Growing up, you probably heard some of the most famous names out of the American West: Jesse James, Zorro and Belle Starr are all names that lovers of Westerns are most likely familiar with. They often have stories that could have only taken place in the West—stories that can show us just what kind of time these outlaws really lived in. Nowadays, you might not be able to imagine a stagecoach being robbed, but back in the day of outlaws and bandits, it was a very common occurrence.
Outlaws expected that the law would be looking for them. They were always on the run and planning their next move. One of the most important things they had to look out for were Pinkerton detectives. Established in 1850, Pinkerton detectives were entrusted to catch criminals of the time and are often portrayed in Western films, sometimes alongside outlaws they never dealt with in real life.
Whether their reputation was created by stories, including on the silver screen, or from real life, each outlaw has left a lasting legacy. Though being an outlaw isn't exactly something to emulate, each of the stories can teach us something interesting about the Old West and the fascinating people who lived in it. If you think you know your outlaws, then prove it by taking this quiz!
Belle Starr was one of the most famous female outlaws ever. Her first crime was the theft of a horse. Like many outlaws before and after her, she was killed by a gunshot wound, although it is highly disputed on how the entire moment went down.
Big Jim Courtright had his reputation as a feared lawman ruined when it was found that he had participated in two murders. This was where Big Jim's life turned around, and he was then known as an outlaw that so many feared.
Bill Miner was an outlaw who was so polite during his schemes that he was known all around the country as the "Gentlemen Bandit." As he spent so much time in Canada throughout his life, maybe that's where he picked up on some of his good manners!
Zorro was an outlaw character created by Johnston McCulley, but he was an outlaw with good intentions for the people who needed help. While he was masked, he was known as Zorro, but he has a personal identity as well: Don Diego de la Vega.
Billy started out small, as most outlaws at the time did, by stealing alongside his brother. Eventually, he took his crime to another level when he decided to join a gang. He was arrested for his crimes, but Billy was not one to give up. He escaped, but his escapades were brought to an end when he was killed by a sheriff.
James Copeland was sworn into a large gang and became one of the leaders of the Wages and Copeland Clan. Throughout his life, he participated in heists and other crimes and was eventually convicted for them. He was sentenced to death in 1857 after his conviction.
Jesse James was a real outlaw who terrorized the land with his gang, the James–Younger Gang. They often robbed banks; in fact, what led to the ultimate downfall of the gang was an 1876 bank robbery in Minnesota that went wrong, with only Jesse and his brother Frank remaining alive and at large after. Jesse was killed by Robert Ford in 1882.
While there have been movies made about him, Butch Cassidy was in fact a real person. Unlike other gang members, Butch realized that he might only have one chance at getting out alive, and that was by leaving the United States for South America. Although he did manage to leave the U.S., his fate was still death by gunfire in 1908.
Clay was a real outlaw known to be a big trouble maker. Despite showing signs that he wasn't a good person throughout his life, eventually he killed men and caused other troubles around the country. Unlike many other outlaws, Clay suffered an accidental death while he was still relatively young.
While there were many men throughout history who were given this as a nickname, the outlaw we know as Robin Hood was not actually a real person. Instead, he was a fictional English outlaw arguably most famous from the Disney adaptation of the folklore.
Bob Ford is known for killing Jesse James, but Jesse James was the leader of the gang they were both part of. It's likely that Jesse would have never suspected that Bob would shoot him one day while off his guard in order to claim a reward and to gain amnesty for his own crimes.
Hoodoo Brown was at one time a pretty peaceful citizen who did a fair share of gambling. His original plan was to form a police force, which then turned sour when they became the Dodge City Gang. Instead of serving and protecting, they wound up stealing and killing.
Sam Bass would not have been someone that you'd expect to become an outlaw. He was motivated by making money and joined a gang where he pulled off many heists, including the famous Union Pacific Big Springs robbery. As many other outlaws, his fate was death by shootout with the law in 1878.
Ethan Allen Cord was an outlaw from the television show "Paradise" who was left with a few mouths to feed after the unfortunate death of his sister. His life drastically changed after this, and he left his ways as an outlaw to become the guardian of the kids.
Wild Bill Longley (not to be confused with Wild Bill Hickock!) started to kill when he was still a teenager. He was known to be hot-headed and easily provoked. This was best illustrated by the confrontation he had with a police officer, who he ended up killing. Wild Bill Longley was sentenced to death by hanging for his many crimes in 1878.
Ike Clanton was an outlaw who tried to take down some of the greatest lawmen of the time. Outlaws might have felt like this was the only way to get away with their crimes; it turned out that this tactic of taking on the law didn't work in Ike's favor. He was killed while resisting arrest in 1887.
Texas Jack Vermillion, also known as Shoot-Your-Eye-Out Vermillion or just Texas Jack, was a wanted man for his involvement in the surprisingly peaceful Dodge City War. Eventually, the man who was once wanted retreated to a life of peace; he passed away in 1911, possibly of drowning. Did you know it's said he once shot someone's eye out?
Arkansas Tom Jones, or Roy Daugherty, was part of the Wild Bunch gang and a hard man to catch—so much so that he ended up dead while the police were trying to arrest him. He was a wanted man for many things, such as the murder of three men, which he ended up doing jail time for.
Ben Wade was an outlaw in the movie "3:10 to Yuma." While he wasn't the leader of the gang that he was part of, he was still a pretty bad person and was often referred to as "Lucifer." Now that's a nickname that only the truly bad get!
Clyde Barrow has been immortalized countless times in television and film, but he was a real man as well. Part of the famous duo Bonnie and Clyde, as well as a member of the Barrow Gang, he terrorized the entire nation until he was gunned down with Bonnie.
Killin' Jim appeared to be a pretty good person, even serving as a town marshal for a time, but he had quite the nasty side to him. After joining a gang, it was nothing but a life filled with crime for Killin' Jim, who had no remorse for the things he did.
Although he's a lesser-known American outlaw, he still made a splash in the American West. He was known to rob horses, which eventually led to inevitable jail time in 1885.
Blue Duck was an outlaw who hung around the same gangs and people as Belle Starr. His activities ended up getting him in trouble and sentenced to hang, but not for long: His sentence was reduced, and he spent the rest of his life in a jail cell.
Josey Wales was an outlaw played by the famous Clint Eastwood in "The Outlaw Josey Wales." He wasn't always an outlaw, but something bad happening to you can change your life in an instant. In Josey's case, it was the murder of his family that turned him into a man outside of the law.
L.H. Musgrove was a real outlaw who terrorized the Old West. Most often, he preyed on places where the government had been situated, and he was no stranger to stealing a horse or two. Like so many others, he was sentenced to death in Denver, shortly after being jailed in 1868.
Thaddeus Jones was a fictional outlaw on the show "Alias Smith and Jones," where he took part in many different criminal activities alongside his cousin. The Devil's Hole Gang was the group he and his cousin worked with.
John Dillinger was the true definition of an outlaw. Fearless in his heists, he was treated like a popular figure by the media at the time, and his exploits were well known. It's no wonder that his gang earned the name The Terror Gang for the amount of fear they put into people. Dillinger was shot and killed by federal agents outside of the Biograph Theater in 1934.
Jim Younger and his brothers were members of the gang which ultimately led to his capture. Unlike most, his career as an outlaw was an on-and-off thing. While he would spend time partaking in gang-related activities, he would then take off and do a regular job; in fact, after the death of his brother John in 1874, he didn't return to the gang until 1876.
Bob Dalton and a group of his brothers became outlaws in the West, especially after raiding a train. Their life of crime led to most of the brothers being killed by officers during their last planned heist, Bob included.
"Lucky" Ned Pepper was from the movie "True Grit." He was an outlaw who traveled alongside Marshal Cogburn, and he even attempted to kill him at one point. He ended up being shot and killed instead.
From the show "Destry," Harrison went to jail for a crime he didn't commit, which enticed him to then become an outlaw. Although he did end up on the other side of the law, he was still weary of violence and tried to settle things as peacefully as possible.
Kid Curry wasn't always an outlaw, as he was running ranches at one point in his life. Everything seemed to change for him after he was arrested for killing a man in self-defense; believing he couldn't get a fair trial, he gave up his ranching business and went on the run, and the rest is history.
Doc Holliday was a real outlaw who dealt with tuberculosis, which led to his dental practice failing. He then became a gunman and best friends with Wyatt Earp. Both he and Wyatt loved to gamble, and Holliday became most famous for his involvement at the O.K. Corral. He died in 1887 because of general ill health that his tuberculosis caused, as well as alcoholism.
Joshua Smith was part of a cousin duo in "Alias Smith and Jones." Joshua was the one who spent the time planning and and getting ready for the duo's next move. Unfortunately, the actor who played him, Peter Duel, passed away while the show was still being filmed.
Tom Horn was contracted by the Pinkertons many times as a killer. What really cemented his status as an outlaw was his killing of a 14-year-old boy, which ultimately led to a death sentence for the man. This, however, has been disputed, as the only evidence given toward Tom being the murderer is testimony he gave while intoxicated.