For the deathwatch.
In the early evening of September 16th, Bob asked Retta, Jim, and me to come be with him, that his time had come. A deputy warden sat in there with us. Bob...hell, I wouldn't have knowed it was him if you hadn't told me, if I hadn't seen him wasting away all them thirteen hard years in prison. His eyes was plumb yellow, nothing left of him much more'n skin and bones.
He heard this bird chirping at the window, and he turned to me and said: "Lift me up, Cole. I want to see the sky once more." For once, he didn't cough his words out, said them clear, if softly, hoarsely.
That caused Retta to start crying, but Bob told her to hush, that he was going to a better place. He smiled. I hadn't seen him smile in ages.
"You know, Cole," he said, and this time he coughed some, but when he recovered, he went on: "I think when I die, maybe my soul...." Another coughing spell, this one worse than the others. "I...think...maybe my soul will rest a while...." More coughing. "On that hillside.... You...see...it?"
"I see it," I told him.
"Just a little while," he said. "Then I'll...go...on...to heaven."
He lasted three, four more hours, but didn't say much till he whispered in my ear to tell his girl, Maggie, that he was thinking of her. Finally Brother Bob just closed his eyes and went into that sleep we all must sleep.
He wasn't but thirty-four.
They shipped him back home, to Lee's Summit, and Retta wrote me that there must have been some 800 folks who come over to the Baptist Church that September 20th for Bob's funeral. So Robert Ewing Younger was laid to rest. for Bob's funeral. So Robert Ewing Younger was laid to rest.
I figured that would be the same for Jim and me, but Fate took pity on us poor Southerners. I think Buck, my pard Frank James, he was behind some of it. I'll get to that directly.
Well, the politicians got together in April of '01 and writ up this bill that said life convicts could be released after serving thirty-five years, lessen time off for good behavior. That was for me and Jim. The Northfield lawmakers didn't want no part of this, but the bill passed.
On July 14, 1901, Jim and me left Stillwater prison after twenty-five years. It was a Sunday morning. As I told the newspaper boys: "I ain't got a grudge against any human being alive or dead. Men, I'm happy." I meant it, too.
'Course, being a parole man means you ain't nothing in the eyes of the law. Can't do nothing. Can't marry. Can't leave the state of Minnesota. I got along fairly well, working these bum jobs, going to the theater, but Jim, he had a tough go of it.
He never could talk good after getting his mouth shot up so bad at Hanska Slough. Man just never could find no level place to be. I'm talking about his emotions. When he got up, he was way up. But when he got down on himself, he was lower than a snake's belly, and, since Northfield, he was mostly low.
Jim fell in love, you see, with this sweetheart of a newspaper reporter, and it was hard on 'em both. The girl's parents drove her out of the state, hounding her so for trying to love a murdering bushwhacker. Jim tried desperately hard to be with her, but he couldn't marry, on account of his status as a paroled convict, and he couldn't leave the state to be with his honey, couldn't do nothing.
"I'm a ghost," he once told me. "Ghost of Jim Younger, who was a man, not an extra good one, but a man. But now I'm nothing."
He tried for one of those conditional pardons, but the law wouldn't have none of that. Minnesota didn't want us here, but she didn't want us leaving, neither. Well, things got just worser and worser for my brother, and he sent off a telegraph to his honey. Don't write Don't write was all it said. was all it said.
Early the next morning, October 19, 1902, Jim sat at his desk in his room and shot himself in the head.
I think Jim was insane, if only temporarily so. Pained me to see his casket loaded up and shipped south, where they buried him beside Brother Bob. Jim wasn't but fifty-four when he died at his own hand. 'Course, he had been dead long before that. Least, that's how he figured things.
They kept that service simple, Retta said. The choir sang "Rest, Weary, Rest" and "We Shall Know Each Other There", then took him to the cemetery, where some 150 people watched him pass.
Jim and Bob. Two more lives. That makes seven.
Seven lives...seven lifetimes.
Maybe even more. Y'all have all heard about the treacherous death of Jesse James. Dingus and Buck made it back safe, and I don't hold no anger toward them. They was honorable men. Dingus and me had our differences, and I can't say I liked him, but I respect a brave Southerner, and that he was. And nobody, ain't nobody, even that son-of-a-bitch who shot Brother Bob at Hanska after he had surrendered...ain't nobody deserving to die the way Dingus did.
Bob Ford, backed by his yellow brother Charlie, of them no-account Fords, shot him in the back of the head at his home in St. Joseph, Missouri, in 1882. His wife and young 'uns was there when they murdered him. Not that I shed no tears over Dingus's passing. Didn't shed no tears when I learned that Charlie Ford shot himself in '84 or when Bob Ford got blowed apart by a shotgun somewhere in Colorado in '92.
Buck, he surrendered after Dingus got murdered, but Buck always was the lucky one. Got acquitted in a trial down in Missouri and another one over yonder in Alabama. Minnesota wanted to get him up here for a trial, but there just wasn't no evidence. They'd sure never get me to testify, so Frank James walked out of jail a free man and went home to be with his ma, be with his wife and strapping young son. And I think Buck had a hand in my getting out of prison. He knowed people, became a celebrity what with his trials and all, and folks started working mighty hard on getting me freed, getting me back home.
Maybe Buck figured he owed me something. I don't know. Reckon I'll ask him when I see him again.
I'm growing old. That's why the Board of Pardons awarded me this conditional pardon. Maybe they're just sick of me in Minnesota as I'm sick of being here.
It's February 16,1903, and I'm heading home at last. Heading home to see my brothers' graves, to see Buck, see Retta and my other sisters, mostly, I hope, to live at peace.
Some folks say I'm a hero, but I'll tell you this, straight and true. I ain't no hero. Ain't no hero of nothing.
Seven minutes...seven lifetimes. Seven lives: Gustavson and Heywood. Clell, Charlie, and Stiles. Bob and Jim. Almost twenty-seven years. I'm a fifty-nine-year-old bald, fat, old man. Age makes a man wiser, they say, and, looking back, I wonder if we ever knowed what we was doing when we rode north.
Hero? Not hardly. Have I been rehabilitated? I reckon so. Has prison taught me anything? Sure, and I don't just mean learning now to make tubs and buckets.
The train rocks its way south, and I wonder if it will take me through Northfield. Doubt it. Hope not.
Long before I ever set foot in prison I knowed one thing: I wish to hell I'd never laid eyes on that town called Northfield.
AUTHOR'S N NOTE.
Since George Huntington's Robber and Hero: The Story of the Northfield Bank Raid Robber and Hero: The Story of the Northfield Bank Raid, first published in 1895, the James-Younger bloodbath of 1876 has been well-chronicled in the history book department. In addition to Huntington's book, my primary sources include Jesse James, My Father Jesse James, My Father by Jesse Edwards James (1899), by Jesse Edwards James (1899), The Story of Cole Younger by Himself (1903), Jesse James Was His Name The Story of Cole Younger by Himself (1903), Jesse James Was His Name by William A. Settle Jr. (1966), by William A. Settle Jr. (1966), Youngers' Fatal Blunder: Northfield, Minnesota Youngers' Fatal Blunder: Northfield, Minnesota by Dallas Cantrell (1973), by Dallas Cantrell (1973), The Outlaw Youngers: A Confederate Brotherhood: A Biography The Outlaw Youngers: A Confederate Brotherhood: A Biography (1992), (1992), Outlaws: The Illustrated History of the James-Younger Gang Outlaws: The Illustrated History of the James-Younger Gang (1997), and (1997), and Jesse James: The Man and the Myth Jesse James: The Man and the Myth (1998), all by Marley Brant, (1998), all by Marley Brant, Frank and Jesse James: The Story Behind the Legend Frank and Jesse James: The Story Behind the Legend by Ted P. Yeatman (2000), and by Ted P. Yeatman (2000), and The Last Hurrah of the James-Younger Gang The Last Hurrah of the James-Younger Gang by Robert Barr Smith (2001). by Robert Barr Smith (2001).
Most importantly, I certainly could not have tackled this novel without poring over the works of Minnesota historian John J. Koblas: The Jesse James Northfield Raid: Confessions of the Ninth Man The Jesse James Northfield Raid: Confessions of the Ninth Man (1999), (1999), Faithful Unto Death: The James-Younger Raid on the First National Bank Faithful Unto Death: The James-Younger Raid on the First National Bank (2001), (2001), Jesse James Ate Here: An Outlaw Tour and History of Minnesota at the Time of the Northfield Raid Jesse James Ate Here: An Outlaw Tour and History of Minnesota at the Time of the Northfield Raid (2001), and (2001), and Minnesota Grit: The Men Who Defeated the James-Younger Gang Minnesota Grit: The Men Who Defeated the James-Younger Gang (2005). I first met Jack Koblas at a Jesse James writers' conference in Liberty, Missouri, and he helped me through certain snags during the writing of (2005). I first met Jack Koblas at a Jesse James writers' conference in Liberty, Missouri, and he helped me through certain snags during the writing of Northfield. Northfield.
All major characters in this novel were actual people, although interpretations of actions and character traits are my own inventions. Of course, you can find much debate on who killed Joseph Heywood, who and how many actually took part in the bank robbery (were Bill Stiles and Bill Chadwell two different people, or was Chadwell an alias Stiles used?) and why the outlaws chose Northfield. Likewise, the image of Jesse James leaping his horse across the Palisades in South Dakota may be folklore, and most likely is nothing more than myth, but I sure wouldn't put it past as brash an outlaw as Dingus, or leave it out of a Western novel.
When I visited Northfield and elsewhere in southern Minnesota, I found some tremendous allies in my project. I am deeply thankful to Chip DeMann of the James Gang for the beers, theories, and anecdotes shared at a Millersburg tavern. Likewise, Mark Fagerwick, then executive director of the Northfield Historical Society and Museum Store, offered much insight and other ideas, as well as access to the wonderful museum in the restored Scriver Building that housed the First National Bank in 1876. Kathy Feldbrugge of the Northfield Area Chamber of Commerce and Tara Mueller of the Madelia Area Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau were gracious hosts, as were Wayne Eddy, Kurt Fishtorn, and Bob Abbott. On the Missouri side of the story, the Friends of the James Farm have always been supportive of my projects and provided valuable information and help. Much appreciation to Friends members Scott Cole, Howard Dellinger, Christie Kennard, and Phillip Steele.
Thanks also go to Bruce and Ruth Thorstad of Dresser, Wisconsin, Will Ghormley of Des Moines, Iowa, Jon Chandler of Westminster, Colorado, and the staffs at the Vista Grande Public Library in Santa Fe County, New Mexico, and Missouri Valley Special Collections at the Kansas City Public Library Other key sources include Adelbert Ames: Broken Oaths and Reconstruction in Mississippi, 1835-1933 Adelbert Ames: Broken Oaths and Reconstruction in Mississippi, 1835-1933 by Blanche Ames Ames (1964), by Blanche Ames Ames (1964), The Northfield Bank Raid, Sept. 7, 1876 The Northfield Bank Raid, Sept. 7, 1876, published by the Northfield News Inc. in 1933, Before Their Identity Before Their Identity (1996), compiled by Ruth Rentz Yates, courtesy of the Madelia Chamber of Commerce, the September 14, 1876, edition of the Rice County (1996), compiled by Ruth Rentz Yates, courtesy of the Madelia Chamber of Commerce, the September 14, 1876, edition of the Rice County Journal Journal, and the 1991 University of Minnesota master's thesis by Paul Thomas Hetter, The Last Raid of the Younger Brothers; or, Missouri, Outlawry and Minnesota, and How Their Histories Influenced the Outcome of the Great Northfield Raid The Last Raid of the Younger Brothers; or, Missouri, Outlawry and Minnesota, and How Their Histories Influenced the Outcome of the Great Northfield Raid, courtesy of Missouri Valley Special Collections, Kansas City Public Library.
Among the main characters in this novel, Adelbert Ames lived to age ninety-seven, dying on April 13,1933, the last full-rank general officer of the Civil War. Ara Barton continued on as sheriff of Rice County until 1885. He died in Morristown, Minnesota, on November 6,1898.
Alonzo Bunker resigned from the First National Bank in 1878 and took a similar job at the Citizens Bank of Northfield. He later worked at banks in Kansas City, St. Paul, and Helena, Montana. He died in 1929 in Los Angeles. James Glispin wound up serving a fourth and final term as sheriff of Watowan County before leaving Madelia in 1880 for California. Later, he served as a lawman in and around Spokane, Washington, then became a realtor before going blind. He died in 1890.
Lizzie May Heywood left Northfield after her father's death, but returned at age thirteen and enrolled at a college preparatory school. She graduated from Carleton College with a degree in music, furthering her music studies in Indianapolis, and returned to Northfield again in 1897 to marry before moving to Scranton, Pennsylvania. She died in 1947.
Anselm Manning saw his two daughters, one born three years after the Northfield raid, graduate from Carleton College. At age seventy-five, he dropped dead of a heart attack in 1909 while walking through the snow to his barn. Farm hand Thomas Jefferson Dunning apparently continued farming until his death in Nicollet County, Minnesota in 1924. Joe Brown, Mollie Ellsworth, and Sidney Mosher (providing they aren't other bits of fictional folklore) seem to have faded from history after their alleged run-ins with the outlaws.
Two years after the raid, Captain William Murphy, one of the heroes at Hanska Slough, wound up in trouble with the law. After a man named Samuel Ash "exposed his person and made the most disgusting proposals" to two girls, including Murphy's daughter, Murphy went after Ash. He found Ash in the custody of the sheriff, but fatally shot Ash anyway. Murphy maintained his revolver went off accidentally, but was convicted of fourth degree manslaughter and served a one year sentence in the Blue Earth County Jail. He died at his home in 1904 at age sixty-five.
Asle Oscar Sorbel's father was killed in a wagon accident in 1879, and young Oscar moved to Dakota Territory in 1883-some accounts say he feared reprisals from the James-Younger Gang, while other sources discount this-where he married in 1890. He worked as a veterinarian, dying in 1930 at age seventy-one.
Thomas Lee Vought left Madelia after the capture, living in New York and South Dakota before winding up in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, where he died in 1917. Henry Wheeler finished medical school and returned to Northfield to open a practice in 1877. He furthered his medical studies in New York City, married his childhood sweetheart in 1878, and hung his shingle in Grand Forks, North Dakota, in 1891. He died in 1930 at age seventy-six.
History tells us that the James brothers reformed their gang and continued their criminal careers in Missouri and elsewhere. On Monday, April 3,1882, gang member Robert Ford shot and killed Jesse James at the outlaw's home in St. Joseph, Missouri, where he was living with his family under the name Howard. A short while later, Frank James negotiated a surrender to authorities and turned himself in at the Missouri governor's office. Acquitted in two trials (in Gallatin, Missouri, and Huntsville, Alabama), Frank James was never brought to trial for the Northfield bank raid. He never answered questions about his career as an outlaw. "If I admitted that these stories were true," he once said, "people would say: 'There's the greatest scoundrel unhung' and if I denied 'em they'd say: 'There's the greatest liar on earth,' so I just say nothing." On February 18, 1915, Frank James died at his home on the family farm, which he took over running after his mother's passing in 1911.
An ailing Cole Younger attended his old friend's funeral.
Suffering from kidney and heart trouble, Cole Younger retired to Lee's Summit, Missouri, after an unsuccessful Wild West venture with Frank James, a series of lecture tours titled "What Life Has Taught Me", and his 1903 autobiography, The Story of Cole Younger by Himself. The Story of Cole Younger by Himself. He joined the Christian Church of Lee's Summit, quietly living out his days. On March 19, 1916, Younger called friend Harry Hoffman and Jesse James's son, Jesse Edwards James, to his deathbed, where he told stories about the old days, and, if the story's true, swore James and Hoffman to secrecy before revealing that Frank James had killed Joe Heywood in Northfield. He joined the Christian Church of Lee's Summit, quietly living out his days. On March 19, 1916, Younger called friend Harry Hoffman and Jesse James's son, Jesse Edwards James, to his deathbed, where he told stories about the old days, and, if the story's true, swore James and Hoffman to secrecy before revealing that Frank James had killed Joe Heywood in Northfield.
Two days later, at 8:45 p.m., Thomas Coleman Younger, the last known surviving member of the gang of outlaws that raided Northfield, died. He was seventy-two.
"There is no heroism in outlawry," Younger wrote in his autobiography, "and the fate of each outlaw in his turn should be an everlasting lesson to the young of the land."
Johnny D. Boggs Santa Fe, New Mexico
ABOUT THE A AUTHOR
Johnny D. Boggs has worked cattle, shot rapids in a canoe, hiked across mountains and deserts, traipsed around ghost towns, and spent hours poring over microfilm in library archives-all in the name of finding a good story He's also one of the few Western writers to have won two Spur Awards from Western Writers of America (for his novel, Camp Ford Camp Ford, in 2006, and his short story, "A Piano at Dead Man's Crossing," in 2002) and the Western Heritage Wrangler Award from the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum (for his novel, Spark on the Prairie: The Trial of the Kiowa Chiefs Spark on the Prairie: The Trial of the Kiowa Chiefs, in 2004). A native of South Carolina, Boggs spent almost fifteen years in Texas as a journalist at the Dallas Times Herald Dallas Times Herald and and Fort Worth Star-Telegram Fort Worth Star-Telegram before moving to New Mexico in 1998 to concentrate full time on his novels. Author of twenty-seven published short stories, he has also written for more than fifty newspapers and magazines, and is a frequent contributor to before moving to New Mexico in 1998 to concentrate full time on his novels. Author of twenty-seven published short stories, he has also written for more than fifty newspapers and magazines, and is a frequent contributor to Boys' Life, New Mexico Magazine, Persimmon Hill Boys' Life, New Mexico Magazine, Persimmon Hill, and True West. True West. His Western novels cover a wide range. His Western novels cover a wide range. The Lonesome Chisholm Trail The Lonesome Chisholm Trail is an authentic cattle-drive story, while is an authentic cattle-drive story, while Lonely Trumpet Lonely Trumpet is an historical novel about the first black graduate of West Point. is an historical novel about the first black graduate of West Point. The Despoilers The Despoilers and and Ghost Legion Ghost Legion are set in the Carolina back-country during the Revolutionary War. are set in the Carolina back-country during the Revolutionary War. The Big Fifty chronicles the slaughter of buffalo on the southern plains in the 1870s, while East of the Border is a comedy about the theatrical offerings of Buffalo Bill Cody, Wild Bill Hickok, and Texas Jack Omohundro, and Camp Ford tells about a Civil War baseball game between Union prisoners of war and Confederate guards. "Boggs's narrative voice captures the old-fashioned style of the past," Pub-lishers Weekly said, and Booklist called him "among the best Western writers at work today" Boggs lives with his wife Lisa and son Jack in Santa Fe. His Web site is The Big Fifty chronicles the slaughter of buffalo on the southern plains in the 1870s, while East of the Border is a comedy about the theatrical offerings of Buffalo Bill Cody, Wild Bill Hickok, and Texas Jack Omohundro, and Camp Ford tells about a Civil War baseball game between Union prisoners of war and Confederate guards. "Boggs's narrative voice captures the old-fashioned style of the past," Pub-lishers Weekly said, and Booklist called him "among the best Western writers at work today" Boggs lives with his wife Lisa and son Jack in Santa Fe. His Web site is www.johnnydboggs.com.
HIGH PRAISE FOR SPUR AWARD WINNER.
JOHNNY D. BOGGS..."One of the best Western writers at work today!"-Publishers Weekly"Boggs...writes with a finely honed sense of character and a keen eye for detail..."-Booklist"Boggs is unparalleled at evoking the gritty reality of the Old West."-The Shootist"A terrific writer."-Roundup"Johnny D. Boggs has a keen ability to interlace historically accurate information amid a cast of descriptive characters and circumstances."-Cowboy Chronicle"Boggs, one of the most dependable Western writers working today, delivers again with this charming and exciting over-the-hill adventure."-Booklist...AND NORTHFIELD NORTHFIELD"Lively and entertaining...A vibrant retelling of the Old West's most notorious and deadly bank robbery flop."-Publishers Weekly"A fast-moving and strangely poignant tale that never pauses to rest."-The Denver Post"This book stands head and shoulders above others of its kind."-Roundup"The kaleidoscopic effect pays handsome rewards, fueling the action from all vantage points in concise, frenetic bursts that might even leave you feeling a mite poorly for those doomed outlaws."-Booklist"Boggs's riveting telling of the infamous raids reads both fresh and different: a tall order strikingly delivered."-The Santa Fe New Mexican
Other Leisure Leisure books by Johnny D. Boggs: books by Johnny D. Boggs:
THE HART BRAND.
WALK PROUD, STAND TALL.
EAST OF THE BORDER.
DARK VOYAGE OF THE MITTIE STEPHENS MITTIE STEPHENS.
THE BIG FIFTY.
ONCE THEY WORE GRAY.
THE LONESOME CHISHOLM TRAIL.