Modern Day Outlaws

It is Freaky Friday again.  As promised, I have a quasi true crime topic.  We’re going to look at a couple of films about a family of real-life modern day outlaws.  Let’s get down to business.

New members of Netflix streaming are asked to rate movies in order to generate recommendations.  I enjoy documentaries, and I rated quite a few.  One of my first recommendations from Netflix streaming, therefore, was The Wild  and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia.

I decided to watch it based solely Netflix’s summary:

Hailing from Boone County, W. Va., mountain dancer Jesco White may be the most famous member of the White clan — thanks to the 1991 documentary The Dancing Outlaw — but he’s hardly the most colorful. This film focuses on the rest of the brood. Director Julien Nitzberg spent a year with five generations of the West Virginia family — and spoke to various members of their community (including the sheriff) — to provide this colorful portrait.

Never having seen The Dancing Outlaw, I didn’t know what to expect.  The film started with commentary from members of the Boone County justice system, a female evangelist, and Hank Williams III.

I’ll be honest here. It was Hank III who hooked me. If there is any outlaw country left, that man is singing it.

To get an idea of of The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia watch the trailer:

To fully appreciate the Whites, it’s important understand how these outlaws became the subject of a documentary.  The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia was not the family’s first run-in with the TV folks.

Donald Ray White (aka D. Ray White) achieved regional fame as a mountain dancer.  He participated in the Smithsonian Folkways  documentary Talking Feet: Solo Southern Dance: Buck, Flatfoot and Tap .  In 1985, D. Ray was shot to death in a dispute with a neighbor. Also injured in the shooting were his sons Dorsey and Jesco.

Cut to 1991.  Jesco–to some extent–was carrying on his father’s mountain dancing.  He became the subject of the Jacob Young’s PBS documentary The Dancing OutlawClick here to watch the trailer. The Dancing Outlaw is also available on Amazon Instant Video.

In The Dancing Outlaw, Jesco’s struggle with mental illness and drug addiction is introduced.  Jesco’s drug addition fueled many of his brushes with the legal system.  His troubled marriage is the subject of the most famous clip from The Dancing Outlaw:

The Dancing Outlaw led to Jesco appearing on an episode of Roseanne as a hillbilly relative of Dan’s.  I’ve read online that this footage was ultimately cut.

Jacob Young made another documentary about Jesco titled Dancing Outlaw 2: Jesco Goes to Hollywood. The film White Lightenin’ (2009) is loosely based on the life of Jesco White.  Jesco appeared in Beck’s “Loser” video (look for Jesco at the 2:38 mark).

It’s important to know about Jesco because his celebrity played a large part in putting the White family on the map. Now, onto the Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia.

The White family could be their own true crime reality show.  We’re talking murder, standoffs with the police, all angles of the drug trade, and just general hell-raising.  The subject matter of the film is very dark and serious.  In spite of all this, they’re incredibly entertaining people.

At the time of filming, one White was awaiting sentencing for shooting his aunt’s boyfriend in the face with a shotgun—the guy lived—and then having a standoff with police.  The accused tells about the whole incident in a calm, coherent manner.  And it’s not funny.

But stuff like the scene where the viewer is introduced to his mother is funny.

Another White gives birth to a daughter and promptly loses the baby to child protective services.  The mother’s addiction to prescription drugs is implied to be the reason for the seizure of the child.  And it’s serious.

But stuff like the drive home from the hospital is hysterical.

The same White who lost her baby to child protective services also stabbed her ex.  He lived, but she never faced charges for the stabbing because her grandmother hid the knife.  The manner in which she tells the story is a fantastic character study.

And that scene leaves me with my favorite takeaway from The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia:

Several of the White clan mention jail and prison time.  During the course of the documentary, one White was released from prison.  The documentary segues into a vignette of her search for her wayward (cheating) husband.

The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia is definitely not for everybody.  Hank Williams III, though he appeared in the documentary, denounced the film for focusing only on the darker aspects of the White clan.  A google search will net just as many negative reviews as positive.

I enjoyed this documentary, though.  It’s a true—though maybe not as serious as the subject matter warrants—portrait of a family of modern day outlaws.  The writer in me could not be more fascinated.

The Wild Wonderful Whites of West Virginia is available on Netflix Streaming, Amazon Instant Video, or on iTunes.  The DVD version of the film is available for purchase via major retailers.

I hope you enjoyed reading this free article. I am sorry, but there will be no updates, corrections, or expansions to the content you’ve read. I am currently focusing on my fiction writing career and am no longer able to correspond about this content. If you’re interested in seeing what I write, please check out the My Fiction page on this website or visit my Amazon Author Page on 

27 thoughts on “Modern Day Outlaws

  1. Now if you were a writer and made this all up, nobody would beleive it. It’s scary and fascinating at the same time. What’s even scarier is my grandmother’s maiden name is White, and she is from the area where Ohio boarders West Virginia, so these people could be my kin! Great way to start my mystery-writing wheels turning this morning, Catie. Thanks!

    • I know! If I had these people in my books, critique partners would tell me they were over the top and unbelievable. And it is scary, fascinating, and funny all at one time.

      Okay. Jayne. You’ve got to find out if you’re related to the Whites of Boone County. Even if you only tell me. LOL

      Thanks for stopping by.

  2. People like these are like the proverbial train wreck: I shouldn’t watch, but I can’t look away. I guess the fascinating question is how people come to the point of living their lives this way. I can’t help but ask the Dr. Phil question: “How’s that working for you?” So curious, Catie. Interesting stuff.

    • It was the same for me. I was so fascinated by this documentary, I got my husband to watch it. I figured he’d watch about 20 minutes and refuse to watch anymore, but he got just as drawn in as I did.

      As for how people come to living their lives this way, the film actually discusses this a little. They talked about the coal miner culture, the danger associated with the job, and the fatalism that results among the people. Tomorrow really could be the last day. There was more to it than that, but that’s the quick explanation.

      Thanks for stopping by. 😀

  3. LOL. I laughed so hard at the Taco Bell video. She may have some redeeming qualities that aren’t shown, but wow. Hard and crabby, isn’t she? They are definitely a fascinating character study, and like Jayne said, without the videos people wouldn’t believe. Great post!

    • That Taco Bell video is hilarious. Confession: sometimes I feel that way when I’m ordering at the drive thru. I love the last line where she tells someone she’ll smack that look of their face. You’ve got to watch this. It’s free for you on Netflix streaming. 😀

  4. Surprised I missed these folk, just the kind of stuff I love to “veg” on. I’ll definitely be looking this up they sound like a lot of fun. And you are right about the character study, watching “normal folk” (cause what writer is normal) is always an enlightening experience.

    Great post, Catie :)

    • It’s a fascinating documentary, Gene, and widely available to watch. If you do watch it, look for the part where they explain about getting their “crazy check.” That fascinated me on several different levels. Their way of life is something most of us have never experienced. My writer self was scribbling mental notes the whole time. I found the basis for several quirky characters. Thanks for stopping by.

  5. Well….I’m not sure what I can say about this. I definitely want to watch the documentary just because this family is so alien to anyone I’ve ever met or known that it would be fascinating to learn more about them. And, yes, I think if you wrote a novel with individuals like this, no one would believe you. And that’s sad because they ARE members of our society and yet so removed from “us”. And what does that say? Did you see the Diane Sawyer documentary when she went to Appalachia and interviewed numerous individuals? That was so eye-opening for me. It’s similar to this and I learned the inner meaning of Mountain Dew, etc..
    WOW! Thanks for this, Catie. I loved it.

    • You really should watch it, Patti. I was surprised at how interested I got in the story. I even did online searches after I watched to check up on various members of the family to see how they’re doing. I didn’t see the Diane Sawyer documentary about Appalachia. We did see another documentary, however, about a photographer who was known for his pictures of the Appalachian people. It was an eye opener to me. So glad you liked the post, and thanks for stopping by.

  6. *shivers* how dark and creepy. My favorite documentaries are the nature ones LOL! give me cute baby animals any day. Although I do enjoy ones that show the strength of the human spirit and overcoming odds- all that feel good mush stuff :)

    • Some of the nature documentaries are really interesting. We’ve watched several about animals in the really cold regions. Sometimes they’re sad, but they’re always neat to watch. Thanks for stopping by, Alica. 😀

  7. Pingback: Blog Treasures 1-21 | Gene Lempp's Blog

  8. on ,
    Rebecca said:

    Watch the bonus features, it s a whole movie in itself.

    • You ought to work for the film company. I’ve been debating buying the disc just to see the bonus features, having read about them in various places online. You’ve swayed me to go ahead and buy it. 😀

  9. on ,
    lisa crum said:

    i watched the “www” purely by accident, and have since made my entire family watch it. i have maybe watched it 10 times!!!! its fascinating!!! we have also researched much of the subject matter, and i very much want to watch the other white fam docs. the movie version is awful, and i hated it. what strikes me the most is that no matter what, these folks are a family. they stick together. not everything about them is admirable, but that is. and yes, “dennis was that” it sounds like!!!

    • I made my husband watch it, too. I really figured he’d be put off and would refuse to sit through it, but he wasn’t. He was just as fascinated as I am. It’s funny; it’s tragic; it’s compelling.

      After seeing “www,” I rented The Dancing Outlaw on Amazon Instant Video. If you purchase The Dancing Outlaw from the Dancing Outlaw website, you get The Dancing Outlaw 1 & 2 plus the bonus reel. Only thing is, each feature is only 30 minutes, and the purchase price is $30. I haven’t quite talked myself into it yet.

      From one “www” fan to another, Dennis is this. 😉

  10. It’s interesting and entertaining if you see the Whites as a self-contained unit with unique values. As an extreme example of a regional culture, it’s horrifying.

    • I would wonder which is true. Are the Whites a self-contained unit with unique values or are they an extreme example of a regional culture? I tend to believe the latter, to be honest. Thanks for your comment.

  11. on ,
    vicky caulfield said:

    I live in florida with a guy from west virginia. i took his daughter and dropped her off at the same mothers program for drug rehab. this movie was right on the money for how the people live there.

    • How interesting. I can’t say I’m surprised by your comment. Regions in which poverty is common tend to produce a certain environment. Thanks for your comment.

  12. on ,
    Art Wilmeth said:

    The Whites are what’s wrong and right about America . Bless their hearts .

  13. on ,
    Lucy said:

    You should check the “The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia” facebook page right now. Mamie, Mousie and Derkie are here in N.C. to do two “shows.” Derkie just posted their hotel, hotel room number and put out a call for drugs.

    They are who they are. And they fascinate the hell out of me.
    P.S. Dennis is this. Ya’ll got any mozarella cheese sticks?

    • That’s hysterical. I’m laughing so loud my dog thinks something is wrong with me. For anybody who sees this and wants to peek, here’s the link:

      I’m like you, Lucy. They fascinate the hell out of me. They could have a weekly reality show, and it would be top priority on my DVR. Tragedy, comedy, and social commentary all rolled up into a big, ummm, gordita. Let’s hope they don’t have to kill that cow to get the beef. 😀