Of the other bandits there were left Cole, Jim and Bob Younger and Charlie Pitts; and after these, a large number of citizens followed close. In spite of the determined pursuit, they kept out of reach for another week. On the morning of September 21st, two weeks after the robbery, they were located in the woods along the Watonwan River, not far from Madelia. Sheriff Glispin hurriedly got together a posse and surrounded them in a patch of timber not over five acres in extent. In a short time more than one hundred and fifty men were about this cover; but although they kept up firing, they could not drive out the concealed bandits.
Sheriff Glispin called for volunteers; and with Colonel Vaught, Ben Rice, George Bradford, James Severson, Charles Pomeroy and Captain Murphy moved into the cover. As they advanced, Charlie Pitts sprang out from the brush, and fired point blank at Glispin. At the same instant the latter also fired and shot Pitts, who ran a short distance and fell dead. Then Cole, Bob and Jim Younger stood up and opened fire as best they could, all of the men of the storming party returning their fire. Murphy was struck in the body by a bullet, and his life was saved by his pipe, which he carried in his vest pocket. Another member of the posse had his watch blown to pieces by a bullet. The Younger boys gave back a little, but this brought them within sight of those surrounding the thicket, so they retreated again close to the line of the volunteers. Cole and Jim Younger were now badly shot. Bob, with his broken right arm, stood his ground, the only one able to continue the fight, and kept his revolver going with his left hand. The others handed him their revolvers after his own was empty. The firing from the posse still continued, and at last Bob called out to them to stop, as his brothers were all shot to pieces. He threw down his pistol and walked forward to the sheriff, to whom he surrendered. Bob always spoke with respect of Sheriff Glispin both as a fighter and as a peace officer. One of the farmers drew up his gun to kill Bob after he had surrendered, but Glispin told him to drop his gun or he would kill him.
It is doubtful if any set of men ever showed more determination and more ability to stand punishment than these misled outlaws. Bob Younger was hurt less than any of the others. His arm had been broken at Northfield two weeks before, but he was wounded but once, slightly in the body, out of all the shots fired at him while in the thicket. Cole Younger had a rifle bullet in the right cheek, which paralyzed his right eye. He had received a .45 revolver bullet through the body, and also had been shot through the thigh at Northfield. He received eleven different wounds in the fight, or thirteen bad wounds in all, enough to have killed a half dozen men. Jim’s case seemed even worse, for he had in his body eight buckshot and a rifle bullet. He had been shot through the shoulder at Northfield, and nearly half his lower jaw had been carried away by a heavy bullet, a wound which caused him intense suffering. Bob was the only one able to stand on his feet.
Of the two men killed in town, Clell Miller and Bill Chadwell, the former had a long record in bank robberies; the latter, guide in the ill-fated expedition to Minnesota, was a horse thief of considerable note at one time in lower Minnesota.
The prisoners were placed in jail at Faribault, the county seat of Rice County, and in a short time, the Grand Jury returned true bills against them, charging them with murder and robbery. Court convened November 7th, Judge Lord being on the bench. All of the prisoners pleaded guilty, and the order of the court was that each should be confined in the state penitentiary for the period of his natural life.
The later fate of the Younger boys may be read in the succinct records of the Minnesota State Prison at Stillwater:
“Thomas Coleman Younger, sentenced November 20, 1876, from Rice County under a life sentence for the crime of Murder in the first degree. Paroled July 14, 1901. Pardoned Feb. 4, 1903, on condition that he leave the State of Minnesota, and that he never exhibit himself in public in any way.
James Younger, sentenced November 20, 1876, from Rice County under a life sentence for the crime of Murder in the first degree. Paroled July 13, 1901. Shot himself with a revolver in the city of St. Paul, Minn., and died at once from the wound inflicted on Oct. 19, 1902.
Robert Younger, sentenced November 20, 1876, from Rice County under a life sentence for the crime of Murder in the first degree. He died Sept. 16, 1889, of phthisis.”
The James boys almost miraculously escaped, traveled clear across the State of Iowa and got back to their old haunts. They did not stop, but kept on going until they got to Mexico, where they remained for some time. They did not take their warning, however, and some of their most desperate train robberies were committed long after the Younger boys were in the penitentiary.
In view of the bloody careers of all these men, it is to be said that the law has been singularly lenient with them. Yet the Northfield incident was conclusive, and was the worst backset ever received by any gang of bad men; unless, perhaps, that was the defeat of the Dalton Gang at Coffeyville, Kansas, some years later, the story of which is given in Badmen of the Indian Nations.
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About the Author: Excerpted from the book The Story of the Outlaw: A Study of the Western Desperado, by Emerson Hough; Outing Publishing Company, New York, 1907. This story is not verbatim as it has been edited for clerical errors and updated for the modern reader. Emerson Hough (1857–1923) was an author and journalist who wrote factional accounts and historical novels of life in the American West. His works helped establish the Western as a popular genre in literature and motion pictures. For years, Hough wrote the feature “Out-of-Doors” for the Saturday Evening Post and contributed to other major magazines.
Other Works by Emerson Hough: