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James W. Buel
THE BORDER OUTLAWS
An authentic and thrilling history of the most noted bandits of ancient or modern times: the Younger Brothers, Jesse and Frank James, and their comrades in crime
Copyright © James W. Buel
The Border Outlaws
Arcadia Press 2017
An authentic history of the desperate adventures of the four Younger Brothers has become a necessity. Their lives require no romantic or exaggerated shading to make the narrative remarkable. Their deeds are as prominent in the archives of guerrilla warfare as their names are familiar on the border. But with a comprehension of the morbid appetites of many readers, newspaper and pamphlet writers have created and colored crimes with reckless extravagance, and then placed upon them the impress of the Younger Brothers, because the character of these noted guerrilla outlaws made the desperate acts credited to them not improbable. The difficulties encountered in procuring facts connected with the stirring escapades of the outlaw quartette, have heretofore been overcome by imaginative authors and correspondents, giving in minute detail incidents with which their creative genius is at all times well supplied. These remarks are not intended to disparage the merit of any contributor to the annals of border history, but rather to excite a proper suspicion on the part of the public against a too ready belief of every adventure, fight or robbery charged to the Younger Brothers.
The part they acted during the great civil strife has, undoubtedly, been truthfully told, but their career since the close of that dreadful drama has been, in a great measure, elaborated by imagery, until it is difficult for those unacquainted with the facts, to conclude which record is true and which created.
The writer does not claim exception from mistakes, but without arrogating to himself any special merit, it can be truthfully said that the following history of these great outlaws contains a less number of errors and a more reliable and comprehensive description of their valorous deeds than any previous publication. For several weeks prior to the completion of this work, a correspondence was maintained with the Younger Brothers, as well also with the warden of the Minnesota penitentiary, and through this source many new facts were obtained and numerous errors discovered. In addition to this, personal interviews have been had with several old comrades of the Youngers, and with Cole Younger himself; and nothing has been left undone to procure all the facts possible, and to avoid falling into the old mistakes which have been repeated until they have become almost traditionary.
For a considerable period the writer was a resident of Kansas City, where he was engaged in journalism, and made the acquaintance of hundreds of persons who were intimately known to the Younger and James Brothers, and from these also much valuable and trustworthy information was received, which various corroborative sources have enabled the author to reliably write the history of the noted outlaws without resorting to either fiction or romance.
J. W. B.
St. Louis, December 15, 1880.
Henry W. Younger, father of the outlaws, was one of the early pioneers of Missouri, having removed to the State in 1825 and settled in Jackson county. Five years later, having arrived at manhood’s estate he was married to a Miss Fristo, a very estimable young lady of Jackson county, and the relation thus formed was a congenial and happy one. Mr. Younger, possessing a fair education, became a prominent citizen in the neighborhood and for the period of eight years he held the position of County Judge, and subsequently was twice elected to the State Legislature. The family became a very large one, consisting of fourteen children, eight of whom are still living, four boys and four girls.
In 1858 Mr. Younger purchased a large tract of land in Cass county, near Harrisonville, to which he removed the same year and began raising stock, in which he was eminently successful and soon became a wealthy man. He made many excellent investments which finally caused his removal to Harrisonville, where he started a livery stable and became interested in two large country stores.
Thomas Coleman, familiarly called Cole, was the second eldest son, having been born in Jackson county January 15th, 1844.
Richard was the senior of Cole by two years, but he died of a malarial fever in 1860 before the exciting events which culminated in a career which has made the family name so prominent.
John was born at the old homestead in Jackson county in 1846, Bruce in 1848, James in 1850, and Robert in December, 1853. It is not important to give the births of any other members of the family, as their names will not figure in the incidents herein recited.
It is not surprising that western Missouri has produced so many remorseless characters, considering the peculiar conditions of her early history. Every student of common school history is familiar with the border warfare which existed between Missouri and Kansas over the slavery question. Old John Brown, whose career terminated at Harper’s Ferry in 1860, was an important factor in that inter-state contest which was waged with almost unexampled fury for many years, to the destruction of a vast amount of property and the loss of hundreds of lives. The border counties of Missouri and Kansas suffered terribly from the incursions of “Jayhawkers” and “Border Ruffians,” afterward guerrillas, as the opposing factions were called; and perforce Col. Henry Younger was involved in the bitter antagonism, as was every property owner in that section.
One of the incidents of the bloody border warfare has been immortalized by the Quaker poet, John G. Whittier, and its reproduction here will serve as a more forcible illustration of the desperate cruelties inflicted in that contest which lighted the camp-fires of Abolitionism and prepared the way of freedom for Southern slaves.
The history of this local event so elegantly and pathetically apotheosized by Whittier is in brief as follows. In the year 1856 Hamilton, whose reputation for fiendish brutality had preceded him, drew his serpent trail across the border and appeared in Miami and Linn counties, Kas., at the head of about fifty conscienceless followers. He pillaged and burned farm houses, laid waste teeming harvests and murdered men, women and children of anti-slavery opinions. The crowning act of his career was the arrest of twenty of the best citizens of Linn Co., all residents of a single neighborhood, whom he bound and carried to a lonely spot on the Marais du Cygne river, near Trading Post, and securing them to stakes, fiendishly shot them one by one. Three of the number, though wounded in a manner which gave evidence of their death, survived to tell the terrible story of that holocaust and become heroes of Whittier’s verse. Two of the survivors are still living, or were during the writer’s residence in Kansas in 1872. One of these. Rev. Reed, is pastor of the Baptist church at Ossawatomie, Miami county, and the other, Asa Hargrove, is a prosperous farmer of Linn county.
Such, in brief, are the particulars of that dreadful sacrifice so passionately wreathed with pathetic garlands by one of America’s greatest poets, and many a tear has fallen from the eyes of sympathetic readers upon the pages which relate the story. Following is the poem:
LE MARAIS DU CYGNE.
A blush as of roses
Where rose never grew,
Great drops on the bunch-grass,
But not of the dew!
A taint in the sweet air
For wild bees to shun
A stain that shall never
Bleach out in the sun!
Back, steed of the prairies!
Sweet song-bird, fly back!
Wheel hither, bald vulture!
Gray wolf, call thy pack!
The foul human vultures
Have feasted and fled;
The wolves of the Border
Have crept from the dead.
From the hearths of their cabins,
The fields of their corn,
Unwarned and unweaponed,
The victims were torn, —
By the whirlwind of murder
Swooped up and swept on,
To the low, reedy fen-lands.
The Marsh of the Swan.
With a vain plea for mercy
No stout knee was crooked;
In the mouths of the rifles
Right manly they looked.
How paled the May sunshine,
O Marais du Cygne!
On death for the strong life,
On red grass for green!
In the homes of their rearing,
Yet warm with their lives,
Ye wait the dead only,
Poor children and wives,
Put out the red forge-fire,
The smith shall not come;
Unyoke the brown oxen,
The ploughman lies dumb.
Wind slow from the Swan’s Marsh,
O dreary death-train.
With pressed lips as bloodless
As lips of the slain!
Kiss down the young eyelids,
Smooth down the gray hairs;
Let tears quench the curses
That burn through your prayers.
Strong man of the prairies.
Mourn bitter and wild!
Wail, desolate woman!
Weep, fatherless child!
But the grain of God springs up
From ashes beneath,
And the crown of his harvest
Is life out of death.
Not in vain on the dial
The shade moves along,
To point the great contrasts
Of right and of wrong;
Free homes and free altars,
Free prairie and flood, —
The reeds of the Swan’s Marsh,
Whose bloom is of blood!
On the lintels of Kansas
That blood shall not dry;
Henceforth the Bad Angel
Shall harmless go by;
Henceforth to the sunset,
Unchecked on her way,
Shall Liberty follow
The march of the day.
At the beginning of hostilities in 1861 the border warfare increased in virulency and the sympathizers on both sides were forced into extreme measures. Col. Younger, though it is claimed he was a Union man, suffered terribly from the Kansas militia, who were operating under the Federal banner. Jennison, who was at the head of the jayhawkers, made a raid through the counties of Jackson and Cass, leaving behind him a trail of burning farms and plundered villages, staying his hand of desolation in the town of Harrisonville, a large portion of which he destroyed; among the property he confiscated was all the livery stock of Col. Younger, consisting of thirty head of horses and several buggies and wagons. This act was bitterly condemned, but there was no other means of compromising the wrong than by avenging it upon the people of Kansas.
From this time the members of the Younger family renounced their Union sentiments and enlisted their sympathy with the Confederate cause. A few weeks afterward Cole Younger sought and found Quantrill, whose force he joined and pledged himself to the fortunes of that dreadful black banner which two years afterward streamed through the bloody streets of Lawrence.
Three is no reason to doubt Cole Younger’s assertion that he joined Quantrill because of outrages perpetrated by jayhawking Federals upon his father, and it must be admitted that he did not renounce his manhood by so doing. It was terrible to see the property of the household confiscated, and other indignities suffered at the hands of those whose banner should have made them friends. Cole Younger was a young man of excellent character, refined by education and a training which made him devoted to his parents. Little wonder, then, that his nature became transformed by such cruelties upon those he loved so well, and when he allied his fortunes with the most desperate man on the border, it was the preliminary step in a determination to have revenge.
When Cole Younger volunteered his services Quantrill’s force had but recently been collected and consisted of thirty-seven men, all of whom were residents of Jackson, Clay and Cass counties. For several weeks this small company confined its adventures to the border counties of Kansas, taking horses and capturing ammunition trains. Capt. Peabody, with a full company of Federals, was sent out by Gen. Jim Lane, who was in command of the Kansas militia, with instructions to capture or kill Quantrill and his band. The trail was readily found and the guerrillas were followed to the house of John Flannery, in Jackson county, where a stand was made January 3d, 1862, and a bitter fight ensued. The Federals surrounded the house and then sent a demand to Quantrill for his surrender. The cunning guerrilla asked for a ten-minute parley with his men, which time being granted, he used it most advantageously in disposing his men so as to make them most effective. At the expiration of the time allowed, Quantrill shouted defiance at his foes, at the same moment discharging his double-barreled shot-gun, which was loaded with buck-shot, killing Peabody’s lieutenant. The fight then began in earnest and for more than an hour it raged with increasing fury. Finding it impossible to dislodge the enemy by pouring shot into the building, Capt. Peabody ordered the torch applied to the house, an act easily accomplished in the rear of the ell of the building, as there were no windows from which an approach from that direction could be commanded. A large quantity of straw was carried from an adjacent stack which, being fired, soon enveloped the frame ell, but ere the flames reached the main buildings they were quenched by the guerrillas. A second attempt resulted as the first, but the water in the house now being exhausted, the third time fire was set to the building it roared and crackled like a fiend of destruction to be baffled no more. Smoke rolled through the windows and the hot flames came leaping into the rooms, driving the guerrillas from corner to corner and rapidly narrowing the space they stood on until, at last, they were forced to face their foe and stem the torrent of death without protection. By orders of Quantrill, dummies were hastily made of pillows and bed clothing and set in the windows to draw the fire of the Federals, and then bidding his men follow, the desperate guerrilla dashed through the door and broke for the brush, every man emptying his gun at the enemy as he ran. Cole Younger displayed the most remarkable bravery throughout the fight, and at the retreat his recklessness caused him to separate from his command, and but for the operation of what seemed almost a miracle, he must have been killed. Being unacquainted with the place, Cole ran in a different direction from the others of his command and suddenly found his course impeded by a strong picket fence which he could not scale, while the Federals dashed after and fired at him more than a hundred times. After running fully two hundred yards, with a large force in pursuit, he came to a defective place in the fence, and pushed through and started across a field. But, though he had distanced the infantry, there were twelve cavalrymen who saw him, and to tear down the fence was the work of a moment and then the pursuit was renewed. Cole still carried his gun but it was empty, he having had no opportunity to reload, but from time to time he would raise the gun as if intending to fire at his pursuers, and this act would serve to partially check their rapid ride after him. By recourse to such strategies Cole gained the woods and escaped, most singular to relate, without having received the slightest wound.
In this fight the guerrillas lost ten men, but two of these refused to leave the burning building and therefore perished in the flames. The loss of the Federals was eighteen killed and nearly as many more wounded. None of the guerrillas were captured but all their horses fell into the hands of the victors.
The Flannery fight was repeated with remarkable similarity one month after that occurrence. The particulars of this combat, as related by Geo. Shepherd, a participant, to the writer, are as follows: At this time Quantrill’s force consisted of exactly fifty men and was on the march towards Sny-Bar, where it was learned a small detachment of Federals were operating. It was Quantrill’s custom, while on the march, to stop at farm-houses on the way, distributing his men so that their accommodations might be provided for. While enroute for Sny-Bar, night coming on, Quantrill, with twenty-one of his men, stopped at the large farm-house of Major Tate, near Little Santa Fe, in Jackson county. The rest of the company, under Todd, found lodgings five miles further north.
Hard riding had made Quantrill’s men weary, and a fast since morning had whetted their appetites into unusual cravings. Major Tate was a friend of the cause, and a bounteous table, set with all the good things provided by a successful farmer, was the welcome he extended to his guests. Without there was snow and whistling, frosty winds, while within was the crackling log-fire with its reflection of dancing images and warming cheer; hunger-producing odors of fresh meats smothered in rich gravies; smoking sweet potatoes, and the luscious condiments which a thrifty housewife had provided for special occasions; in addition to these seductive refreshments to the hungry there was the brown cruet of freshly drawn cider with its crest of breaking bubbles, and a pyramid of apples red as the cardinal’s robe. It was supper time, and such a lordly feast the guerrillas had not partaken of for many months.
After supper was over, every man, with distended stomach, uncomfortable from excessive fullness, gradually became languid until sleep stole upon them in spite of the good jokes which were passing around and being told with special zest by the jolly Major.
The guerrillas were asleep, all save one who stood sentinel at the gate, his big coat muffling his face from the biting gusts of winter’s winds. Slowly he paced a little beat, his dreamy eyes closing, at times, with fading resolution, but only to open wider when full consciousness was restored. Nine, ten, eleven o’clock, and not a sound to disturb the deep slumbers of the guerrillas. The hour of midnight was approaching, that mysterious time when the dead are permitted to catch glimpses of the earth they once trod in the flesh; that period of brief space when graves open to disgorge their surfeit of dead men, and on which the shadows fall which margin the confines of death and life. Were these gloomy reflections occupying the dreamy mind of that lonesome guard; he who was called to slay and spare not; to hunt, to find, to kill?
“Who are you?” The clock was striking the mysterious hour, and the food for graves was being prepared, but the graves had not yet been dug. It was the voice of the guard who, startled by the tramp of horses’ feet in the crisp snow, gave the guerrilla challenge, and as the road filled up with Federal cavalry there was a single shot, and a rush by the guard into the house. A volley from carbines saluted his entrance, but the door was speedily barred against intruders. Cole Younger, Geo. Shepherd and Quantrill heard that first shot and intuition told them its full meaning: the enemy was without, two hundred strong, and a fight was unavoidable. Some one was always on Quantrill’s trail and the force which had now surrounded him had followed his track like a sleuth hound, and only waited for the deepest shades of night to fall upon and devour the little guerrilla, band. The Federals understood the cunning and bravery of the twenty-two men in the building, and before making their presence known they had taken every precaution to prevent escape, by completely surrounding the house and guarding every door and window. The night was beautiful, with the sky as clear as the ether of heaven, from which a full, bright moon poured a flood of silver, pencilling the white earth and throwing dark, fantastic figures behind the woods and fences.
A brave lieutenant was the spokesman of the Federals, and with clanking spurs and saber he approached the door, gave it a few smart kicks with his heavy cavalry boots, and then demanded an immediate surrender. It was a moment when there was no need for orders; every guerrilla understood his duty, for sleep is easily dissipated in moments of extreme danger. Quantrill strode cautiously to the door, and, locating the lieutenant by his voice, fired a large navy pistol. The bullet cleft through the panel and struck the officer in the chest. With a gurgling moan the lieutenant fell, and with a few convulsive struggles died. The battle then began, with the Federals pouring volley after volley into the buildings which, though it was weather-boarded on the outside and had a filling of brick between the studding, yet it afforded but slight protection against the minie balls that were poured into it. The guerrillas were divided, with Quantrill, Cole Younger and six others in the second story, while the first floor was occupied by Geo. Shepherd, Quantrill’s lieutenant, and the remainder of the force.
After the fight had progressed for a short time four of the guerrillas became so frightened that they wanted to surrender, and it also became important to extend some special protection to Major Tate and his family. Accordingly, Quantrill hailed the Federals and told them some of his men desired to surrender, and that the family of the house wanted protection. Permission for them to retire was therefore given and the four guerrillas, followed by Maj. Tate, much against his will, and his family, left the house, taking up quarters in the barn which stood some distance off. The fight was then renewed. Cole Younger, with the same reckless bravery which distinguished him at the Flannery fight, took desperate chances and did terrible execution. The snow became crimson in many places and the cries of the wounded fretted the air. Time and again came the summons to surrender, but the only reply was a scornful laugh. It was thus the combat continued for three long, terrible hours. No one had yet thought of the torch, though there was the same fatal ell with no window to guard it, as at Flannery’s. It came, though, at last, and when the flames threw their lurid glare in through the crevices of the barricaded windows the guerrillas realized how near grim fate was approaching. Time was asked for, but the Federals refused to check their fire until terms of unconditional surrender were agreed to. Quantrill, in last extremities, always proposing some desperate scheme, ordered all his men to stop firing and reload. When every pistol and gun was heavily charged, the guerrillas massed themselves, threw open the two doors and leaped upon their foes, pouring an unceasing volley into the Federals, cutting a bloody gap through which they passed to safety.
Singular to relate, though none the less true, the guerrillas, besides losing their horses, had only one man killed, and none wounded. The Federal loss was a score killed and nearly twice that number wounded. A junction was formed the next day with Todd, and in a skirmish with thirteen Federals which occurred in the afternoon following the Tate house fight, horses sufficient were captured to remount Quantrill and his men.
From the time of the fight at Major Tate’s house the guerrillas changed their methods of retaliation, and a fighting campaign was inaugurated which ceased only with the close of the rebellion. The militia of Missouri co-operated with the Federal forces of Kansas, and every highway in the border counties became a battle ground. Quantrill’s force was augmented by recruits from neighboring counties, accessions being made at every camping place. Their arms consisted of such weapons as the new recruits brought with them or captured from routed foes. Horses were readily obtained by forage upon stables and pastures, while ammunition reached them through the secret avenues of sympathizing friends.
After his escape from Capt. Peabody’s cavalry, Cole Younger went to the house of Jerry Blythe, a relative, located on the Independence and Harrisonville road, and staid there two days before he could learn the whereabouts of Quantrill, whom he was anxious to rejoin. The Federals stationed at Independence learned of Cole’s appearance at Blythe’s, and a force of seventy-five mounted troops at once started out to effect his capture. News of the Federals’ intention reached Cole and Quantrill, and a plan was immediately arranged to intercept and give them battle, while a courier was dispatched to acquaint Mr. Blythe with the purpose of both Federals and guerrillas.
By direction of Cole Younger Quantrill’s force, now numbering fifty men, was stationed at a place called the Blue Cut, on the Harrisonville road, fifteen miles from Independence, through which the Federals would have to pass on their march, or make a circuit of five miles by a bad road, to reach Mr. Blythe’s house. The cut is about twenty-five feet in depth and of a width that will admit of the passage of not more than two wagons, while both sides of the summit are lined with a heavy forest in which it was an easy matter for Quantrill to secrete his horses and men.
For some reason, doubtless to prevent the knowledge of their appearance in the neighborhood, the Federals chose the circuitous route and reached the Blythe mansion unperceived by the guerrillas. They found no one at home except Mrs. Blythe and a young son not more than thirteen years of age, who was in the yard when the Federals rode up. They captured the young lad and tried to force him to disclose the hiding place of Cole Younger, but he positively refused to tell anything; and when they gave him a chance he ran into the house, seized a pistol, and while the troops were sacking the place he fired on them, killing one and severely wounding another. This unexpected attack from so youthful a source so enraged the Federals that, as the boy ran out at the back door, he was riddled with bullets, no less than sixteen striking him, extinguishing his young life immediately. After the commission of this deed and being satisfied that Cole Younger was not in any of the outbuildings, the Federals started back on the main highway, when they were soon seen by the guerrillas and preparations were at once made by the latter for the attack. Both ends of the cut, as well as the eminence on each side, were well protected by the guerrillas, whose fire was reserved until the unsuspecting Federals had ridden well into the gap. With a wild yell from Quantrill the work of destruction was begun, and the murderous streams of flame made the cut a hideous valley of death. From every side the deadly pellets poured upon the demoralized Federals, not one of whom thought of anything but escape, while horses and riders mingled their blood together until that terrible gap became red with the slaughter. Few lived through that destructive fire, for when the whirlwind of death swept over the band, nearly sixty corpses lay still under the smoke which choked the cut. Cole Younger’s avenging hand had been laid heavily upon ten men, and he was satisfied with the work of that day.
In the latter part of February, 1862, three weeks after the slaughter at Blue Cut, one of the most remarkable battles of the war was fought, between Quantrill’s force of fifty men on one side and five hundred Federals under Cols. Buel and Jennison on the other, resulting in the defeat and rout of the latter with a loss almost twice as great as the entire guerrilla force.
Independence had become a supply post and distributing center for the Federals in the west, and was garrisoned by a force of one thousand militia. Spies were continually on the track of the guerrillas, but owing to the disbandments and reorganizations which occurred every few days to avoid pursuit, it was impossible for the Federals to determine the force of the enemy in any engagement, which gave to Quantrill a most important advantage.
In the latter part of February, the weather being very cold, Quantrill went into camp on Indian Creek, in Jackson county, about ten miles from Independence, for the purpose of recruiting his force and watching the movements of the enemy. His position was soon reported and Col. Buel, at the head of two hundred men, at once drew out from Independence for the purpose of engaging the guerrillas, whose numbers were found to be small. By some means, never fully explained, Quantrill suffered himself to be surrounded, though his defensive precautions were excellent; a large number of trees having been felled and breastworks made which no cavalry could penetrate.
On the morning of the 26th, Quantrill was surprised by the shrill whistle of a shell as it came cutting through the trees and exploded overhead. His pickets were driven in and then he found that every avenue of escape had been closed, besides which the Federals had two pieces of artillery with which to shell the woods. The situation was critical in the extreme and Quantrill had grave apprehensions which he communicated to his comrades. At the suggestion of Haller, a brave fellow who saw the anxiety manifested by Quantrill, Cole Younger was called into council because of his thorough knowledge of the country and the cunning and daring which had already distinguished him. His advice, undoubtedly, saved the command and turned what at one time seemed certain defeat and inglorious surrender, into the most brilliant victory of guerrilla warfare.
Cole communicated to Quantrill the fact that inside the Federal lines was a large farm-house with adjacent yards filled with cattle. His advice, therefore, was to hold the enemy in check until night, make every indication of a stubborn resistance, and then stampede the stock, which would confuse the Federals, draw their fire and make escape possible. His suggestions were at once received with the greatest favor and, for the time being, he was practically placed in command of the force. All day the fighting was continued, but the loss of the Federals was quite severe, while the guerrillas suffered slightly, owing to the excellence of their fortification, and the difficulty of throwing shells through the heavy growth of timber. When night approached, the guerrillas made active use of the axe in felling more trees, ostensibly to strengthen their position, but in reality to deceive the Federals, and the ruse was successful. The night was one of unusual darkness, as there was no moon and the heaviest clouds banked the sky. Out into the gloom crept Cole Younger, William Haller, Dave Poole and George Todd, four men whose hearts never harbored fear, and in a few minutes after they left the quiet camp a terrible confusion was heard in the barn-yard; chickens were cackling, dogs barking, and in the noise a score of affrighted cattle were heard running and bellowing, their speed being accelerated by several pistol shots, which brought the Federal camp to arms in the belief that the guerrillas were upon them. The cattle were mistaken for foes and a lively rattle of musketry told how successful had been the strategy of Cole Younger and his aids.
The confusion resulting from the stampede and the darkness permitted the guerrillas to withdraw from their beleaguered position and when morning broke they were in the rear of the Federals ready to make a bold stroke, which had already been agreed upon. Quantrill knew the position of the battery and that the line could hardly withstand a determined assault at any point.