63 Wild West Mugshots That Prove They Don’t Make Criminals Like They Used To

Published June 28, 2015
Updated April 1, 2020

From Butch Cassidy to an 11-year-old car thief to a Jesse James crony still bloody from a posse's beating, these mugshots evoke the true outlaw spirit of the Wild West.

J.P. Robinson Mugshot
Policeman Holding Herbert Cockran
Butch Cassidy Mugshot
Mugshot Of A Child Criminal
63 Wild West Mugshots That Prove They Don’t Make Criminals Like They Used To
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The advent of photography revolutionized the criminal investigation process, giving police the ability to capture and maintain vital records of criminals like never before. The mugshot as we know it today has roots in 1840s Belgium, where police began to photograph individuals in prison so they could be identified if they offended again after release.

As of 1857, New York police regularly photographed suspects and displayed their images in a gallery so the general public could help apprehend the criminals. By the 1860s, mugshots on wanted posters were everywhere in America.

Many early mugshots didn't use the front view and profile view side-by-side format that modern mugshots use. This format began circulating in 1888 thanks to the work of a French policeman, Alphonse Bertillon.

And in these early days of the mugshot, perhaps no place was more filled with outlaws and bandits to be photographed than the American frontier.

See some of the most hardened criminals from the late 1800s and early 1900s in the gallery of Wild West mugshots above and learn more about their daring exploits below.

Justice In The Wild West

Criminals in the Wild West were mainly sent to jails like the Wyoming Frontier Prison. Conditions inside these jailhouses were abysmal, starting with having no electricity or indoor plumbing. These prisons also featured facilities that would be considered barbaric in the modern age, including a torture dungeon where inmates were routinely beaten and whipped.

Despite some of the 19th-century judicial reforms that went against the inhumane treatment of inmates, such as torture and solitary confinement, many Old West jailhouses didn't end their brutal ways. The Wyoming Frontier Prison, for example, didn't even close for good until 1981. But before it closed, approximately 13,500 people were incarcerated at the facility, including 11 women.

Meanwhile, another infamous Wyoming prison housed two people in each five-foot-wide cell and allowed no talking between prisoners of any kind. But, this being the Old West, you could both smoke and chew tobacco if you so chose.

The Biggest Criminals Of The West

Prisons like these held some of the most notorious criminals in American history, bandits who took full advantage of the Wild West's lawless ways.

Among the most notable outlaws — whose mugshots are featured in the gallery above — are the Younger Gang. This band of crooked siblings made up of Cole (the eldest), Bob, and Jim Younger achieved infamy by committing a string of robberies in states like Missouri, Texas, and the surrounding area.

They soon teamed up with another pair of outlaw brothers, Frank and Jesse James, to form the infamous James-Younger Gang and execute a daring batch of robberies and evade authorities for years.

Jesse James, the leader of the alliance, penned letters to sympathetic newspaper editors and painted his gang of outlaws as American Robin Hoods who stole from the greedy rich to disperse wealth to the poor.

But their reign of terror largely ended with a botched bank robbery in Northfield, Minnesota, in September 1876. They ended up outnumbered and targeted by armed civilians of the town who managed to drive the robbers away.

While the James brothers successfully escaped the angry town mob to continue their lives of crime crime, the Younger brothers were captured by a group of the townspeople in the woods.

After the posse captured Jim Younger, he was still bloody from the beating the locals had given him when he was dragged in front of the jailhouse camera for his mugshot.

That mugshot, like so many others that survive from the Old West, paints a unique picture of a largely lawless land where criminals could make a killing and cops could often deal with those they did capture however they pleased.

Although the hard-knock days of the Old West are now long gone, the remarkable outlaw tales from that time live on in the period's striking mugshots that survive to this day.

Next, take a look at some of the most famous mugshots throughout history. Then, see some more incredible vintage mugshots that bring the past to life.

Erin Kelly
An All That's Interesting writer since 2013, Erin Kelly focuses on historic places, natural wonders, environmental issues, and the world of science. Her work has also been featured in Smithsonian and she's designed several book covers in her career as a graphic artist.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.
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Kelly, Erin. "63 Wild West Mugshots That Prove They Don’t Make Criminals Like They Used To." AllThatsInteresting.com, June 28, 2015, https://allthatsinteresting.com/wild-west-mugshots. Accessed May 21, 2024.