* Thanks to James W. Sames, III for this excellent research!
The Cole's Bad Inn Section is dedicated to his memory.
** Supplemental research and additions by Michael Graves
*** Antiqued Graphic Images by my friend Daniel Stout
Not since the days of the noted English highwayman Robin Hood and his merry men has an outlaw captured the imagination of the public, as the hard-riding, straight-shooting bank and train robbers, Frank and Jesse James and their bushwhacking band of outlaws. They are perhaps the most famous robbers of the old West, not excluding Kentucky. In Missouri their birthplace is a state monument, the only one for any outlaw. They gave the nation its first peacetime bank robbery and perfected train robbing, the first was on August 7, 1863. The Liberty, Missouri Tribune, a pro-Union newspaper, carried the following item:
“Three Southern Gentlemen In Search Of Their Rights-On the morning of the 6 th of August, Frank James with two other companions, stopped David Mitchell, on his road to Leavenworth, about 6 miles west of Liberty, and took from him $1.25, his pocket knife, and a pass he had from the Provost Marshal to cross the plains. This is one of the rights these men are fighting for. James sent his compliments to Major Green, and said he would like to see him.”
Such was the first recorded robbery committed by Frank James. During the next two decades he, his brother Jesse, and their sidekicks, the Younger brothers, became America’s most famous outlaws. Today, a century after Jesse’s murder and Frank’s surrender in 1882, they still possess that distinction. Here is the story of their rise to fame, along with the sometimes-brutal facts: facts which have been concealed by legends, like a bandit’s face by a mask.
Frank and Jesse James father, Robert Sallee James was born July 17, 1818 in Logan County Kentucky, a place called Lickskillet on the Whippoorwill Creek. He died August 18, 1850 near Placerville El Dorado California. He was the son of John and Mary Poore James, both natives of Virginia, but very early settlers of Logan County, Kentucky. Robert was one of nine children, five sons and four daughters. The five sons were as follows: Wm. James (1811), John James (1815), Robert S. James (1818), Thomas M. James (1823), Drury Woodson James (1825); Mary James (1809) m John Mimms, Elizabeth James (1816) m Tillman West, Nancy James (1830) m George Hite, Mary Elizabeth James (1827) m John R. (Hugh) Cohorn. Mary Elizabeth mother, Mary (Poore) James died the following day after she was born. A neighbor, Mary Elizabeth Hendricks (who had lost her child one week before), breast fed the new infant girl a few weeks until she became very healthy and continued to raise her as her own until she was married. The name “Mary Elizabeth” came from three sources, the names of her two older sisters, so she may always remember them, her mother, Mary and her godmother’s name, Mary Elizabeth Hendricks who raised her to adulthood. (Facts obtained from the old Hendrick-Newton bible, on record at the James Museum, Kearney, MO.)
Robert S. James graduated from Georgetown College, having completed all requirements of the four-year classical course, on June 29, 1843. His degree was the Bachelor of Arts. According to faculty records, final examination for the senior class was taken on May 24, 1843. Robert is listed as having tied for third place honors in the class. For his accomplishment, he was awarded the opportunity to present an oration at the commencement exercises. All associates who knew him spoke of him as a kindly man of God. So convincing as a Minister one would remember his sermons the rest of their life. He was an educator, gifted orator, and a successful farmer.
While attending Georgetown College, at a church function, Robert met Zerelda Cole. Zerelda was attending St. Catherine’s Female School in Lexington. In May 1840, Robert in his studies at the seminary was encouraged to attend a meeting where a group of young people of different faiths was present. There he could see how he handled himself. He lectured at St. Catherine’s and tried to convert the girls. One girl in particular seemed to respond to his every word, and he soon found out she was Baptist. Soon after they met, they started seeing each other and attended other Baptist Church functions. It is said, Stamping Ground Baptist Church is where they most often met.
By the time school ended in the spring of 1841 they were not speaking. Most young men in those days had strong beliefs that a woman should be silent and not express their political thoughts. Zerelda was of the Cole and Lindsay Families, who had been famous for their courageous deeds during the Revolutionary War. She inherited these same traits, and with her education it made her unwilling to comply with his wishes. But three days later before fall 1841, the desire and love for Zerelda was too strong, Robert proposed to her. Robert and Zerelda were married December 28, 1841 at the home of Uncle Judge James Madison Lindsay, in Stamping Ground, Kentucky. The house is still standing and presently owned by Marguerite Sprague on Locust Fork Pike, Scott County.
Zerelda was dismissed from the Stamping Ground Baptist Church on the fourth Saturday in February 1842. In August 1842, the young couple made a journey through the semi-wilderness to visit her mother Sarah, and her step-dad Robert Thomason in Clay County, Missouri. Robert James with a sad heart returned to Georgetown College, leaving alone his pregnant wife with her mother. His desire was to finish his final year of theological training and return home by next Christmas, but the Missouri River was frozen the poor roads were treacherous, so it was spring after he had graduated before he arrived at Kearney, to reunite with his wife and a new son born January 10, 1843, Alexander Franklin James. He later returned to Georgetown College in 1848 where he received his Masters Degree. He then decided to settle in Clay County where he purchased a farm from Asa W. Thomason, near Centerville, a town which later changed it’s name to Kearney. The farm had no house and they built a cabin during the next spring. Robert bought two slaves.
He then began to farm and to preach and was good at both. His other children are as follow: Jesse James was born 1847; Susan in 1849 and Robert only lived 1 month. Robert S. James lived in Missouri for about eight years. During that time the minister’s farming supported them. In a volume of records about religious activity in Western Missouri between the years 1842-1850, Maple and Rider, have this to say about the Reverend James ministry:
“The influence of this pioneer toward the Baptist cause in Western Missouri is not measured by the length of time for which he entered into all enterprises that worked towards the building up of the cause of Zion in his section to the state. His period of labor embraced the time of great conflict between Missionary Baptist and the Anti-Missionary Baptist, and fought for righteous cause of Missions in a truly soldier-like manner.”
In August 1843, Elder James was chosen pastor of the New Hope Baptist Church, some twelve to fifteen miles east of Liberty. This church was organized in 1829, but had a rather checkered existence. First, the Anti-Missionary controversy diminishes its membership, so that when the minister began serving the church, it consisted of only twenty members. However, these members were staunch, and his labors with them were phenomenally successful for a county congregation. At times he would baptize as many as 60 converts at one time. Before he left to go to California his members had increased to two hundred
During his stay in Missouri between 1847-1850 he established a number of churches in the thinly settled counties of Ray, Clay and Clinton where he was instrumental in organizing churches, some of which still exist and one particularly “Providence Baptist Church” is a model country church, up-to-date in method and spirit. Preaching was not the only passion for Robert James; he was also interested in education. A history of William Jewel College compiled by James G. Clark states that when the charter for the school was granted on February 27, 1849, Robert was one of twenty-six men appointed to be on the first Board of Trustees. Robert was a man of importance to the State of Missouri. Many of his churches that exist today became monuments to the man who rode horseback, carrying a Bible, in the dense woods of the frontier lands. His monuments are as real, but lesser known than those built by his horse riding and pistol carrying, so called outlaw-murdering sons, Frank and Jesse James.
The background of Zerelda Cole is just as impressive. She was born January 29, 1825 in Woodford County Kentucky at her Grandfather’s (Richard Cole Jr.) Black Horse Inn. The brick portion was attached to the Inn in 1799. It was the living quarters of her father James Cole, born September 8, 1804 to February 27, 1827 and her mother Sarah (Sallie) Lindsay (4-15-1803 to 10-12-1851). She was the daughter of Anthony and Alsey (Cole) Lindsay. Alsey was the daughter of Richard Cole Sr. being James Cole’s Aunt. After her husband Richard died in 1850 she was married to a Mr. Sims, who died. She married again to Mr. Samuels and had four more children, who were half brother to Jesse and Frank James.
The Cole family had come from Pennsylvania through Virginia to Kentucky. Richard Cole Sr. helped to survey with Humphrey Marshall “The Vacant Lands”, where Frankfort is now located in June and July of 1785. He later settled in Woodford County near what is now the town of Midway and Leestown Pike. He bought a large track of land from Hancock Lee. Hancock’s son, Maj. John Lee helped in the settlement of Versailles, KY. Richard Cole Sr. operated a Tavern by the name, “Cole’s Inn,” located on Cole’s Road, (late renamed Leestown Road.)
Mary J. Holmes wrote many books about this area and time, as this community was known by the notorious name of “Little Sodom” by many righteous people. The Inn, often called “Cole’s Bad Inn,” burned in the winter of 1811. The following year Richard’s son Richard Cole Jr. bought out his father’s former competitor on Old Frankfort Pike, The Kennedy and Dailey Stagecoach Stopover, and named his new business the “Black Horse Inn.” The Inn was known far and wide and frequented by the likes of Henry Clay. The Tavern is still standing; a Gallery and Studio are operating a business there at present.
Richard Cole Jr. (4-23-1763 to 7-9-1839) married Sally Yates. He was a wealthy farmer; operated the Black Horse Inn; he was one of the first constables of Woodford County and was commissioned Lieutenant in the Woodford Light Infantry Company, November 10, 1796.
There seems to be a striking similarity in the personalities of Richard and his granddaughter Zerelda, in their strong personalities, blunt acceptance of facts pleasant or unpleasant, high courage and almost fanatical loyalty to their families. They were friends to be desired and enemies to be feared and avoided. Richard Cole Junior’s latter days were marred by violent and tragic events, which did not cease with his death but continued to plague his family unto “the third and forth generation.”
Richard and Sallie’s children were: William Cole, Mary Cole, Elizabeth Cole, Sally Cole, Jesse Cole, and Amos Cole who were killed in a fight at Black Horse Inn 1827. ( See the Frankfort Argus Newspaper dated May 27, 1827) James Cole (2-8-1804 to 9-27-1833) was married to his first cousin Sally Lindsay. She had only two children before his death. It is said he died after being thrown from a horse. Zerelda was then only two years old, she continued to live at the Black Horse Inn with her grandfather as guardian. After James death her mother married again to Robert Thomason whom Zerelda did not favor. According to members of the family Zerelda “hated” Robert Thomason and became a favorite to her Grandfather, Richard Cole Jr. who gave her the proper education and training to become a lady of prominence. When Sally and Robert moved to Clay County Mo. Zerelda did not accompany them, instead she went to live with her Uncle James M. Lindsay, at Stamping Ground, Scott Co. Ky. It was at the Church in Stamping Ground she and Robert James became engaged.
Alexander Franklin James and Jesse Woodson James were born, respectively, on January 10, 1843 and September 5, 1847 on a farm near Kearney, Missouri, a town twelve miles northeast of the Clay County seat at Liberty and twenty-seven miles from downtown Kansas City to the Southwest. Robert Sallee James was a well-known ordained minister; their mother, Zerelda Cole, attended school at a Catholic convent in Lexington, KY. In 1842, shortly after being married, Robert and Zerelda left their native Kentucky to settle in Clay County, where Robert became pastor of a Baptist Church, acquired a farm and two slaves, and helped found William Jewell College and Liberty, Missouri. Thus the family background of Frank and Jesse seems to have been quite solid and respectable.
But it did not remain so for long. In 1850 Robert joined the rush to California, some say in quest of gold. Others prefer to think he was ever the evangelist, and went to preach God's Word. The answer may be found in his last sermon at New Hope Baptist Church on the thirty first day of March 1850. He told his congregation that he was not intersted in gold but rather in saving the souls of the gold miners. Instead he found illness and death. He died August 18, 1850 at Hang Town Gold Camp (later know as Placerville, El Dorado, CA). He was buried in an unmarked grave. His cause of death is not known, but there was a Cholera outbreak in the area at the time. Zerelda remarried twice; first Benjamine Simms, who soon left her and then died.
In 1859 she married Doctor Reuben Samuel, a quiet, humble man who devoted himself to working the James’ farm. Zerelda bore him four children, two boys and two girls. How young Frank and Jesse reacted to their father’s departure and death, their mother’s remarriages, and the influx of half brothers and sisters in unknown.
In the summer of 1861 the Civil War came to Missouri. Most of the population remained loyal to the Union. However, in the hemp-growing and slaveholding counties of western Missouri many people supported the Confederacy. Among them were the James-Samuel families. Frank now a lanky, callow looking youth of eighteen, joined the pro-Confederate Missouri forces of Major General Sterling Price and took part in the Battle of Wilson’s Creek (August 10, 1861) and the siege of Lexington, Mo. (Sept 12 through the 20, 1861). But, when Price retreated to Arkansas early in 1862, Frank, as did many other discouraged Rebels, deserted and returned home. Frank took an oath of allegiance to the United States and posted $1,000 bond for good behavior.
Meanwhile, Guerrilla war had broken out in Missouri. Bands of Kansas Jayhawkers ravaged the western border, and Unionist militia persecuted and plundered Confederate sympathizers. In defense and retaliation the latter formed gangs of “bushwhackers” who raided into Kansas and terrorized Unionist in Missouri. The most successful and notorious of these gangs was that of William Clark Quantrill, an Ohio-born renegade. One of the Quantrill’s followers was tall, muscular Thomas Coleman Younger. Cole Younger joined Quantrill in January 1862, at the age of eighteen, after jayhawkers burned his father’s livery stable at Harrisonville and threatened to kill him. Subsequently they did murder his father, imprisoned his sister, and drove his mother out of the family home, which they burned.
Contrary to the assumption of some writers, he was not related by blood to the James’. Cole by no means should be considered a backwoodsman, or an uneducated grudge bearing outlaw, however he was an outlaw. A quote from President Taft; President Taft, during a speech at University Club dinner, held in Washington D.C., speaking of Cole Younger said; “I am impressed with the fact that the University of Missouri is a great institution or learning. I am informed that these men great in public life of the country for many years were graduated there. I mean Steven Elkins, Bill Stone and Cole Younger.”
By July 1862 bushwhacking was so rampant that the governor of Missouri ordered every man of military age to enroll in the state militia. Since this had the effect of forcing pro-Confederates to side with enemies against friends, many of them promptly “took to the brush,” or to say went underground. Among them was Frank James. In time he became a member of a Clay County guerrilla band headed by William “Bloody Bill” Anderson, a ferocious killer who decorated the bridle of his horse with the scalps of Federal soldiers.
On August 21, 1863 Anderson and his gang, Frank included, joined Quantrill in a raid on Lawrence Kansas, where they helped massacre upwards of 100 helpless men and boys. Six weeks later, on October 6, 1863, they participated in the slaughter of nearly one hundred Union Soldiers at Baxter Springs, Kansas. It is rumored that Cole Younger had a great desire for good pistols and rifles. He collected the finest guns money would buy. He measured the quality of a good gun by having many of his victims stand one behind the other, where he would shove the gun into the first mans stomach and fire it. If as many as six men fell dead, he considered it a good rifle and kept it.
During the winter of 1863-64 the bushwhackers camped near Sherman Texas, where they robbed and occasionally murdered civilians. Many of them by then were crossing the line, always narrow, between guerrilla war and sheer banditry. In the spring of 1864 the Anderson band returned to its “stomping Ground” in Missouri. Soon afterward Jesse James, now seventeen, joined the group that included his brother Frank. More than likely he would have done so in any case, at this point in time, Zerelda was married to Dr. Samuel and was pregnant. During the summer Union militia had harassed Mrs. Samuel, tortured Dr. Samuel, Frank and Jesse’s stepfather, and administered a whipping to Jesse. This removing any hesitation he might have felt for taking up arms against the Union side. Under Anderson and riding behind Frank, he took part in numerous raids, robberies, ambushes, fights, and massacres. The most gruesome robbery occurred September 27, 1864 at Centralia. First Anderson’s men stopped a train, robbed all the passengers, and then murdered nearly thirty of them, mostly unarmed Federal Soldiers home on leave. Next they attacked and overwhelmed 147 militiamen, slaughtering 124 of them and mutilating their corpses. If the testimony of Frank is to be credited (a risky thing to do), Jesse distinguished himself in this “battle” by shooting the militia commander, Major A. V. E. Johnson.
Militiamen subsequently killed Anderson in a fight outside Richmond Missouri, cut off his head, and mounted it to a telegraph pole. At the same time the Federals routed Prices Army, which had invaded Missouri in a last desperate attempt to secure it for the Confederacy. Most of the bushwhackers, including Jesse, followed Price into Texas, where they spent the winter. However, Frank joined a number of guerrillas who went to Kentucky. Frank James along with Quantrill formed a new gang called Morgan’s Raiders, with a new leader, Marcellus Jerome Clark (better known as Sue Mundy) and it totaled more than 50 guerrillas. On February 3, 1865 twenty-six guerrillas burned the town railroad depot at Midway, Kentucky. While the depot was burning, they robbed the stores and everybody they met, taking money, watches and jewelry and anything of value. Having done this they left, headed towards Versailles, and stopping at the crossroads, Frank must have had some thoughts about the old Black Horse Inn, his mother’s birthplace.
Earlier that year the Versailles-Midway Road Company had turned the old tavern into a tollgate house. No mention has been recorded whether he robbed anyone there, or let it be, however, he proceeded west about one mile and a half on the Old Frankfort Pike to the Harper’s Nantura horse breeding farm, with a band of some 50 or more guerrillas under the leader, Sue Mundy; raided the Harper family then proceeded to press horses (taking horses at will for the purpose to serve in the Civil War). Old John Harper tried to stop the band at his gate, but their drawn pistols deterred him. Shots were exchanged between residents of the farm and the guerrillas. Adam Harper, the younger brother of John was, shot dead.
Having taken the best riding horses they wanted they continued one half mile to Robert Alexander Woodburn Farm, although they were discovered and a confrontation took place. No one was killed because they had captured old man Viley and Mr. Alexander would not risk their desire to kill him. Instead he argued and bargained the amount of horses they could have. However, they did not keep their word and took many more horses, including some of his famous thoroughbreds. Included was one in particular, Norwich, for which Mr. Alexander had recently refused $15,000. Alexander and his employees pursued but soon had to give up the chase.
Maj. Warren Viley and Col. Zachariah Henry volunteered to rescue Norwich. They found the trail of the guerrillas on the other side of the Kentucky River and chased them into Nelson County. Viley and Henry masqueraded as irregulars themselves. Late in the day they came into hailing distance of two of the guerrillas, one of whom was Frank James, riding Norwich. At a call the bandits stopped and drew their guns. For a moment it looked as if the chase would end fatally for both Viley and Henry, but a parley ensued, during which Viley told Frank (setting astride Norwich) that the horse was a pet and asked him to sell it. Frank refused to listen, saying it was the best horse he ever rode. Finally he agreed to give up the horse for $500.00. Further haggling got the price down to $250.00. Viley promptly paid and took over the horse safe and sound back to Woodburn Farm.
Sue Mundy, his guerrilla gang increased in number because he was the most unsavory homegrown outlaw and became one of the most feared throughout the Border States. He was captured on March 11, 1865 in Mead County (Brandenburg, Ky). He was tried, found guilty and hanged in Louisville on Broadway near 18th Street on March 15, 1865.
Quantrill, along with Frank and 22-50 guerrillas continued to plunder throughout Kentucky towns and villages. At Brandenburg, during the early part of June 1866, Frank got into a fight with four Federal soldiers. The soldiers are said to have mistaken Frank for a horse thief and attempted to arrest him. Frank was wounded during the shoot-out, and wrote for Jesse to come to Brandenburg. Jesse did so, even though he was weak, and stayed until Frank had recovered, October 1866. Before Frank was wounded, he killed two, wounded a third, and was shot in the joint of the left hip by the fourth before he escaped.
During the war Major General William T. Sherman stated in a dispatch to the Judge Advocate in Washington complaining that too many spies and villains were not being punished because of time-consuming trials. Sherman said: Spies and guerrillas, murderers under the assumed title of Confederate soldiers, should be hung quick, of course after trial, our own scouts and detachments have so little faith in the punishment of known desperadoes that a habit is growing of losing prisoners in the swamp, “the meaning of which you know…unless a legal punishment can be devised, you will soon be relieved of all such cases…forty or fifty executions now would in the next twelve months save thousands of lives”.
Captain Donnie Pence was in combat when he had his horse shot from under him and he was shot thru the thigh. It was at this time that an incident occurred that forever made a friend of the notorious Frank James. ” The Confederate” with the exception of Frank and Capt. Pence, had passed thru a gate and before it could be closed, Pence, in order to cover the retreat of his comrades, turned his horse and single-handedly held at bay about 100 Federal Calvary.
At this time he had started to rejoin his men. The pursuing cavalry had closed in on him with a volley from their Carbines. Pence’s horse was killed and he was wounded. The horse fell on top of Pence pinning him to the ground. Frank James seeing the condition of Pence, and realizing his danger, rode to the rescue. He succeeded in reaching Pence and rescuing him from the dangerous position, carrying him on his horse and out of danger. On account of this incident the warmest friendship was began between Capt. Pence and Frank James. It has been claimed, on many occasions, Quantrill believed that he could lead his band to Washington, assassinate President Lincoln, and from the resulting demoralization bring victory to the South.
Quantrill spent some time with a man named Dawson, Dawson’s daughter, Nanny, asked Quantrill for his autograph and instead he wrote her a poem. One of the lines in his poem was “ though dark clouds are above me. “ Quantrill was right dark clouds were above him and the Confederacy. On May 10, 1865, he and his men were ambushed in a muddy Spencer County, KY barnyard. Quantrill had a new horse, one that was not used to sounds of battle. It reared and bucked in terror and before he could pull himself into the saddle, a heavy carbide slug smashed into his back, spinning him into the barnyard. Federal Troops found him paralyzed from the shoulders down. Quantrill told them his name was Capt. William Clarke, of the Fourth Missouri Cavalry. He bribed Edward Terrill, the Federal officer in charge, saying he was in much pain, and asked the officer to let him stay in a nearby farmhouse, owned by James H. Wakefield.
Later that night Frank James and other survivors of Quantrill’s last fight crawled out of the woods and came to Wakefield’s house. They wanted to rescue Quantrill, but he told them he had promised Terrill he would not leave and that if he did, Yankee’s would burn Wakefield’s home in reprisal. Two days later the Federal Troops returned. By then they had learned that their famous prisoner was William Clarke Quantrill, famous guerrilla commander, and not some unknown Missouri cavalry captain. They loaded him into a wagon and hauled him to a hospital in Louisville, where he died on June 6, 1865, at the young age of twenty-seven.
Ironically, General Robert E. Lee had signed the Con-federacy’ surrender papers, on Easter Sunday, more than a month before Quantrill was shot. But news traveled slowly, and the status of surrendering guerrillas was vague. Frank James and the rest of Quantrill’s veterans, Donnie Pence, Bud Greggs, James Wilkerson, Joab Perry, Bud Pence, George Shepard, Oliver Shepard and Cole Younger, to mention a few, surrendered at Samuel’s Depot, KY on July 26, 1865 and were paroled on orders by General John M. Palmer.
When the Quantrill guerrillas with Frank James first came to Kentucky, they went straight to the home of T.W. Samuels, cousin to Dr. Samuels who was Frank’s stepfather. The reason given was that during the later days of the war, Quantrill’s guerrillas were having a tough time finding a hideout and lacked provisions. Also, by coming to Kentucky, they could remain active in their rebel activities while having the security of being a part of the law, so to speak.
Old T.W. Samuels was elected High Sheriff of Nelson County in 1864, and in those days the Sheriff was local law. Much of Quantrill’s army stayed at Samuels Depot. Two brothers Donnie and Bud Pence who rode with Quantrill for a period of two years were members of the first James Gang. Both eventually married Samuel’s sisters and they both ended up in law enforcement.
Jesse James may have spent the winter of 1864-1865 in Texas, as concluded by some historians, led by Dave Pool, Arch Clements and Jim Anderson, brother of Bloody Bill Anderson. However it is known that he was in Franklin County KY on Sulfur Lick during July 1864, visiting his Aunt Mary Elizabeth Cohorn, who was the youngest sister to his father, Robert. While visiting there and attending to his wounds, Jesse would sit on the back porch, possibly bored for the lack of something to do, and would shoot birds out of a large maple tree. When he shot her favorite mocking bird, Mary (Elizabeth having a good temper of her own), shot between his legs into the old porch, then grabbed a coffee pot full of hot coffee and threw it on him. Jesse somewhat dazed, ran, saying it was hotter there than being in a Union raid. Later that evening he apologized, told his aunt she was surely family, that he loved her, got his belongings and left never to be see again by his aunt.
General Greenville M. Dodge sent instructions to Colonel Chester Harding: “You can say to all such who lay down their arms and surrender and obey the laws that the military law will not take any further action against them, but we can not protect them against the civil law should it deem best to cognizance of their cases.”
Jesse James was almost captured, on April 23, 1865. There seems to be quite a bit of confusion about what happened that morning. A.L. Maxwell of Lexington, MO, whose brother-in-law obtained the facts firsthand from Barnett Lankford, who willingly took Jesse in that night, reports the events of that day as follow: A group of men on horseback (guerrillas) were headed for Burns Schoolhouse where they intended to surrender. In this group was Jesse Hamlett, a friend of the family. They suddenly saw a band of five horsemen coming from the direction of Salt Pond Road. These men charged the guerrillas, firing on them.
Hamlett’s horse was shot out from under him and Jesse James was shot three times, twice in the right breast and once in the leg. In spite of these wounds, Jesse got his friend up behind him and they rode as fast as they could. What happened to Hamlett is not known, but Jesse was so seriously injured that he had to dismount and crawl off the roadside into the brush. He the crawled into an old abandoned coalmine. When night came, he went up to a house, which proved to be the home of Barnett Lankford. He was a Southern sympathizer and willingly took Jesse into his home. Jesse stayed there for two days. By this time, he could stay on a horse; and painful though it was, he rode until he came to the Hill Farm where Dr. A. B. Hereford treated his wounds, Jesse returned the horse he had borrowed from Mr. Lankford by way of a veteran of Price’s army, who had come to the Hill Farm with Jesse.
On this farm was an abandoned log house and in it Jesse hid until he was able to travel to his mother’s home. She had been banished from her Missouri home to Rulla, Nebraska. In another story, Jesse was wounded; a bullet penetrated a short distance from the scar of the wound of August 1864. A bit of cloth may have been the thing that saved Jesse’s life this time. He was wearing a flannel shirt and the bullet carried a piece of this cloth into the wound, and apparently helped stop the flow of blood from the wound. The existence of the cloth in the wound was not known at the time but months later he coughed up small recognizable bits of the flannel.
He finally told his mother, Zerelda, that if he died, he did not want to die in the North. He asked to be taken back home. Dr. Samuels closed out his practice and they started their trip home in August of 1865. On the way back, they stopped at Aunt Mary Mimms, his father’s sister, who lives in Kansas City. Here Jesse met Zerelda Mimms, who nursed him while he was recovering from his wounds. As soon as he began to get better, they started again for home. During the return trip, Jesse told his mother that he wanted to marry his cousin, Zee (Zerelda Mimms) as he called her. It was not until April 4, 1874 that they got married.
It was thought that the war being over, and Jesse and Frank having been wounded, that the majority of the bushwhackers who wanted to settle down and lead a peaceful, law-abiding life would be able to do so. The trouble was that some of them did not want to, or at least did not try very hard. This was especially true of those whose criminal tendencies had been developed and confirmed by bushwhacking. Finding humdrum, poverty-tinged existence on a farm tedious after the exciting life and easy money of wartime, they could not resist the temptation to make use of the skills acquired under Quantrill and Anderson. A month later Jesse was in Clay Co. Mo.
On the afternoon of February 13, 1866, a dozen former bushwhackers looted the Clay County Savings Bank in Liberty Mo. of nearly $60.000, in the process murdering a student from William Jewell, the college Frank and Jesse’s father helped establish. It was the first daylight bank robbery in American history, not counting the plundering of two banks in St. Albans, Vermont in 1864 by Confederate raiders operating out of Canada. It also marked the beginning of a series of bank holdups by gangs of guerrillas: Lexington, Mo., October 30, 1866; Savannah, Missouri, March 2, 1867; Richmond, Mo., May 22, 1867.
In June 1867, Jesse was in Nashville, Tenn. under the care of Dr. Paul Eve. He told Jesse that his lung was too badly decayed for cure and that the best thing he could do was to go home and die among his own people. From Nashville Jesse went to Logan County, KY. Jesse and the boys decided to rob a bank in Russellville, KY on March 20, 1868. Jesse James had five of his guerrillas (supposedly Jim White, Cole Younger, John Jarrette, George and O. Shepard).
Cole had previously visited the bank of Nimrod Long and Company posing as a cattle dealer. A few days later the bank was robbed, and the gang escaped with a sum reportedly as high as $9,000. Long, who refused to obey the robbers’ orders, suffered a scalp wound when a bullet grazed his head. There are different stories where the robbers came from. One place was thought to be Nelson County, where Donnie Pence lived, and another story was that they stayed with their Uncle George Hite in Adairville, KY.
Probably Frank and Jesse participated in all of these robberies, although at the time they occurred, neither the authorities nor the newspaper accused them of involvement. But then, on December 7, 1869 in Gallatin, MO, two men entered the Daviess County Saving Bank, where one of them cold-bloodedly shot the cashier, a former Union militia officer, through the head and heart. As they left the bank carrying several bags of hundreds of dollars, townsmen opened fire. The bandit who murdered the cashier was unable to mount his excited horse, whereupon he jumped up behind his companion and together they galloped out of town. Several citizens identified the abandoned horse as a mare belonging to Kentucky robbers. A posse pursued the bandits to the James-Samuel farm, only to see Frank and Jesse dash out of a barn on fresh horses and escape.
The James brothers denied responsibility of the Gallatin murder and robbery and even obtained affidavits (of dubious worth) from people in Clay County swearing to their innocence. However, they refused to submit to arrest and stand trial, claiming (with good cause), that they would be lynched like several other former bushwhackers suspected of crimes. Hence, they became, if they were not already, professional outlaws.
Little that is reliable is known about the beginning of Cole Younger’s bandit career. If we are to believe his own story, which is filled with distortions and exaggerations, following the end of the war he settled down on a farm near Lee’s Summit, MO (known as Kansas City suburb) and tried to live a lawful, peaceful life. But vindictive Unionist forced him to go into hiding in order to avoid arrest for an alleged wartime murder. Then they falsely blamed him and his brother Jim, also and ex-Quantrill, for every crime committed in the area. Finally, out of sheer desperation, they decided to live up to their reputation and so teamed up again with the James’.
Between 1870 and 1876 the James-Younger gang ranged from Kansas to Kentucky and from Iowa to Texas robbing banks, holding up stages, and sticking up trains. The latter especially excited the public imagination, being both novel and dramatic. Although the Reno brothers of Indiana were the first bandits to engage in train robberies, those committed by the James’ and Younger’s received far greater publicity. Furthermore, they did not necessarily get the idea from the Reno’s; as already noted; Frank and Jesse were with Bloody Bill Anderson when his band waylaid a train at Centralia, Ohio in 1864.
“Frank and Jesse James and the Younger brothers” were household names over America. Newspapers headlined their exploits, often attributing to them deeds they cold not possibly have performed unless they had a supernatural knack for being in two widely different places at the same time. The Police Gazette and similar magazines published vivid accounts, accompanied by garish drawings, of their supposed doings. Hack writers made them the hero’s of highly imaginative stories published in crudely illustrated dime novels, which were sold at depots and aboard trains, among them the very trains they robbed!
Sheriffs and police officers throughout the West tried to track down the famed outlaws, as did the Pinkerton Detective Agency. Their efforts were invariably and sometimes absurdly futile. Besides their own bumbling ineptitude, they were handicapped by the fact that thousands of Pro-Southern Missourians believed that the James’ and Younger’s were innocent victims of Unionist-Republican persecution and hence were more than willing to help them. Foremost among these was newspaper editor John N. Edwards, a former Confederate Major and a close friend of Frank and Jesse. Not only did he defend them, he glorified them in his various writings. Thus, following their recovery of the gate receipts at the Kansas City Fair on September 26, 1872, during which they accidentally shot a little girl in the leg, he published an editorial in the Kansas Times entitled “The Chivalry of Crime” in which he compared them to the Knights of the Round Table.
Missouri sympathy for the bandits peaked early in 1875. On the night of January 26 a group of Pinkerton detectives, three of whose colleagues had been gunned down by the James’ and Younger’s in recent encounters, sneaked up to the James-Samuel home and tossed what they later claimed was a flare lamp through a window. According to the report of the Adjutant General of Missouri, Dr. Samuels pushed the flaming device into the fireplace. He thought it was a turpentine ball and it exploded, killing a 9-year-old Archie Samuel and mangling Mrs. Zerelda Samuel’s right arm so badly that it had to be amputated below the elbow. Neither Frank nor Jesse was captured, although evidently, at least one of them was present. On January 28th Archie Samuel was laid to rest at the Kearney Cemetery. Zerelda, overcome with grief, did not attend. Funeral services were performed by the Reverend Thomas H. Graves.
The tragic event aroused indignation throughout Missouri and led to the introduction of a bill in the legislature, which provided for the pardoning of all ex-bushwhackers for their Wartime deeds and promised them a fair trial for all alleged post-war crimes. But before the legislature could act Frank and Jesse murdered (so it was thought) a neighbor whom they suspected of aiding the Pinkertons. As a result, the trend of public sentiment turned against them and the bill failed.
So far all the robberies perpetrated by the James’ and Younger’s had taken place in regions they were familiar with and where friends or relatives could aid them in case they needed to escape the law. Then, late in the summer of 1876, following a July 7 train stickup at Rocky Cut near Otterville, MO, a member of the gang known as Bill Chadwell (real name William Stiles) persuaded the rest of the gang that his home state of Minnesota offered rich and easy pickings. As a consequence, on the morning of September 7 eight men, all dressed in long, linen dusters, rode into Northfield, Minnesota. They were Frank and Jesse James, Cole and Bob Younger, Chadwell and two ruffians called Clell Miller and Charlie Pitts.
Three of the men dismounted and entered the First National Bank. They ordered cashier Joseph Heywood to open the vault. He refused. One of the robbers, probably either Jesse or Frank, shot him. The teller, A.E. Bunker, ran out the back door, undeterred by a bullet in the shoulder. Meanwhile several townsmen, having perceived that a robbery was in progress, opened fire with rifles and shotguns on the mounted men outside the bank. Two of them, Chadwell and Miller tumbled dead from their horses. Bullets from the robbers’ revolvers in turn killed the sheriff and a Swedish immigrant who understood neither English nor what was happening.
The outlaws inside the bank rushed out, remounted, and along with the others galloped away under a hail of bullets. Bob Younger’s horse went down. Bob, whose right elbow had been shattered by a rifle bullet, was picked up by a companion, most likely Cole Younger, then continued to fight.
As hundreds of grim-faced posse men scoured western Minnesota, the unsuccessful raiders sought to make their way back to Missouri. But they were slowed down by their ignorance of the countryside, heavy rain, and above all by the badly wounded Bob Younger. According to some accounts, Frank and Jesse proposed abandoning him, or possibly killing him. Cole, however, refused to allow it. Eventually the James’ went off alone and reached home safely.
The Younger’s and Pitts were less lucky. On September 21, 1876 near Madelia, Minnesota a posse cornered them in a swamp. A short, one-sided gun battle ensued. Pitts was killed and the Younger’s, literally riddled with bullets, surrendered. After recovering sufficiently they stood trail for murder and attempted robbery. They pleaded guilty and were sentenced to life imprisonment in the Minnesota State Penitentiary at Stillwater.
For three years following the Northfield fiasco, Frank and Jesse lay low. Contrary to the billboards of certain present-day tourist traps, neither then, nor at any other time, did they hide out in caves. Instead they lived under assumed names with their wives and children in places like Nashville, St. Louis, and even Kansas City.
As Frank once remarked, “Most people look alike in the city.” Given the primitive identification devices and the haphazard police communication in the era, it was not necessary for them to adopt disguises or take elaborate precautions. In fact, law enforcement agencies lacked both photographs and detailed descriptions. All they knew was that they were tall, lanky, and bearded, which was not much to go on.
Then, in spectacular style, the James boys, or a least Jesse, came out of retirement. First, on October 8, 1879, a gang led by Jesse ransacked a safe aboard a train at Glendale, Missouri. Next, on July 15, 1881, they held up a Rock Island train near Winston, MO, murdering the conductor and a passenger. And on the night of September 7, 1881 (fifth anniversary of the Northfield raid), the gang robbed both the safe and the passengers on a Chicago & Alton train at Blue Cut, east of Independence. The engineer of the train stated that the leader of the bandits, before riding off, shook hands with him and said, “You are a brave man…here is $2 for you to drink to the health of Jesse James tomorrow morning.” In addition, a Jackson County farmer who had been arrested for participating in the Glendale affair testified in court that Jesse had recruited him and provided him with a revolver and shotgun. As a result, only fanatics like Edwards continued to call Frank and Jesse guiltless victims of persecution.
Thomas T. Crittenden, the newly installed Democratic governor of Missouri, decided to put and end to the James’s once and for all. They had caused Missouri to become known as the “outlaw state,” they were bad business, and they were furnishing political ammunition to the Republicans, who accused the Democrats of not really trying to apprehend them. Accordingly he announced a reward of $10,000 (to be paid by the railroad companies) for information leading to the capture, dead or alive, of either Frank or Jesse.
Crittenden often produced results. Among the new members of the James gang were two more brothers, Charles and Robert Ford. On December 4, 1881 Bob Ford and a veteran bandit named Dick Liddell killed Wood Hite, also an outlaw and Frank and Jesse’s cousin, in a quarrel over a woman. Fearful that Jesse would kill him in revenge, Liddell arranged to surrender to Sheriff James A. Timberlake of Clay County after first obtaining assurances of leniency from Crittenden if he helped apprehend Jesse. On learning of this, Bob Ford realized that Jesse surely would suspect him as a friend of Liddell. Hence, he too contacted Timberlake and Crittenden, with the result that he and his brother agreed to tip-off Timberlake as to the time and place of the gang’s next operation. For his part Crittenden promised the Fords immunity from punishment and a share of the reward money.
Late in March 1882, the Fords went to the house in St. Joseph, MO where Jesse, under the alias of Thomas Howard, had been living with his wife and two children since November. Together with Jesse they planned to rob the bank in nearby Platte City on April 4. However, on the morning of April 3, while eating breakfast with the Fords, Jesse read in the Kansas City Times that Liddell had surrendered to the authorities.
Immediately Bob Ford sensed that Jesse now knew that the Fords intended to betray him. So when Jesse removed his pistol belt, something he had never done before, and stood on a chair to dust a picture on the wall, Bob Ford possibly thought these two things. First, “that Jesse was seeking to throw me off guard by pretending to have confidence in me as a companion”; second, that now or never is my chance. If I don’t get him now he’ll get me tonight.” So he slowly pulled his revolver and fired. The bullet tore through the back of Jesse’s skull behind the right ear, and “he fell like a log, dead.”
Bob Ford was brought to trial in St. Joseph on a charge of murder. Charles and Bob pleaded guilty, were sentenced to death, and were promptly pardoned by Crittenden. Ten years later, in Creede, Colorado, Bob Ford himself fell victim to a murder’s pistol, having achieved the gloomy notoriety of being “that dirty little coward that shot Mr. Howard.” Charles Ford committed suicide in 1896.
By 1882 Frank James was thirty-nine and at least semi-retired from banditry. The murder of Jesse convinced him that if he was going to reach forty, he had better make peace with the law. Therefore, with Edwards serving as his intermediary, he surrendered to Crittenden at Jefferson City on October 5, 1882 twice, once at Gallatin, MO and again at Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Frank stood trial for his alleged crimes, and each time a sympathetic jury acquitted him for lack of convincing evidence. It never was proven in a strictly legal sense that the James boys ever committed so much as a single robbery!
During the years that followed his second acquittal Frank managed to make just enough money working as a shoe clerk to get by on. Then he tried working as a theater guard, in St. Louis, and as a horse race starter at county fairs. Meanwhile a group of Missourians sought pardons for the Younger brothers, who in terms of parole were model prisoners. In 1901 the governors of Minnesota granted conditional paroles to Cole and Jim, but required them to remain within the State borders, Bob died of tuberculosis in 1889 soon after his release. Jim, despondent because the parole board refused him permission to marry, committed suicide in a St. Paul hotel room. In 1903 the Minnesota authorities gave Cole Younger a complete pardon, and he returned to his old home at Lee Summit. He was now a fat, bald, old man. Only his hard, cold eyes bespoke the tough young bushwhacker and bandit of days gone by.
For a while Frank James and Cole Younger traded on their notoriety by touring with the “Cole Younger-Frank James Wild West Show.” Then not being too successful, they parted with Frank who was spending most of his time at the old James-Samuel farm, where he charged visitors fifty cents a piece for a tour. On February 18, 1915 he died. As for Cole, he gave lectures on “What Life Has Taught Me,” published an autobiography in which he claimed that the only robbery he ever took part in was at Northfield, and was the center of attention at the annual reunion of the survivors of Quantrill’s band. One year after Frank’s death, he too went to his reward.
Thus Frank and Cole ended their long careers as living legends…legends somewhat tarnished, however, by the very fact they were alive and had to make money to survive. Jesse on the other hand achieved the perfect legend, having been killed and becoming a martyr. Even before he died he was more famous than Frank, in part because of the alliterative sound of his name, in part, because he had a stronger personality and was more active, at least in the later years. His death and the manner of it wiped away, in the popular mind, the harsh reality of his deeds had transformed him into the classic bandit-hero whose daring and cunning rendered him invincible until he is undermined by base treachery. In this sense, Bob Ford did Jesse a favor; It would not have been the same if he had died in bed, like Cole and brother Frank, of old age.
“If anything we should dispel some of the myths about the James’.” First, legend has it that the two brothers were brutal murders and came from an illiterate family. First of all, the James’ were never convicted of any crime, nor have any letters, or personal statements been found to the contrary. No one knows for sure if any published story was accurate. Second, “The James brothers robbed banks and stole from the railroads because those two institutions were forcing people into poverty.” They raised grain prices, forcing farmers to sell their farms. Jesse came to the aid of the downtrodden.
“As far as the James family being illiterate, that’s completely false.” There are many letters written both by Frank and Jesse and they were well thought out and well composed.
8-7-1863 Frank James robbed David Mitchell-$1.25 & knife
8-21-1863 Frank & Jesse, Quantrill, Anderson killed 100 men
9-27-1864 Frank & Jesse gang killed 124 men Centralia, Ohio
10-1864 Bloody Bill Anderson Killed
2-3-1865 Morgan Raiders, Frank included burned Depot Midway
2-4-1865 Morgan Raiders, Stole Horses, killed Adam Harper
2-4-1865 Morgan Raiders, Stole Horses, Rob. Alexander Farm
3-10-1865 Jesse James got shot, got away
3-15-1865 Marcellus Clark (Sue Mundy) Hanged at Lou. KY
4-23-1865 Jesse James got shot, escaped
5-10-1865 Quantrill captured, shot in back, died 6-6-1865
7-29-1865 Frank James Paroled
2-13-1866 Liberty, MO Bank robbery
6-1866 Frank James shot in Brandenburg, KY
6-1867 Jesse James was reported living in Nashville
12-1867 They were in Chaplin, KY
3-20-1868 Russellville, KY robbed Nimrod Long & Co. Bank of $8,000 to $14,000
12-7-1869 Gallitan, MO Daviess Co. Saving Bank $700-$3,000
7-3-1871 Coryden, Iowa Osobock Bros. Band #6000-72000
4-29-1872 Columbia, KY Deposit Bank $200-$1,500
9-26-1872 The Box Office of the World Agriculture Exposition in Kansas City, $10,000
5-27-1873 St. Genevieve, MO $3,000-$4,000-$6,000
7-21-1873 Council Bluffs, Iowa Train Robbery Adair to Rock Island train, $3,000
1-15-1874 Arie Stage Coach Milburn to Hot Springs, watch, diamond stick pin, $4,000
1-31-1874 Grads Hill, MO train robbery, $10,000
4-7-1874 Austin Stagecoach, $3,000
4-24-1874 Jesse James got married to Zee Mimms
8-30-1874 Lexington, MO, stagecoach robbery
1-27-1875 Archie Samuel, Jesse half brother killed by Pinkerton
8-31-1875 Jesse James son born, Jesse Edward James
9-1-1875 Huntington, WV Bank $4,500-$10,000
12-1-1875 Muncie, Kansas, Kansas Pacific train $55,000
7-7-1876 Otterville-Rockie Cut, MO $15,000
9-7-1876 Northfield, Minn. 1st National Bank
12-7-1876 Tishomingo Savings Bank Corinth Mo.-MI $5,000
12-8-1876 Muncie, Kas. Kansas Pacific RR
10-8-1879 Glendale Train & Chicago Alton Train
9-8-1880 Mammoth Cave, Key Stagecoach robbery, watch, diamond ring, etc. +
3-11-1881 Muscle Shoals, Al. Gov. Pay Mast. $5,200
7-15-1881 Winston, MO Chicago-Rock Island & Pacific train
9-7-1881 Rocky Cut. MO Chicago-Alton Train $15,000
Banks robbed in similar fashion, not thought to be by Frank & Jesse James gang.
9-2-1867 Savannah, MO
5-22-1867 Richmond, MO
7-11-1881 Davis Sexton Bank, Riverton, Iowa