The cold-blooded and unhesitating murder was part of their everyday life. Thus Jesse James, on the march to the Lawrence Massacre, had in charge three men, one of them an old man, whom they took along as guides from the little town of Aubrey, Kansas. They used these men until they found themselves within a few miles of Lawrence, and then, as is alleged, members of the band took them aside and killed them, the old man begging for his life and pleading that he had never done them any wrong. His murderers were no more than boys. This act may have been that of bad men, but not of the sort of bad men that leaves us any sort of respect, such as that which may be given Wild Bill, even Billy the Kid, or any of a dozen other big-minded desperadoes.
This assassination was but one of scores or hundreds. A neighbor suspected of Federal sympathies was visited in the night and shot or hanged, his property destroyed, his family killed. The climax of the Lawrence Massacre was simply the working out of principles of blood and revenge. In that fight, or, more properly, that massacre, women, and children went down as well as men. The James boys were Quantrill riders, Jesse a new recruit, and that day they maintained that they had killed sixty-five persons between them, and wounded twenty more! What was the total record of these two men alone in all this period of guerrilla fighting? It cannot be told. Probably they themselves could not remember. The four Younger boys had records almost or quite as bad.
There, indeed, was a border soaked in blood, a country torn with intestinal warfare. Quantrill was beaten now and then, meeting fighting men in blue or in jeans, as well as leading fighting men; and at times he was forced to disband his men, later to recruit again, and to go on with his marauding up and down the border. His career attracted the attention of leaders on both sides of the opposing armies, and at one time it was nearly planned that Confederates should join the Unionists and make common cause against these guerrillas, who had made the name of Missouri one of reproach and contempt. The matter finally adjusted itself by the death of Quantrill in a fight at Smiley, Kentucky, in January 1865.
With a birth and training such as this, what could be expected for the surviving Quantrill men? They scattered over all the frontier, from Texas to Minnesota, and most of them lived in terror of their lives thereafter, with the name of Quantrill as a term of loathing attached to them where their earlier record was known. Many and many a border killing years later and far removed in locality arose from the implacable hatred descended from those days.
As for the James boys, the Younger boys, what could they do? The days of war were gone. There were no longer any armed banners arrayed one against the other. The soldiers who had fought bravely and openly on both sides had laid down their arms and fraternized. The Union grew, strong and indissoluble. Men settled down to farming, to artisanship, to merchandising, and their wounds were healed. Amnesty was extended to those who wished it and deserved it. These men could have found a living easy to them, for the farming lands still lay rich and ready for them. But they did not want this life of toil. They preferred the ways of robbery and blood in which they had begun. They cherished animosity now, not against the Federals, but against mankind. The social world was their field of harvest; and they reaped it, weapon in hand.
The James family originally came from Kentucky, where Frank was born, in Scott County, in 1846. The father, Robert James, was a Baptist minister of the Gospel. He removed to Clay County, Missouri, in 1849, and Jesse was born there in 1850. Reverend Robert James left for California in 1851 and never returned. The mother, a woman of great strength of character, later married a Doctor Samuels. She was much embittered by the persecution of her family, as she considered it. She herself lost an arm in an attack by detectives upon her home, in which a young son was killed. The family had many friends and confederates throughout the country; else the James boys must have found an end long before they were brought to justice.
From precisely the same surroundings came the Younger boys, Thomas Coleman, or “Cole,” Younger, and his brothers, John, Bruce, James, and Robert. Their father was Henry W. Younger, who settled in Jackson County, Missouri, in 1825, and was known as a man of ability and worth. For eight years he was county judge and was twice elected to the state legislature. He had fourteen children, of whom five certainly were bad.
At one time he owned large bodies of land, and he was a prosperous merchant in Harrisonville for some time. Cole Younger was born January 15, 1844, John in 1846, Bruce in 1848, James in 1850, and Bob in 1853. As these boys grew old enough, they joined the Quantrill bands, and their careers were precisely the same as those of the James boys. The cause of their choice of sides was the same. Charles Jennison, the Kansas Jayhawker leader, in one of his raids into Missouri, burned the houses of Youngers and confiscated the horses in his livery stables. After that, the boys of the family swore revenge.
At the close of the Civil War, the Younger and James boys worked together very often and were leaders of a band which had a cave in Clay County and numberless farmhouses where they could expect shelter in need. With them, part of the time were George and Ollie Shepherd; other members of their band were Bud Singleton, Bob Moore, Clell Miller and his brother, Arthur McCoy; others who came and went from time to time were regularly connected with the bigger operations. It would be wearisome to recount the long list of crimes these men committed for ten or fifteen years after the war. They certainly brought notoriety to their country. They had the entire press of America reproaching the State of Missouri; they had the governors of that state and two or three others at their wits’ end; they had the best forces of the large city detective agencies completely baffled. They killed two detectives — one of whom, however, killed John Younger before he died — and executed another in cold blood under circumstances of repellant brutality. They raided over Missouri, Kansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, even as far east as West Virginia, as far north as Minnesota, as far south as Texas and even old Mexico. They looted dozens of banks and held up as many railway passenger trains and as many stagecoaches and travelers as they liked. The James boys alone are known to have taken in their robberies $275,000, and, including the unlawful gains of their colleagues, the Youngers, no doubt they could have accounted for over half a million dollars. They laughed at the law, defied the state and county governments, and rode as they liked, here, there, and everywhere until the name of law in the West was a mockery. If magnitude in crime claims to distinction, they might ask the title, for surely their exploits were unrivaled, and perhaps cannot again be equaled. And they did all of these unbelievable things in the heart of the Mississippi valley, in a country thickly settled, in the face of a long reputation for criminal deeds, and in a country fully warned against them. Surely, it seems sometimes that American law is weak.
It was much the same story in all the long list of robberies of small country banks. A member of the gang would locate the bank and get an idea of the interior arrangements. Two or three of the gang would step in and ask to have a bill changed; then they would cover the cashier with revolvers and force him to open the safe. If he resisted, he was killed; sometimes killed no matter what he did, as was cashier Sheets in the Gallatin bank robbery. The guard outside kept the citizens terrified until the booty was secured; then a flight on good horses followed. After that ensued the frantic and unorganized pursuit by citizens and officers, possibly another killing or two en route, and a return to their lurking place in Clay County, Missouri, where they never had any difficulty in proving all the alibis they needed.