The Story of Cole Younger – 32 Lost—Twenty-five Years

 cowboy pictureWhen the iron doors shut behind us at the Stillwater prison I submitted to the prison discipline with the same unquestioning obedience that I had exacted during my military service, and Jim and Bob, I think, did the same.

For ten years and a half after our arrival, Warden Reed remained. The first three years there was a popular idea that such desperate men as the Youngers would not stay long behind prison walls, and that especial watchfulness must be exercised in our case. Accordingly the three of us were put at work making buckets and tubs, with Ben Cayou over us as a special guard, when in our dreams we had been traveling to South America on Ben Butler’s money.

Then we were put in the thresher factory. I made the sieves, while Jim sewed the belts, and Bob made the straw-carriers and elevators.

The latter part of the Reed regime I was in the storeroom.

Jan. 25, 1884, when we had been in the prison something over seven years, the main prison building was destroyed by fire at night. George P. Dodd, who was then connected with the prison, while his wife was matron, and who still lives in Buffalo, Minn., said of our behavior that night:

“I was obliged to take the female convicts from their cells and place them in a small room that could not be locked. The Youngers were passing and Cole asked if they could be of any service. I said: ‘Yes, Cole. Will you three boys take care of Mrs. Dodd and the women?’ Cole answered: ‘Yes, we will, and if you ever had any confidence in us place it in us now.’ I told him I had the utmost confidence and I slipped a pistol to Cole as I had two. Jim, I think, had an ax handle and Bob a little pinch bar. The boys stood before the door of the little room for hours and even took the blankets they had brought with them from their cells and gave them to the women to try and keep them comfortable as it was very cold. When I could take charge of the women and the boys were relieved, Cole returned my revolver.”

Next morning Warden Reed was flooded with telegrams and newspaper sensations: “Keep close watch of the Youngers;” “Did the Youngers escape?” “Plot to free the Youngers,” and that sort of thing.

The warden came to his chief deputy, Abe Hall, and suggested that we be put in irons, not that he had any fear on our account, but for the effect on the public.

“I’ll not put irons on ’em,” replied Hall.

And that day Hall and Judge Butts took us in a sleigh down town to the county jail where we remained three or four weeks. That was the only time we were outside the prison enclosure from 1876 till 1901.

When H. G. Stordock became warden, I was made librarian, while Jim carried the mail and Bob was clerk to the steward where we remained during the administration of Wardens Randall and Garvin, except Bob, who wasted away from consumption and died in September, 1889.

When Warden Wolfer came to the prison, he put Jim in charge of the mail and the library, and I was set at work in the laundry temporarily while the new hospital building was being made ready. I was then made head nurse in the hospital, and remained there until the day we were paroled, Warden Reeve, who was there for two years under the administration of Gov. Lind, leaving us there.

Every one of these wardens was our friend, and the deputy wardens, too. Abe Hall, Will Reed, A. D. Westby, Sam A. Langum, T. W. Alexander, and Jack Glennon were all partisans of ours. If any reader misses one name from this list of deputy wardens, there is nothing I have to say for or against him.

Dr. Pratt, who was prison physician when we went to Stillwater, Dr. T. C. Clark, who was his assistant, and Dr. B. J. Merrill, who has been prison physician since, have been staunch partisans of the Younger boys in the efforts of our friends to secure our pardon. And the young doctors with whom I was thrown in close contact during their service as assistant prison physicians, Drs. Sidney Boleyn, Gustavus A. Newman, Dan Beebe, A. E. Hedbeck, Morrill Withrow, and Jenner Chance, have been most earnest in their championship of our cause.

The stewards, too, Benner, and during the Reeve regime, Smithton, which whom as head nurse I was thrown in direct contact, never had any difficulty with me, although Benner with a twinkle in his eye, would say to me:

“Cole, I believe you come and get peaches for your patients up there long after they are dead.”

The invalids in that hospital always got the delicacies they wanted, subject to the physician’s permission, if what they wanted was to be found anywhere in Stillwater or in St. Paul. The prison hospital building is not suitable for such use, and a new hospital building is needed, but no fault can be found with the way invalid prisoners are cared for at Stillwater.

When there is added a new hospital building, and the present hospital is transformed into an insane ward, Stillwater will indeed be a model prison.

Words fail me when I seek to express my gratitude to the host of friends who were glad to plead our cause during the later years of our confinement at Stillwater, and especially to Warden Henry Wolfer and his family, every one of whom was a true friend to Jim and myself.

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