Every blood-and-thunder history of the Younger brothers declares that Frank and Jesse James were the two members of the band that entered Northfield who escaped arrest or death.
They were not, however. One of those two men was killed afterward in Arizona and the other died from fever some years afterward.
There were reasons why the James and the Younger brothers could not take part in any such project as that at Northfield.
Frank James and I came together as soldiers some little time before the Lawrence raid. He was a good soldier, and while he never was higher than a private the distinctions between the officers and the men were not as finely drawn in Quantrell’s command as they are nowadays in military life. As far back as 1862, Frank James and I formed a friendship, which has existed to this day.
Jesse James I never met, as I have already related, until the early summer of 1866. The fact that all of us were liable to the visits of posses when least expected gave us one interest in common, the only one we ever did have, although we were thrown together more or less through my friendship with Frank James.
The beginning of my trouble with Jesse came in 1872, when George W. Shepherd returned to Lee’s Summit after serving a term in prison in Kentucky for the bank robbery at Russellville in 1868.
Jesse had told me that Shepherd was gunning for me, and accordingly one night, when Shepherd came late to the home of Silas Hudspeth, where I was, I was prepared for trouble, as in fact, I always was anyway.
When Shepherd called, Hudspeth shut the door again, and told me who was outside. I said “let him in,” and stepping to the door with my pistol in my hand, I said:
“Shepherd, I am in here; you’re not afraid, are you?”
“That’s all right,” he answered. “Of course I’m not afraid.” The three of us talked till bedtime, when Hudspeth told us to occupy the same bed. I climbed in behind, and as was my custom, took my pistol to bed with me. Shepherd says he did not sleep a wink that night, but I did. At breakfast next morning, I said:
“I heard yesterday that you intended to kill me on sight; have you lost your nerve?”
“Who told you that, Cole?” he answered.
“I met Jess yesterday and he told me that you sent that message to me by him.”
Soon after I met Jesse James, and but for the interference of friends we would have shot it out then and there.
My feeling toward Jesse became more bitter in the latter part of that year, when after the gate robbery at the Kansas City fair, he wrote a letter to the Times of that city declaring that he and I had been accused of the robbery, but that he could prove an alibi. So far as I know that is the first time my name was ever mentioned in connection with the Kansas City robbery.
In 1874, when Detective Whicher was killed on a trip to arrest Frank and Jesse James, I was angered to think that Jesse and his friends had brought Whicher from Kearney to the south side of the river, which I then believed was done to throw suspicion on the boys in Jackson county, of whom, perhaps, I would be most likely to get the credit. I have since learned, however, from the men who did kill Whicher, that Jesse did not kill him, but had believed his story and had been inclined to welcome him as a fellow wanderer. Whicher declared that he had murdered his wife and children in the East and he was seeking a refuge from the officers of the law. But Jesse’s comrades were skeptical, and when they found on Whicher a pistol bearing Pinkerton’s mark, they started with him for Kansas City intending to leave him dead in the street there. Shortly after they crossed to the Independence side of the river, the sound of a wagon on the frozen ground impelled them to finish the job where they were, as it was almost daybreak and they did not want to be seen with their captive.
But Jesse and I were not on friendly terms at any time after the Shepherd affair, and never were associated in any enterprises.