We can find the archetype of Robin Hood in many folklores around the world. Apparently, the world needed this one hero – the one who will take the loot from the rich ones and share it with the ordinary people who suffer in poverty and injustice. And surprisingly there are many real heroes who tried to bring the rich to justice by robbing them. Here are the stories of just a few real-life Robin Hoods.
1. Juraj Jánošík
Juraj Jánošík is the praised Robin Hood from the Slovak and Polish legends. Born in Slovakia in 1688 he fought with the Kuruc insurgents when he was only fifteen. After the lost Battle of Trenčín Janosik was recruited by the Habsburg army. According to the legend, one day the young Juraj came back home for a holiday. When walking into his parents’ house he was stopped by neighbors. The people sent him to their landlord’s field where the nobleman was whipping his father. Janosik managed to break the whip but it was already too late. His father died. The young man called for revenge. That’s why he allegedly opposed the rich, getting justice for the poor by ‘breaking the law’.
While serving as a prison guard in Bytca, Janosik met the prisoner Tomas Uhorcik and helped him escape from prison. Together they formed a highwayman group and Jánošík became its leader at the age of 23 after Uhorčík left to settle in Klenovec. With his group, Janosik was roaming the mountains and valleys of Slovakia, Poland, and Hungary. They were robbing the aristocrats and rich merchants and giving their loot to the poor, never killing anyone and even helping the accidentally injured ones. However, he was caught and sentenced to death on March 17, 1713.
Even the story of his death is heroic – After dancing a popular national dance under the hook of a gallows, Jánošík jumped and hung himself on the hook by his seventh ribbon. His last words were “Now you’ve caught me, you can have me”.
2. Nezumi Kozō
Nakamura Jirokichi or better known as Nezumi Kozo (“Rat Kid”) was the Japanese Robin Hood. According to some legends, he got his nickname because of his theft style – he broke into the wealthy estates through the attic, quiet and unnoticed, like a rat. Other legends say that he always carried a bag full of rats to deceive the possibly wake hosts in the night. He used to break into landlords homes in only the evenings. Like a typical superhero, he had two identities – the daily Nakamura Jirokichi who worked as a part-time volunteer in the local fire brigade and the night Nezumi Kozo who stole from the landlords. He lived during the late 19th century in Edo (present Tokyo) during the Edo period. He was active as Nezumi Kozo for a period of over 15 years during which he was caught two times. The first time he was caught and tattooed, and banished from Edo and the second time at the age of 36 confessed to the burglary of almost 100 samurai estates. Many of these thefts went unreported because it was embarrassing for the samurai to admit the humiliation and at the same time this was a great pleasure for the people at the bottom of the hierarchy to see their landlords humiliated.
According to folk stories he gave his money to the poor while, historians suggest that he lavished his money on women and gambling. However, the fact that he died alone, serving his wives with divorce papers just prior to arrest in order to protect them from sharing in the punishment as the law decreed, further enhanced his stature.
3. Scotty Smith
George St Leger Lennox known as Scotty Smith was the South African Robin Hood. He was born in 1845 into a noble Scotish family. According to the book written about him, “Scotty Smith“ by F.C. Metrowich in 1962 Smith denied marrying the woman that his father chose him and therefore he didn’t inherit his father’s property and wealth. Trained as a veterinarian in Scotland, he first shipped out to western Australia to participate in the gold rush in Kalgoorlie. Then he briefly joined the British Army briefly but was discharged not long after, following a court martial.Undaunted, Smith came out to South Africa in 1877 and became a frontier policeman in the Eastern Cape. However, he gave up that position and got involved in gun-running, general theft, elephant hunting, and other hunting activities in the then Bechuanaland (Botswana). He was also involved in legal and illegal diamond buying in the diamond fields, horse theft, and highway robberies. Many times, living up to his nickname of Robin Hood of the Kalahari, he robbed the rich to give to the poor, especially elderly women and single mothers. There is a story that he even offered to turn himself over to the police so that his friend could collect the reward money, only to escape after the payment had been made. He was caught and sentenced several times for these crimes, but, always managed to escape somehow and claimed that no prison cell could hold him. It appears that a lot of these activities were on behalf of the British government and he was released without blowing his cover.
Scotty Smith ended his days as a respectable old raconteur in Upington, farming vegetables on the banks of the Orange River. His grave is prominently marked in the Upington cemetery and his legend is that of a true brigand: hero to some, villain to others…
4. Pancho Villa
Born José Doroteo Arango Arámbula in 1878 and later known as Pancho Villa was a Mexican Revolutionary general, guerilla leader and one of the most prominent figures of the Mexican Revolution. After the death of his father, as the oldest child, he became the head of his family when he was only 15. In 1894 he shot a man for harassing his sister and that’s the turning point when the bandit was born. He spent six years on the run in the mountains where he met a group of fugitives and together they formed a gang. His gang would steal from rich haciendas to give to the poor, distributing cattle and corn that had been confiscated during his many raids. Pancho Villa is described as both a bloodthirsty, ruthless killer who tortured his victims and as a generous man of the people who donated to children’s charities and orphanages.
In 1910, while still living as a fugitive, Pancho Villa joined Francisco’s Madero successful uprising against Mexican dictator Porfirio Díaz and later Victoriano Huerta. He was also in an alliance with the southern revolutionary Emiliano Zapata. In 1913, local military commanders elected him provisional governor of the state of Chihuahua. In 1920, Villa retired to a quiet life at his ranch until his assassination in 1923.
Pancho Villa was beloved by the Mexican people and there are numerous ballads, legends and stories about him.
5. Salvatore Giuliano
Born in 1922 in the Sicilian mountain town of Montelepre, Salvatore Giuliano is seen by many as the ‘Robin Hood of Sicily.’ Like the historical character, Giuliano did indeed steal from the rich and give to the poor and assisted his countrymen during the harsh times of World War II. He started his ‘bandit career’ at the age of 20 after he got caught up by a police officer for smuggling food in a time when 70 percent of Sicily’s food supply was provided by the black market. Resisting his arrest, Salvatore killed the police officer and became a fugitive on the run. He assembled a gang of 50 men and together they robbed the wealthy for food and weapons, sharing their booty with the peasants.
While he was adored by the peasants who viewed him as sort of Robin Hood, Giuliano routinely killed traitors, informants, and enemies and launched attacks on Italian government authorities remaining a problem for them for the years to come.
Giuliano’s main goal was for Sicily to become not only an independent entity but an annexed state within the United States. He wrote two letters to then-President Harry S. Truman requesting the US to consider annexing Sicily as its 51st state.
However, his popularity among peasants was destroyed after he was linked to the slaughter of 11 innocent people during the May Day procession to Portella Della Ginestra in 1947. Giuliano maintained that his intentions were to fire over the heads of the crowd and not to kill the innocent, but that is not what occurred. He never returned his reputation and was killed in 1950 in a street battle by the soldiers of a special task force while trying to flee Sicily.
6. Phoolan Devi
Phoollan Devi or the Indian ‘Bandit Queen’ was low-caste Indian girl who as many others was working for the upper-caste land-owning families. She was married at the age of eleven in exchange for a cow to a ruthless man in his thirties who brutally beat her. She escaped from him and got back in her village where she was imprisoned for a crime she did not commit. She soon joined a gang which was assailed by rivals. She was locked up in Behmai, an obscure Thakur town. For two weeks, a group of Thakur guys gang-raped Phoolan, multiple times until she lost her consciousness.
However, she soon took leadership of her own gang and together they robbed and kidnaped upper-caste villagers.On Valentine’s Day in 1981, Phoolan and her gang returned to the village where she had actually been raped and recognized two men who took part in that gang rape. When they rejected to tell the whereabouts of the remaining members, an agitated Phoolan Devi ordered the execution of 22 upper-caste Hindu men to avenge her abuse and degradation in what became known as the Behmai massacre. It was the biggest bloodbath by a hooligan in India’s record, catching the attention of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Even though there is no record of her “Robin Hood actions” her actions were justified by the poor and downtrodden, who heralded her as an incarnation of the Goddess Druga. In February 1983, she agreed to surrender to the authorities and spent 11 years in jail. In 1996, two years after her release she was elected as a member of the Samajwadi Party of Mulayam Singh Yadav and served as an MP during the term of the 11th Lok Sabha (1996–98). She vowed to “protect the weaker sections” of society and promising to provide drinking water, electricity, schools and hospitals to the poor while fighting for women’s equal rights. On 25 July 2001, Devi was shot dead by three masked gunmen outside of her Delhi bungalow.