The Outlaw Josey Wales

  • Directors: Clint Eastwood
  • Producers: Robert Daley
  • Writers: Forrest Carter, Philip Kaufman, Sonia Chernus
  • Genres: Action, Western
  • Actors: Clint Eastwood, Chief Dan George, Sondra Locke

This film is the first ever to confront the history of those Missourians who fell prey to the murder and raping of the Kansas-based Unionists who called themselves “Red-Leggers” (after their red-striped stockings and gaiters) and Jayhawkers during the Civil War.[1] It is a revisionist film in that it abandons the standard presentations of the Unionists that had characterized Hollywood productions up to that time, along with the dark depictions of the Missouri riders.[2] The Outlaw Josey Wales turns these stereotypes on their heads.

Josey Wales (Clint Eastwood), a peaceful Missouri farmer, is driven to revenge by the brutal rape and murder of his wife and family by a band of pro-Union (Civil War) Jayhawkers—James H. Lane’s “Redlegs” from Kansas.

Josey joins a group of pro-Confederate Missouri guerrillas (bushwhackers or “border ruffians”) led by “Bloody Bill” Anderson. At the end of the war, his fellow guerrillas attempt to surrender but are instead gunned down in a botched execution by the same Redlegs (now part of the regular Union army) who burned Josey’s farm and murdered his family, led by the vicious Captain Terrill (Bill McKinney).

Josey, who had refused to surrender, intervenes on behalf of his comrades and guns down several Redlegs with a Gatling gun. Senator Lane puts up a $5,000 bounty on Wales. Josey begins a life on the run from Union militia and bounty hunters, while still seeking vengeance and a chance for a new beginning in Texas. Along the way, he unwillingly accumulates a diverse group of whites and Indians, despite all indications that he would rather be left alone. His companions include an elderly Yankee woman from Kansas and her granddaughter (rescued from a band of Comancheros), a wily old Cherokee named Lone Watie (modeled on the historical Confederate Cherokee Chief Stand Watie who fought as a Confederate general), and a young Navajo woman.

In the final showdown, Josey and his companions are cornered in a ranch house, which, typical of the times, was fortified to withstand Indian raids. The Redlegs attack but are systematically gunned down or sent running by the defenders. Josey eventually runs out of ammunition and pursues the fleeing Captain Terrill on horseback. When he catches up to him, Josey confronts Terrill and dry fires his pistols through all twenty-four empty chambers before stabbing the captain with his own cavalry sword, a departure from the usual Eastwood style of gunning down the chief villain.