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Legendary Louisiana Outlaws

The Villains and Heroes of Folk Justice

272 pages / 6.00 x 9.00 inches / 19 halftones

ebook available

Criminology | Literature - Folklore | Regional Studies

  Hardcover / 9780807162576 / March 2016

Winner of the Louisiana Literary Award

Winner of the Brian McConnell Book Award

From the infamous pirate Jean Laffite and the storied couple Bonnie and Clyde, to less familiar bandits like train-robber Eugene Bunch and suspected murderer Leather Britches Smith, Legendary Louisiana Outlaws explores Louisiana’s most fascinating fugitives. 
In this entertaining volume, Keagan LeJeune draws from historical accounts and current folklore to examine the specific moments and legal climate that spawned these memorable characters. He shows how Laffite embodied Louisiana’s shift from an entrenched French and Spanish legal system to an American one, and relates how the notorious groups like the West and Kimbrell Clan served as community leaders and law officers but covertly preyed on Louisiana’s Neutral Strip residents until citizens took the law into their own hands. Likewise, the bootlegging Dunn brothers in Vinton, he explains, reflect folk justice’s distinction between an acceptable criminal act (operating an illegal moonshine still) and an unacceptable one (cold-blooded murder).
Recounting each outlaw’s life, LeJeune also considers their motives for breaking the law as well as their attempts at evading capture. Running from authorities and trying to escape imprisonment or even death, these men and women often relied on the support of ordinary citizens, sympathetic in the face of oppressive and unfair laws. Through the lens of folk life, LeJeune’s engaging narrative demonstrates how a justice system functions and changes, and it highlights Louisiana’s particular challenges in adapting a system of law and order to work for everyone.
Introduction: Taking the Law into Your Own Hands
1. The Prince of the Pirates: Jean Laffite, 1776–1823
2. Town Pillars Turned Outlaws: The West and Kimbrell Clan, 1850–1870
3. Stuck between Two Fires: Jayhawker Ozème Carrière, 1861–1865
4. Bloody Tangipahoa’s Robin Hood: The Outlaw Eugene Bunch, 1843–1892
5. The Man Who Didn’t Fear Nothing: Leather Britches Smith, 1904–1913
6. The King of the Bootleggers and the Law on the Louisiana-Texas Border: The Dunn Brothers, 1919–1925
7. Violence and the Law: Bonnie and Clyde, 1929–1934

Keagan LeJeune is professor of English at McNeese State University, past president of the Louisiana Folklore Society, and editor of its journal, Louisiana Folklore Miscellany. He has collected stories about outlaws and Louisiana folklore for more than fifteen years.

Praise for Legendary Louisiana Outlaws

Legendary Louisiana Outlaws does contain fun, sharp-shooting, blood-and-guts stories of outlaws, but what I found myself enjoying most was the context LeJeune provides. His thesis, that these outlaw tales reflect their times, necessitates a description of those times; and I learned more juicy tidbits of Louisiana history than I expected.”—Country Roads

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