I’m so excited! In just a few short days, it’s RELEASE DAY! My latest novella, The Brigand and The Bride, releases in The Mail-Order Brides Collection on February 1. Of any novella I’ve written so far, I think this one is my favorite. The heroine is a woman trying to escape her outlaw brother’s control. The hero is a man convicted of bank robbery.
Now if you watch very many western movies, there’s often a bank robbery. It’s a common staple in older western films. I can think of plenty of scenes I’ve watched where they use dynamite to blow the bank safe, or several masked robbers step in and empty the bank’s coffers at gunpoint, then gallop away on horseback.
But how often did banks really get robbed in the Old West? Truth be told, not near as often as the old western flicks would lead you to believe. That’s not to say that banks were never robbed—they were! But it certainly didn’t happen “regularly,” as one might believe from the cinema’s portrayal.
So what are the details of some of the real bank robberies of the Old West, you might ask? I’m so glad you did!
|Jesse and Frank|
(Photo in Public Domain)
Historians believe the first bank robbery to occur in the United States was perpetrated by none other than Frank and Jesse James. On February 13, 1866, they marched into the Clay County Savings Association in Liberty, Missouri, and escaped with $60,000 (that’s $883,533.86 in today’s dollars!). Why did they rob the bank? Well, aside from greed, the bank owner had served as a Union militiaman during the Civil War, and Frank and Jesse James were bitter ex-Confederates. With the Civil War being over for only a year, they were still fighting for their cause. During their escape, a single bystander was injured by gunfire, but the robbers were not caught.
(l-r: Bob, Jim, and Cole,
pictured with sister Henrietta)
(Photo in Public Domain)
With that success under their belts, the James brothers soon teamed up with the Younger family—Cole, Jim, John, and Bob—and several other outlaws to form the James-Younger Gang. They headed to the American Southwest where they committed a series of robberies—on both banks and stagecoaches—from the 1860s into the early 1880s. The James-Younger gang met its end when Jesse was killed by Robert Ford on April 3, 1882, and his brother Frank surrendered in October of the same year. Several of the Youngers also ended up in prison around the same time span.
(Photo in Public Domain)
One of the most notorious bank robbers was Robert Leroy Parker, born on April 13, 1866. He was the oldest of thirteen children, and left his home in Beaver, Utah, as a teenager to find the riches he didn’t have with his family. Initially, he worked as a cowhand at various ranches with brief stints as a butcher interspersed between. It was during this time he befriended Mike Cassidy, a horse thief and cattle rustler. Their friendship would change the direction of Robert Leroy Parker’s life. Wanting to be like his friend, ol’ Robert changed his name—to Butch Cassidy.
Cassidy’s first major bank robbery happened in Telluride, Colorado, in 1889. There, he and three other cowboys robbed the bank of $20,000 ($508,176 in today’s dollars). With his ill-gotten gain, Cassidy bought a ranch in Wyoming. He continued to steal horses and cattle, and the law did catch up to him. In 1891, he spent two years in prison.
|The Wild Bunch|
(front row l-r: Sundance Kid, The Tall Texan, and Butch Cassidy.
back row l-r: Will Carver and Kid Curry)
(Photo in Public Domain)
The time away didn’t lessen Cassidy’s resolve. Once he was freed, he continued
Since the Union Pacific continued to get hit by this infamous gang, they finally employed the Pinkerton Detective Agency to stop them. The Pinkertons drove Butch Cassidy and the Wild Bunch into South America, where Butch and fellow gang member, The Sundance Kid, are said to have continued robbing banks until their deaths in a shootout in Bolivia.
The thing I find crazy about both gangs is that they were elevated to almost hero status. People followed the newspaper articles about their exploits, seemed excited to see them in action, and some even bragged that they’d been robbed by one gang or the other.
So I started out saying that the robbing of banks wasn’t anywhere near as prevalent in the Old West as the cinema once portrayed it. Just how often were banks robbed in the days of old? One statistic I saw said that in a 40-year time span, from 1859-1899, there were a whopping ten bank robberies in the U.S. and its territories. Perhaps that’s because banks weren’t on every street corner like they are today. Or maybe it is because the people of that era often carried guns, and a robber would’ve risked his own injury or death to rob banks and trains. However, we have historic proof that gangs like the James-Youngers and The Wild Bunch made a lifestyle of robbery, which fuels the myth that they were much more common than they really were.
I do have to say, it was rather fun to use a bank robbery in my story, The Brigand and The Bride, even if the real history says such events weren’t all that common.
It’s Your Turn: Did you know that bank robberies weren’t as common in the Old West as western films and books make them out to be? Do you like stories that contain this staple of western lore, even though it may not be as true to life? Leave your answer to both questions, plus your email address, and I’ll enter you in a drawing for an autographed copy of The Mail-Order Brides Collection.
Jennifer Uhlarik discovered the western genre as a pre-teen when she swiped the only “horse” book she found on her older brother’s bookshelf. A new love was born. Across the next ten years, she devoured Louis L’Amour westerns and fell in love with the genre. In college at the University of Tampa, she began penning her own story of the Old West. Armed with a B.A. in writing, she has won and finaled in numerous writing competitions. In addition to writing, she has held jobs as a private business owner, a schoolteacher, a marketing director, and her favorite—a full-time homemaker. Jennifer is active in American Christian Fiction Writers and lifetime member of the Florida Writers Association. She lives near Tampa, Florida, with her husband, college-aged son, and four fur children.
The Mail-Order Brides Collection
What kind of woman would answer an advertisement and marry a stranger?
Escape into the history of the American West along with nine couples whose relationships begin with advertisements for mail-order brides. Placing their dreams for new beginnings in the hands of a stranger, will each bride be disappointed, or will some find true love?
Perfect for the Preacher by Megan Besing
The Outlaw’s Inconvenient Bride by Noelle Marchand
Train Ride to Heartbreak by Donna Schlachter
Mail Order Mix-Up by Sherri Shackelford
To Heal Thy Heart by Michelle Shocklee
Miss-Delivered Mail by Ann Shorey
A Fairy-Tale Bride by Liz Tolsma
The Brigand and the Bride by Jennifer Uhlarik
The Mail Order Mistake by Kathleen Y’Barbo
What a fascinating post! I had no idea that bank robberies weren't as prevalent as they were made out to be. I love reading stories about the West.ReplyDelete
Thanks, Caryl. I'm glad you enjoyed it!Delete
Wonderful post with information I did not know. I enjoy books with the old West setting as an opportunity to gain more historical tidbits about it being settled. The Mail=Order Brides will be a great collection to read. Your story sounds intriguing.ReplyDelete
I'm glad I could share some new information, Marilyn! Thanks for stopping by. I love reading the stories of the Old West to learn things about the time period and settlement too!Delete
Strong and brave one.ReplyDelete
Thanks for stopping by, Kim.Delete
Very interesting. I always assumed that the banks were very lax in their security and that outlaws were prevalent. So therefore, I always thought a real "western" story needed to have a robbery or at the very least, a shootout!!! Thanks for correcting my misinformation!ReplyDelete
That's such an easy assumption to make, Connie. In my opinion, a good western story NEEDS some action like a shoot out or robbery, even if they aren't exactly historically accurate. They're just a staple of the genre.Delete
I knew the bank robbery theme was over played in westerns. A fun fact I read while researching my mail-order bride novel about Jesse James made me laugh. It was reported that Jesse James disguised himself as a woman to escape with the loot. He/she stayed at a roadside Inn overnight and slept with her valise under her head.Later a few other patrons said they recognized him. Not sure if the folklore is true but it made it into a biography of outlaws. Folk heroes stories grow like fish tales. Thanks for sharing.ReplyDelete
What a fun/funny story about Jesse James, Cindy! Love it. Thanks for sharing.Delete
oh this book is on my list. this is an interesting post. I suppose I just sort of figured that they didn't happen as often as Hollywood would like to portray. After all most of Hollywood is pretend. I like to read books that are based more historically. I mean we are reading fiction.ReplyDelete
quilting dash lady at Comcast dot net
Hollywood didn't fool you, huh, Lori? ;) I love historical accuracy in my fiction, but I'm also not opposed to "fudging" some on things like bank robberies and the like to add excitement where needed.Delete
Yes, I knew there weren't as many of this type of robbery as movies would have us believe.ReplyDelete
I enjoy western stories even if they aren't quite true to life. As long as it is a good story, I am good.
susanmsj at msn dot com
Thanks so much for your thoughts, Susan. As long as a western SEEMS believable, I am willing to go along with some of these not-as-comment elements like bank robberies.Delete
I did think I knew that they weren't as common as shown on movies. But I do adore having tidbits like that in my stories. :)ReplyDelete
Thanks for adding your thoughts, Susan. Those little tidbits can make a story fun, can't they?Delete
I didn't realize that bank robberies were uncommon. I guess it would have been easier to rob stagecoaches that were isolated as they traveled. I enjoy stories with action and adventure in the Old West (thanks to my dad's collection of Louis L'Amour paperbacks) so I don't mind. Looking forward to reading the collection!ReplyDelete
colorvibrant at gmail dot com
LOVE LOVE LOVE Louis L'Amour books! I once had nearly all his stories in collectable leather-bound version (and then sold them all when I had no other way to get new brakes on my vehicle). So sad! :(Delete
I did not know that bank robberies were not common in the old west. Very interesting. Since I'm more into the romance of the old west, I don't think I would care much for one that had bank robberies in it. BTW Robert Leroy Parker was born in 1866 not 1886 as is noted in the post. Funny type-o as that would make him three years old during his first major bank robbery. Cute little bank robber. haha Thanks for the giveaway and good luck everyone.ReplyDelete
Ahhh, thank you for catching my typo! Oops! I have corrected it. And yes, I agree that the romance of the west is a big part of the fun of the genre.Delete
I did not know that they were not as common as it seemed. I do like stories that make it seem as if it were. I guess it makes the book more exciting. fishingjanATaolDOTcomReplyDelete
I totally agree, Jan. I like the excitement of the fictional robberies, even if they weren't as common as depicted.Delete
Wow!!! I do find it interesting that bank robberies were not as common as they seemed and I like stories to make them as they seemed to be back in those days. I also like the excitement of fictional robberies.ReplyDelete
I also like to read most westerns, in fact I have read one of Louis L.Amour books that was really good. I would love to be entered in to getting a chance to win a copy of this book. firstname.lastname@example.org
Hi Andrea, thanks so much for your comments. Glad I could shed a little light on the "real" west for you!Delete
I am surprised that the numbers aren't as big as was expected but I also think that some of them may not be recorded. Reading this post took me down Memory Lane because I often watched Western movies and TV shows with my Daddy. Thanks for sharing all of these interesting facts.ReplyDelete
Thanks for your reply, Connie. You are probably correct--many crimes were not reported, thus the numbers could have been higher. Interesting thoughts!Delete
I wouldn't guess they were as prevalent as Hollywood has portrayed, but would expect more that the figure of 10 in 40 years you saw somewhere!IReplyDelete
That figure does seem small--but it was the only fact I could find. I guess they didn't keep statistics like they do today. LOLDelete
Yes I did know that the numbers were inflated but I did not know that only ten in 40 years was on the record! I live in Missouri and Jesse is big near hear. But I’ve never been to his cave. Thanks for the post. paulams49ATsbcglobalDOTnetReplyDelete
I would love to visit Jesse James' cave someday. It would be interesting, for sure!Delete
Debbie Clatterbuck, you are my winner! I will contact you shortly to get your mailing address. Thank you all for commenting on my post.ReplyDelete