Outlaw (stock character)


Though the judgment of outlawry is obsolete, romanticised outlaws became stock characters in several fictional settings.

This was particularly so in the United States, where outlaws were popular subjects of newspaper coverage and stories in the 19th century, and 20th century fiction and Western films. Thus, "outlaw" is still commonly used to mean those violating the law[1] or, by extension, those living that lifestyle, whether actual criminals evading the law or those merely opposed to "law-and-order" notions of conformity and authority (such as the "outlaw country" music movement in the 1970s).

The colloquial sense of an outlaw as bandit or brigand is the subject of a monograph by British author Eric Hobsbawm:[2] Hobsbawm's book discusses the bandit as a symbol, and mediated idea, and many of the outlaws he refers to, such as Ned Kelly, Mr. Dick Turpin, and Billy the Kid, are also listed below.

The point about social bandits is that they are peasant outlaws whom the lord and state regard as criminals, but who remain within peasant society, and are considered by their people as heroes, as champions, avengers, fighters for justice, perhaps even leaders of liberation, and in any case as men to be admired, helped and supported. This relation between the ordinary peasant and the rebel, outlaw and robber is what makes social banditry interesting and significant ... Social banditry of this kind is one of the most universal social phenomena known to history.

— Eric Hobsbawm

List of famous outlaws

La cueva del Gato (The cave of the Cat), 1860 painting by Manuel Barrón y Carrillo depicting the hideout of the Andalusian bandolero of Spain

The stereotype owes a great deal to English folklore precedents, in the tales of Robin Hood and of gallant highwaymen. But outlawry was once a term of art in the law, and one of the harshest judgments that could be pronounced on anyone's head.


American Western

The outlaw is familiar to contemporary readers as an archetype in Western films, depicting the lawless expansionism period of the United States in the late 19th century. The Western outlaw is typically a criminal who operates from a base in the wilderness, and opposes, attacks or disrupts the fragile institutions of new settlements. By the time of the Western frontier, many jurisdictions had abolished the process of outlawry, and the term was used in its more popular meaning. Some Old West outlaws, such as Billy the Kid and Jesse James, became legendary figures in Western lore both in their own lifetime and long after their deaths.




  • Lampião – Brazilian outlaw who led the Cangaços, a band of feared marauders and outlaws who terrorized Northeastern Brazil during the 1920–1930's.



















  • Slovak bandit Juraj Jánošík is known in Polish folklore as Janiczek or Janicek



  • Diego Corrientes Mateos Andalusian (1757–1781)
  • El Guapo Andalusian (born 1546) who is reputed to be the source for part one chapter 22 of Don Quixote by Cervantes.
  • Eleuterio Sánchez Rodríguez (born 15 April 1942), known as El Lute, was at one time listed as Spain's "Most Wanted" criminal and later became a published writer.




In Australia two gangs of bushrangers have been made outlaws – that is they were declared to have no legal rights and anybody was empowered to shoot them without the need for an arrest followed by a trial.

  • Ben Hall – the New South Wales colonial government passed a law in 1865 which outlawed the gang (Hall, John Gilbert and John Dunn) and made it possible for anyone to shoot them. There was no need for the outlaws to be arrested and for there to be a trial — the law was essentially a bill of attainder.[4]
  • Ned Kelly – The Victorian colonial government passed a law on 30 October 1878 to make the Kelly gang outlaws: they no longer had any legal rights and they could be shot by anyone. The law was modelled on the 1865 legislation passed against the gang of Ben Hall. As well as Ned Kelly, his brother Dan Kelly was subject to the warrant as well as Joe Byrne and Steve Hart.[5]

East Asian

South Asian

  • Dulla Bhatti – was a Punjabi who led a rebellion against the Mughal emperor Akbar. His act of helping a poor peasant's daughter to get married led to a famous folk take which is still recited every year on the festival of Lohri by Punjabis.
  • Papadu – South Indian bandit.
  • Veerappan, South India's most famous bandit, Elephant poacher, sandalwood smuggler
  • Phoolan Devi – one of India's most famous dacoits ("armed robber").[6]
  • Saradiel - Known as the Robin Hood of Sri Lanka for his exploits under British Colonial rule.
  • Shiv Kumar Patel – led one of the few remaining bands of outlaws that have roamed central India for centuries.[7]
  • ThuggeeIndian network of secret fraternities engaged in murdering and robbing travellers.[8]

Middle East





  1. ^ Black's Law Dictionary at 1255 (4th ed. 1951), citing Oliveros v. Henderson, 116 S.C. 77, 106 S.E. 855, 859.
  2. ^ E. J. Hobsbawm, Bandits; Penguin Books, 1972
  3. ^ BBC Inside Out – Highwaymen
  4. ^ "Ben Hall and the outlawed bushrangers". Culture and Recreation Portal. Australian Government. 15 April 2008. Archived from the original on 20 July 2008. Retrieved 2008-09-19.
  5. ^ Cowie, N. (5 July 2002). "Felons' Apprehension Act (Act 612)". Retrieved 2008-09-19.
  6. ^ Indian bandits kill 13 villagers, BBC News, October 29, 2004
  7. ^ Indian bandit slain in gun battle with police, International Herald Tribune, July 23, 2007
  8. ^ BBC – Religion & Ethics – Origins of the word 'thug' Archived 2007-10-17 at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^ Simko, Bandit Leader, Said to Have Defeated Persian Troops., The New York Times