The 7 Most Famous Gunslingers, Criminals and Cowboys in the Old West

1. Billy the Kid

The legendary outlaw’s life has been the basis for books, movies, and songs – and while most of his feats are a little exaggerated, there’s still good reason he’s the most famous gunslinger in the old west. He became notorious for killing 21 people for each year of his life (the actual number is 4, which is plenty!) He’s often depicted as a cold-blooded, steely-eyed killer, but more recent research suggests he became an outlaw not because he was bad to the bone, but because he had no other choice.

2. Doc Holliday

John Henry ‘Doc’ Holliday was a dentist before he launched a career in the rough and tumble world of gunslinging. He was diagnosed with tuberculosis at the age of 15, and moved from the humidity of Atlanta, Georgia to the southwest where the hot, dry air was good for his lungs. While in Arizona, he became a gambler, before moving on to Texas where he saved Wyatt Earp’s life and they became good friends. Earp deputised him to help disarm five cowboys, which is what sparked the shoot-out at the O.K Corral. Holliday died in Colorado from tuberculosis at the age of 36.

3. Butch Cassidy

Butch Cassidy (Born Robert Leroy Parker) started out stealing horses and stealing small things (sometimes even leaving an IOU.) In 1889 he graduated to robbing banks; his first hit scored $21,000 from the San Miguel Valley Bank in Telluride. He used his share to buy the Hole-In-The-Wall ranch, which was used as a hide-out and to cover for his illicit activities. He went on to have a long career in shootouts and train and bank robberies. He may have died in Bolivia with his pal, the Sundance Kid, but no conclusive evidence has ever been found.

4. The Sundance Kid

As a member of Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch Gang, Harry Alonzo Longabaugh participated in a string of successful train and bank robberies. Though they tried not to be violent during their crimes, people inevitably did end up dead. It isn’t known how many (if any) of the deaths were directly the result of Longabaugh’s quick trigger finger. He was released from prison in 1896 and moved with his girlfriend to Bolivia, where it’s suspected that he was killed in a shootout with Butch Cassidy.

5. John Wesley Hardin

Violence visited Hardin early in life. At the age of 14, he stabbed a boy for teasing him. One year later, he was playfully wrestling a former slave, and accidentally scratched his face. The former slave didn’t forget or forgive; the next night he ambushed Hardin, and Hardin shot him in self-defense. When the Texas State Police arrived – many of whom were former slaves – he got into a shootout, killing three of the policemen. He managed to escape to Abilene, Kansas.While hiding out in a hotel, he shot a stranger in the next room for snoring too loudly. He went back to Texas where he was captured and convicted of the cop murders. While incarcerated he finished his law degree and practiced as a lawyer when he was freed. The year after he got out of prison, he was shot and killed by a Texas constable while playing dice.

6. Henry Newton Brown

Brown was both a lawman and an outlaw in his lifetime. He rode with Billy the Kid’s gang as they caused havoc starting shoot-outs and rustling cattle. After Billy the Kid moved on to Mexico, Brown stayed in Texas and became sheriff of Oldham County. His career as a lawman didn’t last long; he was a criminal at heart and caused mischief, harassing drunks and starting bar fights. Moving on to Caldwell, Texas, he was involved in a shootout during a bankrobbery. He was lynched by an angry mob in 1884.

7. Jesse James

As leader of the James-Younger Gang, Jesse robbed banks, stage coaches, and trains across the midwest. Despite the brutality of some of the gang’s activities, many folks had sympathy for the outlaws, and Jesse James was considered a celebrity even when he was alive. He was shot in the back of his head on April 3, 1882 in his own home by a new recruit to the gang, Robert Ford, who was hoping to collect the reward money.

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