The Story of Cole Younger – 16 A Clash with Apaches

In May, 1864, Col. George S. Jackson and a force of about 300, myself among the number, were sent across the staked plains into Colorado to intercept some wagon trains, and to cut the transcontinental telegraph line from Leavenworth to San Francisco. We cut the line and found the trains, but empty, and on our return were met at the Rio Grande by orders to detail a party to cross the continent on a secret mission for the Confederate states.

Two vessels of the Alabama type, built in British waters, were to be delivered at Victoria, B.C., and a secret service officer named Kennedy, who was entrusted with the papers, was given an escort of twenty men, including myself, Capt. Jarrette and other veteran scouts.

While on this expedition we had a brief tilt with Comanches, but in the country which Gen. Crook afterward fought over inch by inch, we had a real Indian fight with Apache Mojaves which lasted through two days and the night between practically without cessation.

We had a considerable advantage in weapons, but the reds were pestiferous in spite of that, and they kept us busy for fully 36 hours plugging them at every opportunity. How many Indians we killed I do not know, as we had no time or curiosity to stop and count them. They wounded some of our horses and we had to abandon one wagon, but we did not lose a man.

From El Paso we went down through Chihuahua and Sonora to Guaymas, where the party split up, Capt. Jarrette going up the mainland, while Kennedy and I, with three men, took a boat to San Francisco, disguised as Mexican miners. We were not detected, and then traveled by stage to Puget Sound, sailing for Victoria, as nearly as I have since been able to locate it, about where Seattle now is. On our arrival at Victoria, however, we found that Lee had surrendered at Appomattox and the war was at an end.

For a long time I was accused of the killing of several people at Centralia, in September, 1864, but I think my worst enemies now concede that it is impossible for me to have been there at the time.

Another spectre that rose to haunt my last days in prison, and long stood between my parole and final pardon, was the story of one John McMath, a corporal in an Indiana cavalry company, in Pleasanton’s command, that I had maltreated him when he lay wounded on the battle field close by the Big Blue, near my old home in Jackson county. McMath says this occurred Oct. 23, 1863. It is true that I was in Missouri on that date, but McMath’s regiment was not, nor Pleasanton’s command, and the war department records at Washington show that he was injured in a fight at the Big Blue Oct. 23, 1864—3 full year later—much as he says I hurt him. This was eleven months after I had left Missouri and while I was 1,500 miles away, yet this hideous charge was brought to the attention of Chief Justice Start, of Minnesota, in 1896 by a Minneapolis newspaper.

In his Noted Guerrillas, Maj. John N. Edwards wrote: “Lee’s surrender at Appomattox found Cole Younger at Los Angeles, trying the best he could to earn a livelihood and live at peace with all the world. The character of this man to many has been a curious study, but to those who knew him well there is nothing about it of mystery or many-sidedness. An awful provocation drove him into the army. He was never a bloodthirsty or a merciless man. He was brave to recklessness, desperate to rashness, remarkable for terrible prowess in battle; but he was never known to kill a prisoner. On the contrary, there are alive today (1877) fully 200 Federal soldiers who owe their lives to Cole Younger, a man whose father had been cruelly murdered, whose mother had been hounded to her death, whose family had been made to endure the torment of a ferocious persecution, and whose kith and kin, even to remote degrees, were plundered and imprisoned. His brother James did not go into the war until 1864, and was a brave, dauntless, high-spirited boy who never killed a soldier in his life save in fair and open battle. Cole was a fair-haired, amiable, generous man, devoted in his friendships and true to his word and to comradeship. In intrepidity he was never surpassed. In battle he never had those to go where he would not follow, aye, where he would not gladly lead. On his body today there are the scars of thirty-six wounds. He was a Guerrilla and a giant among a band of Guerrillas, but he was one among five hundred who only killed in open and honorable battle. As great as had been his provocation, he never murdered; as brutal as had been the treatment of every one near and dear to him, he refused always to take vengeance on those who were innocent of the wrongs and who had taken no part in the deeds which drove him, a boy, into the ranks of the Guerrillas, but he fought as a soldier who rights for a cause, a creed, an idea, or for glory. He was a hero and he was merciful.”

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