We’ve now spent a good amount of time in Red Dead Redemption 2, and there’ve been many insights into how the Van der Linde Gang was shaped in its earlier days. There were some great fan service moments for the likes of John Marston, but RDR2 didn’t use that as a crutch. There were pleny of new characters and new ideas to explore in the prequel.
There was a period of around a decade when the Van der Linde Gang enjoyed dominance in the region, but there’s another reason its members would remember those days fondly. It was also a period when Dutch had instilled a proud sense of purpose in the gang. They weren’t just bandits — they were protectors and vigilantes.
Red Dead Redemption 2 is about the end of the Van der Linde Gang’s “glory days.” Robbing banks and trains, living as outlaws, and distributing wealth as they saw fit.
They robbed from the rich. They gave to the poor. They protected the little people. And sure, every now and then someone got murdered. But they believed they were making a difference.
It was only after many years and a slow slide into casual, unchecked violence that it started to become clear that the West was becoming civilised whether they liked it or not.
Dutch wasn’t fond of change:
A Tale of Two Gangs
The Van der Linde Gang is not to be confused with “Dutch’s Gang.” Although both of them were led by Dutch van der Linde, the former came before the latter, with a period of six years in between. Dutch was thought dead or missing during that time. Not much is known of his actual whereabouts, though at one point Javier Escuella told John Marston that Dutch was hiding out in Columbia.
Dutch’s Gang was the second incarnation of Dutch’s will wrought into a fighting force, though this was long after he had given in to raw aggression. No longer bothering to put up a facade of morality, he recruited among Native Americans with scores to settle against the US Government. Their goal was a Wild West not far from anarchy.
Unfortunately for Dutch, both of these gangs had a member tied to the Bureau of Investigation. Hired by Leviticus Cornwall, Andrew Milton and Edgar Ross led the Pinkerton Detective Agency on a crusade against the Van der Linde Gang. It was Ross who would go on to cause more trouble in the events of Red Dead Redemption.
Former Dutch’s Gang member Nastas was recruited as an informant and eventually fought with John Marston. Marston’s motivations were more complex (as a protagonist’s tend to be). Not only did the original gang leave him for dead in 1906, Edgar Ross kidnapped his family to force him into hunting down his old battle brothers.
Neither Gang had much of a coherent purpose, in the end. But we at least got to see a glimmer of the original ethos of the Van der Linde Gang in RDR2. The later Dutch’s Gang was born of insanity, while the previous Van der Linde Gang lasted for years with its good intentions.
Previously Unknown Gang Members
In Red Dead Redemption 2, the Van der Linde Gang takes on a few members we previously didn’t know about. Some characters come and go within the space of the one game. Others are fleshed out enough to provide new insight into their role in Red Dead Redemption.
Kieran Duffy was a kidnapped member of the O’Driscoll Boys who earned a spot in the Van der Linde Gang by saving Arthur Morgan’s life. Sadie Adler was rescued from the O’Driscoll Boys and stuck around. One of the more capable gunslingers, she went on to become a major enforcer for the Gang, not to mention a rare source of positivity.
Lenny Summers is a worthy addition for the drunken saloon mission alone, and Charles Smith teaches Arthur to hunt with a bow, as well as acting as liaison between the Gang and his Native American tribe.
Pearson is the camp cook, while Swanson is the resident reverend. You bust Sean out of a prison convoy so he can talk your ear off for the rest of the game. Josiah Trelawny comes and goes, scamming his way into high society wallets.
The inclusion of Strauss in the Gang, as a loanshark, is telling in itself. It signals the Gang is now willing to prey on the poor, as opposed to help them.
And then there’s Micah. Hoo boy. Micah, Micah, Micah.
Dutch’s Philosophy – Survival of the Quickest
The Van der Linde Gang acts according to the philosophy of its leader. At times this is altruistic. At other times it’s madness.
Dutch van der Linde is a self-styled Robin Hood character, who uses force to take resources from the rich and powerful actors moving in on the territory, and give them to the poor.
His treatment of rich white people is especially brutal, sometimes leaving them with nothing but battered limbs and horrible memories. While this brutality attracted disenfranchised Native Americans to his cause later on, his earlier gang saw him as more of a charismatic father figure.
Believing that government systems of control should be dismantled so that people can take care of themselves like in the old Wild West days, Dutch has views that would be considered conservative and libertarian today.
He comes from a place of being able to protect himself and his own, but he also sees himself as protecting a way of life. He is willing to help the common citizens — even if at times it means killing them.
‘Our Time Has Passed…’
As time goes on, Dutch can’t win his battle against progress. Technologies like machine guns are used to keep order. Materialism and debt take hold of the townships. The citizens themselves seem to welcome being controlled. Dutch witnesses that his actions over many years haven’t changed the world after all.
His philosophy becomes less coherent and focused as he descends into madness, marking the beginning of the end. Instead of helping people, more and more he partakes in senseless violence. Members of the gang drop out, doing their own thing.
But just because we know the ending doesn’t mean we can’t have fun on the journey. Just ask any Titanic fan. If Red Dead Redemption was set in a time when civilisation was catching up to the old Wild West (whether some people liked it or not), then Red Dead Redemption 2 is about the last of those “real” Wild West days.
That kind of chaotic freedom is just what the Van der Linde gang likes, though in every moment we get to play, the law is still absolutely on the chase.