What do you think when you hear the word “Outlaw”? Cowboys? Gunfights? Bags of gold?
The American Frontier is full of interesting history. The people who came west were looking for different things. Freedom, wealth, and adventure lured men from comfort and from poverty alike. Some were running from bad circumstances or bad decisions. The Civil War tore the country apart and angry confederates brought their grudges West with them. Most of the crimes Jesse James and the James-Younger Gang committed were politically motivated against members of the Republican party.
Some families, like the Dalton Brothers actually began life on the side of the Law. Their oldest brother, Frank, was a Deputy US Marshal killed in the line of duty in Oklahoma Territory. After his brothers didn’t get paid for their efforts to uphold the law, they turned to the outlaw life. Their sister, Eva, kept her heart and home open to them. In an effort to keep from getting caught or get her in trouble, they dug a tunnel under her house to the barn to make a quick get-away if the law came looking for them. The Dalton Gang Hideout is still standing and if you visit, you can walk through the tunnel yourself!
Billy The Kid’s mother moved west for her health, but she ended up dying before he and his brother were quite men. The scrawny orphan was considered bright and honest, but got picked on and bullied really bad. Through a series of bad luck and fiery temper, he began his outlaw career at age 17 and spent the last four years of his life killing around 21 men. He was caught many times, but was quite an escape artist. One time he escaped out a fireplace chimney!
When outlaws were hiding from the law, they often came to The Neutral Strip which eventually became the Oklahoma Panhandle. The land here looks very flat and desolate, but hides canyons and caves throughout. Landowners out here have stories that can curl your toes! The old farmers and cowboys love to share stories of gunfights and hangings.
If you ever have a chance to visit Dodge City, Kansas you’ll want to visit historic Boot Hill Museum. Dodge City Days is the first week in August with reenactments of gunfights too! You can learn more about the lawmen and outlaws who made Dodge City famous on the Boot Hill website.
The Legends of America website has an exhaustive list of outlaws and outlaw gangs with pictures.
The WildWest.org website also has a nice listing of information about Wild West Outlaws and Lawmen.
I wish I could tell you those days were all over. Cattle Rustling is on the rise again. Ornery outlaws now drive a pickup pulling a stock trailer. They often will have one tame cow with them that they let out into the pasture and then call back. Other cows will follow her back into the trailer then the rustlers go sell them. A big momma cow is worth a lot of money. The ranchers keep close count of their cows and really miss them.
Free Outlaw Resources:
Jesse James Timeline from PBS American Experience
Timeline of the James Gang on Legends of America
Oklahoma Printables from OK Historical Society
Dawnita Fogleman is a 5th generation Oklahoma panhandle pioneer and author of Star Chronicles: A Bible-Based Study of the Stars. She and her husband have homeschooled since 1995, two graduated and four still in the adventure. Dawnita blogs about Homeschooling, Homemaking, and Homesteading a PrarieDustTrail.com
Another great installment of the ABC’s of American History series. Have you missed a few? Check out the entire series below: