Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Jesse James: Riding Hell-Bent for Leather into Legend

The James-Younger Gang

Two weeks after Savannah, the gang learned that several of their old crones who had been arrested toward the end of the Civil War still remained, two years after, imprisoned in the jailhouse at Richmond, Missouri. As well, Richmond prided itself with one of the state's more prosperous banking institutions, the Hughes and Wasson Bank. The outlaws, then foresaw two good reasons for visiting Richmond: to release their pals and to thicken their billfolds at the same time.

The spoils from Lexington and Savannah had been sparse, and Jesse blamed it on the gang's own nervousness. "We're too quick, we don't take the time to grab it all!" he reasoned, and suggested that for the Richmond job they acquire a couple of good men whom they could really depend on. They were prone to use old friends, mostly former guerrillas who, although loyal, were not dependable; they proved to be ineffective lookouts who, by their demeanor, advertised their suspicion and attracted attention and interference that caused unwanted violence such as the shooting of a bank manager in Savannah.

Jim Younger
Jim Younger

Cole Younger had a solution: his own two younger brothers, Jim and Bob, 19- and 17-years-old respectively young, but full of the devil and even smarter. They had missed the Civil War, Cole explained, and itched with tics for action to get in the saddle and ride along. "Dingus," he told Jesse, "they're responsible and won't complain."

Jesse and Frank both liked the prospect, especially since the Youngers were cousins; they would be loyal. The James-Younger Gang grew.

Bob Younger
Bob Younger

Riding into the town whooping like wild savages to disperse all curiosity seekers before them, Jesse, Frank and the three Youngers burst into the bank. Three other gang members, Tom Little, Andy Maguire and Dick Burns, waited outside, their guns drawn. In a flash, Jesse and his crew reappeared under the sunlight to join the look-outs, bobbing a heavy sack around like a ball. It contained $4,000 worth of greenbacks.

"Onto the jail, boys! Make 'em remember Quantrill!" Jesse hallooed. Mounting, he reined his stallion toward the hoosegow. He heard his friends cheer behind him. But, things turned dark...

By this time, some of the townsmen, including Mayor John B. Shaw, had grabbed whatever weapons were available and began to take pot-shots at the roisterers. Bullets cut the air, coming close to but missing the hombres. The outlaws returned the sporadic fire. Shaw foolishly deserted his cover to get closer aim, but he never pulled the trigger. He crumpled dead in the street, his body full of holes.

When the riders reached the jailhouse at the further end of the street, they found its front door bolted. Ramming it with their shoulders, they didn't see the figure crouching behind a tree in the adjacent lot; it was Frank Griffin, the jailer's 15-year-old son with a carbine. Griffin opened fire, nearly hitting Jim Younger. Impulsively, the Youngers blazed at the shooter, never realizing he was a kid behind all that gun smoke and street dust. When Jailer Griffin saw his son's body recoil on impact, he lost his wits and scooted from his home, firing in rage. He joined his son in Paradise moments later.

One of the many posses that pursued the James-Younger gang
One of the many posses that pursued the James-Younger gang

As the vigilantes encircled them, the gunslingers decided to quit the scene. A posse, however, pursued on horseback, exchanging shots. Burns, Little and Maguire, trailing, were forced from their horses. Jesse, Frank and the Youngers escaped.

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