(DaRK PaRTY has been on a western kick lately. We blame watching Brad Pitt play Jesse James in “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.” Pitt plays the outlaw with an inner savageness that got us thinking about the real Jesse James – and the other vicious gunslingers of the Old West. So let us introduce you to the real deal – our picks for the meanest hombres ever to saddle a horse or draw a six gun. The Old West photographs in this post are courtesy of the travel site Legends of America.)
Born: September 2, 1840
Died: July 3, 1887
Method of Death: He fell off a wagon and the wheel rolled over his neck, snapping it. His tombstone reads: “He never killed a man that did not need killing.”
Quick Bio: He was the fourth of nine children of a Presbyterian minister. Even as a child, he was known for his mercurial temper and violent mood swings. During the Civil War, he fought for the Confederate Army for the 9th Tennessee Cavalry. After the war, he joined the Ku Klux Klan. Later moving to
Why He Was a Bad Man: He killed several men in gunfights, including a sheriff. Once he went to dinner with Chunk Colbert, a notorious murderer who hated Allison. A gunfight erupted during dinner with Allison winning the battle. When asked why he go to dinner with a man who wanted him dead, Allison said, “Because I didn’t want to send a man to hell on an empty stomach.”
Myth Busting: Technically, Allison wasn’t a criminal. While he was arrested for murder several times, he always beat the rap and never spent any time in jail.
Actors Who Have Played Him: Unknown
Best Movie about Him: None
DP Cool Fact: Shortly before his death, while ranching in
Billy the Kid
Born: November 23, 1859
Died: July 14, 1881
Method of Death: Ambushed and gunned down by Sheriff Pat Garrett and two deputies.
Quick Bio: Little is known about William Henry McCarty until his criminal life began, but most historians think he was born in
Why He Was a Bad Man: McCarty was a cold-blooded killer and a crack shot with his pistol and rifle. He once murdered a man while playing cards together. Joe Grant boasted he would kill Billy the Kid without being aware that the man across from the table was, in fact, Billy the Kid. McCarty asked to see his pistol and allegedly emptied the chamber. When he identified himself as Billy the Kid, Grant drew on him and clicked on the empty chambers. McCarty then shot him down allegedly saying: “it was a game for two and I got there first.”
Myth Busting: McCarty is said to have killed 21 men, but the likely number is about 9 and most of those came during gun battles with the Regulators.
Actors Who Have Played Him: Roy Rogers, Audie Murphy, Val Kilmer and Emilio Estevez,
Best Movie about Him: “Billy the Kid” (1989)
DP Cool Fact: Billy the Kid is an outlaw who has captured the imagination of singers and rock stars. He is the subject of songs by Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Charles Daniels, Billy Dean and Billy Joel.
Born: April 13, 1866
Died: November 6, 1908
Method of Death: Most likely gunned down by Bolivian soldiers after a botched attempt to steal a mining company payroll with his friend the Sundance Kid. Although there is some evidence that Cassidy survived and returned to the
Quick Bio: Born Robert LeRoy Parker in
Why He Was a Bad Man: A thief and murderer who formed one of the most prolific bank robbery gangs in history.
Myth Busting: Popular culture has whitewashed many of the crimes by Butch Cassidy by portrayed him as preferring to use non-violent methods when engaged in robbing banks. This files in the face of the historical record that shows that many innocent people were killed by Cassidy and his gang of cutthroats.
Actors Who Have Played Him: Paul Newman and Tom Berenger
Best Movie about Him: “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” (1969)
DP Cool Fact: Cassidy once dated female outlaw Ann Bassett.
Born: May 26, 1853
Died: August 19, 1895
Method of Death: Shot three times in the back by John Selman, an
Quick Bio: Born in
Why He Was a Bad Man: He was gambler, drinker, gunslinger, and murderer. At one point near the end of his life, Hardin said about himself: “They tell lots of lies about me. They say I killed six or seven men for snoring. Well, it ain't true, I only killed one man for snoring.”
Myth Busting: Hardin is credited with several murders that he probably had nothing to do with. For example, he claimed to have murdered three Union soldiers in 1868 and there is no evidence connecting him to the crime. He also claimed to have gunned down a pair of Pinkerton detectives in
Actors Who Have Played Him: Rock Hudson, Randy Quaid, and Jack Elam
Best Movie about Him: “The Lawless Breed” (1953)
DP Cool Fact: Novelist Larry McMurtry included Hardin in his novel “Streets of Laredo.”
Born: November 21, 1860
Died: November 20, 1903
Method of Death: Hanged to death for a murder he most likely had nothing to do with.
Quick Bio: He was born in
Why He Was a Bad Man: Horn had a late career as the first frontier hitman.
Myth Busting: There’s some revivalist literature out there that claims Horn gets a bad wrap as an outlaw when most of his exploits took place while carrying a badge. But wearing a badge and being a lawman are two different things. There’s little doubt that Horn deserves his reputation.
Actors Who Have Played Him: Steve McQueen and David Carradine
Best Movie about Him: “Tom Horn” (1980)
DP Cool Fact: Horn joked with the guards as they lead him to the gallows to be hanged.
Born: September 5, 1847
Died: April 3, 1882
Method of Death: Shot in the back by cohort turned assassin Robert Ford
Quick Bio: Jesse Woodson James, probably the most famous western outlaw, was another minister’s son gone bad. Born in
Why He Was a Bad Man: Train and bank robber, cold-blooded murder.
Myth Busting: The idea that Jesse James was an Old West Robin Hood is completely misplaced. He is held up as a hero by neo-Confederate groups, but James was a ruthless killer and career criminal.
Actors Who Have Played Him: Tyrone Power, Audie Murphy, Robert Wagner, Robert Duvall, James Keach, Kris Kristofferson, Rob Lowe, Colin Farrell, Brad Pitt
Best Movie about Him: “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” (2007)
DP Cool Fact: There have been more than 20 movies made about Jesse James since 1921.
Harry Longabaugh (“Sundance Kid”)
Born: Sometime in 1867
Died: November 1908 (?)
Method of Death: Probably died with Butch Cassidy during a shootout in
Quick Bio: Not much is known about Sundance. He was a rancher for a while in
Why He Was a Bad Man: He was a convicted horse thief and notorious bank robber.
Actors Who Have Played Him: Robert Redford and William Katt.
Best Movie about Him: “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” (1969)
DP Cool Fact: The Sundance Film Festival, founded by
Born: January 15, 1844
Died: March 21, 1916
Method of Death: After prison, he became a born-again Christian and died of old age
Quick Bio: The son of a slave-holding farmer, Younger became a guerrilla fighter in
Why He Was a Bad Man: Bank and train robber and murderer. After he was caught, Younger said: “We tried a desperate game and lost. But we are rough men used to rough ways, and we will abide by the consequences.”
Myth Busting: Younger tried to portray himself as a Confederate rebel, but he was simply a criminal.
Actors Who Have Played Him: Cliff Robertson, David Carradine, Randy Travis, Scott Caan
Best Movie about Him: “The Long Riders” (1980)
DP Cool Fact: Younger was one of 14 children – four of which became ruthless outlaws.