Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Jesse James: Riding Hell-Bent for Leather into Legend

Narrow Escape

Jesse, witnessing this lunacy, felt his direction slipping and fought to keep his senses with him. Somehow he didn't remember achieving it he found himself in his saddle. He braced, expecting a missile any moment. Bent low, he frantically scanned the street ahead of him for an exit. Spotting what appeared to be an intersecting alley a few yards ahead, he tugged at Frank's arm to follow.

"Gunfire...rained down on the outlaws," reads Time-Life's The Wild West, "nearly wiping out...Jim, Cole and Bob Younger. A bullet carried away half of Jim's upper jaw, Cole was struck in the shoulder, and Bob's horse, a handsome bay, was cut down." Bob sought the shelter of some crates, but was hit in the thigh and wrist before he was able to cover himself. Brother Cole double-backed, picked up his brother and, riding double, they pitched toward the same alley they had seen the James boys take. Jim Younger, bleeding profusely from the nose and mouth, followed. Coming up the rear, barely hanging onto his own horse, barely conscious, was Charley Pitts.

Several miles out of town, the gang briefly paused to review the situation. They knew that a posse would be hot on their trail and agreed that it would make sense to split up. Cole, less injured than his siblings, didn't want to leave his brothers to the mercy of the mob; he figured they would find a place of repose and hopefully find medical help. He opted to take his brothers and the severely wounded Charley Pitts with him. Jesse and Frank gave him their canteens and wished him good luck.

The Youngers didn't get far. Two weeks later, they were tracked to a hideout near Madelia, Minnesota. All fight knocked out of them, they surrendered on the spot. Charley Pitts was already dead, having succumbed en route. After they recuperated in custody, they were tried for their crimes and each was given a 25-year sentence to be served at the prison in Stillwater. They would never again bear arms.

Frank and Jesse James followed a circuitous route. They headed southwest through the Dakota country, east across Iowa and Wisconsin, then south through Illinois and Kentucky. Finally, after having evaded a succession of posses, the brothers limped into Tennessee, hurting and starving. They had lived off the earth for many months, stopping to eat only when necessary. They were skeletons of their former selves. Deciding they could not go on any further, the pair telegraphed for their families and, near Nashville, lived with them incognito for nearly three years.

The very best, and last, of Quantrill's raiders had been beaten into submission.

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