Jesse James, the Outlaw
A Train Robbery
"What's up, Bulger?" demanded the outlaw leader.
"The best chance you've had for a coon's age, Jess, and right at hand!"
panted the youth. "Just got wind of it from my brother, who is the railroad
telegraph operator at Winston."
"Yes, yes; out with it!"
"A train with but one passenger car will be at Winston in an hour. Rest
of the cars met with an accident in the Gap three hours ago. Express messenger
on train with a big pile John's sure of it. Passengers, few, and for the most
An anxious hush suddenly fell on the majority of the band, while the James
brothers looked at each other, exchanging calculating glances.
There were few, even in that desperate band, so cold and hardened in vice as
they. Among most of them the first proposition to fresh crime had still its
"What are you hesitatin' for, Jess?" suddenly shouted Jim
Cummings, with an oath. "Of course, you're goin' for the job, it'll get our
hands in for the bigger 'un at the end of the month."
"Of course, we are!" cried Jess, with a voice like a steel bell. "I
was only calculatin' the general arrangement. Masks in readiness! Bustle 'em
out, Jim! Frank, you look after the greenhorns and strangers."
I found a moment later, as we began to move out of the hollow two and two,
that the last word applied to George Sheppard and me. We were placed in line
among the country boys. Dick Little, however, rode directly behind us, with, I
felt, a watchful eye on our every movement.
We were soon on the high road, and a sharp gallop of four miles brought us
in the neighborhood of Winston station.
Here we halted by the railroad track at the edge of a wood. At the order of
Jesse James, the entire band, with the exception of myself, then put on masks,
which they had in readiness, the masks being made of several thicknesses of
stiff cotton, with holes cut for the eyes and mouth. We at first closed ranks,
and there was a silent review of our number and efficiency by the outlaw leader.
Then the country boys, with Sheppard and me among them, were stationed on either
side of the track, while the rest of the gang began to pile up stones between
We were ordered to make a great noise as soon as the train should be brought
to a standstill, and to fire eighteen or twenty shots, but not to shoot any one
unless compelled to, and not to use up all our ammunition.
"You needn't do anything but look on, doe," said Jesse to me,
while making his last round of inspection. "I'm sorry to have mixed you up
in this thing, but there was no help for it."
Then I heard him say to Sheppard:
"Strep, an old hand like you must feel mean at being put to one side
here among the greenies, but you know you are still on your second probation
with the gang."
Sheppard made some sort of an accommodating reply, and just then the rumble
and roar of the approaching train was heard in the distance.
Jesse James and his veterans had before this dismounted, while we at the
side of the track remained still in the saddle. Jesse now stood in the center of
the track, bearing in his hand a red lantern, which one of the Youngers had
obtained at their farmhouse. He waved it three times over his head as the train
approached, and it came to a stop within a dozen feet of the stone heap on which
he was standing.
"Off that engine or you're a dead man!" shouted Jim Cummings and
Cole Younger, springing toward the engineer and fireman, who were peering out
from the side of the locomotive.
With the pistols covering them, they obeyed in an instant.
"Oh, Lord!- It isn't Jess James' gang, is it?" exclaimed the
engineer, with his knees knocking together.
"You can bet on that, old man!" said Jess, springing past him,
followed by his crime-trained comrades.
In another instant the conductor and the two brakemen were in the hands of
the desperadoes, with pistols at their heads, while Jesse and Frank James
battered in the door of the express car and ordered the messenger to come out of
it on pain of instant death.
The latter was not disposed to surrender his charge without a show of fight,
and drew his revolver. But two or three bullets that were sent singing by his
ears brought him to terms. The next moment his revolver was snatched from him,
and he was in the car, tremblingly opening the receptacle of his treasures, with
the revolvers of the James boys nudging him in the back of the head, and the
gleam of the red lantern flashing in his face.
In the meantime my immediate companions, agreeable to their instructions,
were banging away with their firearms, at a great rate, and cursing and shouting
under the windows of the passenger car at the top of their lungs.
While this was going on the rest of the gang, headed by John and Bob
Younger, were going through the crowded passenger car, pistol in hand.
All was dark outside, but I could see plainly into the lighted car, and note
the confusion and terror that were taking place. It was such a scene as, under
other circumstances, would have had its ludicrous features, the men groaning and
throwing up their hands under the menacing muzzles of the revolvers, the women
screaming and grasping their wraps, and the young fellows outside shooting and
swearing until you would have thought the foul fiend and all his imps had
suddenly broken from their confines to make a pandemonium on earth.
In less than ten minutes, however, the entire robbery had been effected.
Jesse James and his comrades jumped off the train, and the conductor and
engineer were ordered to "move along."
This they did in a hurry, after a few minutes spent in clearing the track of
"How did the passengers pan out, Bob?" called out Jesse, as he
hastily remounted, after stuffing his saddlebags with something that Frank and
he were carrying.
"Poor enough, Jess," was Bob Younger's response. "There
wasn't more'n a dozen men in the car, and I didn't feel like makin' the women
"Good enough," said Jesse. "We've never yet been so hard up
as to rob the dear creatures. Boys," he added, turning to the band, who
were now grouped around him, "of course, I can't tell yet how much we've
skinned the express company out of. You'll trust Frank and me to count it, ready
for a division, won't you?"
"Yes, yes. Take your time," answered a dozen voices.
"Meet us at our mother's house a week from to-day then, and the
division shall be made," said Jesse. "That will be safest, because
they'll never think of looking for us there. But be sure to come straggling up
singly throughout the entire day. Break up now. It's every man for himself till
a week from to-day."
The dispersion was effected quickly and quietly.
Only Jesse and Frank James, George Sheppard, Cole Younger and I remained
together. In a few minutes we had regained the high road, galloped along it a
considerable distance, turned off into a narrow, rocky path leading through the
woods, and were making our way rapidly through the wild region in the direction
of the log farmhouse.
We did not venture to return thither that night, however, as neither Jesse
nor Frank deemed it would be safe. My companions seemed perfectly familiar with
every foot of the way. We had nothing but the light of the stars to guide us,
but they shaped their course across the country without a stumble, and as
unerringly as if they were proceeding in broad daylight.
We presently came to a deserted hut in a grassy glade of the forest. Here it
was announced we should tarry for the night. We dismounted, turning our horses
loose upon the grass, and the Jameses and Younger entered the hut, while
Sheppard and I were told to gather up fagots for a fire.
"I say," whispered Sheppard to me, when we were thus engaged in
the woods for a few minutes later, "you're also on the lookout for the
little boy that Jess is said to keep hidden away, ain't you?"
"Yes," I replied, in the same tone.
"Well, if you ever find him at all, it'll be somewhere's about the
Younger homestead. Them precious twins is only kept there, instead of bein' sent
to school, as a sort of cover for the more vallyble young one you're lookin'
for. Hush! Don't reply."
I fortunately heeded the injunction. At that moment there was heard a
stealthy tread behind us. I was not surprised, upon turning my head, to perceive
that Jesse James had followed us, and that his eyes were regarding us like those
of a beast of prey through the darkness.
When Sheppard had carried into the cabin the fuel we had jointly collected,
the outlaw laid a not unkind hand upon my arm and detained me.
"What do you think of my chances for reformation by this time?"
"They're certainly not brilliant, Jess," was my reply.
"Let me tell you something to reinforce from the past what you've
already seen," said he. "I, as a mere boy, belonged to Quantrell's
guerrilla force during the war, as you must have heard. It wasn't a hundred
miles from this spot that a large detachment of us, under Bill Anderson,
captured a railway train, containing two hundred invalid soldiers on their way
to St. Louis for hospital treatment. Bill Anderson shot them all through the
heart with his own hand, one after the other, I aligning them up before him, and
his men supplying him with a fresh revolver as fast as he emptied the one in his
hand. This is gospel truth. What do you think of it?"
"I've heard of it before," said I, with an inward shudder.
"He had hardly finished with the sick men," he continued, "before
a detachment of a hundred blue-coats came
in sight over the hill. They surrendered-to our superior force, and all
shared the fate of the invalids."**
"I have heard of that before, also."
"Judge, then, if there can be any reformation, any redemption, for such
as me!" said the outlaw. "Judge if it is possible, even upon the dying
injunction of the first woman I ever loved. However," he added, with his
short, hard laugh, "you've got to stay with us now till we quit the
country. There's no help for it."
A bright fire had been lighted in the fireplace of the hut when we entered
it, and the other men were engaged in frying some bacon, which they had obtained
from a small cupboard. In fact, there were many other evidences of the hut being
frequently used for the purpose of temporary hiding, to which it was now being
We ate heartily, slept all night on the floor with one or other of the chief
trio constantly on guard on the outside, and at an early hour on the following
morning took up our journey again, with our steeds even more refreshed than we.
Jesse James' horse, Dancer, however, sustained a sprain by stumbling into a
gully soon after we had started, and this put his rider in a very bad humor.
As we came in view of the log farmhouse we saw a single horseman awaiting us
by the porch. Jesse directed Sheppard and me to follow more leisurely, and then
he and his companions galloped on ahead.
They had all dismounted, and were apparently talking carelessly together,
with Jesse's and Frank's wives standing in the porch, when Sheppard and I rode
up, and likewise dismounted.
My feet had no sooner touched the ground, however, than the four men, Jesse
and Frank James, Cole Younger and the newcomer, who was the callow desperado,
Cutts, precipitated themselves upon me with a fierce shout.
In less time than I can tell it, they had me overpowered, and bound fast,
with my back against one of the vinecurtained pillars of the porch.
"What in thunder's the meaning of this?" I gasped, as soon as I
could find a voice.
"You've deceived me!" said Jess, the outlaw, in a cold, deadly
tone. "Cutts here has been to Booneville, and found out all about you. You
ain't no doctor at all. One!"
He drew his revolver as he spoke, the three others imitating his example.
Then the four muzzles were aimed at my heart.
[Back]*These are actual facts belonging to the history of the late war.