The Story of Cole Younger – 9 How Elkins Escaped

It was along about the first week in October, 1862, that I stopped with a dozen men at the home of Judge Hamilton, on Big Creek, in Cass county. We spent the afternoon there, and just before leaving John Hays, of my command, dashed up with the news that Quantrell was camped only two miles west. He also gave the more important information to me, that some of Captain Parker’s men had arrested Steve Elkins on the charge of being a Union spy, and were taking him to Quantrell’s camp to hang him.

I lost no time in saddling up, and followed by my little detachment, rode hastily away to Quantrell’s camp, for red tape occupied little space in those days, and quick action was necessary if anything was to be done.

I knew Quantrell and his men well and was also aware that there were several Confederate officers in the camp. The moment we reached our destination, I went at once to Captain Charles Harrison, one of the officers, and my warm personal friend, and told him openly of my friendship and esteem for Elkins. He promised to lend me all his aid and influence, and I started out to see Quantrell, after first telling my men to keep their horses saddled, ready for a rescue and retreat in case I failed of a peaceable deliverance.

Quantrell received me courteously and kindly, as he always did, and after a little desultory chat, I carelessly remarked, “I am surprised to find that you have my old friend and teacher, Steve Elkins, in camp as a prisoner.”

“What! Do you know him?” asked Quantrell in astonishment.

I told him that I did, and that he was my school teacher when the war broke out, also that some half a hundred other pupils of Elkins were now fighting in the Southern army.

“We all care for him very deeply,” I told Quantrell, and then asked what charges were preferred against him. He explained that Elkins had not been arrested on his orders, but by some of Parker’s men, who were in vicious humor because of their leader’s recent death. They had told Quantrell that Elkins had joined the Union forces at Kansas City, and was now in Cass county as a spy.

I jumped to my feet, and said that the men that made the charges lied, and that I stood ready to ram the lie down their throats with a pistol point. Quantrell laughed, and chided me about letting my hot blood get the better of cold judgment. I insisted, however, and told him further that Elkins’ father and brother were Southern soldiers, and that Steve was a non-combatant, staying at home to care for his mother, but that I was in no sense a non-combatant, and would stand as his champion in any fight.

Quantrell finally looked at his watch, and then remarked: “I will be on the move in fifteen minutes. I will release Elkins, since you seem so excited about it, and will leave him in your hands. Be careful, for Parker’s men are rather bitter against him.”

Happy at heart, I dashed away to see Elkins, with whom I had only passed a few words and a hand-shake to cheer him up. He knew me, however, and realized that I would save him or die in the attempt, for from a boy it was my reputation that I never deserted a friend.

When I joined him again, several of Parker’s men were standing around in the crowd, and as I shook hands with Elkins and told him of his freedom, I added, “If any damned hound makes further false charges against you, it’s me he’s got to settle with, and that at the pistol point.”

I made that talk as a sort of bluff, for a bluff is often as good as a fight if it’s properly backed up. As Quantrell and his men rode away in the direction of Dave Daily’s neighborhood, I told Elkins to hit out West until he came to the Kansas City and Harrisonville road, and then, under cover of night, he could go either way. I shook his hand goodbye, slapped him on the shoulder, and have never seen him since.

I followed Quantrell’s men for half a mile, fearing that some stragglers might return to take a quiet shot at Elkins, and then stopped for something to eat, and fed our horses.

At the time that I defended Elkins before Quantrell, I knew that Steve’s sympathies were with the North, and had heard that he had joined the Federal army. But it mattered nothing to me—he was my friend.

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