Jesse James, the Outlaw
Jess James' Mystery
In accordance with my promise to Jesse, the outlaw, I sought the wild,
hill-folded, forest-muffled retreat of the James brothers at an early hour of
the following morning.
The retreat was a secure one. Admirably mounted as I was, and with a good
memory for landmarks, I could never, unaided, have penetrated to the log
farmhouse. The same lad who had guided me to the road on the previous day was in
waiting to help me to retrace my steps.
Up to that point I had found the rocky road and bridlepaths thoroughly but
imperceptibly sentineled. No wonder that the outlaws felt secure, in spite of
the boldness of their depredations. Every scattered farmhouse, every herder's
hut, every woodcutter's cabin, contained a friend or a spy in their nefarious
cause. A hostile party, or even a single suspicious-looking stranger, could not
have come within half a mile of the loghouse without its occupants receiving
timely warning of the approach.
Two voices, a man's and a woman's, were heard in angry altercation as I
neared the porch. No one was as yet visible. But as I dismounted and threw my
bridlerein to my guide, the door opened. Jesse James and his wife came out of
He nodded to me in a careless way, while the woman honored me with a swift,
venomous look. It was almost the first she had ever deigned to cast on me at
They were watchful and composed instantly, but I knew that they had been
quarreling. Just as instinctively did I ascribe the cause to the dead girl's
mementos which I had placed in the outlaw's keeping on the previous day.
"Morning, doc! You're true to your word," said Jesse, advancing. "It's
an hour to breakfast. Come up on the mountain with me."
We moved away, paying no attention to his wife. But I momentarily observed
that her fine eyes contracted, like those of a cat, as they briefly followed our
"By the way, doe," said Jesse, when we came to a pause in a lonely
spot, "what's the last name you go by? I haven't thought it worth while to
ask you before now."
"I go by my own name, and none other, of course," said I, gravely.
"Phillips, eh? Dr. Phillips? Dr. Phillips, of Booneville? Good!"
"I'm glad you like it," said I, feeling secretly ill at ease.
"Like it? To be sure I do. Why not? Well, doe, I want to talk with you,
perhaps for the last time, about -- Blanche Rideau." And he eyed me like a
hawk. "How much of her past history did she impart to her father and you on
"I mean of her history be -- before she met me?"
"About her schoolgirl's marriage with Tom Younger?"
"About her child -- the boy that Tom stole away from her?"
He drew a long breath, and remained moodily silent for several minutes.
"You're deeper into that chapter of my past than I thought for, it
seems," said he, at last.
"I trust that it will prove only for your good, Jess," said I.
"It had better not prove for anything else, old boy," he went on,
with an ugly look, while his hand fell upon the butt of one of his revolvers. "So
you know how Tom Younger married Blanche when she was at boarding-school at St.
"How it was all kept dark from her relatives -- even the birth of her
child at the cabin of the old regress who had been her nurse?"
"How she got to hate Tom on discovering him to be a robber belonging to
"How she then deserted him and returned home to Booneville, carrying
child and nurse with her, without her folks suspecting it?"
"How Tom stole away the boy, and then deputed me to negotiate with her
for the boy's restoration, on condition of her acknowledging her relationship
and living openly?"
"How Tom Younger was killed by the Kansas City officers while the
negotiations were pending, and I thereupon made love to Blanche on my own
account, and successfully?"
"How we were about to be married, and I was about to restore the boy to
her, when her uncle found me out hounded me forth, and she was forced to give me
"And how after that I kept the boy hidden, in revenge?"
"She told us all."
"The --- she did!" exclaimed the outlaw, and, drawing another long
breath, he began to pace the ground angrily.
Presently he came to an abrupt pause before me, with his eye suspiciously
"Confess," said he, "that you're here as Judge Rideau's
agent, to try to recover Blanche's child from me."
"I acknowledge freely that that is one of the minor objects of my
mission, Jess," I replied, having prepared for the query before it was put.
"My chief object is in fulfillment of Blanche's dying injunction with
regard to yourself, as I told you before -- as the tokens must have proved to
you, I should think."
"As for the rest, I have simply promised to plead with you for the
boy's surrender to him, for the boy's own good, in case I should ever find you
in a repentant and remorseful mood."
"Ha, ha, ha! Repentant and remorseful, as applied to me, is good! You
saw something of that sort of application yesterday and the day before. You'll
have a chance of assuring yourself yet more fully in that regard, for you shan't
quit my sight again while I'm in this corner of the country."
"I don't care if I shall not," said I. "Personally, I don't
dislike you. I admire your boldness and decision of character, in spite of your
"Good enough! But I'd rather be feared than liked. However, you'll
never find out anything about the boy. I'll keep him to spite the Rideaus, with
one of whom, the Minnesota bank president, I've got a sterner account to settle.
Come on. There's the breakfast-bell. After that you shall accompany me to the
When we were half way back to the house he paused again.
"Hark ye, doe," said he. "If my wife should manage to
question you on the sly, not a word!"
"Not a syllable."
"She knows you brought me those tokens, and she's got an inkling or two
about the boy. She'll be glad to know more than she does."
"Which she never will from me. Trust me for that."
Before we entered the house it occurred to me to refer admiringly to the
daring robbery of the afternoon before, and to express some wonder that he had
not even alluded to it.
"Ha, ha, ha!" laughed the outlaw. "It was cleverly done,
wasn't it? And there was a trifle over twenty thousand dollars in that tin box
that Frank and I so quickly emptied. Two or three more hauls like that and we're
off for the Texas Panhandle for a long rest. But wait and see, wait and see. Big
things are ahead."
I had a tremendous appetite for the hearty breakfast to which we were
called. While I was yet topping it off, Jesse and Frank James went out to the
stable to prepare for our ride. The rest of the household had also bustled out
of the room, with the exception of Jesse's wife. She remained sipping her coffee
directly across the table from me, and negligently aware of what a trim, pretty
little creature she was.
Directly that we were alone together, however, she flashed a swift,
intelligent glance upon me.
"You are looking for Tip Younger, the little boy that Jess keeps
somewhere concealed," said she, in a low, eager voice. "If I can help
you to find and run off the child I'll do it."
I was too wary to trust a woman calling Jesse James husband to the extent of
a row of pins.
"Madam," said I, quite stiffly, "whatever may be my
business, it shall be transacted strictly and solely with your husband."
"Ah, I see. You don't dare to trust me. But I'd give anything if he had
that other woman's child off his mind. I hated her, and I'm glad she's dead."
I contented myself with bowing and looking shocked
"Jess will be back in another minute -- listen!" she continued,
hurriedly. "You may fall under his suspicion at any instant -- to do so is
death. But even then, if you should give me a sign that you have found the
little Tip and can take him away from Jess, I will help you to escape. Look -- I
mean a sign something like this."
She pouted her lips and elevated her eyebrows in a peculiar manner as she
I only stared and burst into a short laugh.
A few minutes later I was in the saddle at her husband's side. While Frank
James was riding slightly ahead I told Jesse what his wife had said, with the
single reservation of her offer to assist me in case of trouble. I carefully
kept that to myself, in view of possibly benefiting thereby at some time or
The outlaw burst into a laugh.
"Molly has never forgiven my having loved poor Blanche first,"
said he. "She's awfully jealous of my secreting the little Tip, whom she
has never even laid eyes on. She'd give her best finger to have the boy lost to
me. But that shall never be."
Then, after a brief silence, he suddenly gave me a meaning look.
"I say, doe," said he, "if the old judge is so anxious to
secure Blanche's boy, money might talk. You understand. But anything short of a
cool ten thousand wouldn't be listened to."
"I never heard him mention money in connection with the boy," I
replied, briefly, and we quickened our pace.
The truth was this: The recovery of the mysteriously secreted boy, at that
time about five years old, was one of the objects of my perilous mission among
these desperadoes, only second to the arrest of the James brothers themselves.
Judge Rideau was too shrewd to have directly offered Jesse the heavy reward
which was waiting in his hands for me, in case I should succeed in spiriting
away the child. The unscrupulousness of the outlaw had been too often made
patent, and there would have been too much likelihood of his hanging on to his
secret in the hope of a second, or even third, reward, after one had been agreed
upon, and paid over.
The James boys' success in robbery had made them avaricious, as well as
bold. So the matter stood.
Red Hollow was a wild, wooded nook in the hills, obtaining its name from the
redness of the wind-worn, raingullied earth-banks interspersing its screen of
rugged trees. It was considerably off the main road, and perhaps midway between
Independence and Kansas City.
Observable at a distance through the trees was a large, dilapidated, old
farmhouse, situated in the midst of partly cultivated grounds, with the unbroken
forest at its back.
This place I had seen and taken note of before. It was the home of the
Younger brothers, Cole, John and Bob, the most daring and efficient coadjutors
of the James brothers, and scarcely less desperate and venturesome than they.
Halting by a brook that ran through the hollow, Jesse sounded his whistle as
the gathering signal.
It was speedily responded to. Men, armed to the teeth, came riding into the
place of rendezvous from different directions, singly, in pairs, and in larger
Hither came Cole, John and Bob Younger, splendidly mounted, bold and
reckless-looking men, who hailed and saluted the Jameses with a free-and-easy
familiarity that argued but little recognition of the latter as leaders. From
another quarter appeared Jim Cummings, Jesse's terrible lieutenant, and
generally thought to be even more deadly and bloodthirsty than he. He was
accompanied by Dick Little and George Sheppard, the latter with but one eye, and
having only recently rejoined the gang, after having once severed his connection
Sheppard and I exchanged a swift glance of intelligence. He recognized me
underneath my disguise, and I knew him to be at that moment in the service of
Sheriff Masters. He had lost his left eye in the raid on the Kentucky bank, but
was still a dead shot with the remaining optic.
He had served a term of imprisonment for his share in that robbery, and had
ever since believed that Jesse James had purposely thrown him into the clutches
of the law, for the purpose of throwing off the scent from his own tracks.
Sheppard was also of the opinion that Jesse James had subsequently murdered his,
Sheppard's nephew, Harry Sheppard, to obtain Harry's five-thousanddollar share
of the Kentucky spoils. At all events I was so sure of George Sheppard's real
motives in rejoining the robbers as to experience no uneasiness as to his having
penetrated my identity.
Among the others who poured into the hollow in obedience to the leader's
signal I recognized a number from the personal descriptions that I had taken
care to photograph upon my mind. Among these were Wood, and Jeff Hite and Ed
Miller. The latter was no relation to the Charly Miller already alluded to, whom
was likewise present again, together with his comrades of the day before, Hank
Burke and Curly Pitts, the latter with his neck still bandaged from the effects
of the Chicago detective's bullet.
These veterans in crime were accompanied by several beardless youths,
farmers' misguided sons, emulous of iniquitous notoriety, who were posted as
sentinels around the skirts of the hollow.
Altogether, there were mustered into the hollow a score or more of wild and
lawless men, such as perhaps, had never before been associated together in the
United States outside of California in its worst days.
"Boys," called out Jesse James, after a number of criminal plans
for the future had been discussed, without arriving at any definite conclusion,
"you've all heard by this time of Frank's exploit and mine at the fair
grounds yesterday afternoon."
A united cry of approval was the response.
"Well, boys, we raked in a trifle over twenty thousand by that dash,"
continued the outlaw leader. "And I'll tell you what we're going to do.
The whole swag ,of course, belongs to Frank and me individually, but we're going
to divide half of it among the crowd in the usual apportionment."
I could not but smile at the increased enthusiasm that greeted this
apparently spontaneous and generous offer,
so really calculating and eelfish at foundation, inasmuch as it merely
redoubled the devotion of the crew in the furtherance of other and more
Then Jesse and Frank James made a division of the ten thousand dollars they
had brought with them, as being, at a rough estimate, one-half the amount of
which they had plundered the treasurer of the fair association. This operation
consumed considerable time, but naturally caused the most intense satisfaction
while it was in progress.
"Boys," said Jesse James, at last, "I've been running over in
my mind those two projects proposed by Wood Hite and Charley Miller, and have
concluded that we can take 'em up at our leisure, and in regular order."
He then went on to discuss the projects in question. They were briefly
these: Wood Hite's plan was to stop and rob the express and passenger train from
the East, in the Blue Cut, a deep and dangerous railroad cutting two and a half
miles out of Independence. It was proposed to do this toward the end of the
month we were then in, when assurance should be received of an unusually heavy
shipment of treasure by express, which it was known would be along the road
somewhere about that time.
Charley Miller was a fugitive of justice from Minnesota, having been a horse
thief in that State before joining the band of Jesse, the outlaw. His scheme was
to make a daytime raid in large force into the populous town of Northfield, his
native place, and empty the safes of the national bank there at the point of the
revolver. This would be a repetition of the manner in which the James brothers
and their confederates had robbed a wealthy national bank in the interior of
Kentucky several years before. Miller argued that a similar job could be
effected with equal success in Minnesota, and the plunder got away with before
the inhabitants could recover from the panic and demoralization incidental to
the unexpectedness of the attack.
It was now decided to put this undertaking on foot directly after the
proposed robbery of the express train in the Blue Cut should have been effected.
One circumstance tended especially to Jesse's greedily taking to the
Minnesota scheme. The president of the bank at Northfield was none other than
Blanche Rideau's uncle, Henry Rideau, who had been mainly instrumental in
separating him from his first love, and against whom he had sworn implacable
Night was falling while these schemes were being discussed in much greater
detail than I have seen fit to accord to them.
Suddenly a young fellow, whom I then saw for the first time, spurred
unceremoniously into the hollow. His eyes were ablaze with excitement, while his
horse was hardblown.