Short History of the James-Younger Gang

The James-Younger Gang originated in 1868 with the Russellville, Kentucky bank robbery and terminated in 1876 with a similar caper in Northfield, Minnesota. Pre-1869 hold-ups which have been attributed to the Gang may have had one or more members involved but not the Gang as we know it today. Robberies after 1876 are the work of the James Gang.

Core members of the James-Younger Gang were Cole Younger, John Jarrett and Jesse and Frank James. Gang personnel varied from robbery to robbery. From 1868 to 1881 the membership list is substantial.

The origin of the James-Younger Gang began with the Kansas-Missouri border conflict which preceded the American Civil War. Kansas and Missouri were in contention over the slavery issue. During 1854 – 1861 men from both sides would raid their opponent’s territory to burn, pillage and kill. The Youngers and Jarretts had their homes on this extended battleground, which was, in 1861, engulfed in the grim Civil War.

The Younger boys saw this violence first hand when their father’s mercantile business was robbed on several occasions and he, a pro-Union man, was nevertheless murdered by Union soldiers. Jesse James also witnessed this viciousness when his step-father, Reuben Samuel, was hung by the neck three times in succession to reveal the whereabouts of his step-son Frank James. Fifteen-year-old Jesse was severely whipped on the back to divulge the same information. Dr. Samuel never fully recovered from the hanging.

Many pro-Southern young men who witnessed these outrages joined the Confederate Army. Some of these boys, too young to enlist, opted to ride under Captain William Clarke Quantrill’s guerillas. Among them were Youngers, Jameses, and Jarrett.

At the close of the Civil War Confederate soldiers were required to take the Oath of Allegiance to the United States in order to gain citizenship. Frank and Jesse James took the oath but many of their compatriots, including Cole Younger and John Jarrett, did not.

Those who rode with Quantrill were not well received on their return from the war. Most tried to rebuild their previous lives. However, for a few, this option was rejected and they turned to outlawry. Such was the origin of the James-Younger Gang.