Research can find evidence of only about eight true bank heists, and that’s across 15 states in 40 freaking years. Eight. As a point of comparison, bank robberies in 2010 amounted to 5,600. Hell, even if we’d never seen a Western in our lives, that would seem like a low number.
But there are several things to consider. First, towns back in those days were much smaller, with the sheriff’s office, saloon, general store, and bank usually clustered together for convenience. This one-stop social-needs block usually made up the dead center of town. Being that the sheriff’s office was usually no more than a few doors down, you were probably pulling your big heist within earshot of the law.
Second, the banks actually weren’t that easy to get in and out of. Old West buildings were usually built pretty close together, meaning the bank would be flanked by other buildings, while a reinforced back wall would keep anyone from intruding from behind (you can sort through the Freudian implications of that). When you walk out the front door with the loot, there’s the sheriff waiting for you. Now, the most famous robberies – the jobs pulled by Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid – were actually true. But that’s the point – they got famous for a reason. They were doing what nobody else was crazy enough to do.