12 Notorious Wild West Outlaws
12 Notorious Wild West Outlaws

12 Notorious Wild West Outlaws

Khalid Elhassan - September 9, 2017

12 Notorious Wild West Outlaws
Butch Cassidy, far right, The Sundance Kid, far left, and other members of the Wild Bunch gang. Wikimedia

Butch Cassidy

Born in Utah to British immigrants who had arrived in Utah as Mormon pioneers, Robert Leroy Parker (1866 – 1908), AKA Butch Cassidy, left home as a teen to work on a dairy farm. He was mentored by a cattle rustler named Mike Cassidy, whose surname he adopted, and a subsequent job as a butcher earned him the nickname “Butch”.

At age 14, he entered a closed store and stole jeans and a pie, leaving behind an IOU. He was tried, but acquitted. By age 18, Cassidy was working with horse thieves, delivering stolen animals to buyers. With three associates, Cassidy robbed his first bank, in Telluride, Colorado, in 1889, then fled to a remote Utah hideout known as Robbers Roost.

The following year, he bought a ranch in Wyoming, near a notorious bandit hideout known as Hole in the Wall. In 1894, he was arrested and convicted of horse stealing and extortion. Sentenced to two years, he was released and pardoned after a year and a half by Wyoming’s governor. Within months, Cassidy formed the “Wild Bunch” gang and robbed an Idaho bank. Soon thereafter, he recruited Harry Alonzo Longabaugh, AKA The Sundance Kid.

In 1897, Cassidy robbed a coal company’s payroll of $7000. In June 1899, the Wild Bunch robbed a Union Pacific passenger train in Wyoming, which led to a massive manhunt, during which a Sheriff was killed in a shootout. A month later, Cassidy directed a train robbery in New Mexico, which entailed a shootout in which a Sheriff and another lawman were killed.

Cassidy tried to negotiate an amnesty plea with Wyoming’s governor that would have entailed the Union Pacific Railroad dropping criminal charges. He torpedoed his chances by robbing another Union Pacific in 1900, while the negotiations were ongoing and in breach of a promise he made the governor. Pressure mounted as posses tracked down and killed or arrested Wild Bunch members and associates, one by one. In May 1900, Wild Bunch members rode into Moab, Utah, and killed the Sheriff and a deputy as payback for the earlier killing of two gang members.

In September, 1900, Cassidy robbed a Nevada bank of $33,000, and in July, 1901, Wild Bunch members robbed a train in Montana, netting $60,000. Under mounting pressure, however, the gang broke up, and Cassidy and Longabaugh fled to New York City in 1901, and from there sailed to Argentina, where they purchased and settled in a 15,000-acre ranch.

In February, 1905, Cassidy and Longabaugh robbed a bank in southern Argentina. Tipped off that a warrant had been issued for their arrest, the duo sold their ranch in May, 1905, and fled to Chile. They returned to Argentina later that year and robbed a bank, then fled back to Chile. In 1906, they moved to Bolivia, and worked as guards for a mining company.

In November, 1908, Cassidy and Longabaugh robbed a mining company’s payroll in southern Bolivia, then fled to a small town where they lodged in a boarding house. They aroused the proprietor’s suspicions, and he notified a nearby Bolivian army unit. On the evening of November 6, 1908, the boarding house was surrounded. When soldiers approached, the duo opened fire, and in the ensuing firefight, were shot multiple times. Grievously wounded, Cassidy shot Longabaugh dead to put him out of his misery, before turning his pistol on himself.

12 Notorious Wild West Outlaws
William Brazelton’s corpse tied upright to a chair and displayed in front of Tucson courthouse. Find a Grave

William “Brazen Bill” Brazelton

William “Brazen Bill” Brazelton’s (died 1878) was born in San Francisco, orphaned at an early age, and grew up as a street urchin. In 1876, he arrived in Prescott, Arizona, and claiming that he would stage a show in which he would eat a wagon wheel, conned people into paying in advance to attend. He then left town to bring the rest of the show’s crew and stagehands, and never returned.

A year later, he graduated from grifting to armed robbery, and held up his first stagecoach in September 1877. Wearing a mask, Brazelton forced the driver to get down and secure the lead horses by the bit. He then ordered a passenger to throw down the express box, break it open with an axe, and hand him the contents. Over the following year, Brazelton committed at least another 8 stagecoach robberies in Arizona and New Mexico.

In the aftermath of his last robbery, on August 15, 1878, Brazelton’s horse threw a shoe, leaving a distinct print that allowed pursuers to follow the track to a horse corral. The proprietor was arrested, and offered to deliver the robber, disclosing that Brazelton intended to commit another robbery that night, and that a meeting had been prearranged for earlier that evening to deliver him supplies. The posse left as if riding back home, then doubled back to the meeting site to wait in ambush.

Brazelton arrived cautiously, and as he began to collect the supplies, something aroused his suspicion. Before he could react, the night was lit by a shotgun blast, followed by flashes from a fusillade of pistol shots. He shouted “you son of a bitch!” as he fell, then lay groaning “I die brave, my God! I’ll pray ’til I die!” On his body were discovered his trademark mask and some loot from previous robberies. His corpse was taken to Tucson, and displayed while tied upright to chair in front of the courthouse until burial the following day.

12 Notorious Wild West Outlaws
Rufus Buck, center, and his gang. Harvard Magazine

Rufus Buck

Born in the Indian Territory in today’s Oklahoma to a Creek Indian father and an African American mother, Rufus Buck (1877 – 1896) formed a multi-ethnic gang of teenagers – all Indians, African Americans, or mixed race. A zealot with nebulous ideas of triggering a Native American uprising, Buck led his gang on a depraved rampage of robbery, rape, and murder, that terrorized white settlers, Indians, and African Americans alike.

Buck’s gang started stockpiling weapons in Okmulgee, Oklahoma, and on July 28, 1895, began their rampage by shooting and killing a deputy US Marshal. On the way back, they raped a middle-aged widow. They then robbed a man of his horse, and killed him when he resisted. A few days later, they robbed a salesman, stripped him naked, and offered him a chance to escape. When he unexpectedly succeeded in escaping, they killed his assistant in frustration. They then raped and murdered two women and a 14-year-old girl. On August 4th, they raped a woman in front of her husband, whom they held at bay with rifles. At least two of their rape victims died of their injuries.

Posses of Indian Police and white settlers were formed to apprehend the gang, but while the posses combed the countryside, Buck and his gang brazenly rode into Okmulgee and robbed three stores. Whenever they encountered somebody riding a horse they liked, they offered to trade, and shot the rider if he declined. On the outskirts of Eufala, they came across a black child, and just to see him twitch as he expired, shot him dead.

On August 10, 1895, US Marshals came across the gang in a hideout near Muskogee. After a furious firefight, they were forced to surrender when they ran out of ammunition. Taken into Muskogee, the gang barely escaped lynching by a Creek mob, which dispersed only after a tribal chief pleaded with them, and the US Marshals vowed to shoot the first man who tried to seize their prisoners. Taken to Fort Smith for trial, the gang was found guilty of rape, murder, and robbery, and sentenced to death by “hanging judge” Isaac Parker. After appeals were exhausted, Rufus Buck and his gang were hanged on July 1, 1896.


Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading

History Collection – The Notorious Men of the Wild West

Smithsonian Magazine – Gun Control Is as Old as the Old West

University of Nebraska – Finding Law & Order in The Wild West

The Independent – The Culture of Violence in the American West: Myth versus Reality

Gold Bug Park – Black Bart: The Gentleman Bandit

Herald Democrat – Sam Bass Stood Out in the Wild West

Texas Archive – Texas Outlaw Sam Bass

History Collection – America’s First Serial Killers and Many More Deadly Historic Figures

History Channel – Vigilantes Yank Train Robbers from Jail and Hang Them

Smithsonian Magazine – How the Reno Gang Launched the Era of American Train Robberies

Civil War on the Western Border – Jesse James and Frank James

History of Yesterday – The Robin Hood of America

WBUR – What Drove Wild West’s Jesse James to Become an Outlaw?

Medium – The Strange Death of Johnny Ringo

History Net – Clay Allison: ‘Good-Natured Holy Terror’

True West Magazine – How was Morgan Earp killed?

True West Magazine – Wyatt Earp A Murderer Or?

Legends of America – Charles “Charlie” Bowdre – Unlucky Friend to Billy the Kid

Buffalo News – The Real Story of Butch Cassidy, The Sundance Kid and Their Wild Bunch

History Collection – Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’s Escapades, and Other Lesser-Known Historic Events

History Channel – The Mysterious Deaths of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid