Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid

Lore of The West

Few periods in American history have been more thoroughly chronicled than the Wild West. True stories of tough cowboys, courageous pioneers, and brave lawmen fill numerous books, while "western" movies have remained popular since the earliest days of Hollywood.

Along with the factual retellings, however, more prevalent (and arguably more interesting) is the folklore that grew from that era, whereby the lawmen became virtual superheroes in ten-gallon hats and saloon girls and prim schoolmarms became larger-than-life representations of a past, golden time.

Arguably the most susceptible to the creation of legends is the persona of the Wild West outlaw. Ironically, even though these men and women walked on the "wrong" side of the law, they appear often in the role of a folk hero. Jesse James and his gang were responsible for at least 15 killings, but time has painted a different portrait, and Jesse James's death by being shot from behind by a member of his own gang is lamented in folk songs. Perhaps because the outlaws came from the common people and they most frequently targeted banks (which were popularly perceived as faceless institutions owned by the wealthy), the outlaws were compared to Robin Hood rather than seen as the murderous criminals they often were.

Rivaling Jesse James and Billy the Kid as the most celebrated outlaw of the American West is Butch Cassidy, a true master at the art of robbing banks and trains. An icon of the "gentleman bandit," Cassidy's claim of never having killed a single person may indeed be true.

Paul Newman as Butch Cassidy (CORBIS)
Paul Newman as
Butch Cassidy

Cassidy grew in popularity during the 20th century and his fame was greatly amplified when Paul Newman brought him to Hollywood in 1969's wildly successful Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
The real man behind this legend is one of the most interesting individuals in the history of this era.


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