Red Dead Redemption 2 And Reality

Red Dead Redemption 2 And Reality - Gaming

Yea, I know this isn’t about cars but I recently had the opportunity to read a book about famous outlaws Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Some of you may recognize those names from Top Gears Patagomia special in 2014 when the three original hosts visit the famous cabin the two outlaws lived in while hiding in South America. While there, the three hosts perform many shenanigans while quoting the famous 1969 film “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”. Either way, after reading this I couldn’t help but think of Rockstars world of Red Dead Redemption 2 and how it compared to the real wild west that Butch and Sundance would have lived through. so I have decided to come up with five fun facts I learned about the outlaw trail and how it compares to Red Dead Redemption 2. I am keeping this relatively spoiler free as I haven’t even finished the main game yet.

Sorry Clarkson, it's a lot less impressive when it's not a bicycle.
Sorry Clarkson, it's a lot less impressive when it's not a bicycle.
  1. Red Dead Redemption takes a lot of inspiration from the life of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Famous portrait of members of the Wild Bunch. Butch Cassidy is pictured front row on the right and the Sundance Kid is front row, far left
Famous portrait of members of the Wild Bunch. Butch Cassidy is pictured front row on the right and the Sundance Kid is front row, far left

Butch Cassidy in particular seems to resonate with may characters and themes throughout the game. Butch and Sundance were at the height of their career as outlaws right around the time in which the game is set. Butch and Sundance both faced many pressures of a modernizing world and found it hard to outrun technology such as telegraphs and wanted posters which were now cheaper to produce and more widely distributed. Butch and Sundance were also hunted by the Pinkerton Detective Agency just like our hero’s in Red Dead Redemption. Butch Cassidy was also a man with a conscience similar to John Marston and Arthur Morgan. Despite being an outlaw, Butch Cassidy would go his life without ever killing a man until the day of his death when he pulled his six shooter and fatally wounded the first lawman to confront the duo on that fateful day. Many other gang members take inspiration from members of the Wild Bunch (the name of Butch’s gang). Butch and Sundance aren’t the only outlaws these games take inspiration from as many scenes from classic spaghetti westerns are ripped right from the source material to be included in the game.

2 The economy of 1899 was in a recovery after a stock market crash

Drawing by CM Russell that  was mailed to a ranch owner after he wanted to know the condition of the ranch following the winter.
Drawing by CM Russell that was mailed to a ranch owner after he wanted to know the condition of the ranch following the winter.

About ten years prior to 1899 when Red Dead Redemption 2 is set, the United States was shaken by two major events. The first was the winter of 1886-1887. This was one of the worst winters the country has ever seen estimating to have wiped out between 70% and 90% of the country’s livestock. This event changed the way farmers stored crops and raised cattle through the winter. The other major event was the stock market crash of 1893. While outlaws don’t care much about how their stock portfolio has grown, it would have effected many local businesses. Securing loans for agriculture and other projects would ave been quite difficult. This would have also effected the large corporations that many outlaws would have been robbing such as the Union Pacific Railroad (a favorite target for Butch and Sundance) which was forced into bankruptcy during the crisis. While historians mostly agree that the recession ended in 1897, the after effects could have still be seen in 1899. The recession would have also forced many out of work cowboys to ride the outlaw trial just to keep food in their bellies. The decline of the cowboy was in full swing around this time but not just because of economic conditions.

3 Both Red Dead Redemption games are missing one key invention that shaped the West forever

Red Dead Redemption 2 And Reality - Gaming

Barbed wire, probably one of the most under-rated inventions of the late 1800’s. Prior to this invention in the 1870’s, ranchers depended on cowboys to herd cows to grazing lands, watering holes, and driving them into town for sale. With the invention of barbed wire however, ranchers were able to enclose thousands of achres worth of property with minimal investment. Barbed wire was a cheap and effective way of enclosing livestock which left cowboys doing odd jobs around ranches and driving herds into town for sale. This combined with the recession, forced many law abiding cowboys out of work and into the life of an outlaw.

4 Interactions with Pinkerton agents would not have been as civilized as the game depicts

Red Dead Redemption 2 And Reality - Gaming

For those of you who don’t know your American history very well, the Pinkerton Detective Agency was a very real organization and was even more brutal than the game depicts. Any smart outlaw knew that the Pinkerton agents deserved a certain respect and were not to be underestimated. They were well known for doing whatever it took to get their man. When Cassidy fled to South America, the Agency sent members down to South America in an attempt to track the outlaws. They were not about to let their reputation be tarnished by some man from Utah. Pinkertons were also hired by large corporations to catch outlaws that were stealing from them and ruining their profit margins. In Red Dead Redemption 2, we see Arthur Morgan and other gang members having casual conversations with these ruthless agents for dramatic effect and the sake of the plot. In reality, these agents would have been in the same “shoot first ask questions later” mindset as the criminals they were after. If the agents had managed to track the gang, they would not be leaving without them unless they were returning with an army. While the game clearly wants to make these antagonists feel a little more three dimensional so the player feels more invested in the plot, real life interactions would not have gone without bloodshed. Fun fact, the Pinkerton Detective Agency is still around today!

5 Bank robberies during the wild west were rare and often unsuccessful

Red Dead Redemption 2 And Reality - Gaming

During the course of Red Dead Redemption 2, players engage in a variety of illegal activities including bank robberies. The truth of the matter is though that bank robberies during the wild west were very rare. In fact, more bank robberies occur in modern times when compared to the mid to late 1800’s. Many outlaws found it far too dangerous to ride into town in the middle of the day to try to hold up the local bank. Even if the outlaws managed to get out of town with the loot, posse’s sent out to track down the bandits would have been hot on their trails. In fact, Butch Cassidy was such a successful bank robber because of his careful planning and cool temper. The Wild Bunch were well known for their careful tactics of cutting telegraph wires and implementing rally points along their escape routes with fresh horses and supplies. Even if posse’s were after the gang following a robbery, they would reach a rally point, find the used worn out horses and realize that their horses (which would have been exhausted at this point) would have no hope of catching them. While Cassidy wasn’t one to shy away from a bank robbery, most outlaws and Cassidy himself were much more content with robbing trains and stagecoaches which were much more secluded and poorly guarded. This made it easier for gangs to get ahead of lawmen and posse’s. Additionally, if gangs such as the Wild Bunch did their planning right, they could hit targets with big sums of money such as shipments of payroll for ranchers and miners.

Bonus Cassidy and Sundance fact: Their file was never completely closed with the Pinkerton Detective Agency

Butch Cassidy, The Sundance Kid, and Etta Place at their ranch in South America
Butch Cassidy, The Sundance Kid, and Etta Place at their ranch in South America

While many historians believe that Cassidy and Sundance met their fate in South America in 1908, there was never any definitive proof that the men who died that day were Butch and Sundance. Because of this, their file is still technically open at the Pinkerton Detective Agency. While the case was taken off active status in the 1920’s, it was never completely closed. In fact, friends and family have claimed to have spoken to Cassidy as late as the 1930’s. Family members also claim he came home and stayed with them for a few days in 1924. The true fate of Butch and Sundance could remain a mystery forever.

As always thank you very much for reading. I know it doesn’t relate well to cars but after reading “The Last Outlaws” by Thom Hatch, I couldn’t help myself. Feel free to comment if you have any questions or just want to talk about Butch Cassidy or Red Dead Redemption 2. Either way, hope you enjoyed the post.