Saturday, July 2, 2011

Bandit Built Store

The following accounting was obtained from Roscoe Wyatt, Oscar John and Walter Ray. Oscar and Walter both remember the Younger brothers in person. Wyatt was a conscientious historian. Personal interviews included two of my family members: Emma John Weeks and Percy Weeks. Oscar John (87 at the time of the interview) worked on the Bandit Built Store. He knew the Younger brothers from when they hid out on his La Honda ranch.

Among the men hired to build John Sears’ store, referred to as the ‘Bandit-Built Store’ in 1877 were the Younger brothers from Forsyth, Kansas. At that time no one in La Honda, CA, knew them as the Younger brothers, because they were posing as cousins to Oscar John and Walter Ray. Jim Younger actually lived behind the Redwood City Court House for one year using the name of Joe Hardin.

Cole, Jim, Bob and John Younger lived in Forsyth, Kansas on their father’s ranch in May, 1861, when the Civil War broke out. Cole, the youngest son, joined the Confederate Army and became a colonel. In November of that year, a short leave gave him a chance to visit his parents. As he approached the ranch, he found the place engulfed in flames. A band of Union troops and local Northern sympathizers reached the ranch before him and stole all of the stock before burning the grain, corn, and feed. They also threw his youngest sister, who suffered from tuberculosis, out on the cold ground, causing her death. When their father discovered what had happened and put up a fight, they hung him from a tree on the ranch. This left their mother, oldest sister, Molly, and three younger brothers homeless.

Within hours Cole, along with a friend, organized local Southern sympathizers and within a few hours they started wiping out their enemies. It’s reported that Cole alone killed one hundred men that he knew had something to do with his father’s and sister’s death. By the end of the war, Cole had a price on his head for desertion, killing for revenge, and a long list of other charges. He left his family in the care of his cousin, John Jarret’s parents. He, John Jarret and a few friends left for California where they hoped to find sanctuary at his uncle’s ranch in San Jose, but ended up using a ranch in La Honda as their hideout.

Oscar John and his stepfather met the gang as they rode onto the ranch. Oscar was ten years old at the time. He recalls unsaddling ten horses. Everyone but Cole Younger and John Jarret left the ranch. They helped build the lakeside Ray ranch into a large two-story building. Cole and John traveled back to Kansas in order to bring the rest of their family west. They learned their mother had died and that Jim and Bob Younger had been accomplices to the James gang robberies. Cole was convinced the Ray ranch was the best place for the remainder of his family until everything blew over.

They arrived back in La Honda August, 1876, when big changes were happening. A new sawmill belonging to R.J. Weeks (my ancestor) opened and John Sears just started clearing an old bear pit site for his store and hotel. At last luck was with the Younger family. Oscar John talked John Sears into hiring his cousins from the east, no questions asked. The three brothers and John Jarret went to work on the store. Oscar John recalls seeing Cole shingling the roof of the store. When the store was finished, the men returned to the Ray ranch to work the harvest.

John Jarret spent that season at the Ray ranch, one season in Redwood City and then went back east. He returned the next year and started work on my family’s ranch. While he was there, he married Molly Younger, thereby becoming Cole’s brother-in-law as well as cousin.

The James Brothers were planning to rob the Northfield Bank in Minnesota.

They couldn’t pull the job by themselves and no longer trusted their gang. They sent a message to Cole by a man named Giles. Since the Youngers knew Northfield, they expected them to participate in the robbery. Frank and Jesse James sent a message stating that if the Youngers refused to come, they would have them exposed to the law. Cole decided to participate to save his sister and brother-in-law. He left a rare set of pearl handled pistols with Jarret at the Weeks Ranch. He realized if he got caught with them, they’d be a dead giveaway as to his identity.

Cole had an agreement with Jesse James that this bank robbery would be their last appearance in the mid-west. Jesse assured Cole that after this job, they would never have to worry about money again.
Unfortunately, the robbery went wrong. During their escape Jim Younger was shot in the jaw. Jesse wanted to kill Jim because it would hinder to their escape.
Cole absolutely refused. So, while Jim lay bleeding in a wet creek bottom, the James brothers made a clean getaway. The Younger brothers gave themselves up to the law to save Jim from bleeding to death. Cole, Jim and Bob Younger were sentenced to serve terms in the Minnesota Penitentiary.

When John Jarret learned what had happened to his brothers-in-law, he happened to be working away from the Weeks ranch and only coming home on the weekends. Giles showed up at the ranch with a forged note from Cole. Molly wasn’t home so he gave the note to their housekeeper. It was written to Molly and asked that she give Giles the two rare guns. The note stated that Cole’s prison term was just about up and that he wanted to sell the guns so he could get a new start in life. The housekeeper, remembering Giles from his first trip, thought he was on the level and handed over the guns. Jarret, for some unknown reason, came home that night and found Giles there with the guns in his possession. After he read the letter, he knew it was forged because Cole always wrote in of care of him, not Molly. Giles confessed that he had a chance to sell the guns to an Illinois museum.

Jim Bartley, La Honda rancher and teamster, visited the Younger brothers at the Northfield, Minnesota Penitentiary. He learned that an old sweetheart of Jim Younger visited him regularly. She promised to marry him when he got out of prison. Jim looked forward to that day, planning once more to start life anew. However, the woman turned him down when he got out. His heart was broken. Having nothing to live for, he rented a room at a cheap boarding house and shot himself through the head.

Cole and Bob dropped into obscurity after serving their terms.


  1. Paisley, this is a really interesting post. I love, love, love family stories like that. I had not heard this side of Cole Younger. Supposedly when he was in the Confederate Army, he lined up ten Union soldiers tied to a tree to see how many his new rifle would penetrate. I have no idea if that is true or myth. It's amazing, isn't it, that one event can totally change a person's life, as it did when his sister and father died? Given the times, I would imagine many would have reacted the same way. Sounds almost like a Louis L'Amour story where the boy saw the men who killed his father and hunted them down one by one.

  2. Paisley--if I had been in Cole Younger's shoes, watching the mean throw her out on the ground, even though she had tb, and then hanged his father, I would have been wanted, too. In those day, that's what men did--took the law into their own hands.They had to sometimes. And I don't blame Cole.
    And the Bandit Built Store--how interesting.
    Very intriguing tale, a side of the Younger brothers, es. Cole, I've never heard.
    The photos are outstanding.
    Thanks for such a wonderful story.--Celia

  3. Thanks, Caroline. I did enjoy reading this when I typed it from my Mother's notes for the geneology binders. What I thought was interesting is knowing it came from just the common folk living in the area and knowing them personally. I have little momentoes from my grandparents from when they were at the ranch in La Honda. It brings it home to me.

  4. It is fun, isn't it, Celia, to hear first-hand stories. I also think the James brothers had every right to become outlaws the way they were treated. It certainly was not a pleasant time in history.

  5. Pasiley, very interesting account of the infamous Younger Brothers. And how neat that you had personal family references about them, too. That's great! :)

  6. Thanks, Ashley. My Mother did a fantastic job gathering information about the family for the last ten years of her life. It is a treasure to me.


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