The Story of Cole Younger – 30 To Prison for Life

 picture of a hat and bootSatturday we were taken to Faribault, the county seat of Rice county, in which Northfield is, and here there was more talk of lynching, but Sheriff Ara Barton was not of that kind either, and we were guarded by militia until the excitement had subsided. A Faribault policeman, who thought the militia guard was a bluff, bet five dollars he could go right up to the jail without being interfered with. He did not halt when challenged, and was fired upon and killed, the coroner’s jury acquitting the militiaman who shot him. Some people blamed us for his death, too.


Chief of Detectives McDonough, of St. Louis, whom I had passed a few months before in the union depot at St. Louis, was among our visitors at Faribault.

Another was Detective Bligh, of Louisville, who believed then, and probably did ever afterward, that I had been in the Huntington, West Virginia, robbery, and tried to pump me about it.

Four indictments were found against us. One charged us with being accessory to the murder of Cashier Heywood, another with assaulting Bunker with intent to do great bodily harm, and the third with robbing the First National bank of Northfield. The fourth charged me as principal and my brothers as accessories with the murder of Gustavson. Two witnesses had testified before the grand jury identifying me as the man who fired the shot that hit him, although I know I did not, because I fired no shot in that part of town.

Although not one of us had fired the shot that killed either Heywood or Gustavson, our attorneys, Thomas Rutledge of Madelia and Bachelder and Buckham of Faribault, asked, when we were arraigned, Nov. 9, that we be given two days in which to plead.

They advised us that as accessories were equally guilty with the principals, under the law, and as by pleading guilty we could escape capital punishment, we should plead guilty. There was little doubt, under the circumstances, of our conviction, and under the law as it stood then, an accused murderer who pleaded guilty was not subject to the death penalty. The state was new, and the law had been made to offer an inducement to murderers not to put the county to the expense of a trial.

The excitement that followed our sentence to state prison, which was popularly called “cheating the gallows,” resulted in the change of the law in that respect.

The following Saturday we pleaded guilty, and Judge Lord sentenced us to imprisonment for the remainder of our lives in the state prison at Stillwater, and a few days later we were taken there by Sheriff Barton.

With Bob it was a life sentence, for he died there of consumption Sept. 16, 1889. He was never strong physically after the shot pierced his lung in the last fight near Madelia.

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