Search This Blog

Wednesday, February 20, 2019


"Sulky bulldog appearance: looks rather like a blacksmith coming from work; wears cap pulled well down over face."

I came across this wanted poster some time ago and thought it was fake. But, no, Dan Breen was a member of the IRA during the Irish War of Independence and later a major player in Irish politics. This was the poster issued seeking his arrest. 
Curious, I wondered if such hyperbole on a wanted poster was an Irish thing (because, you know...the Irish like to use their words to embellish), but after looking further, I found similarly descriptive Wanted posters in early American criminal history.
I suppose in a time before TV coverage and video recordings, the authorities had to provide the details the best they could, though I expect even the Irish in the early 20th century were scratching their heads over the description, "looks rather like a blacksmith coming home from work."  (by the way, I love the quantifying word "rather" thrown in that sentence.)
I live across the street from a commuter train station, and if someone was described as looking like a "patent lawyer after a grueling week, coming home and looking forward to a G&T," I doubt I'd be able to nab the miscreant.
With the innovation of photography, the police were able to drag the criminal off to the local photographer to have his or her mug shot taken before throwing them in the cell; and thus ending many a criminal career. Newspapers, telegraphs, and now their faces plastered in quick order all over the country!
One incident to illustrate the point is the famous Fort Worth Five Photograph taken in 1900 by John Schwartz, which put an end to Butch Cassidy's Wild Bunch.

Forth Worth Five Photograph of the Wild Bunch

Butch and the boys had gathered together in Fort Worth, TX for the occasion of  Will "News" Carver to Lille Davis, a prostitute he met at Madame Fanny Porter's brothel (spoiler alert: not a long and happy union). Someone had the bright idea that it would be a hoot to get dressed up like dudes and have their picture taken. Huge mistake!
One version of the story is that Schwartz was so proud of his work he put the photo in the window of his shop, and when the local law next brought in a criminal for a mugshot, he recognized some the gang. Keep in mind that at this time the law still wasn't clear on who was in the Wild Bunch. So, this was an important development. 
Bam! The Fort Worth Five portrait went directly onto a wanted poster. Go directly to jail, do not pass go. 

To make matters worse, Wanted posters could be churned out and disturbed so quickly, an outlaw had to be almost constantly on the move. There was one incident where "News" Carver had an unfortunate encounter with a skunk. Immediately, posters went out adding the detail that one of the gang stunk like a skunk.

Though some of the gang were slow to realize it, the days of train robbing was over for the Wild Bunch, and in fact for all the gangs. 

Butch and  the Sundance Kid along with Etta Place definitely got the memo saying the game was up and escaped to South America to start a new life.
"Wedding" (if they were legally married) Photo of Harry Longabaugh, AKA, The Sundance Kid and Etta Place (if that was even her name). 

...before embarking on their fresh start, Sundance and Etta had their picture taken in New York, even sending copies to friends and relatives. And, you guessed it, the picture was used on Wanted posters traveling even as far as South America. Now the Pinkertons had Etta as well.

Spanish language poster provided by Pinkerton detectives to local authorities in South America (photo courtesy of True West)

I note with amusement the following description on one of the Wanted poster for the Sundance Kid:

"Complexion, dark (Looks like a quarter breed Indian)
Eyes, Black
Features, Grecian type"

There are so many things wrong about this description, I hardly know where to begin. Okay, let's begin with "black eyes." Unless he has two shiners, I doubt "black" eye color is an accurate description. And then I picture folks in the old west puzzling over Grecian features while they are comparing various skin tones. This description seems more likely to confuse than aid the good citizens.
In any case, this exposure spelled the end for their brief experiment in going straight. They went back to a life of crime on the run--even Etta at times. She eventually had enough of it and went back to the states to disappear from history. Butch and Sundance, depending on which version of history you subscribe to, either were killed in Bolivia or went on to live peaceful lives under assumed names.  But whatever their fate the Wanted posters certainly contributed to their end as train and bank robbers.

Just like the Wanted poster helped end the careers of many a notorious outlaw in the Old West, it is a wanted poster that brought down a character in my new release, Den of Thieves. 

When his identical twin brother is arrested, the Pinkerton Detective Agency enlists Wynne Palmatier to go undercover and impersonate his outlaw brother, Ennis. His mission is to infiltrate his brother’s gang. Ennis tells Wynne everything he needs to know. Except for one thing: there are two women with the outlaws, and one of them is his wife. 

Lucy House is still paying for the day she strayed away from decency. Now the handsome outlaw she ran away with has lost his appeal and she longs to get away from this life. As the danger mounts, can Wynne and Lucy escape this den of thieves?


Wynne tied up his horse at the hitching rail and walked in. The sheriff sat with his boots up on his desk. He dropped his boots back down to the floor with a dull thunk when Wynne filled the doorway.
“Sheriff Holden? I’m—”
 The other man stood up, fingers looped in his belt. “I know who you are.” He studied him a good long moment. “Incredible. You look just like him.” The sheriff pointed over Wynne’s shoulder.
“Yeah, that’s one of the defining aspects of identical twins,” he said, turning to see what the sheriff had pointed at.
He gasped. It was a shock to see his visage on a wanted poster.
Mesmerized, he wandered across the room to come face to face with the mugshot. His stomach dropped at the sight. It was one thing to know your brother was an outlaw, but it was another thing entirely to see his face on a poster. “So this is the poster that brought him down.”
Flashes of that same face in more innocent times. Flirting with girls at dances. Singing along with everyone else while Dad played the guitar. Wrestling with a younger cousin and laughing when he pretended to be pinned down by the much smaller boy.
“Yep. He was in Fort Worth having himself a good old time at a faro table when somebody recognized him as one of the gang who robbed a train the week before. They took him into custody without a struggle.”
Listening to the sheriff, he studied the details on the poster. Wanted. Notorious Outlaw. Ennis Green. Six foot tall. 165 pounds. Auburn hair. Green eyes. Reward $500.
 “And then, he escaped. Tricked a deputy into thinking he was having a heart attack and then took the man’s gun off of him when he went to his aid.”
“Nice fellow, my brother.”
“He escaped, but now the Pinkertons have a face to put to his name.”
“Yes, I heard. Someone from our hometown happened to see a copy of the wanted posters and recognized Ennis Green was the Ennis Palmatier who he grew up with. A Pinkerton detective came knocking on our door. Gave my mother quite a shock.”
“Didn’t she know he was an outlaw?”
Always burned in his memory was that day his nephew ran into the store and told him to lock up and come directly home. Then, walking in the parlor to see his mother, her face drained of color and her lips pinched tight as she twisted a handkerchief in her hands. A stranger in the room turned when he came in, his mouth falling open with surprise. “You look exactly like him.” The man, it turned out, was with the Pinkerton’s Detective Agency.
“We weren’t sure if he was even alive. The last thing my father did before he died was kick him out. We knew whatever he was up to, it probably involved being on the wrong side of the law. But we didn’t know how successful he become in his chosen profession.”
What he didn’t add was that he never thought his brother was dead. He knew he’d sense it if he died. Even with the intervening years and miles, he had a feeling in his gut he was out there somewhere, much like the man who loses an arm can still feel it. Right now, with only a floor separating them, he felt a peculiar buzzing in his body.

Available at Amazon


  1. Patti, this cracked me up--these descriptions are just priceless. I love the "rather like a blacksmith" one. LOL Kind of like the old question, "What does a serial killer look like?" LOL

    And it's just such unlucky coincidence that the picture of the Wild Bunch and also that of the Sundance Kid and Etta ended up in the "wrong" hands of the law, too. You did some fine research!

    Loved your DEN OF THIEVES. Such a good story! Keep 'em coming!

  2. I know, it's so funny. Those old posters are a hoot to look through. And I want to say to these outlaws on the run, "guys, I know you think you look good,but do not stop to have your picture taken!" And then they had to go and send copies to all their friends and relatives, LOL! I think whoever wrote the description of Sundance based it on a black and white photo of him because it not only described his eyes as black but also his hair color...neither of which was true. Thanks for stopping by!

  3. I'm rather impressed with all this, Patti and, as you know, there's no one I'd rather read but I did rather want to know the year newspapers were able to print photos. Rather than ask you, I looked it up, and it's rather an interesting fact: until 1890, they were wood engravings meticulously hand copied, but since the Wild Bunch photo is 1900, it was printed in much the same way they are today, using half-tones. Ok, ok, I'll stop with the 'rathers' As for Grecian features, did that mean, do you think, the man looked like a Greek god? Good luck with the book--another winner!

    1. That's interesting to know! I never even went into when newspapers started to print photos. That's a whole other subject! Can you imagine hand carving wood blocks? Actually the subject of publishing and distributing newspapers on the frontier is really interesting too. They had to set all the type--mirror image style. I'm always astounded anyone got any writing done before the day of the typewriter and now the computer. Thanks for stopping by, Andi!