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The Last Outlaws: The Desperate Final Days of the Dalton Gang


The Last Outlaws: The Desperate Final Days of the Dalton Gang

I visit Tucson, Arizona, every March for the Tucson Festival of Books, a wonderful two-day extravaganza of books and authors. The discussions range far and wide, but one subject I always enjoy exploring is the history of the American West. Studying the West requires separating heroes from villains and myth from reality. But it is genuinely an important aspect of American culture as it continues to influence much of our contemporary life.

Tom Clavin narrates western history in an entertaining and informative style. His bestselling books include DODGE CITY, WILD BILL, TOMBSTONE and FOLLOW ME TO HELL, the latter of which focuses on the Texas Rangers. Once again, he returns to the late 19th-century West to recreate a fascinating and violent moment in American history in THE LAST OUTLAWS. In this skillfully crafted account, Clavin presents the story of the 1892 double bank robbery in Coffeyville, Kansas, that was committed by the Dalton Gang, a western crime family. Along the way, we meet a wide cast of characters, including Judge Isaac Parker; lawmen Heck Thomas, Chris Madsen and Bill Tilghman; and other outlaws.

"...[a] skillfully crafted account... THE LAST OUTLAWS is another entertaining tale of western lore from Tom Clavin that readers will thoroughly enjoy."

As Clavin notes early in the book, the occupation of outlaw still exists today, and some of the Dalton Gang lived well into the 20th century. But the romantic glow of the outlaw culture that came of age after the American Civil War was certainly waning when the Daltons planned and participated in the Coffeyville raid.

The Dalton family that eventually settled in America may have been descended from Viking stock, and some may have even fought with William the Conqueror. Tristam Dalton graduated from Harvard College in 1755 with John Adams as a classmate. He studied law but pursued a career as a merchant. He was a participant in naval battles during the American Revolution, was elected to the Continental Congress and served briefly in the U.S. Senate. He lost most of his fortune in land speculation and died in 1817. Members of the family moved west, and the brothers who eventually would form the Dalton Gang were born between 1857 and 1871 and lived in Kansas and Missouri. Frank Dalton became a deputy U.S. Marshall in 1884 but was killed in a shootout three years later. His death changed everything for the family.

The Daltons were cousins to another crime family, the Youngers, a set of brothers who had been allied with Jesse James in the 1870s. They roamed across the southwest until their apprehension or death. Both the Daltons and the Youngers engaged in violent bank robberies that were reported across America, and they would attack trains in an attempt to steal payrolls. Authorities eventually would offer large rewards for the capture of these notorious criminals.

By 1892, the Daltons were the equivalent of modern-day gangsters. Like many evildoers, they began to believe the legends attached to their criminal conduct. They intended to rob two banks simultaneously in Coffeyville. Citizens recognized them and took action to stop their daring plan. Eight people, both criminals and innocent civilians, would die. Emmett Dalton was captured, tried and sentenced to prison. Bill Dalton escaped and continued his life as a criminal.

There is quite a bit more on these pages. Many legendary figures of the West, identifiable by their appearances in movies and other dramas, are in this chronology. Ironically some of the criminal actors made their way to the new film industry in California and shared their stories with writers in Hollywood. Even then, the public was strangely attracted to crime and those who commit it. THE LAST OUTLAWS is another entertaining tale of western lore from Tom Clavin that readers will thoroughly enjoy.

Reviewed by Stuart Shiffman on December 1, 2023

The Last Outlaws: The Desperate Final Days of the Dalton Gang
by Tom Clavin

  • Publication Date: November 7, 2023
  • Genres: History, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • ISBN-10: 1250282381
  • ISBN-13: 9781250282385