All Honest Men by Claude Stanush

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Synopsis

All Honest Men is based on the true-life story of J. Willis Newton, a feisty sharecropper's son who fled the Texas cotton fields to become the leader of the most successful band of outlaws in American history. It is also a window into one of the country's most pivotal eras, the early 20th Century--when the country was passing from a primarily rural society into an industrialized and urban one, and the American Dream was changing from owning a patch of land to making "big money."

If there were an Olympic competition for bank and train robbing, Willis and his three brothers--Joe, Jess and Dock--would easily have won the gold medal, carrying off more money in their day than Jesse James, the Daltons, Butch Cassidy, and all the other famous outlaws put together. They were fascinating characters who bridged the Old World outlaw era and the gangster world of Al Capone. In the early 1920s Willis' four-brother gang emptied dozens of banks and pulled off the biggest train robbery in U.S. history--a $3 million heist near Chicago.

A flinty and restless person, Willis decided he wasn't going to spend his life picking cotton and following a "stinking mule's ass." Ironically, he modeled himself after his mother, Janetta Pecos, a hefty hardworking woman who, weary of the family's slave-like existence, told him once that if she had been a man, she might have become an outlaw.

The only other person Willis respected as much as his mother was Louise Brown, who he met in Omaha, Nebraska, between robberies. Like Willis' mother, Louise was smart, wily and strong, and he fell deeply in love with her. The relationship blossomed until Louise discovered something about Willis that he'd neglected to mention--he was a bank robber. What happened after that surprised them both.

Told from Willis' perspective in a southern oral vernacular, All Honest Men was written in novel form not only to explore Willis' thinking as he became a successful bank robber, but also to provide a window into the historical context, which ranges from Texas cotton farms to the Chicago underworld, from a rural society where everything was done by hand and the workday was from dawn to dusk (from 'can see to can't), to a high-living, urban life.

Willis spent his life chasing the New American Dream--a dream that Americans are still chasing today.

 

About Claude Stanush

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Claude Stanush is the author of All Honest Men, The Balanced Rock, The Newton Boys, and The World in My Head and the co-screenwriter of The Newton Boys. He is a former Life magazine staffer, Hollywood correspondent, science writer, and religion editor, and the recipient of numerous awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the World Council of Churches. He lives in San Antonio, Texas.
 
Published April 1, 2003 by Permanent Press (NY). 320 pages
Genres: History, Literature & Fiction, Westerns. Non-fiction

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Well, I say let ’em think whatever the hell they want to.” He was born on a West Texas cotton patch, and his formative years were all hardscrabble, defined by “pickin’ ”: from “can-see to can’t,” back-breaking and sweat-drenching work, fingers raw and bleeding from those inescapable cotton burrs.

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Publishers Weekly

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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 19

Mar 17 2003 | Read Full Review of All Honest Men

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