The Outlaw Josey Wales


The Outlaw Josey Wales is my favorite western movie classic, and certainly a favorite western read. A gritty western with touches of humor and a slight splash of romance, what I like most about this story is the detail to history and the stark portrayal of good and bad in EVERYONE. At the start Josey Wales is a peaceful Missouri farmer. He’s driven to revenge by the brutal murder of his wife and son by a band of pro-Union Jayhawkers — Senator James H. Lane’s Redlegs from Kansas.

Wales joins a group of pro-Confederate Missouri guerrillas/bushwhackers led by William T. Anderson. At the conclusion of the war, Captain Fletcher persuades the guerrillas to surrender, saying they have been granted amnesty. Josey Wales, still holding a grudge, refuses to surrender. As a result, he survives the massacre of the men by Captain Terrill’s Redlegs, who’ve now joined the Union Army. Wales intervenes and guns down several Redlegs with a Gatling gun.

Senator Lane puts up a $5,000 bounty on Wales. Wales 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 traveling companions despite all indications that he would rather be left alone. His companions include a wily old Cherokee named Lone Watie, a young Navajo woman, and an elderly Yankee woman from Kansas and her granddaughter rescued from a band of Comancheros.

In the final showdown, Josey and his companions are cornered in a ranch house which is fortified to withstand Indian raids.

The film  was inspired by a 1972 novel by Forrest Carter, originally titled Gone to Texas and later retitled The Rebel Outlaw: Josey Wales.  I’m much more inclined to curl up with a book than turn on the tube–but as far as movies go, this is one that can hold me captive from the first scene to the last. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it! I watched it again last summer on the History Channel.

The script was worked on by Sonia Chernus and producer Bob Daley, and Eastwood himself paid some of the money to obtain the screen rights. Michael Cimino and Philip Kaufman later oversaw the writing of the script. Kaufman wanted the film to stay as close to the novel as possible and retained many of the mannerisms in Wales’s character which Eastwood would display on screen, such as his distinctive lingo with words like “reckon”, “hoss” (instead of “horse”) and “ye” (instead of “you”) and spitting tobacco juice on animals and victims. The characters of Wales, the Cherokee chief, Navajo squaw and the old settler woman and her daughter all appeared in the novel In 1996, the film was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress.

Here’s an original movie trailer:


I found a site with favorite quotes from the movie. Here’s a few of my favorite:

Josey Wales: Now remember, when things look bad and it looks like you’re not gonna make it, then you gotta get mean. I mean plumb, mad-dog mean. ‘Cause if you lose your head and you give up then you neither live nor win. That’s just the way it is.


Laura Lee: Kansas was all golden and smelled like sunshine.
Josey Wales: Yeah, well, I always heard there were three kinds of suns in Kansas, sunshine, sunflowers, and sons-of-bitches.


Josey Wales: When I get to likin’ someone, they ain’t around long.
Lone Watie: I notice when you get to DISlikin’ someone they ain’t around for long neither.


Carpetbagger: Your young friend could use some help.
[holds up a bottle of patent medicine This is it… one dollar a bottle. It works wonders on wounds.
Josey Wales: Works wonders on just about everything, eh?
Carpetbagger: It can do most anything.
Josey Wales: [spits tobacco juice on the carpetbagger’s coat] How is it with stains?


Josie Wales: You be Ten Bears?
Ten Bears: I am Ten Bears.
Josie Wales: I’m Josey Wales.
Ten Bears: I have heard. You are the grey rider. You would not make peace with the Bluecoats. You may go in peace.
Josie Wales: I reckon not. I got no place else to go.
Ten Bears: Then you will die.
Josie Wales: I came here to die with you. Or to live with you…I ain’t promising you nothing extra. I’m just giving you life and you’re giving me life. And I’m saying that men can live together without butchering one another.
Ten Bears: It’s sad that governments are chiefed by the double tongues. There is iron in your words of death for all Comanche to see, and so there is iron in your words of life. No signed paper can hold the iron. It must come from men. The words of Ten Bears carries the same iron of life and death. It is good that warriors such as we meet in the struggle of life… or death. It shall be life.

Eastwood has called The Outlaw Josey Wales an anti-war film. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, he said:

“As for Josey Wales, I saw the parallels to the modern day at that time. Everybody gets tired of it, but it never ends. A war is a horrible thing, but it’s also a unifier of countries. . . . Man becomes his most creative during war. Look at the amount of weaponry that was made in four short years of World War II—the amount of ships and guns and tanks and inventions and planes and P-38s and P-51s, and just the urgency and the camaraderie, and the unifying. But that’s kind of a sad statement on mankind, if that’s what it takes.”


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18 thoughts on “The Outlaw Josey Wales”

  1. Hi Stacey, Thanks for all the interesting information about this movie. This is one of my husband’s favorites. I didn’t realize it was based on a book. I’m going to look for it at the library tonight.
    Thanks to everyone for reminding me of all these wonderful movies this week (and the heads up for one I haven’t seen). I’m planning an encore movie weekend! After two tornados here Sunday night and no power for four days, I’m ready to quit living like “the olden days” and watch somebody else do it!

  2. Hi Stacey,

    Not sure who the last post belongs to, but I hate to admit I don’t remember enough of the movie to have a favorite quote. :o) I ignored it the many times my dad watched it (probably had my head stuck in a book), but after your post, I’m going to have to rent it. Or pay attention when I visit my parents and dad has it on…again. :o)


  3. We had it on VHS and wore it out. Got it on DVD so the family could watch it forever more!
    Chief Dan George was our favorite in this movie. He was the one my husband quoted all the time. Just a good movie all around.
    Many members of the family quoted dialog all the time, even with friends of my boys.
    Great movie.

  4. Stacey, I love this movie! It really had a lot of depth and drama and the best I think of Clint Eastwood. He’s tough when he needs to be but he’s also tender without being soft. It’s just a great movie. I could watch it (and I have) over and over again. And it seems each time I watch it I see something I missed before.

  5. Strange, Kristen! Site might be acting up. When I opened this page the comment section thought I was JudyH, so we might have some unintentional cyber-impersonating going on 😉

    LOL about tuning it out when you were a kid–same thing my house with my dad. I remember watching it when I was out of the house and thinking WOW, I didn’t realize this was such a great movie! *g*

  6. Hi Mary! I had to wonder if teen boys started going around spitting tobacco at everyone after this movie came out *g* A powerful influence 😉

    Thanks for sharing!

  7. Thanks, Margaret! You’ll enjoy it. This movie is the epitome of a great western–loaded with standout dialogue. It was hard to pick a few favorites 🙂

  8. Love this movie! One of the characters I’m developing right now has a big dose of Josie in him. Thanks for the great blog, Stacey.

    Judy H–stay safe!

  9. I love westerns, but have somehow missed seeing this one. I may have watched when I was younger with my Dad and just forgot. lol I watched the trailer and I love the line, “he ain’t hard to track, he leaves dead bodies where ever he goes” lol I will have to rent it. Westerns were my favorite movies growing up, they don’t make them like they used to, but I thought the new “True Grit” was really good!

  10. Dyin’ ain’t much of a livin’, boy is one of my favorites in this movie. Don’t know why that came up with wrong name

  11. Dyin’ ain’t much of a livin’, boy is one of my favorites in this movie. Don’t know how that happened

  12. I have never seen this movie all the way through. For many years, I’d catch a scene or so when it was on TV. A year or so ago, I finally got to see most of it, so at least what I had an idea what the story as about. It certainly does show how war can go very wrong and those fighting it forget the rules and their humanity. I am going to have to sit down and watch the whole movie in one sitting.

    The trailer for the movie is so dated. I think it is the overdone announcer voice more than anything.

    I didn’t realize it had been selected for the National Film Registry. From what I have seen, it is a gritty depiction of this time period and what happened to too many people.

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