The Story of Cole Younger – 29 A Chase to the Death


A little way out of Northfield we met a farmer and borrowed one of his horses for Pitts to ride. We passed Dundas on the run, before the news of the robbery had reached there, and at Millersburg, too, we were in advance of the news, but at Shieldsville we were behind it. Here a squad of men, who, we afterwards learned, were from Faribault, had left their guns outside a house. We did not permit them to get their weapons until we had watered our horses and got a fresh start. They overtook us about four miles west of Shieldsville, and shots were exchanged without effect on either side. A spent bullet did hit me on the “crazy bone,” and as I was leading Bob’s horse it caused a little excitement for a minute, but that was all.

We were in a strange country. On the prairie our maps were all right, but when we got into the big woods and among the lakes we were practically lost.

There were a thousand men on our trail, and watching for us at fords and bridges where it was thought we would be apt to go.

That night it started to rain, and we wore out our horses. Friday we moved toward Waterville, and Friday night we camped between Elysian and German lake. Saturday morning we left our horses and started through on foot, hiding that day on an island in a swamp. That night we tramped all night and we spent Sunday about four miles south of Marysburg. Meantime our pursuers were watching for horsemen, not finding our abandoned horses, it seems, until Monday or Tuesday.

Bob’s shattered elbow was requiring frequent attention, and that night we made only nine miles, and Monday, Monday night and Tuesday we spent in a deserted farm-house close to Mankato. That day a man named Dunning discovered us and we took him prisoner. Some of the boys wanted to kill him, on the theory that “dead men tell no tales,” while others urged binding him and leaving him in the woods. Finally we administered to him an oath not to betray our whereabouts until we had time to make our escape, and he agreed not to. No sooner, however, was he released than he made posthaste into Mankato to announce our presence, and in a few minutes another posse was looking for us.

Suspecting, however, that he would do so, we were soon on the move, and that night we evaded the guard at the Blue Earth river bridge, and about midnight made our way through Mankato. The whistle on the oil mill blew, and we feared that it was a signal that had been agreed upon to alarm the town in case we were observed, but we were not molested.

Howard and Woods, who had favored killing Dunning, and who felt we were losing valuable time because of Bob’s wound, left us that night and went west. As we afterward learned, this was an advantage to us as well as to them, for they stole two horses soon after leaving us, and the posse followed the trail of these horses, not knowing that our party had been divided.

Accordingly, we were not pursued, having kept on a course toward Madelia to a farm where I knew there were some good horses, once in possession of which we could get along faster.

We had been living on scant rations, corn, watermelon and other vegetables principally, but in spite of this Bob’s arm was mending somewhat. He had to sleep with it pillowed on my breast, Jim being also crippled with a wound in his shoulder, and we could not get much sleep. The wound in my thigh was troubling me and I had to walk with a cane I cut in the brush. One place we got a chicken and cooked it, only to be interrupted before we could have our feast, having to make a quick dash for cover.

At every stopping place we left marks of blood from our wounds, and could have been easily trailed had not the pursuers been led in the track of our recent companions.

It seems from what I have read since, however, that I had myself left with my landlord at Madelia, Col. Vought, of the Flanders house, a damaging suggestion which proved the ultimate undoing of our party. I had talked with him about a bridge between two lakes near there, and accordingly when it became known that the robbers had passed Mankato Vought thought of this bridge, and it was guarded by him and others for two nights. When they abandoned the guard, however, he admonished a Norwegian boy named Oscar Suborn to keep close watch there for us, and Thursday morning, Sept. 21, just two weeks after the robbery, Oscar saw us, and fled into town with the alarm. A party of forty was soon out in search for us, headed by Capt. W. W. Murphy, Col. Vought and Sheriff Glispin. They came up with us as we were fording a small slough, and unable to ford it with their horses, they were delayed somewhat by having to go around it. But they soon after got close enough so that one of them broke my walking stick with a shot. We were in sight of our long-sought horses when they cut us off from the animals, and our last hope was gone. We were at bay on the open prairie, surrounded by a picket line of forty men, some of whom would fight. Not prepared to stand for our last fight against such odds on the open field, we fell back into the Watonwan river bottoms and took refuge in some bushes.

We were prepared to wait as long as they would, but they were not of the waiting kind. At least some of them were not, and soon we heard the captain, who, we afterward learned, was W. W. Murphy, calling for volunteers to go in with him and rout us out. Six stepped to the front, Sheriff Glispin, Col. T. L. Vought, B. M. Rice, G. A. Bradford, C. A. Pomeroy and S. J. Severson.

Forming in line four paces apart, he ordered them to advance rapidly and concentrate the fire of the whole line the instant the robbers were discovered.

Meanwhile we were planning, too.

“Pitts,” I said, “if you want to go out and surrender, go on.”

“I’ll not go,” he replied, game to the last. “I can die as well as you can.”

“Make for the horses,” I said. “Every man for himself. There is no use stopping to pick up a comrade here, for we can’t get him through the line. Just charge them and make it if we can.”

I got up as the signal for the charge and we fired one volley.

I tried to get my man, and started through, but the next I knew I was lying on the ground, bleeding from my nose and mouth, and Bob was standing up, shouting:


One of the fellows in the outer line, not brave enough himself to join the volunteers who had come in to beat us out, was not disposed to believe in the surrender, and had his gun levelled on Bob in spite of the handkerchief which was waving as a flag of truce.

Sheriff Glispin, of Watonwan county, who was taking Bob’s pistol from him, was also shouting to the fellow:

“Don’t shoot him or I’ll shoot you.”

All of us but Bob had gone down at the first fire. Pitts, shot through the heart, lay dead. Jim, including the wound in the shoulder he received at Northfield, had been shot five times, the most serious being the shot which shattered his upper jaw and lay imbedded beneath the brain, and a shot that buried itself underneath his spine, and which gave him trouble to the day of his death. Including those received in and on the way from Northfield I had eleven wounds.

A bullet had pierced Bob’s right lung, but he was the only one left on his feet. His right arm useless, and his pistol empty, he had no choice.

“I surrender,” he had shouted. “They’re all down but me. Come on. I’ll not shoot.”

And Sheriff Glispin’s order not to shoot was the beginning of the protectorate that Minnesota people established over us.

We were taken into Madelia that day and our wounds dressed, and I greeted my old landlord, Col. Vought, who had been one of the seven to go in to get us. We were taken to his hotel and a guard posted.

Then came the talk of mob vengeance we had heard so often in Missouri. It was said a mob would be out that night to lynch us. Sheriff Glispin swore we would never be mobbed as long as we were his prisoners.

“I don’t want any man to risk his life for us,” I said to him, “but if they do come for us give us our pistols so we can make a fight for it.”

“If they do come, and I weaken,” he said, “you can have your pistols.”

But the only mob that came was the mob of sightseers, reporters and detectives.

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