The Story of Cole Younger
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Pages (PDF): 125
Publication Date: 1903
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Autobiography of Cole Younger, American Civil War veteran and member of the Jesse James gang. Cole Younger was a member of Quantrill's Raiders during the Civil War and along with his brother, Jim Younger and the James brothers, robbed banks and trains during the 1870's.
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Political hatreds are always bitter, but none were ever more bitter than those which existed along the border line of Missouri and Kansas during my boyhood in Jackson county in the former state from 1856 to '60. These hatreds were soon to make trouble for me of which I had never dreamed.
Mine was a happy childhood. I was the seventh of fourteen children, but my father had prospered and we were given the best education the limited facilities of that part of the West then afforded.
My people had always been prominent, politically. It was born in the blood. My great grandmother on my father's side was a daughter of “Lighthorse Harry” Lee, whose proud memory we all cherish. The Youngers came from Strasburg, and helped to rule there when it was a free city. Henry Washington Younger, my father, represented Jackson county three times in the legislature, and was also judge of the county court. My mother, who was Bursheba Fristoe of Independence, was the daughter of Richard Fristoe who fought under General Andrew Jackson at New Orleans, Jackson county having been so named at my grandfather Fristoe's insistence. Mother was descended from the Sullivans, Ladens and Percivals of South Carolina, the Taylors of Virginia and the Fristoes of Tennessee, and my grandfather Fristoe was a grand nephew of Chief Justice John Marshall of Virginia.
Naturally we were Southerners in sympathy and in fact. My father owned slaves and his children were reared in ease, though the border did not then abound in what would now be called luxury. The railroads had not reached Jackson county, and wild game was plentiful on my father's farm on Big Creek near Lee's Summit. I cannot remember when I did not know how to shoot. I hunted wild geese when I could not have dragged a pair of them home unaided. But this garden spot was destined to be a bloody battle ground when the nation divided. There had been scrimmages back and forth over the Kansas line since 1855. I was only a boy, born January 15, 1844. My brother James was born January 15, 1848, John in 1851, and Robert in December, 1853. My eldest brother, Richard, died in 1860. This was before the conflicts and troubles centered on our home that planted a bitterness in my young heart which cried out for revenge and this feeling was only accentuated by the cruelties of war which followed. I refer in particular to the shameful and cowardly murder of my father for money which he was known to have in his possession, and the cruel treatment of my mother at the hands of the Missouri Militia. My father was in the employ of the United States government and had the mail contract for five hundred miles. While in Washington attending to some business regarding this matter, a raid was made by the Kansas Jayhawkers upon the livery stable and stage line for several miles out into the country, the robbers also looting his store and destroying his property generally. When my father returned from Washington and learned of these outrages he went to Kansas City, Mo., headquarters of the State Militia, to see if anything could be done. He had started back to Harrisonville in a buggy, but was waylaid one mile south of Westport, a suburb of Kansas City, and brutally murdered; falling out of his buggy into the road with three mortal bullet wounds. His horse was tied to a tree and his body left lying where it fell. Mrs. Washington Wells and her son, Samuel, on the road home from Kansas City to Lee's Summit, recognized the body as that of my father. Mrs. Wells stayed to guard the remains while her son carried the news of the murder to Col. Peabody of the Federal command, who was then in camp at Kansas City. An incident in connection with the murder of my father was the meeting of two of my cousins, on my mother's side, Charity Kerr and Nannie Harris (afterwards Mrs. McCorkle) with first my father and then a short distance on with Capt. Walley and his gang of the Missouri Militia, whose hands are stained with the blood of my father.
Walley afterwards caused the arrest of my cousins fearing that they had recognized him and his men. These young women were thrown into an old rickety, two-story house, located between 14th and 15th streets on Grand avenue, Kansas City, Mo. Twenty-five other women were also prisoners there at that time, including three of my own sisters. The down-stairs was used as a grocery store. After six months of living death in this trap, the house was secretly undermined and fell with the prisoners, only five of whom escaped injury or death. It was noted that the groceryman had moved his stock of groceries from the building in time to save it from ruin, showing that the wrecking of the house was planned in cold blood, with the murder of my sisters and cousins and the other unfortunate women in mind. All of my relatives, however, were saved from death except Charity Kerr, who was helpless in bed with the fever and she went down with the wreck and her body, frightfully mangled, was afterwards taken from the ruins. Mrs. McCorkle jumped from the window of the house and escaped. This cousin was the daughter of Reuben N. Harris, who was revenue collector for many years. A Virginian by birth, and a school teacher for many years in various parts of Missouri, he was well known throughout the state as an active sympathizer with the South. His home was friendly to every Confederate soldier and scout in the West. Information, newspapers, and the like, left there, were certain to be kept for the right hands.
In September 1863, soldiers ransacked the Harris home, stole everything they considered valuable, and burned the house. A daughter, Kate, who was asleep upstairs, was rescued from the flames by her sister. As the raiders left, one of them shouted:
“Now, old lady, call on your protectors. Why don't you call on Cole Younger now?”
Among the women who lost their lives was Miss Josephine Anderson, whose cruel death simply blighted her brother's life and so filled him with determination to revenge that he afterward became the most desperate of desperate men. “Quantrell sometimes spares, but Anderson never,” became a tradition of the Kansas line. Before he died in a skirmish with Northern troops in 1864, he had tied fifty-three knots in a silken cord which he carried in his buckskin pouch.
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