Fascinating posters showing the most wanted criminals in 19th century America have been revealed for the first time.
Notorious bandits like Jesse James and the disreputable Dalton Gang are featured in the posters, which offer rewards of up to $100,000 for their capture – dead or alive.
Most of the pictures were found in the Nova Scotia Archives in Canada, having been preserved as a piece of North American history.
Printed on cheap paper and intended to be destroyed as soon as the offenders were caught or killed, the very existence of these little-known Wanted posters is remarkable in itself.
A $15,000 reward for the notorious Dalton Gang, who were wanted for murder, train robbery, stealing horses and introducing liquor into the Indian Territory. During an attempted bank robbery in Coffeyville, Kansas in 1892, two of the brothers and two other gang members were killed; Emmett survived and was captured, tried, and convicted. He was paroled after serving 14 years in prison
Gratton Dalton, of the Dalton gang. As second in command of the Dalton gang he died during an ill-fated raid on a bank in Coffeyville, Kansas. The Dalton gang were a group of gunslingers in the Old West – four of whom were brothers – who specialised in bank and train robberies
Memento Mori of the Dalton Gang following a fatal shoot-out in Kansas. During an attempted bank robbery in Coffeyville, Kansas in 1892, two of the brothers and two other gang members were killed. Left to right: Bill Power; Bob Dalton; Grat Dalton; Dick Broadwell
Many of these rare images feature notorious Wild West outlaws who still capture the public imagination today – such as the legendary gunslinger, train and bank robber and leader of the James-Younger gang Jesse James.
A fascinating image in the series shows how the Pinkerton’s Detective Agency offered $5,000 dead or alive for Jesse James in 1892 – who was by then an infamous celebrity on the American frontier.
This wanted poster aided in his capture when outlaw Robert Ford shot and killed an unarmed James in the back of his head whilst he was a hanging a picture up on 3 April 1882. Ford collected the handsome reward and news of James’ murder became a national sensation.
A wanted dead or alive poster for famed outlaw Jesse James issued on the 26th July, 1881. James joined pro-Confederate guerrillas known as ‘bushwhackers’ operating in Missouri and Kansas during the American Civil War. After the war, as members of various gangs of outlaws, Jesse and his brother Frank robbed banks, stagecoaches, and trains across the Midwest, gaining national fame. On April 3, 1882, Jesse James was shot and killed by Robert Ford, a new recruit to the gang who hoped to collect a reward on James’ head
A woodcut etching shows Robert Ford famously shooting wanted man Jesse James in the back while he hangs a picture in his house, Ford’s brother Charles looks on. James was a ‘notorious robber of trains and banks’
Another striking 1892 poster offers $15,000 dead or alive for brothers Gratton Dalton, Emmett Dalton and Robert Dalton – three ‘NOTORIOUS BADMEN’ who were members of the Dalton Gang.
The Dalton gang were a group of gunslingers in the Old West – four of whom were brothers – who specialised in bank and train robberies.
This wanted posters famously helped catch the three brothers later that year. On 5 October 1892, the Dalton gang decided to make one ill-fated last robbery to earn enough money to leave the country and raided two banks in Coffeyville, Kansas.
A $1,000 reward poster James William and John Young, who were under sentence for the murder of Abel McDonald, and who made their escape from Cayuga Gaol on the evening of the 28th May, 1876. The reward was offered by the authority of the Ontario, Canadian government. William and Young were arrested, trialled and convicted of the murder
A $3,500 reward poster for Oscar Walter, who was a broker in Moscow, Russia and committed forgeries totalling 300,000 roubles. It is believed he had escaped to America
However recognizing the gang through the posters, the Coffeyville townspeople quickly armed themselves and killed Gratton and Robert during an epic shoot-out.
Emmett managed to survive despite receiving 23 gunshot wounds and served 14 years in prison – before becoming a Hollywood actor.
Whilst another image shows authorities offering $100,000 in 1865 – equivalent to around £1,500,000 today – for the capture of John Wilkes Booth, John Surratt and David Herold (spelt as Harold in the poster).
The three men were responsible for the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln on 14th April that year and the hunt for these murderers quickly became the largest in U.S. history.
Lincoln’s Secretary or War, Edwin M. Stanton personally directed the operation, authorizing rewards of $50,000 for Booth and $25,000 each for Herold and Surratt.
A reward poster for the assassination conspirators of President Abraham Lincoln, John H. Surratt, John Wilkes Booth and David E. Herold, 20th April, 1865. The hunt for these murderers quickly became the largest in U.S. history. Lincoln’s Secretary or War, Edwin M. Stanton personally directed the operation, authorizing rewards of $50,000 for Booth and $25,000 each for Herold and Surratt. Thanks to these posters, Booth and Herold were captured later that month however Surratt escaped to Liverpool, England and evaded authorities until 1866 when he was finally captured in Egypt
President Abraham Lincoln, taken on November 8, 1863. He was assassinated on April 14, 1865, while attending the play Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. He was shot in the head as he watched the play. Lincoln died the following day at 7:22 am, in the Petersen House opposite the theater
A depiction of John Wilkes Booth murdering President Abraham Lincoln in Ford’s theater, Washington D.C., on April 14, 1865
Thanks to these posters, Booth and Herold were captured later that month however Surratt escaped to Liverpool, England and evaded authorities until 1866 when he was finally captured in Egypt.
Meanwhile other remarkable posters in the collection show lesser-known crooks such as criminal husband-and-wife team William C. Murray and Ada G. Shreve who were wanted for stealing $5,800 in gold certificates in 1872.
Whilst a handsome $10,000 reward is offered for any person who is able to deliver escaped inmate, W.M. M Tweed to the New York authorities in 1875.
A wanted poster for Vito Sorisi, Rosario Castelli and his wife Giovanna Castelli for being the child kidnappers of Giuseppe Longo and Michael Rizzo in New York City, 1910
A $5,000 reward for N. Appleton Shute issued 25th January 1873. He was wanted for embezzling cash from the National Granite State Bank in Exeter, Hampshire, USA. He stole large amounts of United States bonds and money belonging to the bank. Shute was later sighted in Cuba, but was never brought back to Exeter to stand trial
In the 1800s during a time when mass media didn’t exist, issuing a wanted poster served as an important means of distributing information about alleged criminals.
Although most posters were primarily used on a local level between neighbouring cities and towns, other posters for more notorious criminal could be more widely distributed.
Audacious headlines and bold typography ensured the posters caught the public’s attention.
A $1,000 reward poster for Albert Kleish who had left New York City with money intended for Joseph Steiner in 1872
A $500 reward for Alexander Cohen of Milwaukee, Wis, USA, who was an alleged forger
While most issuers of wanted posters instead preferred the target to be taken alive in order to stand trial, historically it was also common for wanted posters to offer a reward containing the phrase ‘DEAD OR ALIVE’ – allowing an individual to claim the reward for either bringing the felon or their body to the authorities.
This ‘DEAD OR ALIVE’ clause was the norm during the early days of the wanted posters as many of these wanted criminals were outlaws of the Old West and killing these dangerous fugitives was the the only option.
The ‘DEAD OR ALIVE’ disclaimer gave people a licence to do what was necessary to catch the offender and return them to authorities without any legal repercussions.
A reward for criminal husband and wife team William C. Murray and Ada G. Shreve, who were wanted in New York City for stealing $5,800 in gold certificates in 1872. The reward was $250
A $100 reward poster for information of the whereabouts of W.B. Jones of Morgan County, Missouri. He was last heard of on the morning of February 28th, 1879, at the Planters’ House, St. Louis, Mo. He had just received $1,665 for stock sold, and it was feared he may have been robbed.