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And all the federales say

They could have had him any day

They only let him slip away

Out of kindness, I suppose.
"Pancho and Lefty" by Townes Van Zandt

An Outlaw who is trying to add "former" to his description.

Let's face it, the outlaw life isn't for everyone. Sure, being outside the law gives you freedom, but you face freezing, starvation, and getting ventilated by bullets on a regular basis. And forget about establishing normal relationships. So some outlaws try to go straight.

In fiction, they generally break down into two broad categories.

  • Outlaws who try to go directly from "fugitive" to "law-abiding citizen" with no steps in between. Generally this involves changing his name, moving to a different territory, or otherwise obscuring his identity. How well this works depends on the story, but usually at least the main characters will discover the retired outlaw's secret.
  • Former outlaws who've served their time in prison, paid their debt to society, and just want to put it behind them. These generally appear in stories returning to the same territory where they committed their crimes, as that's where their wife or surviving relatives live. The Untrusting Community certainly hasn't forgotten the former outlaw's foul deeds, and often they haven't forgiven them either. Sometimes the retired outlaw can earn the town's trust and grudging respect, sometimes not.

It's not unheard of for former Outlaws to become lawmen, the most famous case being Wyatt Earp.

This trope often overlaps with Retired Badass and Retired Gunfighter, but doesn't have to. Some outlaws retire specifically because they don't have the Badass attitude necessary to succeed in the field.

See also Civilian Villain, Reformed but Rejected.

Examples of Retired Outlaw include:

Anime and Manga


  • Both Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman's characters in Unforgiven.
  • Once Upon a Texas Train has a band of retired outlaws who are reunited for one last job when their leader is finally released from prison.
  • Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid try to do this by becoming bodyguards. They go back when their legitimate employment comes with a much higher body count.
  • The Gunfighter has two men who do this. One succeeds, the other fails. The one who succeeds becomes a town marshal.
  • Young Guns 2 (in one of its great number of historical inaccuracies) portrays Pat Garrett as a Retired Outlaw who was part of Billy the Kid's group before being recruited into being a lawman and hunting Billy for the local authorities.
  • In Shanghai Noon, we have Roy O'Bannon, who starts the movie as an outlaw, but by the end of the movie, he's softened up quite a bit. At the end of the movie, it is revealed that he has become a lawman, and that his real name is Wyatt Earp.
  • Ronald in The Warrior's Way.


  • In Mystic River Jimmy Marcus was a juvenile delinquent and later the leader of a fairly sophisticated group of thieves. He retired for good after the combination of going to prison and his wife's death while he was inside, leaving him to raise their daughter when he got out, and now owns a convenience shop in town. Although the younger generation has no idea what he did, some of the neighborhood's older residents have never stopped thinking of him as a thief.
  • Jean Valjean of Les Misérables is a mixture of both types. He tries to go straight after getting out of prison, but discovers that so long as people know he's an ex-con, they'll never give him a fair chance, so he's forced to create a new identity to become an honest man. This violates the terms of his parole, turning him into a fugitive.

Live Action TV

  • Alias Smith and Jones has two outlaws trying to retire, but forced into the Boxed Crook role in order to get a pardon.
  • Earl from My Name Is Earl tries to do this by creating "good karma" through good deeds, after getting hit by a bus (as a balance for winning the lottery after all his bad deeds). Unfortunately, all the bad karma from before is still conspiring to force him into it. At one point, he loses faith in his list (of things to make up for) and goes back to his criminal practices. He gets hit by a car within a few days.
  • While most of the fugitives in Time Trax continued their criminal activities in the 20th Century, one of them took the chance to get a fresh start and became a lawman. He died helping Lambert take down a present-era criminal. His gravestone had a birth date a century and a half later than the death date, and the inscription "He found his place in time."


  • The Townes Van Zandt song Pancho and Lefty has Lefty, who retired to Ohio after his compadre Pancho was killed. The song implies Lefty sold Pancho out for the reward money as a nest egg.
  • There's a kids' song by Tom Chapin called "Billy the Squid" about a squid outlaw who at the end of the song retires to the suburbs with "Clamity Jane" (yes, the whole thing is a Hurricane of Puns).

Newspaper Comics

  • A storyline in the newspaper comic Latigo concerns an ex-gunman who goes straight after four years in prison, and becomes the preacher in the town of Rimfire. It originally ran in 1981.

Video Games

  • Jericho in Fallout 3 is a retired raider, although he doesn't seem to be happy living in Megaton. Also, Billy Creel might have killed Maggie's parents and "adopted" her.
  • John Marston's family in Red Dead Redemption is a textbook example of the "going straight to law-abiding citizen" variety. His new life as a simple rancher went pretty well for him — at least, until the FBI's predecessor kidnapped his family and ordered John to capture or kill his former gangmates.

Real Life

  • As mentioned above, several western notables accomplished this in real life. Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday both switched sides between outlaw and lawmen at various points in their lives. It was easier for a person to start over in eras before computer networks.