"The Last Outlaws: The Desperate Last Days of the Dalton Gang" | Reviewed by Bill Schwab
Tom Clavin captures the colorful stories and jarring facts of the American era known as the “Wild West “in a comprehensive history of the life and times of the Dalton Gang in the 1880s and '90s. The four Dalton brothers were descendants of the notorious James-Younger Gang. They engaged in outlawry from Missouri to California until they finally limited their thieving activities to the Great Plains.
Clavin chronicles in detail the Daltons’ life of crime. The Gang began committing petty crimes but soon advanced to stealing horses, raiding trains, and finally robbing banks.
After camping on Onion Creek, west of Coffeyville, Kansas, the Daltons and their accomplices rode into town on horseback on the morning of October 5, 1892. At about 9:15 A.M. the Gang shamelessly sought to rob two banks at the same time. Three of the bandits—Grat Dalton, Bill Powers, and Dick Broadwell—went into the Condon Bank; Bob and Emmet Dalton entered the First National Bank in a daring attempt to steal most of the town’s wealth.
A few members of the community, however, recognized some of the Daltons as they rode into town and raised a word-of-mouth alarm. As suspicion of the attempted heist spread, the townspeople grabbed guns and ammunition from Isham Hardware Store and began defending the town. When the 12-minute raid was over, Bob and Grat Dalton and Bill Powers were killed; Dick Broadwell escaped on horseback and died about a half mile from downtown. Four of Coffeyville’s citizens were killed, three near Isham Hardware and one in what is now called Death Alley.
Though receiving 23 gunshot wounds, the youngest Dalton brother, Emmett, survived the shootout and was given a life sentence in the Kansas penitentiary. He was pardoned after 14 years and moved to California where he became a real estate agent, author, and actor, dying at the age of 66.
Clavin deftly depicts the gore and the outcome of this skirmish: “The bullet found the cashier's face, entering right below the left eye and exiting the base of his skull.” According to the author, this gun battle was “arguably the final confirmation of the end of the Wild West.” As Clavin concludes, “Outlaws did not die with the Daltons but the romantic glow of an iconic figure of the American West certainly did.”
General readers may find the author’s buildup to the final heist slowly drawn out, but history buffs and devotees of outlaw tales will find the book a riveting and rewarding read. St. Martin’s Press is the publisher of this 267-page account of the Daltons’ final, bloody act.
About the Author: Tom Clavin is a #1 New York Times best-selling author who has worked as a newspaper editor, magazine writer, TV and radio commentator, and a reporter for “The New York Times.” He has received awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation, and the National Newspaper Association. He has written several best-selling books about the American frontier and the late 19th-century “Wild West.”