Modern Bad Men

None of these men ever confessed to a full list of these robberies, and, even years later, they all denied complicity; but the facts are too well known to warrant any attention to their denials, founded upon a very natural reticence.

Of course, their safety lay in the sympathy of a large number of neighbors of something the same kidney; and fear of retaliation supplied the only remaining motive needed to enforce secrecy.

The first bank to be robbed by the James-Younger Gang was in Liberty, Missouri on February 13, 1866. Photo by Kathy Weiser

Some of the most noted bank robberies in which the above-mentioned men, or some of them, were known to have been engaged were as follows: The Clay County Savings Association, of Liberty, Missouri, February 14, 1866, in which a little boy by name of Wymore was shot to pieces because he obeyed the orders of the bank cashier and gave the alarm; the bank of Alexander Mitchell & Co., Lexington, Missouri, October 30, 1860; the McLain Bank, of Savannah, Missouri, March 2, 1867, in which Judge McLain was shot and nearly killed; the Hughes & Mason Bank, of Richmond, Missouri, May 23, 1867, and the later attack on the jail, in which Mayor Shaw, Sheriff J. B. Griffin, and his brave fifteen-year-old boy were all killed; the bank of Russellville, Kentucky, March 20, 1868, in which cashier Long was badly beaten; the Daviess County Savings Bank, of Gallatin, Missouri, December 7, 1869, in which cashier John Sheets was brutally killed; the bank of Obocock Brothers, Corydon, Iowa, June 3, 1871, in which forty thousand dollars was taken, although no one was killed; the Deposit Bank, of Columbia, Missouri, April 29, 1872, in which cashier R. A. C. Martin was killed; the Savings Association, of Ste. Genevieve, Missouri; the Bank of Huntington, West Virginia, September i, 1875, in which one of the bandits, McDaniels, was killed; the Bank of Northfield, Minnesota, September 7, 1876, in which cashier J. L. Hay- wood was killed, A. E. Bunker wounded, and several of the bandits killed and captured as later described.

These same men or some of them also robbed a stage coach now and then; near Hot Springs, Arkansas, for example, January 15, 1874, where they picked up four thousand dollars, and included ex-Governor Burbank, of Dakota, among their victims, taking from him alone $1500; the San Antonio- Austin coach, in Texas, May 12, 1875, in which John Breckenridge, president of the First National Bank of San Antonio, was relieved of $1000; and the Mammoth Cave, Kentucky, stage, September 3, 1880, where they took nearly $2000 in cash and jewelry from passengers of distinction.

The most daring of their work, however, and that which brought them into contact with the United States government for tampering with the mails, was their repeated robbery of railway mail trains, which became a matter of simplicity and certainty in their hands. To flag a train or to stop it with an obstruction; or to get aboard and mingle with the train crew, then to halt the train, kill anyone who opposed them, and force the opening of the express agent’s safe, became a matter of routine with them in time, and the amount of cash they thus obtained was staggering in the total.

Train Robbery

Train Robbery

The most noted train robberies in which members of the James-Younger bands were engaged were the Rock Island train robbery near Council Bluffs, Iowa, July 21, 1873, in which engineer Rafferty was killed in the wreck, and but small booty secured; the Gad’s Hill, Missouri, robbery of the Iron Mountain train, January 28, 1874, in which about $500 was secured from the express agent, mail bags, and passengers; the Kansas Pacific train robbery near Muncie, Kansas, December 12, 1874, in which they secured more than $55,000 in cash and gold dust, with much jewelry; the Missouri-Pacific train robbery at Rocky Cut, July 7, 1876, where they held the train for an hour and a quarter and secured about $15,000 in all; the robbery of the Chicago & Alton train near Glendale, Missouri, October 7, 1879, in which the James boys’ gang secured between $35,000 and $50,000 in currency; the robbery of the Rock Island train near Winston, Missouri, July 15, 1881, by the James boys’ gang, in which conductor Westfall was killed, messenger Murray badly beaten, and a passenger named MacMillan killed, little booty being obtained; the Blue Cut robbery of the Alton train, September 7, 1881, in which the James boys and eight others searched every passenger and took away a two-bushel sack full of cash, watches, and jewelry, beating the express messenger badly because they got so little from the safe. This last robbery caused the resolution of Governor Crittenden, of Missouri, to take the bandits dead or alive, a reward of $30,000 being arranged by different railways and express companies, a price of ten thousand dollars each being put on the heads of Frank and Jesse James.

Outside of this long list of the bandit gang’s deeds of outlawry, they were continually in smaller undertakings of a similar nature. Once they took away $10,000 in cash at the box office of the Kansas City Fair, this happening September 26, 1872, in a crowded city, with all the modern machinery of the law to guard its citizens. Many acts at widely separated parts of the country were accredited to the Younger or the James boys, and although they cannot have been guilty of all of them, and, although many of the adventures accredited to them in Texas, Mexico, California, the Indian Nations, etc., bear earmarks of apocryphal origin, there is no doubt that for twenty years after the close of the Civil War they made a living in this way, their gang being made up of perhaps a score of different men in all, and usually consisting of about six to ten men, according to the size of the undertaking on hand.

Meantime, all these years, the list of homicides for each of them was growing. Jesse James killed three men out of six who attacked his house one night, and not long after Frank and he are alleged to have killed six men in a gambling fight in California. John and Jim Younger killed the Pinkerton detectives Lull and Daniels, John being himself killed at that time by Daniels. A little later, Frank and Jesse James and Clell Miller killed detective Wicher, of the same agency, torturing him for some time before his death in the attempt to make him divulge the Pinkerton plans. The James boys killed Daniel Askew in revenge, and Jesse James and Jim Anderson killed Ike Flannery for motives of robbery. This last set the gang into hostile camps, for Flannery was a nephew of George Shepherd. Shepherd later killed Anderson in Texas for his share in that act; he also shot Jesse James and for a long time supposed he had killed him.

Robert "Bob" Ford

Robert “Bob” Ford

The full record of these outlaws will never be known. Their career came to an end soon after the heavy rewards were put upon their heads, and it came in the usual way, through treachery. Allured by the prospect of gaining ten thousand dollars, two cousins of Jesse James, Bob, and Charlie Ford, pretending to join his gang for another robbery, became members of Jesse James‘ household while he was living incognito as Thomas Howard. On the morning of April 3, 1882, Bob Ford, a mere boy, not yet twenty years of age, stepped behind Jesse James as he was standing on a chair dusting off a picture frame, and, firing at close range, shot him through the head and killed him. Bob Ford never got much respect for his act, and his money was soon gone. He himself was killed in February 1892, at Creede, Colorado, by a man named Kelly.

Jesse James was about five feet ten inches in height and weighed about one hundred and sixty-five pounds. His hair and eyes were brown. He had, during his life, been shot twice through the lungs, once through the leg, and had lost a finger of the left hand from a bullet wound.

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