8 Books About Outlaws From the Days When the West was Wild

It wouldn't have been the Wild West without them.

desperadoes, a book about outlaws

From Jesse James to the Joker, we all love a good outlaw. The kind of criminal who makes being bad look good, at least on paper. The kind we tell stories about for years, maybe generations. And perhaps no other time in history had as many striking, memorable, and iconic outlaws as when the American West was still wild.

From train jobs to stagecoach robberies, hanging judges to shootouts, and from the dusty streets of Tombstone, Arizona to the bustle of San Francisco’s Chinatown, these novels and nonfiction books will transport you back to a time when the West was still untamed and put you in the boots of outlaws, lawmen, and people who were sometimes both…

200 Texas Outlaws and Lawmen, 1835–1935

200 Texas Outlaws and Lawmen, 1835–1935

By Laurence Yadon

Few places are as synonymous with the American West as the Lone Star State. In this indispensable volume, Dan Anderson tracks a century’s worth of outlaws – and the men who dedicated themselves to bringing them to justice – from all over Texas, chronicling the likes of gunslingers, legendary figures, gangsters, and more. From Machine Gun Kelly to Judge Roy Bean, there are white hats and black hats galore in these pages, which include a timeline of some of the most notorious crimes of the century.



By Ron Hansen

In Ron Hansen’s critically-acclaimed debut novel, Emmett Dalton, the last surviving member of the notorious Dalton Gang, is sixty-five years old, making his home in Hollywood and making a living selling stories of his gang’s exploits to the movie studios. 

However, before the end of his life, he resolves to tell the real story of what life was like for him and his two brothers back when the West was truly wild, a tale that is more heartfelt, and more heartbreaking, than anything up on the silver screen in this breakout novel from the author of The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.

Related: 8 Historical Books That Will Take You Back to the Wild West

Arizona Outlaws and Lawmen

Arizona Outlaws and Lawmen

By Marshall Trimble

As the 1800s drew to a close, the Arizona Territory was about as wild as the wild West ever got. A refuge for lawbreakers and those who hunted them, the land that became the Grand Canyon State was the site of bloody feuds, daring robberies, elaborate swindles, glorious gunfights, brutal slayings, and some of the most enduring myths of the American West. You’ll find them all in the pages of Marshall Trimble’s Arizona Outlaws and Lawmen, which chronicles the most iconic figures of one of the most tumultuous times (and places) in American history, from Pearl Hart, who pulled off one of the last stagecoach robberies of the wild West, to dedicated lawmen like George Ruffner and C.P. Owens.

Gun Smoke on the Mesa

Gun Smoke on the Mesa

By Brett Halliday

Best known as the creator of the popular Mike Shayne series of hard-boiled noir novels, Brett Halliday (the pseudonym of author Davis Dresser) also wrote plenty of other books, including this tale of vengeance and inheritance in the wild West. Jim Markle fled to Mexico after gunning down his abusive stepfather. Now, ten years later, he is back as a battle-scarred gunfighter with a new name, Stormy Knight, and he’s ready to claim what’s his – even if he has to kill again to get it…

the branch and the scaffold, a book about outlaws

The Branch and the Scaffold

By Loren D. Estleman

A five-time winner of the Spur Award, Loren D. Estleman is no stranger to thrilling Westerns about outlaws and the lawmen who hunt them. However, The Branch and the Scaffold is something else – not a fictional invention, but the story of the infamous “Hanging Judge of the Border,” Isaac Parker, who patrolled a territory the size of Great Britain, and brought to justice many of the region’s most notorious criminals, including the Dalton Gang, Belle Star, Ned Christie, and many more – often at the end of a rope. A law unto himself, Parker was a figure as big and bold as the outlaws he captured and convicted, and his story comes vividly to life in Estleman’s historical novel.

heresy, a book about outlaws


By Melissa Lenhardt

The New York Times calls Heresy an “unapologetically badass western,” which sounds like an awfully good recommendation to us. Think Thelma & Louise if it had been set in the 1800s, this unique take on the traditional Western follows a pair of women who are run off their ranch by greedy cattlemen and take up the life of the outlaw in order to keep their family together. 

“There will be shootouts and standoffs. There will be rotgut whiskey and weary horses. There will be cattle rustlers and scores to settle. The only difference is that women get all the action. It’s about time.” (The New York Times) Sign us up!

Related: 16 Best Darn Western Books of All Time

the last gunfight, a book about outlaws

The Last Gunfight

By Jeff Guinn

Gunfights are more-or-less synonymous with the wild West, and they don’t come more iconic than the shootout at the O.K. Corral. What really happened that fateful day in Tombstone, Arizona, as Virgil and Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, and others finally had it out with the members of the Cochise County Cowboys? 

It is a day that has been immortalized time and again, perhaps most famously in the 1993 film Tombstone starring Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer, but even though it is perhaps the most famous – and almost certainly the most studied – shootout in the history of the American West, historical accounts vary. 

In this engaging book, bestselling author Jeff Guinn looks at a variety of historical data, including Wyatt Earp’s own drawing of the event, to tease out a new and very different interpretation of the gunfight that brought the wild West to a close.

vermillion, a book about outlaws


By Molly Tanzer

And now for something a little different. Tanzer is a Locus, British Fantasy, and Wonderland Book Award finalist, and her debut novel brings much of the feminist, genre-(and gender-)bending weirdness that she is known for to the wild West as we follow a “gunslinging, chain-smoking, Stetson-wearing Taoist psychopomp” named Elouise “Lou” Merriwether who is on the trail of several missing youths from San Francisco’s Chinatown. Her quest will take her across the West, to a mysterious sanatorium in the Colorado Rockies where something truly unusual is afoot…

Related: 8 Westerns for People Who Hate Westerns