of the Old Time Outlaws: The George West Musgrave Story
Karen Holliday Tanner and John D. Tanner, Jr. 65
University of Oklahoma Press, 2002 384 pages, 37 photos
On the surface, George West Musgrave was a well-dressed,
respectable Southern gentleman. Underneath, he was a horse thief, cattle
rustler, train-robber, bank-thief and murderer. According to authors Karen
Holliday Tanner and John D. Tanner, Jr. 65, however, this Texas
cowboy was not a simple criminal. Self-reliant and bold, with a remarkable
instinct for survival, he embodied in many ways the values at the heart
of American identity. From local newspapers, court records, and personal
accounts, the Tanners have reconstructed an intriguing historical image
of Musgrave, whose crimes were always clouded by his myth.
Running with a band of ruffians around the turn of the century, Musgrave
moved across state boundaries, evaded authorities and dodged detectives,
becoming a legend as the last of the old-time Southwestern outlaws. At
the center of the notorious High Five Gang, he was noted for being the
first to stage a bank robbery in Arizona and for orchestrating the most
profitable train robbery in the history of the Santa Fe Railroad. A Pinkerton
detective eventually caught up with Musgrave, and the outlaw had his day
in court, but not before beating up the photographer who snapped a picture
of him in handcuffs as he awaited trial.
At the time of his court appearance, Musgrave was said to look more
like a senator than a cattle rustler. For the trial, he shrewdly
assumed the identity of an honest family man, bringing his wife from across
state lines with a new baby in tow. Pleading self-defense and swaying
public opinion in the local newspapers, Musgrave miraculously received
a not-guilty verdict. For his performance, one townsperson
remarked, If Id been on that jury Idve give George
Musgrave a medal. To celebrate the acquittal, Musgrave promptly
left town and single-handedly robbed a train on his way back to Texas.
Both scholarly and recreational readers will find appeal in this historic
outlaw. Many will be reminded of how influential the outlaw has been to
American values and might just recognize that the American fascination
with the outlaw spirit still survives today. But as this history of Musgrave
shows, whether the outlaw should be remembered as a common criminal or
an American hero remains to be determined.
Brian Dolinar is a student in the doctoral program in Cultural Studies
at Claremont Graduate University.