Over time, the society has come to appreciate outlaws, in the same way we embrace the losers in the society. The reason why people like to associate with outlaw is simple: they are a perfect example of righteousness and rebelliousness. However, the difference between a beloved outlaw and a hated criminal is basically determined by perception, which is bound to change with time.

Top 8 Famous Outlaws


Billy the Kid

Billy is one of the most renowned old west outlaws with numerous books, songs and movies elaborating his life. Portrayed as a cold-blooded killer, Billy is said to have killed about 21 people throughout his life. However, people who knew him personally described him as full of laughter, honest, brave and resourceful. Rather than in malice, Billy is said to have gotten into out of necessity. 

In 1877, Billy started working for John Tunstall, a rancher who was later embroiled in a heated dispute with local merchants James Dolan and Lawrence Murphy. While herding his cattle on February 18, 1878, John was murdered by Murphy’s workers. This killing marked the beginning of the Lincoln County War. Billy and the other enraged ranch hands, referred to as the Regulators, were then given the warrant to arrest Murphy’s workers. However, these Regulators later became the enemy when the governor sided with Murphy due to corruption. A few years later, Billy escaped from prison but was shot and killed by Sheriff Pat Garrett at a friend’s home where he was hiding.


John Wesley Hardin

Hardin, named after the founder of the Methodist faith, was the son of a Methodist preacher. He stabbed a young boy at the age of 14 because the boy taunted him. Later on, when wrestling with Mage, a former slave, Hardin ended up scratching Mage’s face. The following day, Mage staged a retaliation attack on Hardin. Hardin warned him with three shots in the air and then killed him when he failed to back off. In those days, Hardin did not stand a chance of fair trial since the majority of the police were former slaves while he was not. Instead, he went into hiding. Later on, his brother warned him that the police were coming for him. Instead of fleeing, he stayed and fought, killing the three police officers. 

After several arrests and escapes, he found himself in Abilene, Kansas, where he stayed in the American House Hotel and killed a stranger in the next room for snoring while sleeping and escaped to Texas. He was later arrested and detained for seventeen years, during which he finished a law degree. After his release, he practiced as a lawyer before he was shot dead while playing dice.


​Jesse James

Starting from 1866, one of the famous outlaws in American history, Jesse James carried out a series of holdups and robberies. His criminal activities continued for about 16 years, but James was never arrested. His fame was inaugurated by a newspaper that sympathized with the defeated Confederate cause. He gained immense popularity after the botched raid on his family farm by Pinkertons, which resulted in the chopping off of his mother’s arm and killing of his half-brother. He was later killed by one of his gang members as he stood on a chair to clean a picture. However, his legend lives on through films, festivals and museums.


Belle Starr

Myra Maybelle Shirley, known as Belle Starr, was born in Carthage, Missouri. She attended the Carthage Female Academy when she was young. She excelled in her academics and became a proficient pianist. She later became a friend of the James brothers. The James-Younger gang then started hiding in Shirley’s family farm. She was later introduced to crime and nicknamed the Bandit Queen. 

In 1866, she was married to Jim Reed, a retired Confederate Army guerrilla who attempted to live an honest life as a farmer but failed. Jim then joined the Starrs in stealing horses. Jim, accompanied by the Youngers, the Jameses and his wife carried out various heists in the country. Jim was later killed as he attempted to escape from a deputy sheriff who had arrested him. After his death, Belle continued planning and executing crimes. To get away from the law enforcers, Belle would either bribe or seduce the police officers. In 1880, she married Sam Starr with whom they were convicted for stealing horses but released a year on. She continued being one of the famous gunslingers until Feb. 3, 1889 when she was shot.


John Dillinger

Throughout his life, Dillinger was a symbol of the outlaw Robin Hood, trying out his tactics on all levels of law enforcement, including the Bureau of Investigation along with its chief, Edgar Hoover. Some of his daring exploits include an escape from the escape-proof jails, readiness to boast of his freedom by taking pictures with his admirers and an outstanding flair during holdups. He was shot and killed by the FBI outside the Biograph Theater in Chicago during an ambush. Currently, Dillinger is remembered through a series of admirers, including the John Dillinger Died for You Society, The Dillinger Times Club and the John Dillinger Day.


​Bonnie and Clyde

These two are some of the most famous outlaws in the history of America. To the general public, these two conjure the impression of the romantic criminals because of the poems that Bonnie sent to various newspapers. Many believe that Bonnie was just being dragged along, but Clyde is said to be responsible for dozens of robberies and about 10 murders. While serving a term in Texas, Clyde claimed to have been abused and swore to revenge on the Department of Corrections in Texas. This vow materialized in 1934 when Clyde, along with Bonnie and others, freed a couple of prisoners from the facility. However, one of the freed inmates, Henry Methvin, betrayed the duo to the authorities.


Tom Horn

Tom lived most of his life legitimately, partly as a detective and partly as a law man. However, he is said to have been one of the cold-blooded old west outlaws. In the 1880s, he established his reputation as a tracker and a scout after arresting several of the most dreaded criminals. Owing to this, he was hired by the Pinkerton Detective Agency as a bounty hunter and tracker. Many thought of him as a cool person under pressure. 

However, he was considered to be very violent at times. In 1894, he was connected to 17 murders and forced to resign. After this, he became a killer for hire, during which he killed about 20 cattle rustlers. In 1901, he was found guilty of killing a 14-year-old boy and hanged. Some historians argue that Horn was not only responsible for this particular murder, but also about 50 others.


​Jim “Killer” Miller

Jim “Killer” Miller is one of the famous gunslingers of the old west. Throughout his life, he is said to have killed about 50 people, though some people believe the figure is about 14. One of his fascinating stories involves a confrontation with Bud Frazer, a sheriff, over the murder of a cattle rancher. Miller pulled a gun on the sheriff, which made the sheriff shoot him six times. However, Miller was wearing a metal plate during the shooting and none of the bullets hit him. He escaped along with his friends and later killed the sheriff with a shotgun. 

In addition to being a cold-blooded killer, Miller was ready to kill for money. Rumor has it that Miller was responsible for the deaths of various prominent figures, including Sheriff Pat Garrett. He was arrested in 1909 for the murder of a U.S. Marshall. A mob then broke into the prison and lynched Miller and three others in a barn.


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