Top 10 Most Historically Famous Shootouts

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A Brief History

Earlier today, we covered the North Hollywood Bank Robbery of February 28, 1997.  Therefore, it only seemed right that we also count down the top ten famous shootouts in history!

Digging Deeper

10. John Dillinger gunned down outside a Chicago theater, 1934.

Set up by The Woman in Red, was given no chance to shoot back.  Having committed 24 bank robberies, two jail breaks, and four police station robberies, J. Edgar Hoover declared him Public Enemy #1.  Cracked fact: Ambushed by Agent Melvin Purvis, the same agent that was in on the Pretty Boy Floyd shootout!

9. Pretty Boy Floyd Ohio, 1934.

Named Public Enemy #1 after Dillinger’s death, Floyd had been a perpetrator in The Kansas City Massacre shootout where four police officers were killed, and he wounded another three days before his fatal shootout with police and FBI.  The FBI was accused of firing a submachine gun into a wounded and helpless Floyd as he lay on the ground.  Oddly enough, the FBI had a different version.

8. Aaron Burr, former senator and current Vice President of the US, killed Alexander Hamilton, former Secretary of the Treasury in an 1804 duel in New Jersey.

It seems Burr was angry because Burr and Thomas Jefferson had tied in the electoral college in the presidential election of 1800, and Hamilton was instrumental in Jefferson being chosen over Burr by the House of Representatives.  Cracked fact: Hamilton’s eldest was also killed in a duel, in 1801.

7. Branch Davidian Shootout, Waco, Texas 1993.

Religious cult leader David Koresh and his heavily armed followers repulsed an assault by the ATF resulting in the deaths of four ATF agents and six cult members and spawned a 51 day siege, ending in a fiery death for 76 cult members during the final assault.  Men, women, and children were killed, causing tremendous backlash against the government.  Cracked fact: Along with the Ruby Ridge Shootout, anger over the Waco assault and siege led to the Oklahoma City bombing of the Federal Building in a case of domestic terror attack.

6. SLA Los Angeles Shootout, 1974.

Six members of the left wing revolutionary group that had kidnapped and brainwashed heiress Patty Hearst were surrounded by 400 police and shot it out with rifles, pistols, shotguns, and fully automatic weapons.  All six SLA (Symbionese Liberation Army) members were killed and no police were shot, despite over 9000 rounds being fired!  Cracked fact: Patty Hearst claimed the SLA had used LSD to control her and get her to help rob banks.  Getting a sentence of seven years in jail and having her sentence commuted by President Carter, who then pardoned her on his last day in office would make it seem good to be rich!

5. North Hollywood Shootout, California 1997.

Bank robbery gone bad, two heavily armed robbers wearing bullet proof gear fight a moving gun battle with police, both robbers getting killed and 18 other people shot. Over 2000 rounds fired by 300 cops and the two bad guys!  Police had to run into a gun store to buy weapons capable of defeating body armor!

4. Bonnie and Clyde Louisiana 1934.

After going on a two year run of robbery, auto theft and shootouts, killing nine officers of the law and a few civilians along the way law enforcement ambushed the pair on a country road and shot them perhaps 25 to 50 times apiece out of a total of 130 shots fired by police.  The stolen car driven by Clyde was full of bullet holes and Sheriff Henderson Jordan tried to keep it for himself, although the irate owner sued and got her car back!  Clyde’s Mother tried to get possession of the vast arsenal found in the death car!

3. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Bolivia 1908.

During long gun battle, both were repeatedly wounded, ended their lives by their own hand to avoid capture.  Speculation that one or both outlaws lived to escape adds to the legend.

2. Norco, California Shootout 1980.

Five bank robbers armed with shotguns, assault rifles, and handguns, as well as a home made bomb fighting two sheriff’s departments.  Two suspects killed, one deputy killed, nine other cops wounded, and 30 police cars shot. Even a police helicopter was shot!  Three of the suspects lived to be arrested two days later, only for all three to serve life without parole.

1. Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, Tombstone, Arizona 1881.

Virgil, Morgan and Wyatt Earp with their pal, Doc Holliday versus Ike and Billy Clanton, Billy Claiborne, and Frank and Tom McLaury.  Both McLaury’s and Billy Clanton were killed, with Virgil and Morgan Earp wounded. Subject of numerous movies, legends and references.  Cracked fact: Gunfight was not even at the O.K. Corral, but outside a nearby building.

Question for students (and subscribers): How many of the above shootouts had you heard about prior to reading this article?  Please let us know in the comments section below this article.

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please watch:

Coughlin, Brian, Amy Huggins, Tony Long, and Laura Verklan, dirs.  The History Channel Presents Shootout! – Seasons 1 and 2.  A&E Home Video, 2007.  DVD.

ShootOut! – In the Crosshairs & North Hollywood Shootout – The History Channel Club [DVD].  2008.  DVD.

Please read:

Guinn, Jeff.  The Last Gunfight: The Real Story of the Shootout at the O.K. Corral-And How It Changed the American West.  Simon & Schuster, 2012.

And, just for “fun”, please play:

Wild West Shootout – Nintendo Wii.  Zoo Games, 2010.  Video Game.


About Author

Major Dan

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.