ALL HONEST MEN: The True Story of J. Willis Newton and America's Most Successful Outlaw Gang

Claude Stanush, Author, Michele Stanush, Author . Permanent Press $28 (320p) ISBN 978-1-57962-084-4

This amusing narrative traces J. Willis Newton's transformation from disgruntled cotton picker on his daddy's Texas farm to one of America's most notorious bandits. Most famously, in 1924, Willis and his three brothers carried out the largest train robbery in U.S. history, netting more than $3 million. Although this book covers much of the same ground as The Newton Boys, the 1999 film co-written by Claude Stanush, the storytelling here has more zing. Relying chiefly on scores of interviews the father-daughter writing team conducted with Willis before his death in 1979, the tale is casually narrated from Willis's point of view, expertly capturing the nuances of his old South vernacular. Describing a Texas sunrise, the Stanushes write, "Far as I could see, ever'thing went from dead black to red—the red sun, that ball of fire, rising up over a field of red dirt, a-glinting in the first light of day, and, right in front of me, a big mound of dirt that'd blowed up agin a fence line." In the early 1920s, Willis recruited his three hesitant brothers to bank robbing, and the gang knocked off 60 banks altogether. The authors point out that Willis remained unrepentant about robbing to his dying day, figuring all banks were insured and "insurance companies were just as crooked as the banks." In fact, the authors imagine him damned proud of his work: "It burns me up like nobody's business when I hear all the to-do folks make over that Bonnie and Clyde." This is a romantic and often funny outlaw tale with lots of unexpected twists along the way. (Apr.)

Reviewed on: 03/17/2003
Release date: 04/01/2003
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