Criminal logo

My Heroes Have Always Been Outlaws

My Introduction to an Unwritten Book on Bloodletters and Badmen of the Old West

By Tom BakerPublished 29 days ago Updated 28 days ago 5 min read
A gathering of dapper, deadly gents. Gunslingers of the Old West. (Circa mid1800s?)

I wonder which of the old boys pictured above ended up swinging from the end of a rope. Or, lying with his guts leaking out from between his fingers, on some deeply-rutted dirt track, between flyspecked, sunbaked, dust-choked Dodge City saloons, general stores, cheap, buggy hotels, and houses of prostitution; dens of vice, card sharking, places of general ill-repute. I wonder, and the years wonder too.

Maybe all of them? Surely one or two lived to be a cadaverous old man, recalling, like Dustin Hoffman in Little Big Man, the rootin', tootin', and shootin' days of his bygone youth.

Below is the introduction to a book I never wrote. Or one I have yet to write, chiefly because I haven't gotten around to it yet. Give me a tin plate full of beans and a jug of sour mash, kimosabe, and I might let you take a peek at my blood-and-thunder musings. "Riders of the Purple Sage," or the Purple Prose? Take your pick. There ain't town big enough for the both of us you yellow-bellied, horse-thievin,' pole-cattin', hornswaggling, Yankee bushwhacker, and I mean to see you dance in the hot August sun from the end of a hangman's noose. (Strums guitar, looks wistfully at the hard, cracked, scrubby plains as the sun dips behind a cliff): "Oh send me the love of a fair senorita, I'm just a cowboy alone on the range!"

My Heroes Have Always Been Outlaws: Jesse James and Other Gunslingers of the Fabled West


There once was a time of dry, dusty towns, tumbleweeds, and tough, brawny men, with sun-bleached backs and rough, heavy hands. Such men carried guns at their side, always ready to use them, for they had tamed a savage, wild, inhospitable Western land.

Under the blazing sky, they had fought off Indian and coyote, cattle rustler and con man, all beneath the unforgiving gaze of the burning sun, as prisoners of the purple sage.

Their stories became legends: celebrated in the pages of penny pulp magazines, they fueled the youthful fantasies of young boys who would grow up to be steely-eyed, desperate men; outlaws many of them, but sometimes lawmen and "just plain folks," too. Their names are the stuff of ballads: Jesse James, Bat Masterton, Wild Bill Hickok, Stagger Lee. The "Iron Men" of history, celebrated by the esteemed and mysterious wordsmiths known to no one, who passed down these legends through parched, cracked, and eager lips and steadily typing fingers.

"Jesse James' Final Ride": April 1882.

Their long, lean shadows still walk, like spectral omens from the belly of time, across the haunted Western ghost towns where the rattle-clatter of thirsty mugs and the furious fortissimo of the saloon piano player can still be heard.

Their snake-eyes visage is marked, in the minds of many, as a cobra-like stare of steel over the fan of a poker hand that might be aces and eights.

At High Noon, they marched, with somber certainty, toward the center of town, for a duel, a quick draw, that would leave one man dead, and the other running for his life.

Or: He might take his pleasure with a gorgeous senorita, or a pale freckled rose whose stockinged leg was thrown, sensually, across the nearest barstool, that all might get a gander at her inestimable loveliness.

Come with us. Ride the dusty arroyos at sunset, a hand-rolled cigarette at your lips, and thrill to those daring and deadly escapades of yesteryear, as we present to you, the battle-hardened, thrill-thirsty reader, fifteen of the most calloused, hardened, and remorseless Old West Outlaws known to have lived, culled from the real-life annals of the American Southwest. Meet Doc Holliday, Jim Courtright, Joaquin Murieta, and "Liver-eating Johnson." Ride with them on suicidal missions of derring-do, robbing stagecoaches and locomotives; fight with them, and smell the cordite as they fill their victims full of burning LEAD.

Lastly, walk with them to the gallows, or their graces, knowing that treachery brings a sorry fate, the "Law always wins" (to quote Depression-era desperado Bonnie Parker) and CRIME DOES NOT PAY.

So come on. Saddle up, cowboy, or we'll be dancin' at the end of a rope come sundown.

Jim Fitchgiddis


That's where it stands, hoss. I got fifteen big chapters of Bad Hombre left to write to complete my little penny dreadful (I've done it before with Famous Serial Killers; yessiree bob, t'aint nuthin' I like better than a Bad, Bad Man). As far as what you could read until I get that bolt of literary lightning completed, I would suggest Frank Tripplet's classic book on the life (and death) of Jesse James, called, amazingly enough, The Life, Times, and Treacherous Death of Jesse James (1882). One could also not go far wrong with the classic compendium of American crime, Bloodletters and Badmen, by Jay Robert Nash (revised edition, 1995, but actually published decades before that). Stephen King Hisself recommended that one in the pages of Danse Macabre.

I'll leave you with a song about a bad man who gets his comeuppance. It's a little thing I discovered called "Faces in the Water" by Paddy and the Brandywine Travellers.

When I was just a baby underneath my baby's breath / I cursed the Lord above for dressin' me in pauper's flesh/ If poverty was my future I would surely change its course / by plunderin' and stealin' all that I could not afford...

These faces in the water and the world above my head / I know its a reflection but it seems a ghost instead...

The song came up on YouTube years ago for me, with a search for "outlaw country." The singer, I take it, has a spot of controversy around him. I hope this doesn't rub off on Yours Truly, who is as immaculate, pure, chaste, and clean and high and tight as a monkey's arsehole. As for what OTHER folks think about me, well, I just don't give a damn.

After all, my heroes have always been outlaws.

Brazos. 'Member the Alamo, cowboy.

(Shoots you with his thumb and index finger.)

Paddy and the Brandywine Travelers - Faces in the Water

fact or fictionguiltycapital punishment

About the Creator

Tom Baker

Author of Haunted Indianapolis, Indiana Ghost Folklore, Midwest Maniacs, Midwest UFOs and Beyond, Scary Urban Legends, 50 Famous Fables and Folk Tales, and Notorious Crimes of the Upper Midwest.:

Reader insights

Be the first to share your insights about this piece.

How does it work?

Add your insights

Comments (2)

Sign in to comment
  • Charlene Ann Mildred Barroga28 days ago

    Your immersive exploration of the world of Old West outlaws is an homage as well as a historical capsule, bringing the myths and reality of a vanished era to life with an unmistakable spirit of lawlessness and adventure.

  • 'Tis a mighty fine start & a mighty fine song, Tom.

Find us on social media

Miscellaneous links

  • Explore
  • Contact
  • Privacy Policy
  • Terms of Use
  • Support

© 2024 Creatd, Inc. All Rights Reserved.