The True West - History that Helped Inspire Red Dead Redemption. Bad Guys Gone Good... and Vice Versa - Part One: Frank James

Posted on January 27 2010, 10:46am | Author: R* Q | Filed Under: Games

(In Red Dead Redemption, former outlaw John Marston finds himself on the side of the law, joining forces with a local marshal. )

The turn of the 20th century – the period in which Red Dead Redemption is set - was a tumultuous time of change; as technology and industrialism brought on the death of the old, wild Western frontier of the 1800’s, the Native American population was decimated and relegated to military-style reservations, and the American people extended the nation’s boundaries as far as California, Oregon and Alaska.

What tends to get lost in the romanticism of the era’s wild steeds, picturesque plains, dusty saloons and tumbleweeds – is the abject savagery and treacherousness of the West – and particularly in those twilight years.

Unlike the pure fantasy of most videogames, the conditions that amount to Red Dead Redemption’s backstory – changed man, former outlaw John Marston being strong-armed back into a life of violence by a desperate and underhanded government agency – are very real.

The True West series here at Rockstar Newswire will offer up, for the first time, just a bit of the historical insight unearthed and detailed by our internal Research department during the development of Red Dead Redemption to help ensure as authentic an experience as possible.  In the coming months, we will be exploring a wide array of intriguing true touchstones of the last days of the wild West that we hope you all find as fascinating as we do.

Today we introduce the series with “Bad Guys Gone Good… and Vice Versa” – profiling a range of actual legendary heroes and villains from the Old West who responded to the new period of progress and potential prosperity by changing their ways, for better or worse.  Bad guys turned tame, good guys gone bad, and a few who managed to exploit their own legends for fame and profit.

(Left: That’s Jesse on the left, Frank on the right – the notorious James brothers pose with their pistols for a rare studio portrait taken in their gunslinging heyday circa 1866 [Denver Public Library, Western History Collection]; Right: Frank James in his 50’s, an older, settled man gone legitimate. [Wikipedia Commons])

Part One: Frank James, brother of Jesse (1843-1915)

The Bad Old Days

Frank James isn’t as notorious as his brother Jesse; but the older James brother was the first to bust his gun—during the Civil War as a member of pro-Confederate guerillas called the Bushwhackers.

It was a small step from their dislike for the Man (aka the Union Army), to their life of violence and grand larceny. Forming the James-Younger gang with Jesse, Cole Younger and Cole’s three brothers, they embarked on a seven-year spree of murder and armed robbery.

A disastrous attempt on a Minnesota bank broke up the James-Younger crew. When his brother Jesse was killed by their friend Bob Ford, Frank personally  turned himself in to the Governor of Missouri after 20+ years of mayhem.

A Changed Man?

Thanks to the showmanship pioneered by Buffalo Bill Cody, Frank and his friend Cole Younger found an eager market for sensationalizing the daring exploits of the bad old days, so they formed The Cole Younger and Frank James Wild West Company and began touring in 1903. When not ripping off his own legacy for prurient dime-store novel readers, Frank pursued an odd jumbling of jobs: from shoe salesman to lecturer, and from AT&T operator to burlesque theater ticket-taker to betting commissioner in New Orleans. A modest farm owner at the time of his death, Frank passed away in 1915.

Coming Next: Pearl Hart, a woman “good-looking, desperate, discouraged and ready for anything”

  • Stallion74on February 1 2010, 6:02amReplyFlag
    @ Bflame7: me too.. i just play GTA.. but man, this new game must be awesome !!!! (western GTA) ; )
    cant wait for it. it will be my second game por PS3
    • Senator_BobDoleon January 28 2010, 9:45amReplyFlag
      Interesting story but unfortunately I don't like Westerns i'm only a GTA player.
      • Drakulbiteson January 28 2010, 2:20amReplyFlag
        I would really like to know if there will be a Collectors Edition and what it would contain. Hopefully info about that and the European preorder bonus will be revealed by the end of the week.
        • aj8494on January 27 2010, 8:46pmReplyFlag
          i also think that would be a good bonus feature for a collectors edition, just like San Andreas: The Introduction was for the ps2 version of san andreas. if it showed a little ten or so minute intro and a "developer diary" behind the scenes look i would definitely buy that.
          • Jortanon January 27 2010, 8:43pmReplyFlag
            It would be funny if they put the Ned Kelly Armour in it but if not then they should have the one that Marty McFly/ The Man with No Name used in Back to the Future Part III/A Fistful of Dollars
            • Rafiosoon January 27 2010, 7:33pmReplyFlag
              Puuhh, that was real interesting and, of course, really difficult to translate - i hope there's no mistakes.

              German translation:

              • bad_fur_dayon January 27 2010, 6:03pmReplyFlag
                I do find it very interesting. I'm from Australia, Ned Kelly was around the same time. It's also an interesting read. His armour is simply unbelievable, check it out down the bottom of the page, it has bullet holes and dents in it.

                • chrislovespillson January 27 2010, 5:21pmReplyFlag
                  @ Drakulbites: Yeah that would be a good idea.
                  • Drakulbiteson January 27 2010, 11:33amReplyFlag
                    Interesting. I knew about the Wild West Company touring. They even toured it over here in the UK, I heard. Everything was new to me. I think a DVD documentary talking about the real history of the old west that inspired RDR would be a good little extra if there was ever a collectors edition.
                    • bola24on January 27 2010, 11:27amReplyFlag
                      Great! I will translate the new to spanish language, the spanish guys need know this story! good work rockstar!
                      • periKilleron January 27 2010, 11:20amReplyFlag
                        The Bad Old Days can't wait :)
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