Joe Newton and Willis Newton of the Newton
Brothers Gang of Bank Robbers from Uvalde, TX


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The Newton Boys: Portrait of an Outlaw Gang - The Original Documentary Film
Director, Jack Landman Remembers His Experiences with the Newton Boys

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Joe Newton
Willis Newton
Joe Newton of the Newton Boys Outlaw Gang
Willis Newton of the Newton Boys Outlaw Gang
74 years old at time of filming
86 years old at time of filming

      Joe Newton and Willis Newton of the Newton
Brothers Gang of Bank Robbers from Uvalde, TX

Responsible for the Largest and Last Train Robbery in American History, And Several More Train Robberies, Not to Mention the Robbery of Over 80 Banks, Never Killing Anybody, Crossing Paths with Bonnie and Clyde, Serving Surprisingly Little Time in Prision and Sincerely Believing They Were "Basic American Businessmen" Whose Profession Just Happened to Be Robbing Banks. Hollywood told the Hollywood version of their story in the 1996 film, The Newton Boys, directed by Richard Linklater.   This web site streams the 1976 Award Winning, 35 minute documentary film, "The Newton Boys: Portrait of An Outlaw Gang", directed by Jack Landman in 1976, Joe Newton and Willis Newton tell it like it is and was, in their own words.


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The Newton Boys: Portrait of an Outlaw Gang

This award-winning documentary film was made in 1976 and has rarely been seen since then.  It chronicles the lives of the Newton Brothers, who made their livings as bank and train robbers during the 1920's and 1930's.  At the time the film was made, two of the four brothers were still living - Joe Newton, who was 74 years old, and Willis Newton, the gang leader, who was 86 years old at the time of the filming.  Remarkably, during their years of crime, they never killed anyone and they always had a strong aversion to carrying and using firearms.

Among the many honors this film received was first prize in the documentary category at the Festival of the Americas, held in the Virgin Islands in 1977, the year it took the Grand Prize.  In 1998, the acclaimed film director, Richard Linklater, directed a Hollywood production of  The Newton Boys, starring Matthew McConaughey (who was incidentally born in Uvalde, Texas, which was also home to the Newton Boys for many years), Skeet Ulrich, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D'Onofrio, Julianna Margulies and Dwight Yoakam. Footage from this documentary film was used in that major studio production.

About the book below, authored by Claude Stanush, who also helped produce the documentary film, and wrote the Linklater film.  Claude became a close friend to the Newton Brothers, and was more responsible than anyone else for bringing their story to the world. - "Roaring '20s-era bank robbers Willis and Joe Newton were the subject of a 1976 documentary film; this oral history—based, they say, on the same interviews—offers an unusual portrait of Texas and the Southwest, especially because of the brothers' belief in the essential corruption of business and government institutions. The book, dominated by older brother Willis, is unwieldly, but should interest Texas history buffs. 'We wasn't thugs like Bonnie and Clyde . . . we was just quiet businessmen,' declares Willis of the four-brother gang; he goes on to explain how his initial false imprisonment on a theft charge led him to disregard the law. Joe, on the other hand, 'was kind of following the leader.' In 1924, after many successes, the gang's $3 million Illinois train robbery led to their capture. Amid the book's wealth of detail about their movements and tactics emerges some homespun wisdom; Willis declares that prisons are more schools for crime than for reform. Willis died in 1979 at 90, and Joe died in 1989 at 88."—Publishers Weekly


The "Official" Book which tells the Newton Boys' Story, straight from the horse's mouth.

The Documentary Film, The Newton Boys:Portrait of An Outlaw Gang
Article by the film's director, Jack Landman

In late 1975, after having recently graduated from Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas, with a degree in Journalism, Broadcasting and Film, (your basic film and TV production cirriculum) and a degree in Religion, and after having produced and directed my first two professional documentary films, I got the opportunity to direct an upcoming documentary film on the Newton Boys, of whom I had never heard.

A San Antonio author and screenwriter, Claude Stanush had come to know the surviving Newton Brothers well, and he had written various fiction and non-fiction works on their exploits.  He got together with an English professor at Trinity University, David Middleton, who assisted Claude in securing a grant from the Texas Commission on the Arts and Humanities to produce an oral history project on the Newton Boys.

Their story was powerful, exciting and sociologically, their lives were great examples of America's transition from a frontier, wild west, cowboy culture, to the modern, technological culture of the burgeoning 20th century. Because there was a special story to tell, and because Trinity University was willing to provide professional filming and editing resources, The Texas Commission now joined by the National Endowment for the Arts, was willing to kick in some more cash, so that a full fledged documentary film would be produced.

I was the resident filmmaker at Trinity, where I was also serving as an instructor for some of the basic film techniques courses.  Once I understood what the Newton Boys story was all about, and just how special these two old men were, I was very willing to direct the film and steer it through the technical world of film production, even though the salary for the job was very small.  My involvement had nothing to do with money.  We all know anything helps, then, less than two years since graduation, and trying to make a living in a field very few do, I was glad for any fees, but the more I learned, the more honored and excited I was to be associated with the project, and the others involved. 

We were going to have the opportunity to document on film an important story which needed to be told and preserved, and which, surprisingly, was very little known, yet these men had robbed almost 100 banks, pulled off the largest and last Great Train Robbery in the U.S., and they had never killed anybody.  (One of their brothers, Doc Newton, did die as a result of gunshot wounds sustained during the Great Train robbery, which sadly had been mistakenly fired by another gang member).

Anyway, I was absolutely committed to the project. It was a great opportunity for me to show my stuff as a filmmaker on an important story with terrific audience appeal.  We envisioned needing a month or two to do the location filming and another 2 - 3 months for editing.  Headquarters for the project was the film department at Trinity University in San Antonio.  I, David and Claude were based there.  Joe and Willis Newton lived in Uvalde, ninety miles to San Antonio's west.  Our plan was to shoot in Uvalde 5 - 7 days, recording the interviews of the exploits, and showing them where they liked to hang out, going fishing, going honey bee smoking, and interacting with their friends and townsfolk.  Uvalde was a key character in the Newton Boys story.  They loved the little town of 10,000 and had been there off and on all of their lives, always coming back home to Uvalde, no matter where their exploits carried them, from one end of North America to the other and back again and again.

Later we would spend a day or so in many of the small towns around San Antonio, where they had robbed many banks.  In each town they would recount the events where they actually occurred.  If the buildings which been there in the 20's and 30's were no longer standing, they would point at where they had been.  We also hoped to find individuals in those small towns who had direct, first hand memories of the robberies or whose lives had somehow intersected with the Newtons, and we did.   These towns included San Marcos, New Braunfels, Boerne, Hondo and more.

Joe Newton was 74 years old, soft spoken, and had been the "baby" brother in the gang.  The gang leader was Willis.  At 86 years old, he was a dynamo of talk, movement and energy.  He consistently interrupted Joe and told the story for his impatient satisfaction.  He talked and talked. His memory was very sharp, but age had taken some tolls on him.  Though he couldn't raise his right arm, he liked to point off in the distantance with it, so he would with his left hand clamped to his right wrist, lift the right with the left and point out something he wanted you to see.  TO BE CONTINUED


© 2006 Jman5 Jack Landman