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Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Emmett Dalton & Henry Starr…Bank Robbers and Movie Stars

Actor Justus D. Barnes in "The Great Train Robbery"

I was reading up on Henry Starr just recently and just thought that it might make for an interesting blog entry.  Before I get into more about Henry Starr, I thought I would share why I was reading up on Henry Starr.  At work, we got talking about the movie, “Tombstone” (1993), with Kurt Russell and one of the guys mentioned that he heard the at the old time silent movie scene at the beginning of “Tombstone” was an actual bank robber from the Old West.  I knew that was wrong, but I remember hearing that once before too.  So I went on to explain that was an actor from the first real Hollywood blockbuster, “The Great Train Robbery” (1903.) (Yeah, I have some great useless trivia knowledge.)  I also explained that he was not totally wrong in thinking that Hollywood of that period did use actually known convicted criminals to portray criminals in the movies.  Two famous 'Wild West' bank robbers that I am aware of that Hollywood used in making ‘Wild West’ movies were Emmett Dalton and Henry Starr, both from the Indian Territory, later to be Oklahoma. 
Emmett Dalton
Emmett Dalton, the youngest of the Dalton brothers, was part of the Dalton Gang that would be infamous for attempting to rob two banks in broad daylight at the same time in Coffeyville, Kansas (1892). He was the only survivor of the five gang members with 23 bullet wounds from that attempted robbery in the gun battle with the armed citizens of Coffeyville.  After serving his time, eventually went to Hollywood, wrote a book about his life than eventually played himself in the Hollywood movie, “Beyond the Law” (1918), which was based off of his autobiography.  Emmett Dalton also played in some bit roles and was an adviser in some other movies as well.  It appears that Emmett Dalton lead a straight life after his time in prison, but the same cannot be said about Henry Starr.

(I actually got to visit Coffeyville and see the Coffeyville Defenders’ Museum, the banks, and the bloody alley where the Dalton Gang fell.  Below is a few pictures of Coffeyville.)
One of the two banks that the Daltons attempted to rob
The interior of the bank from above
The alley way that the Dalton's met their end with the outlines of roughly were their bodies laid after the battle
Henry Starr
Belle Starr
Henry Starr was a more interesting character than Emmett Dalton.  Henry Starr was a part Cherokee native that was also a relative to the infamous bandit queen, Belle Starr who was associated with the James-Younger Gang (incidentally, the Daltons where related to the Youngers from the same gang.)  Henry was interesting for several reasons, first was that he is one of the few men to escape being hung by the famous Judge Isaac Parker, “The Hanging Judge”…not once, but twice!  Both times he was not hung were due to legal technicalities.  Later, he created a gang of outlaws in Arkansas and committed a large number of bank robberies, including being credited with the first bank robbery with an automobile as get-away car and using automatic weapons in the USA. (The first to use an automobile and automatic weapons in robberies were the Bonnot Gang in France, 1911-12.  They are also have an interesting read about their criminal activities too.)  Henry Starr may have robbed more banks then any man in history, at least in the US, with 21 banks confirmed and possibly over 30 in total.  He got caught in 1915 and then served time in prison only to be paroled in 1919.  During his time in prison, Henry Starr wrote an autobiography and moved out to Hollywood right out of prison to become a movie star.  Like Emmitt Dalton, Henry Starr starred himself in his autobiographic film, “A Debtor to the Law” (1919) and he was also in a couple of other movies too.  
However, unlike Emmitt Dalton, Henry Starr couldn’t shake his old ways.  On February 18, 1921, Henry Starr and three other men drove out in a Nash car, along with some automatic firearms, to Harrison, Arkansas, to rob the Peoples National Bank.  After robbing the bank of $6000 (almost $83,500 in 2015 USD), Henry Starr was shot in the back by the former bank president, WJ Myers, as he was trying to escape.  The rest of the gang escaped unharmed and never have been caught or identified. Henry Starr died four days later.  His mother, who was there at this death bed, probably said the most fitting epitaph for Henry Starr after she was told that he died, stating, "Henry has always been a trial to me, but thank God, I will know where he is tonight. I believe his character was being moulded even before his birth." 

Saddle up, posse!



Sean McLachlan said...

Henry Starr is a new one for me! Do you know if the movie is available? A search online turned up nothing.

Sapper Joe said...

Hello, Sean

I am only aware of some movie still / lobby cards for the movie to still to exist. See the link below: