These big years aren't just a backdrop for Red Dead Redemption's action, though, and each time period encompasses a key part of the world around the characters or helps to symbolize the changes that the gang is going through. Both Red Dead Redemption and its prequel feature two time periods, one in the main story and one for the epilogue. The original Red Dead Redemption is set in 1911 and wraps up in 1914, while Red Dead Redemption 2's story begins just before the turn of the century in 1899 and its epilogue takes place in 1907.
While there are some events that take place prior to 1899, such as the founding of the Pinkerton Detective Agency back in 1850, a lot of the happenings to do with Arthur and the Van der Linde gang don't begin until just before the beginning of the game. As the story of Arthur starts in Red Dead Redemption 2, the Van der Linde gang is on the run following the botched Blackwater robbery, which was later labeled the Blackwater Massacre. This resulted in the off-screen deaths of Jenny Kirk and Davey Callander, who were both shot in the gunfight.
However, this wasn't the end of the tragedies for the Van der Linde gang, as throughout 1899 the main story of Red Dead Redemption 2 takes place, showing the slow and painful dissolution of the outlaw group. Most who have played Red Dead Redemption 2 will likely be familiar with the events of Arthur's story, and the focus that it puts on the time it takes place in. 1899 not only marks the deaths of many Red Dead Redemption 2 characters, but it also symbolizes the end of an era for the outlaw way of life. This is something that is later explored again in Red Dead Redemption, as John Marston sets out to hunt down the last remaining members of the Van der Linde gang.
1899 also sets up a lot for its epilogue and the original Red Dead Redemption. It introduces gamers to a much younger version of Edgar Ross, the main antagonist of Red Dead Redemption, as well as giving fans a closer look at the beginnings of the first game's more iconic characters. Uncle, John Marston, Abigail, and Jack all get their own time to shine in Red Dead Redemption 2, which only makes their fates in the games that much more tragic.
Following the end of Red Dead Redemption's main story, the game picks up eight years later, giving players control of John Marston as he looks to build a life free from violence and criminal activity. 1907 does mark a noticeable difference in the world of Red Dead Redemption, as it sees the foundation of the Bureau of Investigation or BOI by Edgar Ross. This organization acts in a similar capacity to the Pinkertons in Red Dead Redemption 2, appearing in the 2010 game as the law enforcement agency that tracks John Marston down and forces him to hunt his old gang members.
A lot of the major events in 1907 ensure that John Marston is exactly where he needs to be in order for Red Dead Redemption to take place. He builds a ranch with Uncle to the famous house building song, and marries Abigail in the end credits. However, there are also some loose ends from 1899 that are tied up in 1907, such as Micah Bell, the Van der Linde gang member who was feeding the Pinkertons information throughout Red Dead Redemption 2. Between the main story and the epilogue, Micah has created his own gang and is looking for some more members, even going so far as to talk Dutch into meeting with him. As Micah Bell doesn't appear in Red Dead Redemption, though, he needed to be dealt with in 1907, and Dutch ends up killing him during the American Venom mission.
If 1899 marks the beginning of the end for outlaw life, then by 1911 Red Dead Redemption players can see it is hanging on by a thread. While Bill Williamson, Javier Esquela, and Dutch Van der Linde from Red Dead Redemption 2 still are on the run from the law, it is very quickly catching up with them. 1911 is the year when the original Red Dead Redemption takes place, following John Marston as he is forced to hunt down his old gang members by the BOI.
John believes by hunting down his former gang mates he can win safety and freedom for his family. However, by the end of Red Dead Redemption it is proved that his efforts were all for nought, as the BOI betrays and kills him. Uncle also dies in the raid on John's ranch, with only Abigail and Jack escaping. Outside the events regarding John Marston, 1911 also marks the beginning of the Mexican Revolution and Professor Harold McDougal begins his research on Native Americans. By 1913, McDougal publishes his research, which proved to be incredibly controversial, ending with his expulsion from Yale University in 1914.
The final big year in the Red Dead Redemption games takes fans to the story of Jack Marston. Only three years after his father was killed, Jack's story opens with him at his mother's grave. This year marks the beginning of the First World War, but before that starts, the epilogue of Red Dead Redemption sees Jack looking for revenge on Edgar Ross. In 1913, Ross retired from the BOI, but this doesn't stop Jack from tracking him down and killing him.
1914 marks the end of Red Dead Redemption's story and is the final nail in the coffin for the era of outlaws. With advanced technology meaning that the Wild West is becoming more and more of a myth, and a world war on the way, anyone living the lifestyle of the Van der Linde gang is going to feel the pressure of the law like never before. While a Red Dead Redemption 3 could expand on these themes, the key dates in the games so far encapsulate both the individual tragedies experienced by the main characters while also showing the slow death of the outlaw way of life.
Red Dead Redemption 2 is available for PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S.