Published on February 28, 2008
Law-Breakers of the Wild-West: Law-Breakers of the Wild-West Who was the Baddest in the West? By D.Humphreys www.learnhistory.org.uk www.schoolhistory.co.uk Law-Breakers in the West: Law-Breakers in the West Billy the Kid: Billy the Kid Born Henry McCarty in the slums of New York in 1859, the Kid alias William Bonney is a legend of the West. He was an orphan by 14 and turned to petty crime in Kansas. His first robbery was a bundle of washing from a Chinese laundry! Later he stole cattle and horses, including the horse of a cavalry sergeant. The Kid killed Frank Cahill, a blacksmith, after a game of cards turned into a cussing. He escaped from jail for the second time in his life aged 17. His mentor, John Tunstall, was killed by rival ranchers, and the Kid was gutted. The Kid and the ‘Regulators’, Tunstall’s mens’ posse, killed many foes in ‘The Lincoln County War’. Afterwards, the Kid kept on killing until his own shooting by Pat Garrett in 1881. He claimed to have killed 21 men, but historians say he killed only four! Billy the Kid remains one of the heroes of The West. Jesse James and the James-Younger Gang: Jesse James and the James-Younger Gang In 1866 the first peacetime armed bank raid took place in Liberty, Missouri. A teenage eye-witness, George Wymore, was shot dead. Jesse and his brother Frank were Confederate ‘soldiers’ in the Civil War. They were part of Bill Quantrill’s band of raiders and notorious for brutality. With ‘Cole’ Younger, the gang robbed banks across America with much support from the people in the South. In 1874 at the peak of their career they even robbed a steamboat. The Youngers were jailed in 1876, but the Jameses continued, until two of their gang, Bob and Charlie Ford betrayed them for the $10,000 reward. Bob shot Jesse dead aged 35 in 1882. After release from jail Frank entered show business. John Wesley Hardin: John Wesley Hardin The ‘Terror from Texas’ is reputed to have killed between 11 and 44 men. No-one really knows! The Civil War made Hardin, the son of a preacher, bitter, and he wreaked vengeance on black men, starting at the age of 15. He later became a cowboy and gunslinger, and shot a man for snoring loudly! He was jailed and released in 1892 having studied law. In 1895 aged 42 he was shot in the back of the head by John Selman, a local policeman and gunslinger. The Clanton Gang aka The Cowboys: The Clanton Gang aka The Cowboys The Cowboys numbered up to 300 members. They were rustlers and outlaws around Tombstone, Arizona. The local mining companies wanted The Cowboys out of town as they thought them ‘bad for business’ and hired the Earp brothers to enforce the law. After 2 years of tension it boiled over at the O.K. Corral in 1881. The Earps’ friend Doc Holliday fired the first shot, and the most famous 30 seconds in the history of the West began. The McLaury brothers and Billy Clanton were shot dead. The killing continued with Morgan Earp’s shooting in 1882. This fuelled a rampage of revenge by the Earps against The Cowboys. Much of what we know is disputed by both sides to this day. Wyatt Earp wrote the story behind the films and many feel the Clantons’ story has been ignored. Butch Cassidy, The Sundance Kid and the Wild Bunch: Butch Cassidy, The Sundance Kid and the Wild Bunch In the mid-1890s an out-of-reach valley in Wyoming known as the Hole in the Wall was becoming a haven for outlaws and rustlers. From here the second ‘Wild Bunch’ (no link to Doolin) began their careers. Between 1897 and 1902 the flamboyant gang robbed banks and trains without much brutality. Cassidy (Robert LeRoy Parker) and Sundance (Harry Longbaugh) fled to South America to live in 1902. In 1907 the Bolivian army caught up with them. After a shootout, Parker shot his badly wounded friend, and escaped, dying 30 years later. An ending not like the film, which has both men dying together in a blaze of glory! Bill Doolin and the Doolin-Dalton Gang aka The Wild Bunch: Bill Doolin and the Doolin-Dalton Gang aka The Wild Bunch Bill Doolin met his future gang as cowboys aged 23 in 1881. After a rowdy drunken party two lawmen were injured in gunfire. Doolin and the Daltons robbed trains but in 1891 three of the Daltons were shot during a bank raid in Coffeyville, Kansas. The gang recruited more outlaws and in 1893 a huge shoot-out killed 3 marshals and 2 innocent bystanders. For the next two years the Wild Bunch were picked off. Doolin was arrested and jailed for 50 years. He escaped after 2 months but was shot to death soon after. The rest of the gang were killed one by one. The Wild Bunch’s demise signalled the end of ‘The Wild West’. Wild Bill Longley: Wild Bill Longley William P. Longley killed his first victim, a black man, when he was 15. He was a racist who refused to accept the end of slavery after the Civil War. He killed three more black men then became a cowboy and a gambler. In 1875 he shot a man suspected of killing his cousin. He was hanged in 1878, aged 27. A crowd of 4,000 people watched as the botched execution needed to be re-done, properly as his feet had touched the ground on the first time! Isom Dart: Isom Dart Dart was born into slavery in 1854. He spent the war pilfering for the Southern army, then joined a Mexican cattle-rustling gang. He tried to shake off his criminal ways. When arrested by a Wyoming deputy, the lawman was badly injured. Dart took him to hospital and surrendered. The officials let him go. Cattle barons assassinated him in 1900. They would not forgive him for taking their beef profits from years previous. Cherokee Bill: Cherokee Bill He was known as the Black Billy the Kid. Born Cranford Goldsby to a member of the Buffalo Soldiers, Cherokee had a troubled life. His parents split and he joined the outlaw gang of Jim and Bill Cook, robbing stores and railroads. Cherokee could evade his pursuers by fitting in with Indian tribes. He was caught at the age of 20 and sentenced to hang for the murder of 13 men. In 1896 he was taken to the gallows and remarked, “This is about as good a day as any to die”. Asked if he had any last words, Cherokee said, “I came here to die, not make a speech.” He was 21 years young. Ben Hodges: Ben Hodges Unlike many outlaws, Hodges died of old age, in 1929. He was an expert swindler and managed to con banks and railroads. No prosecutor was able to pin him down. A vigilante gang however decided that proof was not needed, so they severed the tendons in Hodges’ ankles, crippling him. The Apache Kid: The Apache Kid The Apache Kid, or Zenogalache, was orphaned but later found his father’s killer and got revenge. He was a cavalry scout and managed to escape his captors. He led a gang of desperados around the SW of USA, robbing and murdering as they went. Even women and children were killed. Four of his gang strangled themselves when captured rather than hang. The Kid’s gang continued to attack settlers’ homes and outposts, showing no mercy. A reward for $5,000 was on his head. No-one knows whether he died of wounds from shoot-outs in 1894, 1905 or of TB in 1910. Black Bart: Black Bart Black Bart, alias stagecoach robber Charles Bole/Bolton, liked to leave poems at the scenes of his crimes! “I’ve laboured long and hard for bread For honour and for riches But on my corns too long you’ve tread You fine-haired sons of bitches” When caught he was given a light sentence as he had used an empty gun. He disappeared in 1888. Ned Christie: Ned Christie Christie was Indian policeman who turned to a life of crime. After seven years the Oklahoma deputies cornered him in a log fort in 1892. They needed 2,000 rounds of rifle fire and a cannon to get him out, finally using dynamite to blow the wall off his cabin. Ned came out, guns blazing, and was killed. The Rufus Buck Gang: The Rufus Buck Gang The Creek Indian teenage gang led by Rufus Buck shot a black deputy marshal then raped two women. They then shot a black boy, stole some horses and committed several hold-ups, all in 13 days in 1895. Their lawyer had no defence for their actions and they were hanged together in 1896. Buck July Sampson Davis bros Juan Cortina: Juan Cortina Juan Cortina was a well-off Mexican-American rancher. Outraged by racism towards his people, in 1859 he released Mexican prisoners from gaols and executed white men who had murdered Mexicans. He declared part of Texas independent from USA, the Republic of the Rio Grande, and for six months waged war against the army. Cortina escaped over the border and became a general in the Mexican army, a hero to his people.