country, but Jesse would famously be done in by the brother of his most trusted gang members. After Jesse moved in with the Ford brothers, Bob Ford began secretly negotiating turning in the famous outlaw to Missouri Governor Thomas Crittenden. On April 3, 1882, as the gang prepared for another robber, Jesse was famously shot in the back of the head by Bob Ford as he stood on a chair fixing a painting. While conspiracy theories have continued to linger that somehow James was not killed on that day, the Ford brothers would celebrate their participation in his murder, Bob himself would be murdered a few years later, and Jesse James’s legacy had been ensured.

This book chronicles the outlaw’s life, while also analyzing his legacy and the mythology that has enveloped his story, attempting to separate fact from fiction to determine what the notorious robber was really like. Along with pictures of important people, places, and events in his life, you will learn about Jesse James like you never have before.

Billy the Kid (1859-1881)

“I’m not afraid to die like a man fighting, but I would not like to be killed like a dog unarmed.’’ – Billy the Kid

In many ways, the narrative of the Wild West has endured more as legend than reality, and a perfect example of that can be found in the legend of William Henry McCarty Jr., better known as William H. Bonney or “Billy the Kid”. Indeed, separating fact from fiction when it comes to the life of the West’s most famous outlaw is nearly impossible, due in great measure to the fact that the young man himself cultivated the image of a deadly outlaw and legendary gunman himself. Though Billy the Kid may have killed anywhere from 4-9 men in his short life, he was often credited for killing more than 20.

With a wit as quick as his trigger, Billy the Kid had a bullet and a wisecrack for every man he killed, and his notoriety only grew when exaggerated accounts of his actions in Lincoln County eventually earned The Kid a bounty on his head. In December 1880, an ambitious buffalo hunter (and future Sheriff), Pat Garrett, helped track down and capture the famous outlaw, only for Billy the Kid to somehow escape jail shortly before his scheduled execution.

There was plenty of gunplay in the outlaw’s life to help him become a well known if not celebrated figure in the West, but the legendary and controversial nature of his death has also helped him endure. A few months after his escape from jail, Billy the Kid was hunted down by Garrett in New Mexico once again, and it’s still not completely clear whether The Kid was killed by Garrett in self-defense or simply murdered outright.

This book chronicles The Kid’s life, while also analyzing his legacy and the mythology that has enveloped his story, attempting to separate fact from fiction to determine what the frontier legend was really like. Along with pictures of important people, places, and events in his life, you will learn about Billy the Kid like you never have before.

John Dillinger (1903-1934)

“I will be the meanest bastard you ever saw when I get out of here.”

John Dillinger

America has always preferred heroes who weren’t clean cut, an informal ode to the rugged individualism and pioneering spirit that defined the nation in previous centuries. The early 19th century saw the glorification of frontier folk heroes like Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone. After the Civil War, the outlaws of the West were more popular than the marshals, with Jesse James and Billy the Kid finding their way into dime novels. And at the height of the Great Depression in the 1930s, there were the “public enemies”, common criminals and cold blooded murderers elevated to the level of folk heroes by a public frustrated with their own inability to make a living honestly.

Two months after Franklin D. Roosevelt’s inauguration in 1933, a petty thief who had spent almost a decade behind bars for attempted theft and aggravated assault was released from jail. By the end of the year, that man, John Dillinger, would be America’s most famous outlaw: Public Enemy Number One. From the time of his first documented heist in early July 1933, until his dramatic death in late July of the following year, he would capture the nation’s attention and imagination as had no other outlaw since Jesse James.

His exploits were real, and in many cases impressive, but Dillinger’s importance and legacy have always been partly symbolic. The country was in a panic over a supposed crime wave that some historians believe was more perception than reality, but a new breed of criminal targeting the nation’s already vulnerable banks was a potent illustration and metaphor of the way society’s institutions and morals seemed to be coming undone. And in the mind of the public, the outlaws of the 30s were very different from the gangsters of the 20s; they hailed from the farm country of America’s nostalgic past, not the corrupt cities of its unsettled present and scarier future.  Much was made of Dillinger’s roots in the farming town of Mooresville, Indiana, even though he came of age in Indianapolis, and was very much a city boy at heart.

Ultimately, the story of Dillinger and the era’s other famous criminals—Bonnie and Clyde, Baby Face Nelson, Pretty Boy Floyd—would largely be seen as a story of America’s fall from grace. Just before Dillinger was released from prison in 1933, a feature article ran entitled “The Farmer Turned Gangster.”  America saw in Dillinger what it wanted to see, and even in Dillinger’s lifetime it was nearly impossible to separate myth from reality.

Even still, Dillinger would never have become the mythical figure he became if J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI hadn’t actively marketed him as “Public Enemy Number One,” and if he hadn’t died in a way that was almost scripted for Hollywood. Dillinger’s figure looms so large in American history and popular culture that it’s easy to forget that his starring role in the daily news lasted for less than a year.

This book looks at the life and crime of the famous outlaw, but it also humanizes him and analyzes his lasting legacy. Along with pictures of Dillinger and important people, places, and events in his life, you will learn about the infamous public enemy like you never have before.

Bonnie Parker (1910-1934) and Clyde Barrow (1909-1934)

“You’ve read the story of Jesse James

Of how he lived and died

If you’re still in need of something to read

Here’s the story of Bonnie and Clyde.”

Bonnie Parker, “The Trail’s End”

There was no shortage of well known public enemies like John Dillinger and Baby Face Nelson, but none fascinated the American public as much as Bonnie and Clyde. While the duo and their Barrow Gang were no more murderous than other outlaws of the era, the duo’s romantic relationship and the discovery of photographs at one of their hideouts added a more human dimension to Bonnie and Clyde, even as they were gunning down civilians and cops alike.

When Bonnie and Clyde were finally cornered and killed in a controversial encounter with police, a fate they shared with many other outlaws of the period, their reputations were cemented. In some way though, the sensationalized version of their life on the run is less interesting than reality, which included actual human drama within the gang.

This book looks at the lives and crimes of the famous outlaws, but it also humanizes them and examines their relationship. Along with pictures of Bonnie Parker, Clyde Barrow and important people, places, and events in their lives, you will learn about two of America’s most notorious outlaws like you never have before.

BOOK: The Top 5 Most Notorious Outlaws
10.29Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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