The Story of Cole Younger – 17 The Edicts of Outlawry

Jim YoungerWhile I was on the Pacific slope, April 8, 1865, to be exact, the state of Missouri adopted what is known to the disgrace of its author as the Drake constitution. Confederate soldiers and sympathizers were prohibited from practicing any profession, preaching the gospel, acting as deacon in a church, or doing various other things, under penalty of a fine not less than $500 or imprisonment in the county jail not less than six months. Section 4 of Article 11 gave amnesty to union soldiers for their acts after Jan. 1, 1861, but held Confederates responsible for acts done either as soldiers or citizens, and Section 12 provided for the indictment, trial and punishment of persons accused of crime in counties other than the one where the offense was committed.

The result of this was that Missourians were largely barred by law from holding office and the state was overrun with “carpetbag”office-holders, many of whom came from Kansas, and during the war had been freebooters and bushwhackers up and down the Kansas border.

Organizing a posse from men like themselves, sheriffs or others pretending to be sheriffs would take their mobs, rout men out of their beds at night under service of writs, on which the only return ever made was a pistol shot somewhere in the darkness, maybe in the victim’s dooryard, perhaps in some lonely country road.

Visiting for a time with my uncle on the Pacific slope, I returned to Jackson county in the fall of 1865 to pick up the scattered ends of a ruined family fortune. I was 21, and no man of my age in Missouri, perhaps, had better prospects, if I had been unmolested. Mother had been driven to a refuge in a cabin on one of our farms, my brother Jim had been away during the last few months of the war fighting in the army, and had been taken prisoner in Quantrell’s last fight at Wakefield’s house near Smiley, Ky. He was taken to the military prison at Alton, Ill., and was released in the fall of 1865, coming home within a few days of my return.

Our faithful negro servant, “Aunt Suse,” had been hung up in the barn in a vain endeavor to make her reveal the whereabouts of my mother’s sons and money; my dead father’s fortune had been stolen and scattered to the winds; but our farms were left, and had I been given an opportunity to till them in peace it would have saved four wasted lives.

In the summer of 1866 the governor of Kansas made a requisition on the governor of Missouri for 300 men, naming them, who had taken part in the attacks on Lawrence and other Kansas towns.

Attorneys in Independence had decided that they would defend, free of charge, for any offense except murder, any of the Jackson county boys who would give themselves up. No one did more than I to assemble the boys at Blue Springs for a meeting to consider such course.

Jesse & Frank JamesIt was while at this that I saw Jesse James for the first time in my life, so that sets at rest all the wild stories that have been told about our meeting as boys and joining Quantrell. Frank James and I had seen service together, and Frank was a good soldier, too. Jesse, however, did not enter the service until after I had gone South in the fall of 1863, and when I saw him early in the summer of 1866 he was still suffering from the shot through the lung he had received in the last battle in Johnson county in May, 1865.

The specter of Paola now rose to haunt me. Although all the guerrillas knew who had killed young Judy, his father had secured my indictment in Kansas on the charge of murdering his son. Judy, who had returned to Missouri as the appointed sheriff of Cass county, had a posse prepared to serve a writ for me in its usual way—a night visit and then the pistol or the rope.

I consulted with old ex-Governor King at Richmond, who had two sons in the Federal army, one of whom I had captured during the war, although he did not know it at the time, and with Judge Tutt of this district.

Judge Tutt said there was no sheriff in this vicinity who would draw a jury that would give me a fair trial. If I should so make oath he, as judge, would appoint a jury commissioner who would summon a jury that would give me a fair trial, but he was confident that as soon as he did so mob law would be invoked before I could go to trial.

One man had been taken from the train and hung at Warrensburg and there had been many like offenses against former Confederate soldiers.

Judy had no legal rights in Jackson county, but in spite of that his posse started for the Younger farm one night to take me. George Belcher, a Union soldier, but not in sympathy with mob law, heard of Judy’s plans, and through Sam Colwell and Zach Cooper, neighbors, I was warned in the evening of the intended raid. When they came I was well out of reach on my way to the home of my great-uncle, Thomas Fristoe, in Howard county.

Judy and his mob searched the house in vain, but they put up for a midnight supper which they compelled the faithful “Aunt Suse” to provide, and left disappointed.

Judy and his Kansas indictment were the entering wedge in a wasted life. But for him and his mob law Mr. and Mrs. Cole Younger, for there was a dear sweetheart awaiting my return, might have been happy and prosperous residents of Jackson county from 1866 to this day.

It was while I was visiting my great-uncle in Howard county that there took place at Liberty the first of a long string of bank and train robberies, all of which were usually attributed either to the Younger brothers, or to some of their friends, and which we were unable to come out and successfully refute for two reasons, first the bringing down of a storm about the heads of those who had sheltered us; and second, giving such pursuers as Judy and his posse fresh clues to our whereabouts.

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