The Texas Hill Country’s 5 Most Notorious Outlaws

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The life of a Wild West outlaw was neither glamorous nor fun, but for many men and women it was the chance to become a legend. Nearly a century and a half later we still memorialize these renegades with movies, books, and songs. The Texas Hill Country was replete with gunslingers, cattle rustlers and thieves, but not just any run of the mill outlaws – these five were the best the West and Texas had to offer.

5. Emmanuel “Mannen” Clement: (18??-1887)

The Texas Hill Country’s 5 Most Notorious Outlaws

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Not known as the most successful, famous or vicious outlaw, Mannen earns his spot due to his role in cultivating the outlaw culture in Central Texas. A godfather of sorts, Clement was the friend, brother, father, cousin or father-in-law to some of Texas’s most infamous outlaws including Jim Miller, Emmanuel Clement Jr., and John Wesley Hardin.

Clement was a successful rancher in McCullouch County, although, his success did not come without suspicion, as many attributed his gains to cattle rustling. As a cattle man, he first was arrested on charges of murder by none other than Wild Bill Hickok in Kansas, following the shooting of two brothers that challenged his authority during a cattle drive. John Wesley Hardin, Mannen’s cousin and fellow outlaw, was friends with Hickok and helped secure his release.

With his brothers, Clement again found himself imprisoned in Austin, following his involvement in the Taylor-Sutton Feud. No stranger to feuds and fights, Clement also joined his son-in-law in Pecos, Texas when Jim Miller tangled with Sheriff Frazer in the bloody Miller-Frazer feud.

Despite his shady past, Clement, as did other outlaws, ran for public office. In a hotly contested race for sheriff of Runnel County, Clement would eventually lose the election. A short time afterward, Clement was shot in the Senate Saloon in Ballinger, Texas by City Marshal Joe Townsend in 1887, a death Jim Miller is suspected of avenging.

4. Jim Miller, “Deacon Miller,” “Killer Miller”: (1861-1909)

The Texas Hill Country’s 5 Most Notorious Outlaws

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An outlaw’s badge of honor is their moniker; it was a status symbol of sorts, so when an outlaw has numerous nicknames take note. Jim “Deacon” Miller, “Killer” Miller or “Killin’ Jim” was a very bad dude. The clean-cut, non-smoking, alcohol-free, church attending “Deacon” Miller was widely considered one of the most violent outlaws of his day.

The eventual son-in-law of Mannen Clement, Miller’s claim to fame was earned behind the barrel of a shotgun, his weapon of choice. Miller’s first target was his brother-in-law, whom Miller shot while sleeping, a man he publicly loathed to the core. Despite being arrested and eventually charged in the murder, Miller’s appeal eventually set him free on a technicality.

After moving west to Pecos, Texas, Jim gained respect by becoming a successful sheriff’s deputy, businessman and churchgoer, but under that squeaky exterior, Jim was suspected of cattle rustling. The sheriff later fired Miller, leading to a bloody feud that brought the Clement family to his aid against the sheriff.

Miller eventually moved on to Dallas, and became a successful real estate mogul, but his thirst for blood could not be quenched, as he continued to work as a gun for hire, Miller would take jobs for as little as $150. Despite several arrests, Miller managed to evade incarceration as crucial trial witnesses had a tendency to disappear.

Eventually, after the law could not nail him down, a restless mob overcame jailers in Ada, Oklahoma. The throng demanded a confession to which Miller allegedly took responsibility for 51 murders. After shouting, “Let ’er rip,” Miller leapt from the platform, hanging himself in front of the angry crowd.

3. Sam Bass (1851-1878)

The Texas Hill Country’s 5 Most Notorious Outlaws

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Sam Bass is one of the most well-known outlaws of his time, even though history shows he was not a terribly successful one. After saving most of his money working in north Texas as a farm hand and teamster, Bass invested in a racehorse, eventually making enough money to quit his job and live off his income as a card player. It was a failed venture into gold prospecting that plunged Bass into a life of crime.

His first train heist netted $60,000, but during their escape, much of the crew was captured. Bass and a fellow outlaw managed to make it back to North Texas, and an outlaw was born. After a handful of mediocre train robberies around Dallas, the Sam Bass Gang turned their gaze to the Hill Country.

Bass, like many other outlaws, would eventually fall due to the betrayal a member of his gang, Jim Murphy. Bass’s fate would be sealed in an infamous shoot-out in Round Rock, Texas. Having been tipped off by Murphy, Texas Rangers were waiting for the gang when they road into town. While preparing for the heist Bass and other members of his crew, were approached by Deputy Sheriff Grimes for carrying weapons in town.

Members of the gang opened fire, killing the sheriff, before escaping into the street where they became bogged down under heavy Ranger fire. Sam and a young outlaw named Frank Jackson managed to escape into an alley where they mounted their horses to flee. During the mêlée, Bass was hit and gravely injured. His young comrade, braving the onslaught, stayed with Bass, helping him mount his horse and escape capture, as he had become famous for many times before.

Bass’s wounds would prove to be fatal. He convinced Jackson to leave him for capture and save himself. It is rumored Jackson remained close to the scene, to keep an eye on Bass. Authorities quickly found the famous outlaw huddled at the base of a large tree. He later died from his wounds in police custody.
The famed thief had many outlaw friends and was respected by many area residents before his capture, causing Murphy to go into hiding for the rest of his life. Streets, businesses and songs would eventually honor the outlaw hero who had earned fame not only in Texas, but also across the world where he is memorialized at Madam Tussaud’s Waxworks in London, England.

2. Bonnie Parker (1910-1934) and Clyde Barrow (1909-1934)

The Texas Hill Country’s 5 Most Notorious Outlaws

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Bonnie and Clyde captured the imagination and adventurous spirit of the entire country during a four-year crime streak that took them from the humble towns of the Texas Hill Country to the northern reaches of the United States.

While their romance is exploited in Hollywood movies and books, the young outlaw lovers were never married. In fact, Bonnie was married to Roy Thornton, who himself was an abusive husband and thief. Thornton and Bonnie were still married when he eventually heard of her death while in prison.

Bonnie and Clyde did not rob many banks. They believed the targets were too hard and made difficult marks, instead they focused on gas stations and grocery stores. The duo often resorted to kidnapping as a means for escape. They ironically captured and jokingly prepaid a funeral worker who would eventually embalm their bodies upon their deaths.

After an infamous escape from police during a raid, pictures, poems and other romanticized artifacts were recovered and widely circulated adding to the star struck bandits’ fame across the country. The nation’s interest would eventually sour after the pair shot and killed a police officer during one of their heists.

Bonnie and Clyde’s staunch attachment to their Texas families became a tool for their undoing, as a member of their gang, Henry Methvin, would turn on the couple and expose their vulnerability to the authorities. Methvin and his father pretended to have car trouble, allowing the authorities an opportunity to catch up to the famous thieves.

Surrounded, Bonnie and Clyde ran to their car to evade capture, the police unleashed a torrent of 150 rounds into the vehicle, nearly a third of which struck the two bandits. Much like Romeo and Juliet, the pair would die together and be immortalized by Hollywood.

1. The Newton Boys

The Texas Hill Country’s 5 Most Notorious Outlaws

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It is one thing to be famous, another to be successful, but an entirely different thing to make it out alive – all of which the Newton brothers accomplished due to their unique style and shrewd planning.

Led by Willis, Uvalde brothers Joe, Jess, and Wylie (Doc) spent several years successfully robbing banks and trains while avoiding capture and death during their historic run. The brothers managed to rob banks in a handful of Hill Country towns like Pearsall, New Braunfels, San Marcos, and Boerne, while also hitting banks and trains across the country.

The boys made a name for themselves by only robbing at night, to avoid detection and death, and blowing bank vaults with the volatile explosive agent nitroglycerin. The brothers even managed a now famous two banks in one night robbery in Hondo, Texas.

Their most successful train robbery would set, a still unbroken, record that led directly to the end of their storied careers as outlaws. After robbing a train in Illinois, that netted $3 million, the brothers were captured and imprisoned. Only Jess would manage to elude detection, but was eventually captured in Texas, having stashed $35,000 from the robbery.

Jess claims, after making it to Texas, he spent a night drinking and took a cab home. During the drive, he asked the cabbie to pull-over, and he buried the loot under a large tree marking it with a large stone somewhere along Fredericksburg highway. After escaping to Mexico, Jess returned to Texas to get his cash, but due to his inebriated state, he could not remember where he buried the money. Even after tracking down his driver, who apparently was also drunk that night, he was unable to recover the cash.

The brothers struck a deal with authorities, returning all but $100,000 from the theft. They all served their prison time before returning to life in rural Texas where most of them died of natural causes. Doc would eventually be arrested at the age of 77 after a failed bank robbery in Rowena, Texas (a town that claims Bonnie Parker as their own). Willis also was implicated in a bank robbery in Brackettville in 1973, but no link was ever found placing him at the scene.

While the Newton brothers never attained the fame of Bonnie and Clyde or Sam Bass, they hold the title as the most successful train thieves in American history, and would also be portrayed in a Hollywood film like many of their more famous counterparts.