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The Youngers and Jameses After the War
THE end of the war also brought an end to armed resistance by the Guerrillas. As an organization, they never fought again. The most of them kept their weapons; and a few of them had great need to keep them. Some were killed because of the terrible renown won in the four years’ war; some were forced to hide themselves in the unknown of the outlying territories, and some were persecuted and driven into desperate defiance and resistance because they were human and intrepid. To this latter class the Jameses and Youngers belonged.
No men ever strove harder to put the past behind them. No men ever submitted more sincerely to the results of a war that had as many excesses on one side as on the other. No men ever went to work with a heartier good will to keep good faith with society and make themselves amenable to the law. No men ever sacrificed more for peace, and for the bare privilege of doing just as hundreds like them had done—the privilege of going back again into the obscurity of civil life and becoming again a part of the enterprising economy of the commonwealth. They were not permitted so to do, try how they would, and as hard, and as patiently.
After the death of Quantrell and the surrender of the remnant of his Guerrillas, Frank James was not254 permitted, at first, to return to Missouri at all, much less to his home in Clay County.
He lingered in Clay County as long as possible, very circumspect in his actions and very conservative in his behavior. Tempted one day by his beardless face and innocent walk and to bear upon him roughly, four Federal soldiers set upon Frank James in Brandenburg and made haste to force an issue. For a moment the old fire of his earlier and stormier days flared up all of a sudden from the ashes of the past and consumed as with a single hot blast of passion prudence, accountability, caution and discretion. He fought as he had fought at Centralia. Two of the Federals were killed instantly, the third was desperately wounded, while the fourth shot Frank badly in the joint of the left hip, inflicting a grievous hurt and one which caused him afterwards a great deal of pain and trouble.
Staunch friends hid him while the hue and cry were heaviest, and careful surgical attention brought him back to life when he lay so close to death’s door that by the lifting of a hand he also might have lifted its latch.
This fight, however, was not one of his own seeking, nor one which he could have avoided without the exhibition of a quality he never had known anything about and never could know anything about—physical cowardice.
255 Jesse James, emaciated, tottering as he walked, fighting what seemed to everyone a hopeless battle—of “the skeleton boy against skeleton death”—joined his mother in Nebraska and returned with her to their home near Kearney, in Clay County. His wound would not heal, and more ominous still, every now and then there was a hemorrhage.
In the spring of 1866 he was just barely able to mount a horse and ride a bit. And he did ride, but he rode armed, watchful, vigilant, haunted. He might be killed, waylaid, ambuscaded, assassinated; but he would be killed with his eyes open and his pistols about him.
The hunt for this maimed and emaciated Guerrilla culminated on the night of February 18th, 1867. On this night an effort was made to kill him. Five militiamen, well armed and mounted, came to his mother’s house and demanded admittance. The weather was bitterly cold, and Jesse James, parched with fever, was tossing wearily in bed. His pistols were under his head. His step-father. Dr. Samuels, heard the militiamen as they walked upon the front porch, and demanded to know what they wanted. They told him to open the door. He came up to Jesse’s room and asked him what he should do. “Help me to the window,” was the low, calm reply, “that I may look out.” He did so.
There was snow on the ground and the moon was shining. He saw that all the horses hitched to the256 fence had on cavalry saddles, and then he knew that the men were soldiers. He had but one of two things to do—drive them away or die.
Incensed at the step-father’s silence, they were hammering at the door with the butts of their muskets and calling out to Jesse to come down stairs, swearing that they knew he was in the house, and that they would have him out, dead or alive.
He went down stairs softly, having first dressed himself, crept close up to the front door and listened until from the talk of the men he thought he was able to get a fairly accurate pistol range. Then he put a heavy dragoon pistol to within three inches of the upper panel of the door and fired. A man cried out and fell. Before the surprise was off he threw the door wide open, and with a pistol in each hand began a rapid fusillade. A second man was killed as he ran, two men were wounded severely, and surrendered, while the fifth marauder, terrified, yet unhurt, rushed swiftly to his horse and escaped in the darkness.
What else could Jesse James have done? In those evil days bad men in bands were doing bad things continually in the name of the law, order and vigilance committees.
He had been a desperate Guerrilla; he had fought under a black flag, he had made a name for terrible prowess along the border; he had survived dreadful wounds; it was known that he would fight at any hour257 or in any way; he could not be frightened out from his native county; he could be neither intimidated nor robbed, and hence the wanton war waged upon Jesse and Frank James, and this is the reason they became outlaws, and hence the reason also that—outlaws as they were and proscribed in county, or state or territory—they had more friends than the officers who hunted them, and more defenders than the armed men who sought to secure their bodies, dead or alive.
The future of the Youngers after the war was similar to the Jameses. Cole was in California when the surrender came, and he immediately accepted the situation. He returned to Missouri, determined to forget the past, and fixed in his purpose to reunite the scattered members of his once prosperous and happy family, and prepare and make comfortable a home for his stricken and suffering mother.
Despite everything that has been said and written of this man, he was, during all the border warfare, a generous and merciful man. Others killed and that in any form or guise or fashion; he alone in open and honorable battle. His heart was always kind, and his sympathies always easily aroused. He not only took prisoners himself, but he treated them afterwards as prisoners, and released them to rejoin commands that spared nothing alive of Guerrilla associations that fell into their hands.
258 He was the oldest son, and all the family looked up to him. His mother had been driven out of Cass County into Jackson, out of Jackson into Lafayette, and out of Lafayette into Jackson again. Not content with butchering the father in cold blood, the ravenous cut-throats and thieves followed the mother with a malignity unparalleled. Every house she owned or inhabited was burnt, every outbuilding, every rail, every straw stack, every corn pen, every pound of food and every store of forage. Her stock was stolen. Her household goods were even appropriated. She had no place to lay her head that could be called her own, and but for the kindness and Christianity of her devoted neighbors, she must have suffered greatly.
At this time Coleman and James returned to Missouri and went hopefully and bravely to work. Their father’s land remained to them. That at least had neither been set fire to nor hauled away in wagons, nor driven into Kansas.
Western Missouri was then full of disbanded Federal soldiers, organized squads of predatory Redlegs and Jayhawkers, horse thieves disguised as vigilance committees, and highway robbers known as law and order men.
In addition, Drake’s constitution disfranchised every property owner along the border. An honest man could not officially stand between the helpless of his community and the imported lazzaroni who preyed259 upon them; a decent man’s voice could not be heard above the clamor of the beggars quarreling over stolen plunder; and a just man’s expostulations penetrated never into the councils of the chief scoundrels who planned the murders and the robberies.
Coleman Younger’s work was like the work of a pioneer in the wilderness, but he did it as became the hardy descendants of a stalwart race of pioneers. He cut logs and built a comfortable log house for his mother. He made rails and fenced in his land. In lieu of horses or mules, he plowed with oxen. He stayed steadfastly at home. He heard rumors of threats being made against his life, but he paid no attention to them. He took part in no political meetings. He tried to hide himself and be forgotten.
The bloodhounds were on his track, however, and swore either to kill him or drive him from the country. A vigilance committee composed of skulking murderers and red-handed robbers went one night to surprise the two brothers and end the hunt with a massacre. Forewarned, James and Coleman fled. The family were wantonly insulted, and a ............
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