Thomas Coleman Younger
d.21 Mar 1916 Lee's Summit, Jackson County, Missouri
Facts and Events
While the James brothers and the Youngers are often said to have been "cousins," no evidence of this supposed relationship has been identified.
Minnesota Territorial Prison, Washington County, Minnesota, 1880 census:
Minnesota Territorial Prison, Washington County, Minnesota, 1900 census:
Wharton County, Texas, 1910 census:
An Interview With Cole Younger
[On 7 November 1880, author J. W. Buel visited Cole Younger and his brothers, Jim and Bob, in the Minnesota Territorial Prison in Stillwater, where they were serving life sentences for the Northfield robbery and murders. They had exchanged letters before this and Cole was willing to talk about his war history but insisted he would divulge nothing else. The interview below is an example of his long-standing uncommunicativeness concerning any criminal active by himself or any others. Buel's interview with Cole Younger was published in his book, The Border Outlaws: An Authentic and Thrilling History of the Most Noted Bandits of Ancient or Modern Times: The Younger Brothers, Jesse and Frank James, and Their Comrades in Crime.]
A PERSONAL INTERVIEW WITH COLE YOUNGER
The lengthy communication of October 31st , from Cole Younger, determined me upon a visit to Stillwater for the purpose of having a personal interview with the noted brothers, and in accordance with this decision I left St. Louis on the 5th of November and arrived at my destination on the morning of the 7th. After introducing myself to Warden Reed, that very affable prison official conducted me at once to a reception-room where, after a very short wait, Cole, Jim and Bob Younger walked in, by whom I was greeted very cordially. My first tacit observation was, "did I ever see three finer looking men?" Cole is the largest, being about six feet three inches in height, but all the brothers measure considerably over six feet, and their bodies are knit together with that smooth compactness which indicates the strength of steel. They were models of form, and if I were a woman I should have no hesitancy in pronouncing each of them decidedly handsome. But better than all this, they bear themselves like perfect gentlemen and never fail, so I am told, in producing the most favorable impression upon all their visitors, of whom they have not a few. Cole is the spokesman of the trio, and in the beginning it is well to admit that a shrewder questioner or witness never made use of brain and tongue than he. Physiology and phrenology both unite in adapting him for the bar; as a lawyer he would undoubtedly have made a phenominal success; the magnificence of his physique and sharp wits, which manifest themselves in cunning speech and comprehension and quick ideas, leave no doubt of what his career as an advocate would have been. His first words were:
"Well, I learn from your letters that you have decided to write a history of the James and Younger Boys."
"Yes," said I, "such has been my purpose for some years past, and much of the work is already completed; what remains to be finished I have left until some very necessary information may be gathered from you."
"I am very glad to see you," he responded; "but I fear that resolutions, which I have long since taken, will prevent me from making your visit a profitable one."
I replied: "The object of my visit does not contemplate the forging of secrets from your breast; from the tenor of your communications I judged your character; that there were many things which were with you inviolably sacred; I was also assured that no trust confided to your keeping would ever be violated. Upon such subjects I have no wish to question you, but only upon such matters as regard yourself, the war and other things, to speak of which you will not compromise your manhood or honor."
"I cannot see what interest, then, an interview with me would possess more than that with any other of the ex-guerrillas, many of whom are still living," he replied.
I answered: "The relations to the public are different, and then there are some things of which you might honorably speak, chiefly concerning yourself, that would be of special interest to the thousands who have read of your exploits."
"Well," said he, "propound your questions, and what I can conscientiously answer I will, but when you tread upon sacred grounds I shall be quick to inform you."
Q. In the first place explain, if you can, some of the causes which produced the guerrillas of Missouri.
A. It would require a history to answer that question properly. The people of western Missouri are, in some respects, very peculiar. We will take Jackson county (where I was born) for instance. In that section the people seemed to be born fighters, the instinct being inherited from a long line of ancestors. It would have been a good idea if, in your book, you had given a short history of that county; the facts might easily be collected in Independence where many old settlers still reside, who are familiar with some of the bitter antagonisms which distinguished the early settlement of that district.
Joe Smith and Brigham Young laid out Independence, but very soon thereafter enough citizens of the county collected to drive them off, after several stubborn fights. The Mormons withdrew from the State and settled their community at Nauvoo, Illinois, but in a few years afterward about fifty of them again came into Missouri and settled in Platte county. They had scarcely established themselves, however, before another company of Jackson county citizens, chiefly from around Independence, organized to drive them off. Among these determined citizens were Richard Fristoe, my grandfather, Wood Nolen, Smallwood Nolen and Sam Owens. While crossing the river in a hand-ferry-boat, the ferryman, who had been bribed by the Mormons, succeeded in turning the boat over midway in the Missouri river. A large number were drowned, but the four I have mentioned succeeded in swimming ashore.
Independence was, for a long time previous to the war with Mexico, headquarters for Mexican freighters. The freight passing between Mexico and Missouri was carried on pack-mules, many Jackson county-men being engaged in that business.
It was in Jackson county chiefly, also, that Col. Doniphan recruited his famous regiment for the Mexican war and made that wonderful march known in history as De rando del murato, (the journey of death). After subduing New Mexico, Doniphan marched to Chihuahua, which then had 40,000 inhabitants, and raised the United States flag over the citadel; and from this latter place he continued his march to the Gulf of Mexico.
Independence became also the headquarters and fitting-out post of the Forty-Niners when the great pilgrimage to California began. Majors, Russell & Waddell, the greatest overland freighters the world has ever produced, lived in Independence.
In the war of 1856 Jackson county, and the settlement about Independence especially, was more largely represented, perhaps, than any other section. This diabolical war, distinguished by the most atrocious cruelties the conqueror can inflict upon his captive, prepared the way, and created the guerrilla in 1862. Natural fighters, conducting a war of spoliation and reprisal,--through the brush,--trained to quick sorties and deadly ambuscades, how easily they drifted as their instincts inclined, and became guerrillas by an irresistible combination of circumstances, such as I have explained.
The story of the Black Flag is told again on the Gratiot Prisoner Notes page, go to the listing for Annie Fickle.
Q. Your answer is very comprehensive and interesting. Now, will you be kind enough to tell me what finally became of the "Black Flag" which Quantrell [sic: common misspelling of Quantrill used throughout] carried ? Geo. Shepherd gave me a very interesting history of that flag, which I shall relate in my book, but he was unable to tell me what eventually became of that ominous symbol.
A. Jim Lane carried a black flag until the fall of 1863, when we captured it, and sometime afterward we sent it to Sterling Price. I think both flags were subsequently cut up and made into over-shirts which some of the boys wore.
Q. Do you know where Quantrell is buried?
A. He sleeps in the Catholic grave-yard at Louisville, Ky.
Q. Do you know whether or not Jesse and Frank James are full brothers?
A. Surely their mother is the same, and I presume their father was also the same, but he was dead long before I knew the family.
Q. Will you explain the causes and circumstances which led you to Northfield; also, explain, please, how you became separated from the two comrades who succeeded in escaping? I have been told that the shooting of Jim Younger, in the mouth, caused such profuse hemorrhage that the pursuers could trail you by the blood; that one of the two who escaped insisted on killing Jim in order to destroy the trail, and that it was this proposition which caused the separation.
A. Positively, I will have nothing to do with writing or furnishing any information concerning the Northfield robbery, or any other robbery. I do not say this through any unkindness; I have made the same reply to life-long friends, among whom were two brothers-in-law. I should say the same to sister Retta, whom I love better than all the world, if she should ask me the question.
Q. How long was each of you in the surgeon's care after your capture ?
A. Jim and I are still receiving surgical attention, and will be the remainder of our lives.
Q. How often have you and your brothers been wounded?
A. I have been wounded altogether twenty times; eleven of these wounds were received at Northfield. Jim was wounded four times at Northfield, and six times in all. Bob was never wounded until the pursuit in Minnesota, where he was struck three times.
Q. Can you tell me who was in command at Independence and issued the order that thereafter guerrillas taken by capture would not be treated like ordinary prisoners of war? Shepherd says he is not certain, but thinks it was Maj. Blunt.
A. It was Jennison, Colonel of the 15th Kansas cavalry.
Q. What are your respective duties in the penitentiary ?
A. We have no special duties. Jim and I being on the hospital list do very little, while Bob performs various duties. I occupy much of my time in theological studies for which I have a natural inclination. It was the earliest desire of my parents to prepare me for the ministry, but the horrors of war, the murder of my father, and the outrages perpetrated upon my poor old mother, my sisters and brothers, destroyed our hopes so effectually that none of us could be prepared for any duty in life except revenge.
The tear which stole into Cole's eye told how much he suffered in the remembrance of those sorrow-laden days when war"3rove happiness eternally from the Younger household. Out of deference to that honorable feeling, I could not question him further upon such an extremely unpleasant subject.
Q. How do you regard your treatment in the prison ?
A. I will say that since our capture we have met with uniform kindness, and while in the penitentiary our relations with the officers have been cordially pleasant, and for their considerate and kind disposition we feel profoundly grateful. There has never been so much as a hard thought between us. While I think of it, I should like to ask a favor: In your last letter you seemed to intimate that I had self in view by referring to the liberality with which I distributed corn to the poor in 1862-3. Now the favor I ask is this: In the first place, many of my old comrades are married and settled down in Missouri, where they are living peaceful lives. I want it understood that all these men fought for principle, not for plunder, and that they were true-hearted, honorable soldiers, fighting for what they esteemed was a righteous cause. In relation to me giving corn, and also pork and beef, to the poor during that hard winter, when food was so difficult to obtain, I will only say that I was following an example set by my blessed and sainted mother, whose charitable heart never failed to respond to distress. These facts I desire you to make understood in your book.
"Border Bandits" by J. W. Buel is available from booksellers at ABEBOOKs: Just click "Find Book" to see available listings.
Q. How much land did your father own at the time of his assassination?
A. He had 3,500 acres, a greater part of which was under cultivation, with barns, houses, etc. All this property went with the ravages of the war. My part has long since been spent in keeping out of the clutches of mobs.
I thanked Cole and his brothers for the marked kindness they had shown me, and after again explaining the possible necessities, owing to conflicting and current errors, of my connecting them with crimes of which they were perhaps as innocent as myself, we shook hands cordially and I withdrew.
After my return to St. Louis I instituted inquiries, by letter, in order to receive a denial or corroboration of Cole Younger's statements, respecting his liberality and conduct during the war. I communicated with several Union men, all of whom, while pronouncing Cole a desperate fighter, yet accorded him full credit for his magnanimity in helping the poor, relieving distress and affording every possible protection to women and children, regardless of political sentiments.
FROM: Kansas City Times, Monday October 24, 1938.
Cole and James Younger
Doctor Recalls Younger Brothers as Men above the Outlaw Class
Cole Revealed a Personality that would have carried him to high success if rightly directed and Jim Exhibited Scholarly Capacity in Penitentiary Former Prison Surgeon Writes of his Experiences with the bandits from Missouri.
New sidelights on the characters of the Younger brothers, comrades and partners of Frank and Jesse James in post-bellum Missouri outlaw life, have come to light through the recollections of Dr. M. E. Withrow of International Falls, Minn. Dr. Withrow, former resident surgeon at Minnesota state penitentiary, knew Cole and James Younger while they were prisoners, befriended them, and received many confidences from them.
When Dr. Withrow became resident surgeon at the prison, Cole Younger was and for a considerable period had been a hospital steward. He worked for the Doctor continuously up to the time of his parole, which the physician helped him to obtain. The result was a friendship, which lasted until Cole Younger's death. "I think I had the closest acquaintance with him of any person in Minnesota," Dr. Withrow recently wrote The Star. "I thought a great deal of Cole, and the day after his release on parole I invited him to my mother's farm near Stillwater, Minn., to dinner. It was in the evening and as we drove out to the farm, we came upon a rise of land, which overlooks a valley. The sun was just setting and the scene was grand. Cole suddenly asked me to stop. When I complies he sat silent for a moment, then slowly said, "This is the first time I've seen the sun set in twenty-five years."
"The pathos of that remark and its effect on me I will never forget." Cole Younger, according to Dr. Withrow, was a friendly sort of a person." He had a strong personality and had fate placed him in different circumstances, the veteran doctor is sure he would have made a notable success in the world.
STUDENT OF HISTORY.
Jim Younger, on the other hand, was of a retiring disposition. He was averse to meeting people, particularly when their interest in him was mere curiosity. At the time Dr. Withrow knew the brothers they were celebrities in the nation and many sought the opportunity to see and talk to them.
"Jim, however, had the most astounding fund of knowledge that I ever knew in one person," said Dr. Withrow. "He was prison librarian and had access to a good sized library, in which he devoted his time to study. He slept very little -- only about four hours out of the twenty-four-and was given the privilege of having a lamp in his quarters, by which he read continuously.
"Benjamin Franklin once said that a person could acquire knowledge if he had time, inclination and a capacity to study. Jim had all three. He also possessed a most retentive memory and could give the most intimate details of any and all historical events. He once gave me a most lucid description of the debates over the adoption of the constitution, and of every major piece of legislation that had been adopted since the beginning of the history of our country. I used to attempt to dig up some question to ask him, to see if it were not possible to puzzle him, but I never succeeded in finding one, no matter how abstruse, to which he did not have a ready, off-hand explanation."
At the time of the attempted bank robbery at Northfield, added Dr. Withrow, there was a medical student who lived in Northfield directly across the street from the bank. This student later became Dr. Henry Wheeler of Grand Forks, N. D. He shot one of the bandits during the street fight which followed the attempted robbery, and in later years Dr. Withrow had the opportunity of introducing him to Cole Younger.
ACTED TO SPARE LIFE.
"If I had not had a bad cartridge you would not have had all this trouble," said Dr. Wheeler. "I had a dead beat on you that day." "On the other hand," said Cole, "when my bullet broke the window over your head it was not a miss, but a misjudgment, I could have killed you easily, but I thought it would be better to scare you than to shoot you. Apparently you did not scare easily."
Cole frequently told Dr. Withrow that in his opinion dying persons and little children were the best judges of human nature. If such was the case, the imprisoned bandit had cause for satisfaction. "Any child always went to Cole readily." Writes the physician, "and every patient in the hospital to whom death was imminent always asked to have Cole remain with him in his last hours."
The real tragedy overtook the Younger brothers after they received their paroles. "They were thrust upon a world that had changed materially in twenty five years," says Dr. Withrow. "Neither had ever seen an electric street car, neither had ever talked over a telephone, and neither understood nor appreciated the changes until they were thrust bodily into them.
"Their reactions were very different. Cole was adaptable and very soon he got his stride. Jim, on the other hand, never could accustom himself to the thought that he was an object of curiosity. It pained him. Moreover, the work he obtained was not that for which he had been trained, and the knowledge that he received it because of a chapter in his life which he would have given anything to forget, only because his employer hoped to receive advertising through that means, was a bitter thought to him.
DISTRESS LED TO SUICIDE.
"Cole and Jim started out as salesmen for gravestones, but Jim soon went to work for a cigar store. Even there he felt that he was employed rather as an exhibit than as a salesman. He brooded over it. Only by sheer nerve he held on to it. I believe his worries over the fact that he was employed because of his notoriety as a former outlaw preyed on his mind and led to his suicide.
"Cole, however, rather enjoyed being pointed out and was never averse to meeting people whatever was their motive for the meeting. I do not believe he ever realized the strain under which Jim lived. Cole made many real friends among desirable people, who liked him for his real worth rather than for his notoriety." Dr. Withrow had many conversations with Cole about his life during the early outlaw years. The names of places near Lee Summit, Mo., Cole's boyhood home, still are familiar to him. Cole always said that the loss of his father, who was shot from ambush, and the death of an older brother were the causes of their misfortunes. As young men they were left without any restraining influences, and at an age when they were easily misled, when adventure was glamorous, they went into the war, and later into outlawry.
Cole told Dr. Withrow that his father opposed secession, although he was by principle states' rights man. He knew Abraham Lincoln personally, and Cole believed that had his father and brother lived, both of them would have been in the regular branch of the Confederate army.
"Shortly before his death, Cole wrote me," concluded Dr. Withrow. "With all his trouble he had always been an optimist. I think the incident that bothered him more than almost any other was the fact that when the Spanish-American war broke out, he could not enlist in the army. Cole lived in the past, and believed that he could be of service and campaign with the same vigor he had known when he was a young man riding with Quantrill. He had forgotten that years had taken toll from him as well as others of his generation."
FROM: "The Wapanucka Press" 11 August 1904, Wapanucka, Johnston County, Indian Territory.
COLE YOUNGER IN THE TERRITORY
Vinita.---Cole Younger of Lee's Summit, Missouri, is a visitor in Vinita. He has been ill with an acute case of indigestion, but is now improving. Younger is president of the Hyden Carbon Oil Burner Company of Pleasant Hill, Missouri, a new enterprise with a capital stock of $200,000. Younger's mission to the territory at this time is in the interest of his company.
For more information, see the EN Wikipedia article Cole Younger.