Newspapers Report the Daring Crimes of Jesse James and the James-Younger Gang
Few figures in American history are as controversial as Jesse James and the infamous outlaw gang he rode with, robbing banks, trains and stagecoaches. Was Jesse James a loyal Confederate soldier who refused to surrender, continuing to defend his hard-working Missouri compatriots after the Civil War from marauding carpet-baggers and Northern humiliations, a nineteenth-century Robin Hood who robbed only the rich and supported the poor? Or was he a cruel, bloodthirsty guerrilla during the war who went on killing and plundering after the rest of Missouri was willing to accept peace and the war’s end?
Article continues after this newspaper image from the Sept. 11, 1876, issue of the Inter Ocean (Chicago, Illinois)
From 1868 until the disastrous Minnesota bank robbery in 1876 that broke up the gang, Jesse James rode with a group of former Confederate guerrillas known as the James-Younger Gang, whose core members were brothers: Frank and Jesse James, and Bob, Cole, Jim and John Younger. As teenagers they all fought for the Confederacy, riding with Quantrill’s and "Bloody Bill" Anderson's raiders during the Civil War, caught up in the savagery along the Kansas-Missouri border as anti-slavery “jayhawkers” and pro-slavery “bushwhackers” ruthlessly tore into one another.
Following the war the brothers, with a few trusted companions, turned to a life of crime. Their exploits were often glorified in the pages of the Kansas City Times, whose founder and editor, John Newman Edwards, was a former Confederate cavalryman. An editor who worked with Edwards witnessed a remarkable late-night encounter in 1872 with the James-Younger Gang and wrote a detailed account of that meeting. His article was published by the Little Rock Daily Republican (Little Rock, Arkansas) on the front page of its Feb. 18, 1874, issue:
The Chivalry of Crime.
When I was in the Kansas City Times office as its associate editor, during the campaign of 1872, I used frequently to receive communications from Jesse James on various subjects of public interest, which were always unexceptionable in tone and expressive in sentiment, and which always found place, anonymous of course, in the columns of the Times.
One night about 11 o’clock, in the fall of 1872, Maj. Edwards and I were sitting in the editorial rooms of the Times discussing various matters, when the door opened and a man entered the room. He was muffled up to the eyes, and as he came in he gave a quick glance around to see how the land lay. He then said: “There are some gentlemen outside who wish to see you. They are on horseback and do not want to dismount.” The man who came in was Arthur McCoy. The men on horseback in the street were Jesse and Frank James and Cole Younger. Now, about a week or two before that the Kansas City Sunday Times had printed an editorial in which, while the crimes of these men had been denounced, their sublimated hardihood had been commented on admiringly. They had come to thank us for our appreciation of their pluck and daring. As a slight testimonial the boys had brought along a magnificent gold watch and chain which they desired to present to the writer of the article, or the editor of the paper, Jesse James observing that he had a presentation speech prepared, which might be reported in short-hand and the whole affair published in the morning paper. The proffered testimonial was, of course, declined on the ground that the owner might recognize the watch and make trouble. At this Jesse became indignant, and declared that he hoped we had a better opinion of him than to suppose that he would present to us a watch of which he had despoiled some one else. He had bought that watch, and not only that, but had come honestly by the money he bought it with. However, the testimonial was respectfully but firmly declined.
“Well, then,” said Cole Younger, “what can we do to testify our gratitude?”
“Is there anybody you want killed?” mildly inquired Frank James. “If there is, just name him, and we’ll bring you his scalp at this hour tomorrow night, if he is within twelve hours’ ride.”
This kind offer was also politely declined, as we thought we could get along just as well with our enemies alive as with them dead, and no doubt a good deal better, since it is an important element of success to have enemies.
“Have any more rewards been offered for our capture?” inquired McCoy, as they turned their horses’ heads to go.
“If you see anybody who wants to earn the price already set on our heads,” interrupted Jesse James, “tell them they will find us somewhere in Fort Osage township or down in the Sni hills. We shall be glad to see them.”
“And we will promise them a warm reception,” said little Frank James in a demure way. “If they come, they won’t be likely to forget our hospitality very soon.”
“I don’t reckon it would be worthwhile for anybody to come after us,” chimed in Cole Younger; “the rewards are only a little over $20,000, and that would hardly pay funeral expenses by the time they got all of us.”
Then the boys all laughed at the savage wit of Cole, who is the wag of the party, and they spurred their horses and rode away into the night and back to their wild haunts and their strange desperate life. I might give other anecdotes, but this sketch is already too long. People may wonder at what I have said, and ask why we did not try to entrap these men and surrender them to justice. Well, I will answer that question with another. On the heads of the four desperadoes that visited us that night were rewards aggregating, I believe, $21,000. Why did not other law-abiding citizens try to capture them? The question answers itself. No man or posse of men will ever take Arthur McCoy, or the James boys, or the Youngers, or Wm. Shepherd, alive.
A correspondent named “Curtis” wrote an article supplying many details of the gang members and their remarkable string of successful robberies. His article was published by the Little Rock Daily Republican (Little Rock, Arkansas) on the front page of its April 9, 1874, issue:
Among the Outlaws.
Who and What Are the James and Younger Brothers—Full Details of the “Brotherhood of Death.”
[Special Cor. Chicago Inter-Ocean]
Appleton City, [Mo.] April 1, 1874
The principal men in this fraternity of desperadoes are the Youngers, who make their headquarters here; the James brothers, who call Clay county their home; Arthur McCoy, of Ste. Genevieve, this state; and Bob Kirkpatrick, of Vernon county; and eight men more daring and desperate cannot be found between the oceans. They were all in the Confederate Army, most of them as guerillas, some as scouts and spies, and all continue to express their adherence to “the lost cause,” making the barbarism of some federal soldiers during the war an excuse for their later outrages. A sketch of these men and some incidents of their career will be interesting.
I have already alluded to the Youngers, three of whom are now living, with an even more determined purpose, and a mission to revenge their brother’s blood. Those who know “Cole” Younger, the eldest and most intelligent of all, say that he loved John, whom Lull shot, with a devotion which is so often marked in these men that he has often nursed him tenderly when wounded, and wept like a child at one time when it was supposed that he would die. He retired from the leadership of the gang to give his brother’s ambition play, and has shown him in many instances a tenderness that seems remarkable in such a being. Now that John is dead, his blood has turned to fire, and while he nurses his other brother wounded in those Monigaw hollows, he is “nursing his wrath to keep it warm.”
The James brothers are quite as famous in the state as the Youngers. There are two, Jesse and Frank, the sons of a Baptist clergyman, who came as a missionary to Missouri in early days, organizing many churches, and founding what is known as William Jewell College. His widow is now living on a farm, two miles south of Kearney, Clay county, and three leagues from Kansas City. Her blood has turned to bitterness, it is said, and, as my informant puts it, “is a regular she-devil.”…Frank, the eldest, is a silent fellow, and, it is said, never laughs or smiles. His companions call him “the dismal man,” but he is fierce, determined and courageous in his work of blood. In appearance he is tall—about six feet two inches—slim, but not ungraceful, with a large head, square, massive jaws, dark hair and eyes, and full beard. Jesse, who from his disposition is naturally his brother’s leader, is a dashing, restless fellow, fully six feet tall, but more shapely than his brother. His hair is a curly brown, his complexion fair and rosy, his eyes blue, and is said to “giggle like a school-girl.” He wears a handsome mustache and goatee, and is very fastidious about his dress. His hands and feet are his especial pride, and a Kansas City man says he has the handsomest hand in Missouri. Both of them have a price set on their heads. Frank feels keenly that he, of the old Kentucky aristocracy, is outlawed, it chafes him, and awakens the tiger in his heart. Jesse jokes about it—says the older he grows the more valuable his head becomes, and boasts that he will make them raise the price to $50,000. He cares nothing for life, and when death comes, in the words of the old song, he will meet him: “I was reckless in life, but you’ll keep me free; Sit down, old fellow, and drink with me.”
Since the war they have kept up their [bushwhacking], and as they once told the sheriff of Jackson county, “We are not citizens. You cannot arrest us on those papers. We have never surrendered to the authority of the United States.” Thus they excuse many of their deeds; and they have frequently announced to county officials that they recognized no authority but that of the Confederate States. It requires only opportunity to call out from them, as from all their gang, the most desperate and reckless courage.
Once Jesse was lying at home sick, and five men, thinking their game was cornered, went to take him. His mother heard them pounding at the door, and informed him who they were and what they wanted.
“Bar that door,” he said, “till I get down.” Taking a rifle and two revolvers, he left his bed, and went to the door at which the men were rapping impatiently; he listened till he got range, then shot through the panel with his rifle, killing one, and sprang into the crowd with two revolvers, firing from both hands like a volley of musketry. The men scattered like sheep. Jesse dressed himself, sprang onto his horse, and was fifty miles away by daylight.
The Cincinnati Enquirer (Cincinnati, Ohio) added to the gang’s reputation with this article, published on April 13, 1874:
The Missouri Outlaws.
A Fight with Them in Arkansas.
Arthur McCoy Killed.
Frank James Wounded.
Two of the Jameses in Kansas City last Sunday.
[St. Louis Democrat, Saturday]
In after years the history of outlawry and diabolism in Missouri will be read with horror, if not with distrust. People will hardly credit the stories that a band of five men could ride into the very center of a populous town in broad daylight, overcome the officers in charge of a bank, rifle the vaults of the institution, and quietly depart, eluding justice forever after; that a like number of men, also in the light of day, could capture a settlement at Gad’s Hill station, on the Iron Mountain Railroad, stop a passenger train, muster the passengers, and rob them seriatim; that a detective, in pursuit of them, should receive his quietus without leaving a sign; that three other detectives, in a hunt after, should encounter two outlaw brothers—or rather be surprised by them—and in the fight which ensued be worsted, with one of the officers killed, one outlaw meeting the same fate, and another officer almost mortally wounded. These are but a few of the acts of the Younger brothers, the four James boys and their associates, among whom the name of Arthur McCoy is prominent.
…About six weeks ago, Arthur McCoy, Frank James and one or more others of the marauding gang, passed from Missouri into Arkansas, a pursuing band following them. A desperate fight ensued. Arthur McCoy was killed, left on the field, near where he was afterward buried; and Frank James was shot in the shoulder, but, with the others, escaped, returning to Missouri, where he is today, in all probability, notwithstanding the big reward which is placed upon his capture. An up-country letter, also wholly reliable, states that Frank and Jesse James were in Kansas City on Sunday last. Where are Pinkerton’s detectives? Where are the men the Governor is authorized to employ--$10,000 appropriated—to catch these outlaws? Where are the Metropolitans—made such by a law just passed by the twenty-seventh General Assembly—of Kansas City?
While we abhor the crimes of the James boys, we can not but admire their bravery—it may, perhaps, more properly be designated hardihood—displayed by them in thus bearding the lion in his den.
Six days later the Cincinnati Enquirer (Cincinnati, Ohio) ran this short notice on April 19, 1874:
Another Detective Murdered by the Missouri Outlaws.
Chicago, April 18—A special from Kearney, Mo., gives the particulars of the killing of another detective by the notorious James brothers. The victim was found dead, covered with blood, in the road, four miles east of Elkhorn, Ray County, a card crossed with blood pinned to his coat, and inscribed, “This shall be the fate of all Pinkerton’s detectives who come to hunt the James brothers. (Signed) Jesse James, Frank James.”
One of the reasons Jesse James is the most famous member of the James-Younger Gang is because he was his own press agent, often writing letters to newspapers praising his good intentions or defending himself against accusations of his guilt. The following letter, purportedly written by a “friend” of the outlaw, may have been written by James himself—at the very least, it certainly presents his point of view. It was published by the Cincinnati Enquirer (Cincinnati, Ohio) on June 20, 1874:
A Desperado’s Bride.
The Notorious Jesse James Married to an Accomplished and Beautiful Woman, and Now Safe in Mexico.
[Sherman (Tex.) Letter, June 5, to St. Louis Dispatch]
Not many days ago I saw the celebrated Jesse W. James in the city of Galveston, talked with him, was introduced to his wife, and recognized in her an old acquaintance of Jackson County—a lady whom I had known both before and since the war, and one who had been of immense service to the Southern guerillas when they were operating upon the border in 1862 and 1863.
I had a long talk with Jesse. He was waiting for a vessel bound for Mexico, where it was his intention to go with his wife to Very Cruz and from there into the interior, and take him a farm. Frank was with him, and they appear to have many friends and acquaintances in Galveston.
Jesse gave me some interesting items concerning his marriage, and told me that it was his intention to keep the matter a secret as long as he could, but that before he left home the event had been talked of much, both in Kansas City and Clay County; and so, now that he was going to leave the country in a few days, he would give all the particulars concerning it. Jesse’s statements to me were about these:
“On the 23d of April, 1874, I was married to Miss Zee Mimms, of Kansas City, and at the house of a friend there. About fifty of our mutual friends were present on the occasion, and quite a noted Methodist preacher performed the ceremonies. We had been engaged for nine years, and through good and evil report; and, notwithstanding the lies that had been told upon me and the crimes laid at my door, her devotion to me has never wavered for a moment. You can say that both of us married for love, and that there can not be any sort of doubt about our marriage being a happy one.”
This is about the substance of the talk I had with Jesse. His wife is a young lady of about twenty-two, with an elegant form, beautiful eyes, and a face that would be attractive in any assembly. When Jesse James was so badly wounded in 1864, in a fight with some Wisconsin cavalry men, she nursed him uninterruptedly in the brush for nine weeks, until he could be removed to a house. She is also a true and consistent Christian, and a member of the M. E. Church South. She is a sister of the Hon. Judge Mimms, of Helena, Montana Territory, and a niece of Mr. T. H. West, a most respectable and prosperous merchant of Kansas City. The whole courtship, engagement and final marriage has been a most romantic series of events, and some day I may write them up for you. By this time the parties have left the country. Jesse, however, declared it to be his full intention to return and take his trial when he thought he could get a trial other than at the hands of a mob.
By 1875 Jesse James was a celebrity and interest in him was nationwide; no detail about him was too small for the papers to print, as the two following examples illustrate. The first was published by the Cincinnati Commercial (Cincinnati, Ohio) on Feb. 12, 1875:
When Jesse James sits down to dinner, he lays his Henry rifle across his lap, puts a navy revolver on each side of his plate, buttons up his coat, distributes four other revolvers conveniently about his person, and then “pitches in,” to the unqualified delight of the other guests at table. Mr. James is Missouri’s favorite bandit.
The second example was printed in California, showing that Jesse James’s exploits were followed even on the West Coast. It was published by the Evening Bulletin (San Francisco, California) on Feb. 27, 1875:
Jesse James, the Dare Devil, Rescues a Confederate
A gentleman from Independence yesterday informed a Times reporter of the arrest of a young man named Hines on the charge of being concerned in the great Muncie train robbery. Deputy Marshal Hampton, learning of his being at the residence of Mrs. Burns, near Independence, procured a warrant, and on Tuesday went to her house, and was fortunate in finding him there. He at once arrested him, and started back to Independence. Not far from the house, the informant states that they were met by Jesse James, and that Hines was rescued by this ubiquitous and dare devil knight of the road. The report is rather sensational, but the information is given just as received. The police have long been looking for Hines, and pretty strong evidence is secured to prove that he was one of the robbers. The warrant was issued by Recorder Farrow, and it is highly probable that the report is true. –Kansas City Times.
Jesse James’s career was of interest to the East Coast as well, as the following short notice shows. It was published by the Daily Critic (Washington, District of Columbia) on the front page of its April 19, 1875, issue:
Depredations of the James Boys.
Kansas City, April 19.—It is learned that the James Boys, after shooting down D. H. Askew, proceeded to another farmer’s house for the purpose of dispatching him for being concerned in the attack on their mother’s house. They however passed on. Jesse James crossed the Missouri river at Blue Mills Ferry and was recognized. Their whereabouts is unknown, but the people are aroused, and another bloody affair will surely occur if the boys are arrested.
As mentioned, Jesse James often wrote letters to the newspapers in his own defense. Some of these are poorly written, and some are quite polished. James was the son of a well-educated preacher who helped found William Jewell College in Missouri and presumably participated in his son’s education at home. It is hard to account for the unevenness of Jesse James’s letters, but the contents are always interesting. The following letter was written to a Tennessee paper and reprinted by the Inter Ocean (Chicago, Illinois) on July 17, 1875:
A Traduced Gentleman.
Mr. Jesse James, the Polite and Accomplished Outlaw, Comes to His Own Defense in the Public Prints.
The Nashville (Tenn.) Republican Banner of the 7th inst. had the following interesting letter, dated at “Ray Town, Jackson Co Mo July 6th 1875”:
Gentlemen, as my, attention has been called, resently, to the notice of several sensational pieces copyed from the Nashville Union & American. Stating, the James & Youngers are in Ky &c. I ask space in your valuable paper to say, a few words in my defence, I would, treat, those reports with silent contempt, but I have many friends in Ky and Nashville that I wish to know that those reports are false & without foundation. I have never been out of Mo Since the Amnesty bill was introduced into the Mo Legislature last march asking for pardon for the James & Youngers. I am in constant communication with Gov. Hardin, Sheriff Groom of Clay Co Mo & several other honorable county and State Officials, & they are hundreds of people in Mo who will swear I have not been in Ky, they be desperadoes raving round in Ky, and, it is probily very important for the Officials of Ky to be very vigilant. If a robbery was committed in Ky. today Detective Blyths of, Louisville, would telegraph all over the U.S. that the James and Youngers did it. Just as he did when the Columbia Ky, bank was robbed April the 29th, 1872. Old Bly the Sherman bummer, who are keeping up all these sensational reports in Ky, & if the truth was known I am satisfied some of the informers is conserned in many robberies charged to the James & Youngers for 10 years the Radical papers in Mo and other States have charged nearly every daring robbery in America to the James and Youngers it is enough persecution for the northern papers to persecute us without the papers in the South, persecuting us. the land we fought for four years to save from northern tyranny, to be persecuted by papers claiming to be Democratic, is against reason. the people of the South have only heard one side of the report. I will give a true history of the lines of the James & Youngers to the Banner in the future, or rather a sketch of our lines. we have not only been persecuted, but on the night of the 25th of Jan. 1875, at the midnight hour, nine Chicago assassins and Sherman bummers led by Billie Pinkerton, Jr., crept up to my mothers house and hurled a misle of war (a 32-pound shell) in a room among a family of innocent women and children murdering my 8-year-old brother and tore my mothers right arm off & wounded several others of the family, & then fired the house in seven plaises. The radikl papers here in Mo have repeatedly charged the Russellville Ky Bank robbery to the James & Youngers, while it is well known, that on the day of the robbery march the 20th 1868, I was at the Chaplin Hotel in Chaplin Nelson Co Ky. which I can prove, by Mr. Tom Marshall, the proprietor and fifty others, and on that day my brother Frank, was at work, on the Laponsu Ranch in San Louis Obispo co California for D. J. Thompson, which can be proven by the sheriff of San Louis Obispo co and many others. Frank was in Ky the winter previous to the robbery, but he left Alex Seayers in Nelson co. Jan. the 25th 1868, and sailed from N.Y. city Jan. the 26th which the Books of the U.S. mail line of steamers will show. probily I have written too much and probily not enough but I hope to write much more to the Banner, in the future. I will close by sending my kindest regards to old Dr. Eve and many thanks to him for his kindness to me when I was wounded and under his care.
P.S. Mr. Editor please put this communication in form & publish it. I have never had an opportunity of receiving an education, which you will see by my composition. please send one copy of the Banner to my mother Mrs. Dr. Samuel, Kearney, Clay Co, Mo.
On Sept. 1, 1875, the James-Younger Gang robbed a bank in Huntington, West Virginia, and during the pursuit the posse wounded and caught a member of the gang who died in their custody, Tom McDaniels. Soon the telegraph lines buzzed with the news that Jesse James had been wounded and captured. The following announcement was published by the Wheeling Daily Register (Wheeling, West Virginia) on the front page of its Sept. 18, 1875, issue:
The Huntington Robber One of the James Brothers.
Louisville, Sept. 17.—Detective Bligh returned from Pine Hill, Ky., today, and is satisfied that the man captured and wounded there several evenings ago is Jesse James, the notorious Missouri outlaw.
A week later the rumor was debunked by a correspondent of the St. Louis Times who was familiar with Jesse James. This announcement was published by the Indianapolis Sentinel (Indianapolis, Indiana) on Sept. 24, 1875:
Not Jesse James.
The Pine Hill Robber.
A special correspondent of the St. Louis Times has been down to Pine Hills, Ky., and has succeeded in identifying the deceased member of the gang who robbed the Huntington, W. Va., bank. He writes: “I reached Pine Hill on Monday, having traveled night and day under your instructions, to seek out and identify, if possible, the wounded robber of the West Virginia bank. The capture, and when I arrived, the death of the robber were the chief topics of conversation, and excitement ran high. So far as their course has been traced it appears that after robbing the bank, the circumstances of which were almost identical with the robberies of the banks at Russellville, Kentucky; Ste. Genevieve, Missouri; and Corydon, Iowa, in recent years, the robbers rode away with their booty, about $18,000, into Kentucky…
“Without making known my mission, I picked up these facts and then started for Woodson’s to see the corpse. A hundred times I had been assured that the dead man was no other than the famous Jesse James, of Missouri. Bligh, the Louisville detective, was here, passed pretty much the whole night at the bedside of the dying man, and assured everybody that it was Jesse James beyond all question of doubt. The people here had a kind of an idea that there was a price on Jesse James’s head in Missouri and that the corpse ought to be forwarded like a wolf’s scalp to secure the bounty. They had applied to Bligh, however, who is their oracle, and had been told to go on with the funeral. When I went into the house the body had been laid out decently for the grave. There were other visitors at the same time, and I confess my nerves had been wrought up so that there was a slight tremor. The sheet was drawn down and as I expected the features bore no likeness to those of Jesse James, whose face years ago was as familiar to me as the face of a daily acquaintance.”
That fall another letter from Jesse James to a Tennessee paper surfaced, considerably better written than his earlier examples. This improvement aroused the suspicion of some newspaper editors, but whether it was written by James himself or composed by someone else at his direction, it certainly states his case forcefully that the James-Younger Gang did not rob the Huntington bank. It was reprinted by the Indianapolis Sentinel (Indianapolis, Indiana) on Sept. 27, 1875:
Jesse James Again.
A Letter Purporting to Be from Him—It Denies Any Part in the Huntington Robbery.
The Courier-Journal publishes a letter purporting to be from Jesse James with the following comment: Now comes the Nashville American with another letter from St. Louis, of which Jesse James is purported to be the author. The letter is sent as a special from Nashville, and is published below. It will be perceived that it is devoted to a denunciation of Captain Bligh and Detective Pinkerton, the two best detectives in the country. Captain Bligh is especially denounced in the severest terms in the letter. Coming, as it does, from St. Louis, the authorship looks rather suspicious. The letter is entirely different in phraseology and spelling from any of Jesse James’s former letters, the grammatical construction and spelling being generally good, although there is an attempt at poor formation of sentences, while all of his former letters were illy constructed and very badly spelled.
St. Louis, Sept. 21, 1875.
To the Editor of the American:
In a previous communication I spoke of how the Jameses and Youngers had been lied on by Bligh, the incompetent detective of Louisville, Kentucky. I will take the present opportunity to inform you that Bligh’s recent statement about the Jameses and Youngers robbing the Huntington, Virginia bank is false. Instead of my being shot and captured, I am in St. Louis with friends, well, and feeling much better than I have for years. I can’t see what motive any one can have in reporting such malicious lies as Detective Bligh is certainly doing. I know that Jarrette and the Youngers had no hand in the robbery, and if the wounded robber is ever recognized, it will be seen that he is not a James, a Younger or Jarrette. Bligh is a perfect gaspipe, and is unworthy of the title of detective. He has never captured but one man, and he slipped on the blind side of him. As for shooting, he doesn’t know what that means. I am thankful that at last one robber has been got who was published everywhere by Bligh as being first Cole Younger and afterwards Jesse James. The world can now see that neither one of the Jameses and Youngers are the men shot and captured. Every bold robbery in the country is laid on us, but after a few of the robbers have been caught, and when it is seen two or three times that other people are robbing banks, maybe we will get fair play from the newspapers. In a few days it will be seen how the Jameses and Youngers have been lied on by such men as Pinkerton and Bligh. I and Cole Younger are not friends, but I know he is innocent of the Huntington robbery, and I feel it my duty to defend him and his innocent and persecuted brothers from the false and slanderous reports circulated about them. I think the public will justify me in denouncing Bligh, as I now do, as an unnecessary liar, a scoundrel and a poltroon.
Courier Journal, St. Louis Times, Globe, and Kansas City Times please copy.
Mr. Editor—Please publish this letter for me. I am innocent of the Huntington robbery, and this is the only way I have to defend myself. –J.W.J.
On July 7, 1876, the James-Younger Gang robbed the Missouri Pacific Railroad train near Otterville, Missouri. A new recruit to the gang, Hobbs Kerry, was captured by the authorities and interrogated. This news was reported by the Cincinnati Daily Gazette (Cincinnati, Ohio) on Aug. 5, 1876:
The Express Robbers.
The Gang of Missouri Express Robbers Broken Up and Three of Them Captured, and a Part of Their Plunder Retaken.
St. Louis, Aug. 4.—The Republican’s Kansas City special says that the Otterville train robbers have been traced to Cherokee, Crawford County, Kansas, and Charles Pitts has just been captured on Spring River. He had $18,000 on his person, and a package of letters, consisting of the correspondence between the members of the band, in regard to the robbery of the Missouri Pacific Railroad trains, which were secured. These letters implicate a number of men in Cherokee County, who have been, heretofore, considered above suspicion. The names of the gang are: Bruce Younger, Hobbs Carey [Kerry –ed.], Chas. Pitts, alias Geo. Wells, Cole Younger, Jesse James, and Wm. Chadwell. The three first named have been arrested, and $6,500 recovered.
…Bruce Younger, cousin of the notorious Younger brothers, who was reported in these dispatches some days ago having been arrested on suspicion of being one of the men who robbed the railroad train near Otterville, Mo., some weeks hence, and Hobbs Kerry, who was arrested about the same time as Younger, were taken from here last night, to Sedalia for examination.
Kerry broke under interrogation and confessed, implicating the James and Younger brothers in the train robbery, as announced on the front page of the Cincinnati Daily Gazette (Cincinnati, Ohio) on Aug. 9, 1876:
The Train Robbers.
Kerry Confesses the Crime and Reveals the Names of His Confederates—The Younger and James Brothers Both Engaged in It.
St. Louis, Aug. 8.—The Times has a special from Sedalia which says that Hobbs Kerry, the train robber, was brought there from Boonville, today, and upon the positive assurance of entire immunity, made a confession, regarding the robbery of the train near Otterville. He said that those engaged in the affair were: Clell Miller, Frank and Jesse James, Cole and Bud Younger, Charles Pitts, Wm. Chadwell, and himself…The officers have information that the Younger brothers were in Clay County on Monday, and that Chadwell and Pitts were arrested in Southern Kansas, as previously reported. They do not expect to capture the Younger and James brothers alive.
Predictably, another letter from Jesse James appeared denouncing Kerry’s confession and denying any involvement in the Otterville train robbery (which occurred at the “Rocky Cut” referred to in James’s letter). It was sent to the Kansas City Times and reprinted by the Inter Ocean (Chicago, Illinois) on Aug. 21, 1876:
The Train Robbers.
The James Boys in Reply to Hobbs Kerry—New Facts as to the Train Robbery.
[From the Kansas City Times]
The fact that Jesse and Frank James had been seen in this city several times during the week previous to the Otterville robbery was common gossip in the city. One of the boys was at Tony Pastor’s concert in this city just before the raid. Jesse James, who occasionally visits his relatives in this city, is now residing in Kansas, a peaceable citizen, under a false name. He reads the daily papers, and keeps posted as to what goes on. Last evening a friend of his rode up to one of the reporters of the Times and handed him the following letter. He was not either Jesse or Frank James, but was much younger than either of them. The letter is as follows:
Oak Grove, Kan., Aug. 4, 1876.
To the Kansas City Times:
You have published Hobbs Kerry’s confession, which makes is appear the James and the Youngers were the Rocky Cut robbers. If there was only one story to be told it would probably be believed by a good many people that Kerry has told the truth. But his so-called confession is a well-built pack of lies from beginning. I never heard of Hobbs Kerry, Charles Pitt, and William Chadwell until Kerry’s arrest. I can prove my innocence by eight good and well-known men of Jackson County, and show conclusively that I was not at the train robbery. But at present I will only give the names of two of those men to whom I will refer for proof. Early on the morning after the train robbery east of Sedalia I saw the Hon. D. Gregg, of Jackson County, and talked with him for thirty or forty minutes. I also seen and talked to Mr. Thomas Pitcher, of Jackson County, the morning after the robbery. Those two men’s oaths cannot be impeached. So I refer the Grand Jury of Cooper County, Mo., and Governor Hardin, to those men before they act so rashly on the oath of a liar, thief and robber. Kerry knows that the James and Youngers can’t be taken alive, and that is why he has put it on us. I have referred to Messrs. Pitcher and Gregg, because they are prominent men, and they know I am innocent, and their word can’t be disputed. I will write a long article to you for the Times, and send it to you in a few days, showing fully Hobbs Kerry has lied. Hoping the Times will give me a chance for a fair hearing and vindicate myself through its columns, I will close.
J. W. James
The above letter is published for what it is worth. It has this recommendation to credence before the long rigmarole published as Hobbs Kerry’s confession: It bears the indications of truth. Jesse James offers in proof of an alibi two well-known citizens of this county.
Up to this point, the James-Younger gang had experienced remarkable luck. Since 1868, every bank, train and stagecoach robbery they attempted succeeded, and the brothers who formed the core of the gang (Frank and Jesse James, and Bob, Cole, Jim and John Younger) always managed to escape capture and only one, John, was killed. Then, in the fall of 1876, the Missouri gang for the first time decided to range far beyond their accustomed territory, and raided the First National Bank of Northfield, Minnesota, on September 7. It turned out to be a bad decision.
The bank’s cashier was not terrorized and refused to open the vault, the Northfield citizens in the street outside realized a robbery was in progress, and shooting broke out. The fierce gunfire killed two of the outlaws on the spot, and a massive manhunt began for the remaining six as they desperately fled south. The pursuing posse gunned down a third gang member and captured all three Younger brothers. Only the James boys made it back to Missouri, and the band was broken. The James-Younger Gang would never ride again.
The day after the robbery, it was the front-page news for the Duluth Weekly Tribune (Duluth, Minnesota) on Sept. 8, 1876:
Murder by Robbers,
At Northfield, Rice County, Minnesota.
At 2 o’clock yesterday afternoon eight armed men rode into Northfield, this state, and attacked the First National Bank with the intention of robbing it. Three of them entered the bank and springing over the counter they ordered the cashier, J. L. Haywood, with a knife to his throat, to open the vault. At the same time all the persons in the bank—A. E. Bunker, assistant cashier, and Frank Wilcox, clerk—were ordered to hold up their hands.
Mr. Haywood refused to obey their orders and open the money vault and was shot dead.
They then turned to Mr. Bunker and ordered him to open the vault. He said he did not know the combination and ran out of the back door. They fired at him, shooting him through the shoulder. Mr. Wilcox was not interfered with.
While this was transpiring within, the people of the city without were doing good work. Two of the robbers were killed outright and one wounded. The wounded man was taken away by his confederates. One of their horses was killed and one captured. A posse of the citizens started in pursuit and it is hoped that before this hour the rascals have all been taken.
The robbers did not get into the vault, nor did they find the cashier’s drawer, except the nickel drawer, and the handful of nickels taken from it was thrown to the floor.
The citizens of Northfield behaved like old veterans, as many of them are. A. R. Manning and Hewey Wheeler and others were conspicuous for their conduct.
This is the most daring attempt at robbery that ever occurred in Minnesota; and we are very much inclined to the opinion that if the remainder of the gang are arrested they will go to meet their comrades in a great deal shorter time than the process of courts will give them.
It did not take long for suspicion to fall on the James-Younger Gang. This article was published three days after the robbery by the Sunday Times (Chicago, Illinois) on Sept. 10, 1876:
Intense Excitement throughout Minnesota over the Recent Raid on the Northfield Bank.
And So Fierce Is the Pursuit That None of the Villains Can Escape.
After the Raiders.
St. Paul, Sept. 9.—No such excitement as that caused by the attempted robbery of the Northfield bank and the subsequent chase has been experienced since the Sioux massacre in 1862. The telegraph offices and newspaper offices are steadily besieged by anxious crowds, inquiring the latest news, and the newspapers giving particulars are sold with a rapidity never before known. Editions giving a view of the building in which the bank was located and a photograph of the two robbers killed sold immediately…The opinion is general that the robbers are the notorious Younger and James gang. This opinion receives strength from the statement of a Cincinnati detective, who arrived here last night, following up the trail of the band who robbed the Adams and United States Express companies on the Kansas Pacific railroad on the night of July 7 last. From the description of the men, he is satisfied that the eight men who rode into Northfield are the leading spirits in that robbery, and are no less than Jim Younger, Frank James, Jesse James, Cole Younger, Brill [Bob] Younger, Clell Miller, Charley Pitts, and Bill Chadwell. Mr. Barrow, of Delevan, Wis., who stopped at the same hotel with them in Cordova the night before the robbery, says they talked of cattle with a southern accent, were jocular but polite fellows, and when they rode off in the morning touched their hats to him in courtly style, bidding him good morning.
After the failed Northfield robbery the press and public realized the gang was finished. Less than a month after the doomed raid a correspondent in Missouri wrote a long history of the James-Younger Gang, containing a detailed history of the “remarkable career” of the “bold bandit band,” noting its “rude sort of chivalry.” The article presented a surprisingly complete summary of the gang’s many heists, and placed the gang’s lawlessness in the context of the savagery along the Kansas-Missouri border during and after the Civil War. It was published by the Cincinnati Daily Gazette (Cincinnati, Ohio) on Oct. 5, 1876:
A Broken Band.
The Remarkable Career of the James and Younger Brothers.
After Fourteen Years of Crime the Missouri Bandits Are Used Up by Citizens of Minnesota—How the Brothers Gained Their Spoils.
St. Louis (Mo.) Correspondent of the New York World.
The Record of Their Crimes.
The career of these men as robbers opened at Russellville, Ky., in the spring of 1868, where a bank was robbed by six of them in precisely the manner before described. In December, 1869, they rode into Gallatin, Daviess County, Mo., killed the cashier, John W. Sheets, and carried off the contents of the bank safe. On this occasion the robbers were traced to Clay County, the home of the James boys’ mother, and yet the outlaws established their innocence of the crime by the affidavits of the merchants of Liberty, where they had been the day of the robbery. The next exploit was ten months later, when seven of the bandits rode up to the gate of the Kansas City Exposition grounds, and, in the presence of 20,000 people, robbed the ticket agent of the day’s receipts. Corydon, Ia., was visited on the 3d of June, 1871, and the bank relieved of all its treasure. In the flight, the robbers turned on the pursuing party and worsted them. The banks of Columbus, Ky., and of Ste. Genevieve, Mo., were next raided, and then in 1873, a train was wrecked on the Rock Island & Pacific road, just east of Council Bluffs, and the express car plundered. There an engineer was killed, but the raiders reached Missouri in safety. They always disappeared in the western counties of this State. Subsequent developments showed that from this State they stole quietly away over the cattle-drives to Texas, where they had ranches, and lived in comparative security under assumed names. The next year after the Iowa train robbery a train on the St. Louis and Iron Mountain road was flagged at Gadshill, and five men held as prisoners two hundred passengers, while they leisurely robbed the Adams Express car. The affair took place only sixty miles below St. Louis, but the retreat was safe. Muncie, Kan., a few miles west of Kansas City, was chosen as the place for stopping the Kansas Pacific train, and Wells, Fargo & Co. lost $30,000 worth of gold dust. The same day another detail of the gang made a descent on the Corinth Bank, in Mississippi. There was no mistaking the handiwork. It was the same programme in every instance, and the trail led straight to Missouri. The Huntington (W. Va.) Bank went next, and then the Missouri Pacific train at Otterville last summer.
This is the record of the principal robberies down to the Northfield affair. In every instance the booty was taken, varying in amount from $8,000 to $40,000—a quarter of a million the total aggregates…In all probability they will never rally again, and the career of the Missouri bandits may be said to have ended with the Northfield fight and flight.
The Last of Quantrill’s Guerillas.
These men are the last of the Quantrill band of guerillas, the few survivors of those who sacked Lawrence, Kansas, and who waged a war of extermination along the border. The fire and sword, which Jennison and his Jayhawkers brought into Missouri, they carried back into Kansas. Both bands were so atrociously cruel and bloodthirsty that Federal and Confederate authorities were both loath to recognize them as allies or belligerents. They were land pirates, and carried a black flag.
Cole Younger, at seventeen, led one of the companies of Quantrill’s command at the attack on Lawrence. Strange as it may seem, nine-tenths of the members of this gang of cutthroats and desperadoes were only boys in years. The Youngers joined the guerilla leader one after the other before they were fifteen years old. Jesse James was with him at sixteen, and Frank James two years older. It was the same with the others. The camp became their school and college. It was the warfare of the savage that they carried on; rarely, almost never, a square, stand-up fight, but forced marches and unexpected descents upon unprotected settlements. Naturally enough, they graduated from such training as this into life-long outlaws and robbers. In the war, with the James boys and the Youngers, they had won the title of leaders, and it was in their brains that this series of bank and train robberies was conceived and planned. The others were common desperadoes. I have sketched hastily the career of these men since the war, for every one of these outrages is but a chapter in their respective lives. Of the desperate, bloody deeds in their war record volumes might be written. Woodcraft, riding, and marksmanship have been their studies since boyhood, but the truthful events in their lives seem almost incredible.
Later that month the Springfield Republican published its own obituary of the James-Younger Gang. It, too, placed the outlaws in the context of the Kansas-Missouri clashes during the Civil War. The article was reprinted by the Argus and Patriot (Montpelier, Vermont) on the front page of its Oct. 18, 1876, issue:
From the Springfield Republican.
The Brigands of Missouri.
Few things have been more often observed in considering our civil war, than the wonderful way in which armies numbering millions resolved into the quiet ranks of citizenship upon its close, and society received them, with scarcely a disturbance, to their accustomed places and pursuits. It was a revelation, we have been wont to say, of the strength of a republic, the adaptability of Democracy to the most extraordinary circumstances. But this flattering advantage of an experimental nation over the old countries, with their constantly recurring ordeals of war, in a matter of such vital value to the community, had its striking exceptions in our border States; some of which, without any intermingling of political or race troubles, have ever since harbored bandits as desperate and daring as any that ever lurked in the rocky regions of Epirus, amid the passes of the Apennines, or the Catalonian mountains. “Harbored” is a word definitely applicable, perhaps, only to one of these States, for in the others outbreaks of local brigandage and kindred lawlessness have been repressed with some intelligence and earnestness of pursuit and punishment. In Missouri alone has this legacy of the war been given virtual welcome and assistance, by the favor of a large body of its citizens, and the supineness of its authorities.
The career of the outlaws who have for nearly ten years made themselves infamous, and Missouri contemptible, is one of the most remarkable of its kind, and well worth mentioning. They are the inheritors of Quantrill’s band of guerillas, which harried Unionists on the border during the war, and of which the Jameses and Youngers, their leaders, were members. There was very little square fighting on the border during the war, and Quantrill on the one side, and Jennison with his “Jayhawkers” on the other, cared more for “blood and booty” than for any misty sentiment or principle. So it happened that Col. Henry N. Younger, a wealthy Unionist of Cass county, Mo., had his livery stable cleared of horses in 1861 by Jennison, and the next year was robbed and murdered, it was said, by the same gang. Then, for revenge, four of his sons, one after another, joined Quantrill. Jesse and Frank James are the sons of a Baptist preacher, prominent in his denomination, who died before the war. At the very outset Frank became one of Quantrill’s men, and after his step-father had been hanged nearly dead, and he himself beaten around a field with sabers by enthusiastic Union militia, Jesse followed his brother. All these boys—for the oldest of the six was not 18—were among the worst of the bloody band; Cole Younger led a company at the sacking of Lawrence; and they were chief among those who stopped a train at Centralia, and shot down the unarmed soldiers in it, after they had surrendered, and afterwards ambushed 300 Federal troops, who came to avenge the outrage, killing all but a score.
After the war…the Missourians began a war of extermination on Quantrill’s band, and they [the James-Younger Gang] resumed the vocation of guerilla on their own account…It was not until his [Jesse James’s] return [from California] in the early fall of 1868 that the band became really organized, though the Youngers had gradually gathered to themselves a number of dare-devils…and had begun the astonishing record of bloodshed and rapine which has received, perhaps, its final check in the Minnesota chase and capture.
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