As with fictional heroes, there are plenty of real life examples of real life heroism as well, especially in history. Some of them could be said to be our role models and inspirations as well as those whose stories are told time and time again. Of course, there are those who do great deeds in history which are heroic and then there are those whose heroism is just a load of crap and doesn’t seem to hold still to the facts. Of course, I’m not going to use recent examples unless there are really serious implications. For instance, I may love to put Ronald Reagan on here since I think he’s one of our worst presidents in the US as well as a highly overrated historical figure, but since many people’s opinions of him usually depend on their political affiliation, I know that to make that move would be controversial. Not to mention, I’m not going to put on movie stars, writers, and other celebrities unless known to accomplish something big.
1. Wyatt Earp and Co.
Known for: The famous 1881 gunfight at the O. K. Corral in Tombstone, Arizona against a group of outlaw Cowboys of ranches who were unhinged of the silver boom in the area, which killed Tom and Frank McLaury as well as Billy Clanton. Of course, Wyatt Earp is the best known but his brothers Virgil and Morgan as well as friend Doc Holliday were there as well. However, I’m just going to stick to Wyatt Earp since he’s the most famous of the bunch. Wyatt was said to be a respected and fearless lawman who helped bring law and order to the town of Tombstone. Has the reputation as the “toughest and deadliest gunman of his day.”
Why he probably doesn’t deserve his fame: Wyatt was very savvy with PR as well as blessed with the gift of longevity so he was able to develop his modern image, which he did during the 1920s as a consultant for an article and a movie about his life. He even gave an interview for a biography that was published after his death (which is now considered mostly fiction by today’s standards). However, before the 1920s, he was pretty much known as a dubious minor figure in Western history. And his reputation has been confused by inaccurate, conflicting, and false stories told about him by others and by his own claims that cannot be corroborated. And though he did have a reputation as a lawman, he didn’t really help bring law and order to the Old West, especially with the gunfight at the O. K. Corral. In fact, the gunfight only made things worse. For one, after the gunfight, Ike Clanton tried to get the Earps and Holliday charged with murder but the four got by with self-defense. Later on, Virgil was ambushed and shot in the left arm and shoulder by a shot gun in a saloon where Ike Clanton’s hat was found in a building across the street. A few months later, Morgan was shot in the right side by gunmen firing from a dark alley while playing billiards, in which the bullet shattered his spine as well as killed him forty minutes later and eventually lodged in the thigh of George A. B. Berry. Wyatt was almost shot there himself. Wyatt then decided to take the law in his own hands and resolved to kill all his enemies so he gathered a posse and to pursue the Cowboys in revenge which the Tombstone sheriff tried to stop him from doing. which was bloody. Separating the fact from fiction from Wyatt Earp’s life may be a difficult process, but one thing’s for sure, he didn’t leave Tombstone a better place and was more shadier and self-interested.
2. Jesse James
Known for: Famous Western outlaw and most famous member of the James-Younger Gang who staged many train, stagecoach, and bank robberies and shootings. Said to be a manifestation of frontier lawlessness or economic justice. Said to be the “American Robin Hood.” Said to be shot by the coward Robert Ford.
Why he probably doesn’t deserve his fame: Again good PR comes into play which Jesse was willing to take advantage of and it was mostly done in efforts to encourage the rise of the ex-Confederates in Missouri during Reconstruction, which many ex-Confederates like those in the James-Younger Gang were not too happy about at all and it’s pretty much a given they were no friend to racial minorities. Also, the notion of James being the “American Robin Hood” is pure bullshit because the James-Younger Gang only robbed for themselves and weren’t above killing unarmed soldiers and civilians. Many modern scholars have now placed the James-Younger Gang among those regional ex-Confederate insurgencies following the American Civil War. Not to mention, James was an unstable cold-blooded killer and after the demise of the gang, even the people of Missouri eventually got fed up with him. Oh, he once said he was absolutely committed to slavery and vowed to shoot any black in Missouri not fulfilling his role of a slave. As for Robert Ford, he wasn’t a coward and certainly no fool since he killed James with the governor’s blessing. Still, a lot of famous outlaws have this kind of image, Jesse James is the best known in America.
3. Elliot Ness
Known for: An American Prohibition agent famous for enforcing the 18th Amendment in 1920s Chicago as well as leader of a team of law enforcement agents known as the Untouchables. Also credited with taking down Al Capone.
Why he probably doesn’t deserve his fame: Though he led many raids in Chicago with the help of wiretapping as well as claimed to seize $1 million in booze, Ness had almost nothing to do with taking down Capone at all and his efforts had very little impact on Capone’s operations. Also, is mostly by media savvy where Ness attained his reputation as a man who tried to rid illegal vice wherever he went but was later withered by a series of grisly murders in 1930s Cleveland followed by a string of business ventures such as a stint as chairman of the Diebold Corporation and a downward spiral after that. Not to mention, was said to be a heavy drinker, ironically. Still, if you want to know of the true people who took down Al Capone, then look to the IRS who got him on tax evasion in which the guy on his case was IRS agent and former accountant Frank J. Wilson who also worked on the Lindbergh kidnapping case in which his investigation of the money led to the arrest of Bruno Richard Hauptmann and eventually became head of the Secret Service who nearly eliminated counterfeit operations through an education program, resisted pressure from J. Edgar Hoover to transfer the Secret Service under the Justice Department under FBI jurisdiction, and initiated the practices of presidential security which is now standard procedure. Now where’s Frank J. Wilson’s TV show, Hollywood?
4. Robert E. Lee
Known for: Famous Civil War general and head of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. Said to be a father to his men as well as a symbol of Southern Confederate honor that hearken to the days of the Old South.
Why he probably doesn’t deserve his fame: Of course, Robert E. Lee certainly deserves his fame as Jefferson Davis’ top general as well as a Father to his Men. However, his star has been amplified by the Lost Cause Southern historians after the Civil War who paint him as some sort of saint which he certainly wasn’t. In some ways, many Southern whites tend to see him in a way that many Republicans view Reagan. Sure he graduated with no demerits at West Point which still stands, was a great soldier, and sacrificed a lot for his beloved Virginia (such as buddies, citizenship, and Arlington), but he wasn’t great with his family and was certainly no friend to black people, especially his slaves. Sure he might have hated slavery, but he was a slavery apologists as well as one of slavery’s greatest defenders and was very upset about Lincoln’s anti-slavery actions. Oh, and he committed treason against his country as well as partially responsible for so many deaths and why his four daughters were never able to find husbands. As a military leader, Lee might have been able to win battles early in the war, but he was very much a 19th century general who couldn’t adapt to the strategy and tactics that Grant and Sherman were using to defeat him and his colleagues. Oh, and then there’s Gettysburg which was the result of Lee’s planning to stage a Northern Invasion. And we know how that worked out for him.
5. Betsy Ross
Known for: Designing and producing the first American flag during the Revolutionary War. Was said to be a patriotic role model for young girls and a symbol of women’s contributions to American History at least in the 19th century.
Why she doesn’t deserve her fame: Although Betsy Ross was a real women who did have an upholstery business in Philadelphia, the claim of her sewing the first American flag is dubious and might as well been cooked up by her grandson since there’s a lack of historical evidence of the famous story with her and George Washington. Also, her story didn’t come out until after her death. Not to mention, though it wouldn’t be unusual for an upholster to sew flags, she would’ve been one of 17 women who did sew them and might have contributed by using 5-point stars instead of the traditional 6-point stars or the production of it. Then again, the banner might more likely have been designed by Francis Hopkinson who was originally credited with the flag design. Still, there are plenty of Revolutionary heroines out there and other American heroines who contributed much more.
6. William Wallace
Known for: Being Scotland’s greatest hero as well as the inspiration for that God awful Mel Gibson movie (historical inaccuracies abound). A martyr for Scottish independence.
Why he probably doesn’t deserve his fame: Well, not much is known about Wallace but we’re pretty sure that he didn’t sleep with Princess Isabella (who was a child) nor did he father Edward III (who was born nearly a decade after his death). He also wasn’t a Scottish highlander but a minor aristocrat from the Scottish South whose dad fought for the English. Oh, and Robert Bruce never betrayed Wallace either (and was far more successful than him and was actually referred to as Braveheart as well as one of the greatest Scottish heroes whose claim Wallace staunchly supported). Not to mention, Wallace wasn’t above raping women and burning down schools with children and monks still inside. Then again, everybody was pretty brutal during the Middle Ages.
7. Che Guevara
Known for: Being one of the architects for Cuban independence as well as the highest selling T-shirt image. Seen as a hero figure who fought for freedom as well as represented civil disobedience and rebellion.
Why he probably doesn’t deserve his fame: Well, aside from being a Communist (not that there’s anything wrong with that, just ask Upton Sinclair whose novel The Jungle helped start the FDA) he was buddies with Castro and is sort of responsible for putting him and his brother in power and without the Castros, there probably wouldn’t be a Cuban Missile Crisis. Also, personally killed hundreds of people to spread communism to “liberate” the poor. Not only that, but had a strong dislike for rock music that he saw as a product of American Imperialism, even going as far as to have Cuban rock fans imprisoned in labor camps. Then there’s the fact that there some fellow Communists who couldn’t stand him either.
8. Guy Fawkes
Known for: If V for Vendetta is a guide, he’s basically known as a tragic hero who tried to blow up Parliament and died trying to strike a blow for freedom. He also gave rise to V for Vendetta and the Guy Fawkes mask.
Why he probably doesn’t deserve his fame: He and his co-conspirators in the Gunpowder Plot were terrorists and were more interested in replacing a Protestant monarchy with a Catholic one. Also, he was one of the last men brought in since he worked as a mercenary in Spain that gave him the Catholic sympathies and the demolitions expertise. And it was a Catholic who turned Fawkes in (who got a tip from one of the conspirators Francis Dresham). Not only that, but King James I was quite tolerant of Catholics and might have possibly been married to one (his son Charles had a Catholic wife and son James was openly Catholic for most of his life and his mother was known as the Catholic Mary Queen of Scots). He even handled religious issues remarkably far better than his own successors. However, King James might have granted Catholics greater freedoms if the Gunpowder Plot didn’t happen and he only went along with stricter laws on Catholics because Parliament passed them (is it difficult to explain why?) and were willing to give a load of cash to do so. Thus, Guy Fawkes actually did more to harm the freedoms of English Catholics than good at least in the 17th century. So perhaps having a terrorist represent freedom isn’t such a good idea.
9. Saint Sir Thomas More
Known for: One of the best minds of early Renaissance England who served as chancellor to Henry VIII as well as wrote Utopia and corresponded with Erasmus. Refused to recognize the king as the head of the English Church as well as opposed the formation of the Church of England and Henry VIII’s dissolving his marriage to Catherine of Aragon in order to marry Anne Boleyn. His bravery for sticking up to his principles even if it meant his gruesome death provided the inspiration of the play A Man for All Seasons where he’s presented as a champion of the freedom of individual conscience.
Why he probably doesn’t deserve his fame: This is a complicated case but in large part Sir Thomas More certainly does deserve his fame as one of the great Renaissance figures in Tudor England as well as his sainthood for he did stick to his religious principles. But as a champion of the freedom of individual conscience? Well, maybe according to 16th century standards where he’s perfectly fine with the burning of heretics and believed the state had every right to suppress any open dissent (guess which one went back to bite him) as well as base his defense on the plea he had not made his personal opinions known. Also, he’s certainly a guy who would certainly not be okay with his daughter marrying a Protestant as well as had his own opinions about the Catholic Church which might shock some people nowadays (such as perhaps not having a pope and more conciliatory power). Oh, and did I say he was friends with Erasmus and Thomas Cromwell (who was godfather to his first grandchild)? Catholic martyr and Renaissance intellectual, absolutely but advocate for free speech, absolutely not.
Known for: She was a female philosopher in ancient Alexandria who was said to be a martyr to science, atheism, and rationalism since she was killed by a bunch of misogynist religious fanatics.
Why she probably doesn’t deserve her fame: As a female philosopher and scientists whose teachings influenced many, she certainly deserves her fame for there aren’t many women in that field, especially in ancient times. As an atheist martyr and poster child, certainly not since she was a monotheist pagan (Neo-Platonist to be exact) who was respected and beloved by the people in Alexandria even by Christians, some of whom were her students, including a future bishop. And no one cared about her being a woman either. So what led to her death? Politics. Also, despite the Rachel Weisz portrayal, she was sixty-five at the time of her death. Still, the myth that rises from her story means that religious people aren’t the only ones to believe in ridiculous things (and I’m talking to you Carl Sagan).