For over 150 years the image of western bad men has thrilled readers and filled movie screens. Who hasn't heard of Jesse James, the Dalton Brothers, Black Bart, or Belle Starr? They are as much a part of American folklore as George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt.
There's something about the west that has brought out the best, and the worst, in mankind. The funny thing is, a cult following has developed around many of these bandits, making them out to be something they weren't.
The legend that grew up around Joaquin Murrieta was that he was just a normal guy who moved from Mexico to California, and tried to strike it rich during the gold rush. What he discovered instead, was a big sign that read, "No Mexicans Allowed." His supporters say, that because of the Foreign Claim Tax, he was forced off his land, and into a life of outlawry. And, then to support that claim, a whole legend has been built up, about how he stole from the rich, and shared his wealth with poor Mexican families. The only problem is the facts don't support that interpretation.
The same stories developed around Jesse James. Legend has it, Jesse only stole from rich bankers and railroad men, and the reason he could disappear into thin air after pulling a bank job or train robbery was because he shared the booty with poor Missouri families. As with Murrieta, that probably never happened. Jesse James was a thief. He stole money wherever he could get his hands on it. He robbed stagecoaches, banks, trains, you name it.
And last but not least, there's Belle Starr, one of the most badass female robbers on record. Belle called her pistols her "babies," and ruled an outlaw kingdom based out of her home in Indian Territory. She lived by the gun, and she died by the gun.
The outlaw life was almost always portrayed as a glamorous life, filled with loose women, blazing guns, and saddlebags overflowing with gold, silver, and greenbacks.
©2016 Nick Vulich (P)2016 Nick Vulich