Anthropology Friday: Outlaws on Horseback: Henry Starr, Gentleman Bandit

Welcome back to Anthropology Friday. Today we’re finishing up Harry Dago’s Outlaws on Horseback: The Organized Bands of Bank and Train Robbers Who Terrorized the Prairie Towns of Missouri, Kansas, Indian Territory, and Oklahoma for Half a Century.

I don’t normally read (or watch) Westerns, but I thought this was a great book. If the excerpts I’ve highlighted here pique your interest, I recommend you pick it up.

Since this is our last day, I have a series of short but interesting vignettes, ending with the story of Henry Starr, gentleman outlaw. As usual, quotes will be in “” instead of blocks for readability.

Ned Christie:

“Proof of the esteem in which Ned Christie was held in the community is found in the fact that when he was still in his early thirties he was elected to the Cherokee Tribal Council.”

EvX: I’m going to skip most of Christie’s story, though it’s interesting. He became an outlaw, was hunted by the marshals, and eventually he and his gang built a fort for themselves out in Indian Territory. The marshals tracked him down and began a dramatic battle involving dynamite and a cannon they had hauled through the wilderness.

“…the fort was demolished and only a twisted mass of logs remained. In the smoke and confusion, one of the Indians escaped. The other one was killed. Out of the ruins stepped Ned Christie, snapping his empty rifle. The marshals opened fire on him, and he toppled over and lay still. …

“The marshals had rid themselves of Ned Christie, but with little honor. If it had taken them so long to catch up with him, it was undoubtedly because there was something of robin Hood about Ned Christie. Most of his crimes were against white men. When he plundered an Indian it was usually a matter of robbing the rich to reward the poor.”

EvX: Local support for bandits/criminals/outlaws/pirates is a common theme running through these books–drug lord Pablo Escobar was popular among poor Colombians, pirate Jean Lafitte was popular among Louisianans, 450 men followed the outlaw Quantrill into Kansas, and even folks like Jesse James appear to have had some locals willing to protect and look out for them.

These are all cases where the bandits provided some services to the locals (such as smuggled goods) or at least weren’t targeting the locals. The next story is notably not one of these cases:

“There was nothing of Robin Hood in Rufus Buck, the young Yuchi (non-Muskhogean Creek) fullblood who, in his small way, was as vicious as Cherokee Bill and coupled with it a depravity rare even among Indian outlaws. He was born and raised near Okmulgee, in the Creek Nation. It was in that country that he committed his first robbery, minor crimes but so successfully carried out that three young Creeks… were attracted to him. A fourth man, Lukey Davis, by name, a Creek Negro mixblood, accepted his leadership.

“It was commonly believed that a mixture of Creek and Negro blood was a dangerous cross, and that the offspring of such a union was sure to be ‘mean.’ It was true enough in the case of Lukey Davis, but there would seem to be little reason to accept it as generally so. For several hundred years there had been a strong infiltration of Negro blood into the Creek tribe, more so than with the Cherokee, Choctaw and Chickasaw. Few Creeks were a hundred per cent Indian. Undoubtedly intermarriage had some effect on Creek culture. That it worked any tribal character change or was responsible for the inflamed criminal instincts of some Creeks, such as those with whom Rufus Buck surrounded himself, must be dismissed as absurd.”

Members of the Creek (Muscogee) Nation in OK around 1877. They included men of mixed Creek, European and African ancestry.

EvX: These are two interesting claims: first, that Creeks are heavily mixed, and second, that some people believe this an inauspicious mix. (Our author makes numerous statements throughout the book to the effect of not believing that criminality runs in families.) This leads us down a long tangent that I’m going to save for Monday.

Back to Dago:

“U.S. marshal S. Morton Rutherford came out from Fort Smith with a brigade of deputies… It took them weeks to track down the gang. The outlaws were camped in a motte of live oaks, three miles south of Muskogee, when Rutherford and his deputies surprised them. A furious battle, in which several hundred shots were fired, began at once. There was a hill behind the camp. Rufus Buck and his companions retreated to its highest point and held off the attackers for hours. When their ammunition was exhausted, they had no choice but to surrender.

The Rufus Buck Gang, 1895

“Hands manacled and in leg irons, the prisoners were put in a wagon and taken to Muskogee. … news of the capture of the Buck Gang preceded their arrival in town, and when the wagon bearing them turned up North Third Street, an angry mob of several hundred armed men made a rush for it and tried to drag the cowering wretches away from the officers and string them up at once. It was a Creek mob, ninety-five percent or so. As it surged about them, held off only by the pistols of Rutherford and his deputies, Rufus Buck, Lukey Davis and the others knew only too well that their crimes had outraged their own people and that they could expect less mercy from them than from white men.”

EvX: This is quite something! Even mafia bosses and drug lords have little to fear from spontaneous violent lynch mobs. But the Buck Gang had gone beyond mere robbery, murdering innocent people just because they felt like it. At least two women died from their injuries after being raped by the gang. Quieting the mob took a speech from the Creek chief himself and Rutherford threatening to shoot them if they rushed the jail.

The gang went before Judge Parker, the “hanging” judge who’d vowed to clean up Indian Territory, and were sentenced to death. The case was appealed to the Supreme Court, failed, and they were finally hanged on July 1st, 1896.

An interesting story about Bill Dalton of the Dalton Gang:

“Bill Dalton… left Kansas to seek his fortune in the gold fields of Montana, possibly as early as 1885… he went on to California and established himself on a small ranch near the town of Livingston, in Merced County… and became active in “politics”–which meant throwing himself into the fight the ranchers of the San Joaquin Valley were waging against “The Octopus,” the Southern Pacific Railroad Corporation, and its avowed policy of creating and maintaining a monopoly of transportation in California, and of exacting “from that monopoly the utmost possible profit.”

“Footnote: This was the struggle that was to last for a decade and a half, snuff out the lives of a score of men, cover the Southern Pacific with such obloquy that the passing years have never completely erased it, and make the names of John Sontag and Chris Evans household words in California to this day.”

EvX: I have never heard of “The Octopus” but then, I don’t live in California. Can any of my California readers confirm if this is still a household story?

If you want the story of the Southern Pacific, Wikipedia has a page full of interesting information, including a great illustration of the “Octopus.” Leland Stanford–yes, the Stanford who founded Stanford University–was president of the Southern Pacific in 1885. (Leland Stanford also drove the golden spike that completed the transcontinental railroad and is the bearded fellow shaking hands on the left in this photo of the celebration.)

Worth in the Future:

In the Condon Bank the robbery was not proceeding as planned. There was $18,000 in the safe, but cashier Ball informed Grat and his companions that the time lock on it was set for 9:45 and that it could not be opened before then. It meant waiting three minutes. That could not have seemed like much of await to Grat. But those lost three minutes sealed the fate of the Dalton Gang. Had Grat known it, the safe had been open since eight o’clock. If he had given the steel door a tug, it would have swung free in his hand. …

EvX: In one of his papers Leeson argues that promising delivery of the goods in the future (“Yes, Mister Pirate, we can get those sheep for you down from the mountain next week,”) lets an otherwise helpless group switch mobile bandits to traders. This is a very short version of this strategy.

On the Town of Ingalls:

“I have before me a plan of Ingalls as it was on September 1, 1893, the day of the fight. it was on a surveyed townsite, with a population of about one hundred and fifty men, women and children, and among its places of business, in addition to the saloons, were Bradley’s general store, Perry’s grocery, Nix’s restaurant, two blacksmith shops, two livery barns, a shoe shop, a drug store, a third grocery, Mary Pierce’s hotel and around the corner on Second Street, George Ransom’s O.K. hotel, where, according to Dr. Pickering’s diary, the bandits “boarded” when they were in town. …

“It is also worthy of note that Ingalls had a new schoolhouse, costing twelve hundred dollars–no trifling sum for so small a community in those days. On the same street with the schoolhouse was the Methodist Episcopal Church, North. … And there was the post office–the first post office established in Oklahoma Territory.

“Three doctors cared for the health of the town; Dr. J. H. Pickering, Dr. Selph and Dr. Call, the latter the stepfather of Rose Dunn, the fifteen-year-old girl who became the mythical “Cimarron Rose.”

EvX: A town of 150 people is about the same size as my immediate suburban neighborhood, though we are surrounded, on all sides, by more neighborhoods… And how many of us own a business at all? In Ingalls, most men likely worked for themselves; here most of us work for large corporations.

The Oklahoma Land Run:

“…in the spring of 1896, as has been stated, Perry was the rawest, toughest town of any size in the Territory, born on the first day of the great “run.” On the townsite, where there had been nothing at dawn, eight thousand frenzied men and women were crowded together by nightfall. A mile away to the north at Wharton station, where the Dalton Gang had staged their first holdup, the late trains were disgorging additional thousands. To establish some semblance of law and order in that seething madhouse where food and water were not procurable and fifty tent saloons were doing a roaring business, Marshals Tilghman, Thomas and Madsen were rushed up from Guthrie.”

Rose Dunn and Outlaw Women:

“Who was it that testified against Rose Dunn? They have never been identified. … And what was it they could have said against her? It must have been very damaging to have drawn from Judge Bierer that same sentence he had previously handed out to those two little she-wildcats, Cattle Annie (Annie McDougall) and Little Breeches (Jennie Metcalf) who were guilty of selling whisky to the Osages, stealing cattle and unmistakably acting as spies and lookouts for the Doolin Gang. They were no older than Rose, but the were range waifs, hard, vicious, ignorant, and always went armed with rifle and six-gun. When marshals Tilghman and Steve Burke finally cornered them at a ranch near Pawnee, they did their best to kill the two men. Even after they were disarmed, they fought with tooth and nail until they were subdued. Rose Dunn was none of those things. The worst that can be said against her is that she was the sister of Dal, George, and Bee Dunn, and the cousin of Will Dunn–all hard cases and suspected horse thieves.”

The Jennings Gang:

“Instead of returning to their old haunts, the [Jennings] gang headed south. Far down in the Chickasaw Nation, at a place named Berwyn, ten miles north of Ardmore, they had a try at another Santa Fe Train… Jennings always claimed that they got $35,000. Discounting his usual propensity for exagertion, one may estimate that it likely amounted to no more than $20,000. But it was a stake. They cut up the loot and scattered for a few months. Al [Jennings] and his brother Frank got passage on a tramp steamer at Galveston and landed in Honduras, from which there was no extradition.

“In the cantinas of Puerto Barrios they fell in with a shabby, overweight and congenial refugee from Texas who had fled his native country to escape an indictment for embezzling funds from an Austin bank. With pseudo-histrionic dignity, he informed them that he was William Sydney Porter. … The three of them embarked on a drunken carouse, lasting for weeks, and ending only when they ran out of funds.

“Penniless when they sobered up, Al says he suggested robbing the Puerto Barrios bank. Porter refused to have a hand in it. He was going back to Texas, he said, and face the embezzlement charge that he claimed had been brought against him to cover the speculations of the bank’ officers…. He was found guilty, however, and sentenced to five years in the Ohio State Penitentiary, where, under the pen name of O. Henry he began writing the short stories that were to make him world-famous.

[Eventually the Jennings Gang was arrested]

“All four served five-year sentences at Columbus, Ohio. Al had been sentenced to life imprisonment, but he came out with the others, freed on a presidential pardon. At Columbus, he was assigned to the dispensary, and there he met his friend from Honduras, William Sydney Porter …

“Whatever else he was, [Al] was an excellent storyteller, and his tales were seldom about himself. It has been said that O. Henry got some of his short stories from him. I know that I did–many of them. …

“Al was in his middle fifties when I became acquainted with him–a lean, wiry little man, with twinkling blue eyes in a grizzled face, and dyed red hair. He passed away in 1962, aged ninety-eight by his reckoning, projecting to the end the illusory image of himself that he had used for half a century and more to cancel out his frustrations.”

EvX: 1962! (Wikipedia claims 1961.) It is amazing to think of all the decades a man’s life might encompass–a man born during the civil war, a train robber and bandit, who witnessed the rise of cars, highways, and airplanes, World Wars I and II, industrialization, electricity, television, and the first man in space.

Henry Starr, Gentleman Outlaw:

Henry Starr

“Though perhaps not justified, I have always entertained a sentimental regard for Henry Starr. To me, he is the classic example of the man lost to outlawry who should have been saved for something better. He had the intelligence and personal charm to have taken him a long way. …

“He was born at Fort Gibson on December 2, 1873, and attended the Indian school at Tahlequah. He was remarkably abstemious, never using liquor, tobacco, tea or coffee. He made friends easily, many of whom remained loyal to him after he was steeped in banditry. Everybody seems to have liked handsome, soft-spoken Henry Starr. The U.S. marshals, whose business it was to run him down, respected him, even befriended him at times. They knew he was “absolutely without fear, that he would fight like a wildcat if cornered.” …

“Though Henry Starr robbed a score of banks and faced the gunfire of marshals and irate citizens many times, it is a tribute to his coolness when the chips were down that only one killing appears on his record.”

EvX: Like many outlaws and criminals, Henry Starr was married, to a girl named Mary Jones, a mixed-race Cherokee.

But Starr was caught:

“Henry Starr faced a number of indictments, one of them for the slaying of Deputy Marshal Floyd Wilson. It was on the murder charge that prosecutor Clayton brought him to trial.

“It was the only time he faced the famous Hanging Judge. He was convicted and sentenced to die on the gallows. …

“The date set for Starr’s execution was February 20, 1895. He was still very much alive when the day passed. His lawyer had appealed to the Supreme Court, which then was possible, to set aside the verdict. … In the meantime, Henry Starr remained caged in the overcrowded, vermin-infested hell-hole that was the Fort Smith court’s prison. He was still there on the evening of July 26, when Cherokee Bill killed Turnkey Eoff and set off the riot. For his bravery in going into Cherokee Bill’s cell and disarming him, the charge against him was reduced to manslaughter, and he was sentenced to fifteen years in the Ohio State Penitentiary.

“At Columbus, with fifteen years of confinement ahead of him, he began the self-education that he was to pursue for the est of his life. In his thirst of learning, his reading took him into widely unrelated fields–political science, ancient history, criminology and the science of firearms, phases of the last, such as the velocity of discharged missiles, windage and trajectory, requiring some knowledge of mathematics to be understandable. …

“When he had served five years, the warden was convinced that Starr could safely be returnee to society. He instituted proceedings for his pardon. President Theodore Roosevelt Granted it.

“On his return to the Territory, Starr found his wife and embarked in the real estate and insurance business… His son was born, and he named him Roosevelt for the man who had pardoned him. …

[Some technical stuff happens and he gets pulled up on an old robbery charge, so he decides to flee to California]

“On the way, he passed through the little town of Amity, Colorado… Its one bank, patronized almost exclusively by farmers, looked so easy to rob that, in his words, it seemed a shame to pass it up.

“He collected several thousand dollars and continued on his way, but was captured by a sheriff’ posse east of Lamar and sent to the Canon City penitentiary for twenty-five years. …

“At Canon City, Henry Star was once more an exemplar prisoner. He was made a trusty and put in charge of a road gang of a hundred convicts. At the end of the prescribed five years, the warden signed his application for parole. It was granted, with the provision that he was to report to the parole board once a month and was not to leave the state of Colorado He was no sooner at liberty than he hurried back to Tulsa to find his wife. [She had meanwhile divorced him.]

“It was at this time that a wealthy stockman, who still had faith in him and believed he could get straightened out if he got away from his Oklahoma environment, took him up to St. Louis, bought him expensive raiment and got him a job. All went well for a time, until Starr was invited to a party in Webster Groves, a suburb. By chance, he got off the trolley car in front of the bank. Once again it was a case of a bank looking easy to rob. A week or so later it was held up by a lone bandit in typical border fashion. Starr disappeared from St. Louis.”

EvX: Some men “fall off the wagon” into alcohol. Starr fell off the wagon into bank robbery.

“In the course of the two years that followed, a score of small banks were robbed, all daylight jobs, and always by a lone bandit. The cry went up that Henry Starr was responsible. At Stroud, Oklahoma… on March 27, 1915, its two banks were robbed in spectacular fashion, the twin robberies being accomplished in less than a quarter of an hour. …

“Henry Starr jogged into Stroud with five armed companions whom he had recruited in the Verdigris Valley and the Osage Hills, the breeding ground of outlaw and horse thieves for half a century. They were “unknowns” in the world of banditry at the time: Lewis Estes, Bud Maxfield, Claude Sawyer and Al Spencer, an undersized young punk who survived to become one of the F.B.I.’s mot wanted Public Enemies in the era of “automobiles and automatics” that was soon to follow. Very likely the fifth man who rode into Stroud that day was Spencer’s borther-in-law, Grover Durrell, a future Spencer mobster. …

[Everyone gets away except for Starr, who has been shot. He is captured and Marshal Tilghman arrives:]

“‘Henry, I’m becoming convinced that you are going to live and die a criminal,’ Tilghman recalled having told him. ‘You’ve broken every promise you ever made me. You told me you were through robbing banks, and here I find you pulling a double-header.’

“‘Mr. Tilghman'” he said, ‘when I came to Stroud to look thing over, I saw it was just as easy to rob two banks as one, so I decided to kill two bird with one stone.” …

“When Starr was able to stand trial, he was found guilty and was sentenced to twenty-five years at McAlester. …

“McAlester was reputed to be a tough prison, but Starr had no trouble there. He behaved himself and soon was given many privileges. Friends on the outside worked for his release. He appeared to be Contrite. He was forty-seven, his health broken. in December 1920, he was released on parole, having served only five years and six months.

“In all, he had been sentenced to sixty-five years in prison, but he served only slightly more than fifteen.

“He returned to Tulsa but had no luck finding a job. … Oklahoma was booming, and he was a relic of the past who had outlived his time. Automobiles were everywhere, and hard-surfaced roads were shooting out across the prairies in every direction. Oil was making millionaires of dirt farmers almost overnight. ….

“And then on February 18, 1921, he was back in the headlines. Accompanied by two armed men, he walked into the bank at Harrison, Arkansas, a hundred mile east of Bentonville, where he had cracked his first bank, and informed William J. Myers, the cashier, and a bookkeeper that it was holdup.

“Myers was prepared for just an emergency. When Star ordered him and his bookkeeper to back into the vault, he consented readily enough, for just inside the vault door was a double-barreled shotgun… as he followed Myer into the vault, the shotgun roared and Starr crumpled to the floor. …

“Henry Star, who had been among the first, and certainly was the last, of the noted horseback outlaws was dead. Waiting in the wings, ready to take over, was a new crop of bandits of a deadlier breed, mad dogs who killed without compunction. Armed with automatics, submachine guns and bombs, using speeding automobiles to make their getaways, they were to terrorize the country as the James-Youngrs, the Daltons, the Doolins and the Henry Starrs never had. …

“Starr’s body was brought to Tulsa and given a Christian funeral and burial.

“It was the end of the era of the outlaw on horseback.”

EvX: I find this transition, both from horseback outlaws to car-driving mobsters and from basically pre-industrial to industrial society, absolutely fascinating. What was it like for the people who lived through it?

We won’t be reading about Prohibition Era mobsters, interesting though they are, though we will be reading about outlaw bikers (who feel more like the spiritual heirs of the horseback outlaws) next and Donnie Brasco’s The Way of the Wiseguy about the Mafia after that.

I hope you have enjoyed this series. I sure have.

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Anthropology Friday: Outlaws on Horseback: The Starr Clan, Bill Cook, and Cherokee Bill

Welcome back to Anthropology Friday. Today we’re continuing with Harry Dago’s Outlaws on Horseback, beginning with an interesting description of Texas post Civil War:

“Texas was rapidly recovering from the poverty and prostration of years of carpetbag rule and the dislocations of the Civil War… When peace came, there was no “hard” money in the state. In east Texas, the Negroes, no longer slaves, refused to work cotton. Out on the plains and down in the brush country of south Texas, millions of unbranded Longhorns were running wild. … It was not until Joseph G. McCoy opened his cattle market at Abilene, Kansas, and the great trail herds began moving north that the economy of Texas began to revive. By the early seventies, millions of dollars of Yankee money were flowing back into Texas. Banditry became more profitable.

Jim Reed, looking for bigger game than could be bagged on the cattle trails, left Texas … for the cabin of Watt Grayson, in the Creek country, some miles west of Tom Starr’s stronghold. Old Watt was one of the three subchiefs of the Creek Nation and had become rich by subverting United States government funds from the tribal treasury. Reed had spent so much time in the Territory, often disposing of stolen Cherokee horses in Kansas for Tom Starr, that he was familiar with the tale of Watt Grayson’ hoard.

“On the night of November 19, 1873, the three men broke into the Grayson cabin… The bandits strung up the old couple by the thumbs, burned their feet and otherwise tortured them until they were willing to talk. A cache beneath the floor yielded $30,000 in gold and notes, some of it in Confederate currency.”

Yamacraw Creek Native Americans meet with the trustee of the colony of Georgia in England, July 1734.

EvX: The Creek, one of the “Five Civilized Tribes,” moved along with the Cherokee to “Indian Territory” in modern Oklahoma. Today they are known as the Muscogee. , because it is of course our custom in English to refer to other people by their own autonyms, just like we now call the Germans the Deutsche, the Japanese the Nihonjin, and the Finns the Suomalaiset–no wait we don’t do that. We don’t do that at all. We only bother changing the customary names of small, obscure groups so that elites can show off how much better they are than all of the confused, low-class people who don’t have the spare time to keep up with the latest PC names.

Creek it is.

William Bowles aka Estajoca, 1763-1805

Anyway, the Creek are an interesting people with a relatively advanced pre-Columbian culture. They’re most likely descended from the local Mound-Builders, who built cities and monumental architecture throughout the Mississippi valley prior to the arrival of European diseases (and horses) with the Spanish, (which decimated their numbers and upset the balance of power in local Indian communities by making nomadic raiding more profitable.)

I don’t want to digress too far, but you should read the story of the State of Muskogee, founded by William Bowles aka Estajoca. The tale is pure, great frontier history.

But back to Dago and the notorious Starr Clan of the Cherokees:

“Though the blood-stained feud which the Starr clan had waged against the John Ross faction for several decade in retaliation for the murder of James Starr, Tom Starr’s father, was now quiescent, the Starrs were still stealing horses from their fellow Cherokees. …

“Stories of Tom Starr’s cruelty are legion. He stood six feet six in his socks, and despite his years was as straight as the proverbial arrow. … for twenty years he had been the clan elder, and the Starrs had slit the throats of countless followers of John Ross, the principal chief of the Cherokee Nation.

The Tribal Council, dominated by the Ross faction, had outlawed them and deprived them of all their tribal rights. But the killings had continued, and in desperation the council had offered to rescind it edict, grant them amnesty and restore their rights.

“Tom Starr had said no; he wanted more than that–namely the allotment money the clan had not received for years–and he got it. …

“Usually when a railroad was built into new country in the 1870s, new towns sprang up and civilization (at least of a kind) followed. Nothing of the sort happened when the rambunctious “Katy” Railroad, undeterred by hell and high water, slashed and slopped its way down through the Nations to Texas. Indian Territory remained a wilderness. … The only attempt at law enforcement came from the roving deputy marshal working out of the U.S. District Court at Fort Smith, Arkansas, and the Indian police and tribal courts. Thievery and crimes of violence continued to occur with grisly frequency.

“This was in July, 1886. Sam [Starr] had been on the scout almost continually for two years. [“On the scout” means hiding out in the wilderness to avoid the police.] Late in September Chief Bill Vann, of the Cherokee police, [plus several others, including Frank West, whose testimony had previously convicted Sam and Belle and put them in prison for nine months] … caught him as he was riding through a cornfield.

“Chief Vann called on him to surrender. When Sam raked his hose with his spurs, … Vann emptied his pistol at him. Two of the slugs unseated Starr and another killed the mare. Sam was disarmed and taken to a farmhouse to have his wound treated.”

EvX: Interestingly, in the 1800s, not surrendering immediately when the police told you to was grounds for them to try their best to kill you. Today we hold our police to a much more difficult (and dangerous) standard: they are supposed to capture suspected criminals, even ones who’ve led them on high-speed chases, without killing them.

The flip-side to this bullet-ridden coin is that when outlaws turned themselves in voluntarily, they were generally assumed to be acting in good faith, and often got quite light sentences by modern standards.

Back to Sam Starr:

“News of Sam’s capture and where he was being held went winging along the Starr clan’s grapevine… Shortly before midnight, a score of Sam’s brothers and relative broke into the farmhouse… and carried Sam away to his father’s stronghold. Two weeks later he was sufficiently recovered to visit Belle. …

Belle Starr, “outlaw queen”

“Belle demonstrated her sagacity by urging him to surrender himself to the District Court at Fort Smith, where with good Counsel (J. Warren Reed) he would have a much better chance of defending himself than in one of the tribal courts. The Choctaw and Creek chiefs hated Tom Starr and his sons, holding them responsible for numerous thefts and robberies. With the Ross faction in command of the Cherokee Tribal Council, his chances of escaping the death penalty in a Cherokee court wold be slim. … Once he was in the custody of the federal government, the Indian police could not touch him. …

“Sam was indicted and promptly released on bond… [The lawyer’s] advice to Sam was to go home to Younger’s Bend and keep out of trouble.”

EvX: Released on bond! Sam is a wanted man, a fugitive, a murderer and outlaw, and they’ve just released him on bond and told him to behave! The thinking, as I mentioned, is that a man who has turned himself in has shown some kind of contrition for his acts and so is less likely to commit more.

“Sam followed [this advice] until the evening of December 21, when the neighborhood was invited to a “stomp” dance at “Auntie” Lucy Suratt’s place… The dance was in progress when [Sam, Belle, and Belle’s daughter] arrived. The night was cold and a bonfire was blazing in the yard. …

“Belle was surprised to see Frank West squatting on the ground on the opposite side of the bonfire. Sam saw West and pushed her aside. He was half-drunk and in an ugly mood. He accused West of wounding him and killing [his horse]. … Whipping out his pistol, he shot [West] through the neck. As West went down, he managed to get a revolver out of his overcoat pocket and send a bullet crashing through Sam’s side. Both men were mortally wounded. Sam staggered to a cottonwood and wrapped his arms around it to keep from falling. Life was running out of him, however, and he slid to the ground.

EvX: So ended the lives of both Sam Starr and Frank West, whose testimony had previously put Sam in prison for a short while. Belle Starr was left a widow, but quickly found a new outlaw paramour, as she always did:

“[Belle Starr’s daughter, Pearl] and Cole Younger share the dubious distinction of being the only ones among Belle Starr’s intimates, through either blood or sex, to die of natural causes. The others–her brothers Preston and Bud, her son Eddie, her “husbands” and lovers (Jim Reed, Sam Starr, John Middleton, Blue Duck, Jack Spaniard, Jim French, Jim July)–all met violent death, a fate which she herself did not escape. Today, more than seventy yeas later, her name endures.”

EvX: How times change. Belle might have been a well-known person in Dago’s day, but I’d never heard of her before this book. (There are many characters in the book whose fame, Dago claims, well long endure but whom I have never heard of.) I suspect this is largely due to the massive decrease in interest in Westerns and the history of the “Wild West” during my lifetime.

Bill Cook, leader of the Bill Cook gang, only 1/8th Cherokee

“Though it is largely unknown, the Bill Cook Gang played an important role in the history of horseback outlawry in what is now eastern Oklahoma. If its life as an organized gang under the leadership of Bill Cook was brief, it was spectacular. In one week short of three months, they successfully committed ten assorted stagecoach, store, bank and railroad holdups. It i a record un-matched by the James-Younger Gang or any other. In the course of it, they killed only one man, which is another record.”

EvX: Bill Cook does not appear to have a Wikipedia page, but according to Old West Legends:

Growing up to become one of the outlaw leaders of the Cook Gang, William “Bill” Tuttle Cook was born near Fort Gibson in 1873 in the Cherokee Nation, but was left homeless at the age fourteen when his mother died in 1887.

Starting out as an honest young man, he served as a scout for the U.S. Marshals from Fort Smith, Arkansas, guiding them through Indian Territory. However, he soon started running whiskey to the Indians and in 1893 was sentenced to 40 days in jail by Judge Isaac Parker. During his incarceration he vowed he would put together an outlaw gang when he was released and the following year he did.

If you don’t want to incarcerate or or execute large numbers of criminals, then one of the fastest ways to decrease crime is to eliminate the profits/potential for violence by making the activity legal. For example, lots of people want to gamble. Goodness knows why, but they want to. Illegal gambling has long been an easy way for criminals to make lots of money. If people are going to do it anyway, perhaps it would just be better to let them do it without funding criminals in the process.

But back to Dago:

“[Bill Cook] was the son of Jim Cook, a Southerner from Tennessee who had fought in the Union army. Like so many others, he drifted into Indian Territory after the war and married a quarter-blood Cherokee woman, which enabled him to acquire a headright near Fort Bigson. They had two sons, Bill… and James… The boys were orphaned when they were in their teens. They were placed in an Indian orphanage, from which Bill ran away in 1887. He was then barely fourteen. …

The Cook Gang and the Cherokee Strip:

“One thing remains to to be said about the Cooks and that concerns the circumstances that put young Jim Cook into the Cherokee prison for eight years. So turn back to the spring of 1894, when after endless negotiations, the federal government purchased the so-called Cherokee Strip from the Cherokee Nation. … the Cherokee Nation had definite treaty rights to the “outlet” which, as usual where Indians were concerned, had been ignored when it was thrown open to white settlement on September 16 of the previous year, resulting in the sensational Cherokee Strip “run” that brought thousands of whites racing across the Kansas line to claim free land and make new homes in today’s Oklahoma. It was to “quiet” all Cherokee claims to it that the purchase was made. Of the total amount paid, a third went into the Cherokee National Treasury. It left $6,640,000 to be divided individually among all who could make legitimate claim to being at least one-eight Cherokee. After a lengthy checking of tribal roles, the figure arrived at was $265.70 per person.

“It is remarkable that in outlaw-infested Indian Territory six million dollars could be distributed without a major robbery taking place. This was accomplished, however. Thousands of Cherokee were begowked, robbed, cheated, but only after they received their share of the “Strip” money. … A blind man could have foreseen that putting such a huge sum of money in the hands of largely ignorant Indians was bound to result in their being ruthlessly exploited by white sharpers. Nothing was done to prevent it. The results were often tragic and often ludicrous.

“In the weeks before the distribution was made, a horde of unscrupulous agents and racketeers crisscrossed the Cherokee country, selling the Indians things they did not need and did not know how to operate, all at extravagant prices, and on credit against their Strip Money, taking notes in payment. A carload of cheap sewing machines and washing machines was unloaded at Gibson Station. On the “luxury” side came musical instruments, which the Cherokees could not play, and an endless variety of feminine finery.

“When a distribution point was set up, the Cherokees flocked in by the hundreds to find a carnival atmosphere prevailing. Gamblers and bootleggers operated openly, along with thugs and pick-pockets. At Tahlequah, the Cherokee capital, there were tent shows, a mery-go-round, every device for extracting money from the Indians. And the agents with their notes were there, too. They got their money before the man who had bought on credit got his.

“Cherokee” Bill, also only 1/8th Cherokee

Young Jim Cook had the necessary Cherokee blood in his veins to qualify for his $256.70, and he wanted it, as did his brother Bill and Cherokee Bill. Their names were on the Tahlequah roles, but since they were wanted by both the Indian police and the U.S. deputy marshals, they knew it would not be safe for them to appear… To get their money, they hit upon the device of getting someone to go in and collect it for them. …

“She had no difficulty getting it, but when Ellis Rattling Gourd, chief of the Cherokee police, read the names on the letter she presented to the treasurer, he realized at once that the three men were in the neighborhood…

“Ellis Rattling Gourd was back in the morning with a posse of seven men, including Sequoyah Houston… Jim Cook, peering around a corner of the building, was seriously wounded by a slug… He tossed away his Winchester a he went down and lying on the ground was struck several times more. A few moments later, Cherokee Bill stepped out boldly and killed Sequoyah Houston. …

“Jim Cook’s condition was grave. Desperate as the chance was, his brother insisted on getting him to a doctor at Fort Gibson. … When Jim recovered from his wound he was convicted of being a party to the killing of Sequoyah Houston and sentenced to eight years in the Cherokee prison. He escaped once, but was recaptured and served his full sentence. When he came out it was to find that life in the Territory had changed drastically; the Cook Gang was just a fading memory.”

Henry Starr, actual Cherokee

“Ironically enough, two members of his gang were destined to become far better known in their time than he. One was Henry Starr, the gentleman bandit and bank robbery, by marriage the nephew of Belle Starr. The other was Crawford Goldsby, Alias Cherokee Bill, the bloodthirsty mad dog who killed for the love of killing and was accounted the most vicious of all Indian Teritory-Oklahoma outlaws. Both organized gangs of their own when the U.S. deputy marshals and Indian police scattered and destroyed the Cook Gang. That was normal gang procedure. They were constantly being broken up and re-forming.”

EvX: This is an important point. I was reading recently about (recent) government attempts to fight gang violence/activity by going after the gang leaders, on the assumption that with no one to direct operations, the gangs would fall apart. (The difficulty with this approach, as we’ll see later, is that gang leaders often insulate themselves with several layers of plausible deniability from the gang’s day-to-day criminal operations.)

But it appears that gangs operate more the way Dago describes: splitting and merging as needs and opportunities present themselves. According to the article, the government had therefore recently switched to mass-arresting hundreds (thousands?) of gang members.

The law came down hard on the Cook Gang:

“Not one had escaped. The guns of the U.S. marshals and the Indian police had snuffed out the lives of Lon Gordon, Hank Munson, George Sanders, the Verdigris Kid and Sam Butler, Bill and Jim Cook, Jess Snyder, Will Farri, Chicken Lucas, Curt Dayson and Skeeter Baldwin were behind bars.”

Cherokee Bill and Henry Starr, however, were not through:

“Because of the alias of Cherokee Bill, the only name by which he is known, Crawford Goldsby is widely and erroneously believed to have been a Cherokee Indian. Actually he was only an eight Cherokee. The rest of him was a weird mixture of other bloods. George Goldsby, his father, saw honorable service as a trooper in the Tenth U.S. Cavalry, an all-Negro regiment, our first, which distinguished itself in the Apache campaigns in Arizona. On his enlistment papers he put himself down a a Negro, but in late years he claimed to be of mixed white, Mexican, and Sioux descent. The assorted blood strains from which Cherokee Bill sprang did not end there, for his father married Ellen Beck, who was half Negro, a fourth Cherokee and a fourth white. Perhaps the assorted origins of his parents clashed violently in Cherokee Bill and made him the cruel, psychopathic killer that he was. Certainly some of his murderous traits appeared in Clarence Goldsby, his younger brother.”

EvX: Theory: it’s not so much that different “bloods” were incompatible as that certain kinds of people were more likely to cross racial lines in the 1800s, including criminals trying to evade capture in their hometowns by heading across state lines into Indian Territory.

“[Bill] was not much over thirteen when she packed him off to the Indian School at Cherokee, Kansas, and she kept him there for three years. Being part Cherokee and having gone to school at Cherokee, Kansas, were enough to fasten the nickname of “Cherokee” on him. Where the “Bill” came from is not known.

“His mother, as indomitable in her way as he was in his, insisted that he continue his education. With what must have entailed some sacrifice on her part, she sent him east to the Carlisle Industrial School for Indian youth… Hundreds of Indian boys went to Carlisle. They came from many tribes. Apparently, Crawford Goldsby is the only one who returned home to become an outlaw. …

“Cherokee Bill came up for arraignment before Judge Parker, charged with the murder of Ernest Melton, the Lenapah painter. From the moment they first faced each other, the air was charged with a personal enmity between judge and prisoner seldom recorded in any courtroom. Cherokee Bill had been a thorn in Parker’s side for years, and he was prepared to show him no mercy. Though the evidence against the accused was overwhelming, he knew from the moment J. Warren Reed appeared as counsel for the defense that the case would be bitterly contested to the very end.”

EvX: The full story of Judge Parker and J. Warren Reed, esquire, is too long to recount in its entirety, but Parker had set it as his duty to rid Arkansas and neighboring Indian territory of outlaws and bandits, sometimes by less than Constitutional means. Reed, seeing the opportunity to defend lots of clients, made it his duty to stop Parker from packing juries and hanging criminals.

Eventually Reed succeeded so well, he got Parker’s court shut down and put himself out of a job.

But back to Cherokee Bill’s trial:

“Very likely the astute Reed, in his feud with Parker, was so anxious to take the case that money, for once, meant little or nothing to him. The trial was certain to attract tremendous attention, perhaps more than any other ever heard by the Fort Smith court. With the evidence against the notorious outlaw so strong, Reed undoubtedly expected Parker to run roughshod over the defendant’s legal rights. Sufficiently goaded, he might overstep the rules of jurisprudence flagrantly enough to convince the U.S. Supreme Court that a fair trial could not be had in the Fort Smith court–which Reed had been contending for years.

“The trial became an endless series of clashes between defense counsel and the bench. Bullied, exasperated beyond endurance, Parker laid down some rules of his own, limiting the cross-examination of witnesses by both the prosecution and the defense … The jury was out only a few minute and returned with a verdict of guilty. …

The death sentence was pronounced and the day of execution named. His mother wept when she heard it. …

“Reed immediately took an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court to have the verdict set aside, stipulating on five counts that Crawford Goldsby, alias Cherokee Bill, had not received a fair trial. It stayed the date of execution until the high court could review the case.

“Among Cherokee Bill’s fellow inmates was one with whom he was well acquainted from his days with the Cook Gang. He was Henry Starr, under sentence of death for the killing of Floyd Wilson…

“After supper on the evening of July 26, on what had been a hot, sultry day, not a breath of air stirring, the prisoners were allowed out in the corridors. At seven o’clock the signal was given for them to return to their cells. …

“Cherokee Bill had entered his cell, and there was no confusion until Eoff and Keating [the guards] reached his cell door. [Cherokee Bill] had removed his hidden revolver from its hiding place. Suddenly, Eoff and Keating found themselves covered… Keating was ordered to hand over his pistol, butt first. Instead of obeying, the guard backed away and started to draw. the outlaw fired instantly and Keating staggered back, mortally wounded, his face a bloody smear.

“Eoff ran for the gate. Cherokee Bill, out into the corridor, blazed away at him. … Bedlam broke out all over the prison. Men who had not yet been locked up rushed from their cells, and full-scale riot was ready to erupt. Guards and other prison officers drove them back at gunpoint. …

“With gunsmoke hanging heavily in the corridor, Henry Starr got Eoff’s attention. With courage seldom, if ever equaled by a man outside the law, he said quietly, “If you guards will stop shooting, I’ll go into Bill’s cell and get his gun.”

“His offer was accepted… As the sounds of shooting died away, they heard hm calling to Cherokee Bill. The latter had barricaded himself, but he permitted Starr to enter. What passed between them will never be known. Certainly it was more than Starr’s laconic statement. “I jut said, ‘Bill, your mother wouldn’t want you to do this. Give me your gun and call it quits.’…

“When [Judge Parker] got the news, he started back to Fort Smith at once, but not before calling in reporters and denouncing the Supreme Court for interfering with the Fort Smith tribunal, recklessly granting appeals and setting aside the justly deserved convictions of known killers. … His health was failing, but he came back to Fort Smith with a fresh burst of energy. At last he had such an iron-clad case against Cherokee Bill that even the learned judges in Washington would not dare dispute it. …

“Invitations to the hanging had been limited to one hundred, but hundreds of others, denied the privilege of the yard, witnessed it from the walls and adjoining rooftops. Before the black cap was adjusted, Cherokee Bill was asked if he had anything to say. His answer was a fitting epitaph to his ferocious career. “Hell, no,” he snarled. “I came here to die, not to make a speech.”

Anthropology Friday: The James-Younger Gang

Welcome back to Anthropology Friday. Today we’re continuing with Dago’s account from Outlaws on Horseback of the James-Younger gang. Wikipedia has some background on the gang:

The James–Younger Gang had its origins in a group of Confederatebushwhackers that participated in the bitter partisan fighting that wracked Missouri during the American Civil War. After the war, the men continued to plunder and murder, though the motive shifted to personal profit rather than for the glory of the Confederacy. ..

For nearly a decade following the Civil War, the James–Younger Gang was among the most feared, most publicized, and most wanted confederations of outlaws on the American frontier. Though their crimes were reckless and brutal, many members of the gang commanded a notoriety in the public eye that earned the gang significant popular support and sympathy. The gang’s activities spanned much of the central part of the country; they are suspected of having robbed banks, trains, and stagecoaches in at least ten states: Missouri, Kentucky, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Alabama, and West Virginia.

But back to Dago’s account. Here is some background on Cole Younger, and what prompted him to become an outlaw:

Cole Younger, 1889 (lived 1844 – 1916)

“A week after the battle at Lone Jack, Cole [Younger] risked coming to see his mother. He was caught in the house by Union militiamen… and escaped only through the connivance of Suse (short for Susan,) who had grown old as a Younger slave.

“Two months later, Union troops came to the house again in the middle of the night and searched it from cellar to garret for Cole. Infuriated by not finding him, they ordered Mrs. Younger to set fire to the place. She had her four youngest children with her. An early fall storm had put a few inches of snow on the ground. She pleaded that if the intruders were determined to make her burn her own home they wait until morning. …

“When she offered to cook them something to eat, they agreed to wait. At the crack of dawn, however, they hitched a horse to a wagon, tossed a mattress and some blankets into it. Some furniture having been gathered into a pile, they forced her to set it afire…

“In his autobiography, The story of Cole Younger, by Himself, published in 1903, he makes much of the burning of his old home and the treatment his mother and brothers and sisters received, though hundreds of other families were burned out in that fashion”

EvX: Dago quotes an excerpt from Kansas, a Guide to the Sunflower State about the state of things between Missouri and Kansas before the war:

For two years a state of open warfare existed. Armed bands of border ruffians from Missouri made forays into Kansas and were answered by retaliatory companies of Jayhawkers. Men were called out into the night and shot down for no other reason than they supported or were suspected of supporting the opposite cause…. Fields were laid waste and towns were sacked, all int he name of the cause, but more often to gratify personal revenge or avarice. …

Dago continues:

“While formal war was being waged between the North and the South, the old border warfare [between Kansas and Missouri] took on new dimensions, blazing up like a forest fire out of control as opposing bands of bushwhackers and guerrillas spread terror, death and destruction wherever they rode. As 1862 opened, a man could go to his door after nightfall only at the risk of being shot down. Every night in one direction or another, the sky was red as some farmer’s home went up in flames. It was murder, arson and robbery without hope of redress. The opposing factions pretended to have a quasi-military status. Actually, they had none. The flag under which they rode might be the stars and stripes of the North, or the stars and bars of the confederacy, but their real emblem would have been emblazoned with the skull and crossbones of piracy.

“Northern sympathizers were no safer from Red Legs and Jayhawkers than Southerners and vice versa. …

Jesse James:

Jesse and Frank James, 1872

“With the end of the war, families had begun streaming back to the Burnt District to begin life anew. … Dr. Samuel [Jesse James’s father] had the old home repaired and made livable… Between doctoring and farming, he was making a humble living, when Jesse catapulted the family into prominence by robbing the bank at nearby Liberty. After that, life was never the same for Zerelda [Jesse’s mother] and the doctor. Other robberies and train holdups followed, all attributed to the James-Younger Gang. The hunt for them was intensified, but dangerous as it was, they often slipped in out of the brush and spent the night at the Samuel house. It was not long before information to that effect was int he hand of the Pinkertons [a private detective agency.] What they did about it ended in stark tragedy. …

“For months, a score of the agency’s best operatives had been crisscrossing Missouri… the results were distinctly embarrassing… As the year of 1874 drew to a close, the score read: three detectives and only one outlaw, John Younger, killed… And trains continued to be held up and banks robbed with annoying frequency.

“However, on January 5, 1876, the agency got a break. Jack Lad, one of their best operatives, who had been working as a pseudo farmhand within several miles of the Samuel home, wired the Kansas City office that Frank and Jesse were visiting their mother…

The Pinkerton Detective Agency, founded in 1850, is still in operation

“There is some disagreement as to what followed, but it concerns only what one of the Pinkertons tossed through the window that he had opened. The only light within came from the fireplace. It was a bitter night, the temperature hovering around zero. The doctor, Zelda, their two young children–Archie, aged eight, and Fannie, aged five–and a Negro servant woman, who had come west from Kentucky with Zelda and her husband, had retired for the night. Whatever it was that came sailing into the room, it exploded, and the effect was ghastly. Zelda’s right arm was torn off at the elbow. Archie was disemboweled and died almost at once. Dr. Samuel and the Negro woman were seriously injured… The irony of it was that Frank and Jesse were a hundred miles away.

“A feeling of revulsion against the Pinkertons swept the state. …

“Wellman is one of the few [writers who do not think it was a grenade]… I can only ask: why not? I recall the part played by Pinkerton men in the bloody strike at the McCormick Reaper Company Works, in Chicago, and again in the revolt of the steelworkers at the Homestead Mills, in Pittsburgh. The Pinkertons of that era are not sacrosanct with me.”

EvX: Wikipedia gives an interesting account of this incident and its aftermath:

In 1874, the Adams Express Company turned to the Pinkerton National Detective Agency to stop the James–Younger Gang. The Chicago-based agency worked primarily against urban professional criminals, as well as providing industrial security, such as strike breaking. Because the gang received support by many former Confederate soldiers in Missouri, they eluded the Pinkertons. …

Allan Pinkerton, the agency’s founder and leader, took on the case as a personal vendetta. … On the night of January 25, 1875, he staged a raid on the homestead. Detectives threw an incendiary device into the house; it exploded …

Many residents were outraged by the raid on the family home. The Missouri state legislature narrowly defeated a bill that praised the James and Younger brothers and offered them amnesty.[10] Allowed to vote and hold office again, former Confederates in the legislature voted to limit the size of rewards which the governor could make for fugitives. This extended a measure of protection over the James–Younger gang by minimizing the incentive for attempting to capture them.

One man’s outlaw is another man’s, er, freedom fighter?

Interestingly, the Pinkerton Detective Agency is still around:

Pinkerton, founded … by Allan Pinkerton in 1850 and currently a subsidiary of Securitas AB.[1] Pinkerton became famous when he claimed to have foiled a plot to assassinate president-elect Abraham Lincoln, who later hired Pinkerton agents for his personal security during the Civil War.[2] … Pinkerton was the largest private law enforcement organization in the world at the height of its power.[3]

During the labor strikes of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, businessmen hired the Pinkerton Agency to infiltrate unions, supply guards, keep strikers and suspected unionists out of factories, and recruit goon squads to intimidate workers. One such confrontation was the Homestead Strike of 1892, in which Pinkerton agents were called in to reinforce the strikebreaking measures of industrialist Henry Clay Frick, acting on behalf of Andrew Carnegie.[4] The ensuing battle between Pinkerton agents and striking workers led to the deaths of seven Pinkerton agents and nine steelworkers.[5] The Pinkertons were also used as guards in coal, iron, and lumber disputes in Illinois, Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia as well as the Great Railroad Strike of 1877 and the Battle of Blair Mountain in 1921.

But let’s get back to Dago. How well did outlawry pay?

“After the robbery at Liberty, in February, the James-Younger Gang did not strike again until October 30, more than eight months later, when they looted the bank at Lexington, Missouri. …

“three, possibly four, stagecoach robberies can be rightly charged up to them over the decade and a half of their spectacular banditry. In all that time, however, they entered only a dozen banks (counting their misadventure at Northfield) and held up only seven trains. Add to that the Kansas City Fairgrounds robbery and you have the complete score of their major undertakings–twenty in all…

“Many estimates have been made of how much money they got away with. The popular reckoning is half a million dollars. Cole Younger, who was the only one of the bandits to say anything about it, claimed that they never got half of what they wee supposed to have taken. … The best answer as to what became of the money is that it was spent. A little simple arithmetic is all that is required to arrive at that conclusion. If in fifteen years the loot totaled half a million dollars,t he yearly take was less than $35,000. Divided among eight to ten men, all it amounted to was handsome wages. Cole Younger says they got nothing like half a million dollars. ..

“Turn back to the robbing of the bank at Liberty. Greenup Bird, the cashier, in a sworn statement, says the outlaws rode off with $57,072, of which $40,000 was in bonds, $15,000 in gold coin an the balance, scarcely more than $2,000, in silver and greenbacks. The bonds were nonnegotiable, hence worthless to the bandits. The gold was an even more tantalizing problem, since there was so little of it in circulation that to start spending it was certain to fasten suspicion on whoever possessed ti as a member of the robber gang. The only way out of the dilemma was to dispose of the gold to a “fence”…

“all commentators agree that they got $9,000 for their $15,000 in gold. …

“If, as claimed, twelve men took part in the Liberty bank robbery, a little more arithmetic reveals that each man netted only a little over a thousand dollars.”

EvX: I note that this is the exact same problem many pirates had. It’s one thing to capture a galleon, and quite another to walk into town and buy a farm using a chest full of stolen doubloons without getting noticed.

“Though the proceeds of the Gallatin robbery added up to very little, it unleashed a veritable hornet’ nest of trouble on the James-Younger Gang. … It was high time t get out of Missouri again. By twos and threes, they crossed the line into Indian Territory and holed up in old Tom Starr’s domain, east of Eufala. They knew old Tom from guerrilla days. He had ten brothers, several sons and daughters. With all of his progeny and kinsfolk, he was the head of perhaps the largest of all Cherokee clans, and he ruled it with a cruel, iron hand. The “Starr country” was wild, desolate, without roads, and no one attempted to cross it who was not known to be friendly with its overlord. Its limestone cave were a perfect refuge for men on the scout. Then, too, a man could turn a dollar by stealing horse and cattle for Tom Starr.

An Amusing Incident:

“On June 3, 1871, the world heard from the James-Younger Gang again. This time it was the prosperous town of Corydon, Iowa… Several blocks from the Ocobock Brothers Bank, their objective, a political rally was in full swing. … When they walked out, the grain sack was bulging with $45,000 in assorted bonds, gold and paper currency.

“It was one of the gang’ richest hauls. Jesse felt so good about it that as they passed the meeting on their way out of town, he stopped and interrupted the speaker.

“‘What is it?’ the Great Man demanded with understandable annoyance…

“I’m sorry to interrupt,” Jesse called back, “But there’s something wrong down at the bank. In fact, it’s just been robbed. Maybe you better look into it, sir.”

“With a mocking laugh, he and his fellow conspirators put spurs to their horses and dashed away.”

Jesse’s First Train Robbery:

“…on July 21, Jesse had his way about it and they did the “spectacular”–their first train robbery. … Securing a spike bar and a sledge hammer, they went east of town a short distance, to a curve, pried off a fishplate, removed the spike and attached a rope to the loosened rail so that it could be pulled out of alignment. Hiding behind an embankment, they had nothing to do but wait until the express came panting around the bend.

“It was after midnight when it hove into view. Years later, Cole Younger said that they expected the train would stop when the locomotive left the tracks. Instead it plowed ahead a few feet and toppled over… the engineer was caught in the cab and scalded t death. …

“The express car yielded less than $3,000. … “Railroad records show,” says Croy, “that $75,000 went through the following night.” The gang had missed the jackpot by only twenty-four hours. …

“In the four weeks following the Gads Hill holdup, the Pinkertons sent their best men into Missouri. But no arrests were made. They complained to their superiors that they could get no cooperation from the inhabitants of the border counties of western Missouri, where the outlaws had a number of hiding places, that the James-Younger Gang had friends in every crossroads village and on every farm. It is true that there were many who, for one reason or another, were sympathetic to Jesse and his men, but the overwhelming majority kept silent because they were afraid to inform on them.

“What was more to the point, Jesse had perfected a secret intelligence system that worked so well that whenever a stranger appeared in Clay County word of his presence was quickly conveyed to him by his hangers-on.”

Frank and Jesse’s Weddings:

Zerelda Mimms, wife (and cousin) of Jesse James, not to be confused with Jesse’s mom who was also named Zerelda

“Jesse and Frank were back in Missouri in April. It was marriage, not robbery, they had on their minds this time. Not too much is known about Frank’s marriage in 1874 to Annie Ralson, the daughter of a respectable Clay County family, other than that her people objected so strenuously to her marrying Frank that she had to elope with him. On April 24, 1874, Jesse married Zerelda Mimms, who had been waiting for him for eight years. No elopement for him. Dressed in the finest raiment money could buy, he boldly came into Kansas City and was married by a minister.

“What kind of women were these who married famous outlaws, men with a price on their heads, wanted dead or alive? They were a far cry from what today we call “gun molls.” They lived on “outlaw” money, but on no other count can they be faulted. They took no part in the lawless deeds of their husbands … They were loyal to the men they married, and Frank and Jesse were true and loyal to them. If there is one untarnished page in the life of the James brothers, it is to be found in their marital relation with Annie and Zerelda.”

 

EvX: Things went pretty well for the James-Younger Gang until they decided to head north to Minnesota. They thought the Swedes would be easily-robbed pushovers, but instead they fought back. Of the 8 outlaws who walked into town that day, only two escaped. The three Younger brothers, Jim, Cole, and Bob, were captured and sent to prison, and three other men were killed.

Jesse and Frank went into hiding. Frank appears to have adjusted to settled life, but Jesse soon attracted a new gang of followers.

Jesse’s downfall:

“…Tucker Basham, well-heeled with his share of the Glendale lot, did some foolish bragging that led to his arrest. William H. Wallace, the newly elected and vigorous prosecuting attorney of Jackson County, put the screws on young Basham and got a full confession from him. …

“[Outlaw] Bill Ryan was picked up near Nashville, Tennessee, in the course of a week-long carouse… The description of him that was sent out caught the eye of Deputy U.S. Marshal Whig Keshlaer. … Ryan was brought back to face trial in Missouri.

People shook their heads in consternation–not over the outcome, which they regarded as certain, but at the prosecutor’s audacity in pushing through an indictment of Ryan. Never before had a member of the gang been brought to trial in Jackson County. There was not a chance in a million, they said, that he could impanel a jury that would bring in a verdict of guilty.

“Wallace’s life was threatened. …

[Jesse James then robbed a train and killed its conductor, Westphal.]

“In Independence, Wallace proceeded with the trial of Bill Ryan. Basham’s confession was introduced, and it created a sensation. … That night Tucker Basham’s home was burned to the ground. And now, unexpectedly, a remarkable thing happened. A score of men who had fought for the Confederacy, many under Quantrill, and who in their hearts were still as “unreconstructed” as on the day Lee surrendered at Appomattox, rallied behind Wallace. … The wavering jury took courage and stood firm. The evidence against Ryan piled up and he was sentenced to twenty-five years in the Missouri Penitentiary. …

“Frank was the only one Jesse had left… Of the men who had ridden with him since Northfield, four were in prison… Two were dead–Ed Miller and Wood Hite. Why he didn’t call it a day and get out of Missouri, even out of the United States, no one will ever know. …

“It happened on the morning of April 3, in the modest house in St. Joe in which Jesse was living with his wife and children, under the alias of J.D. Howard. A single shot was heard by the neighbors. They ran in and found the bearded man, whom they knew as Mr. Howard, lying dead on the floor.

“Bob Ford says in his sworn statement:

Jesse and I had a talk yesterday about robbing the bank at Platte City, and which Charley and I both agreed to assist.

“Between eight and nine o’clock this morning while the three of us were in a room in Jesse’s house, Jesse pulled off his coat and also his pistols, two of which he constantly wore, and then got up onto a chair for the purpose of brushing dust off a picture. …

“So as quickly as possible, I drew my pistol and aiming at Jesse’s head, which was no more than four feet from the muzzle of my weapon, I firered, and Jesse tumbled headlong from the chair on which he was standing and fell on his face.

“Bob Ford’s moment of glory was brief. A wave of revulsion at the cowardly manner in which the treacherous asssassination had been accomplished swept over Missouri. In the outburst of feeling Jesse’s crimes were temporarily forgotten, and men and women spoke of him as “our Jesse” … Bob Ford fled the state, only to be reviled wherever he went. … Four years after the slaying of Jesse, Charly Ford, in ill health and worn down by the stigma attached to him, committed suicide with a pistol in a clump of underbrush near his home in Richmond, Missouri.”

EvX: After Jesse’s death, Frank James turned himself in to the authorities, was tried, and acquitted.

Cole Younger was later pardoned and released from prison–a fascinating story, but too long to recount here. I urge you to read the book if you want to hear it.