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But there was no "standing to it" for more than a few moments. That would have been beyond human, or even outlaw, endurance.
Bob Younger had a bullet in his mouth, Hank Burke a load of bird shot in the shoulder, and Charley Miller was on foot, fighting desperately for another man's horse, his own having been shot dead beneath him. The bullets flew like rain. Horsemen were careering frantically hither and thither in a circumscribed, fireenvironed space that was rapidly becoming a slaughterpen.
Frank James was shot through the thigh with his foot in the stirrup, and had to be assisted in the saddle by his brother. And the latter was no sooner remounted than Clem Miller was shot dead out of his saddle by a rifle from the court-house window opposite, while at the same time Bill Shadwell went to grass with the top of his head blown away. Both of the Hites and Charley White had been wounded at the outset; and, as the outlaw leader threw his leg over his big sorrel, and thundered out the order for flight, Curly Pitts also hid away a bullet in his shoulder, which, however, he was able to carry off with him for the time being.
Then, with the exception of the two lying dead on the ground, they rushed away on the back track, with the entire maddened population at their heels, at least for a considerable distance.
It was at this juncture that my men and I came dashing up from the other side of the town. Everything happened in less than five minutes. Through our fatal mistake in our calculations, combined with the headstrong fury of the townspeople and other causes, our plan for bagging the outlaws and saving innocent bloodshed - had fatally miscarried. Nevertheless, we could repair the mischief in a measure by organizing pursuit. This was effected almost instantly, and it was at the head of more than thirty horsemen that, a few minutes later, I hung upon the rear of the fleeing banditti.
Jess, the outlaw, had underrated the character of the Minnesotians -- had, in other words, found them very much of his own sort with the criminal element left out. And away up there in the Northwest, far from his familiar haunts, he had met with a discomfiture that was to prove even more bloody and disastrous than his Red Cut defeat.
However, the gang had taken care to make their attack with perfectly fresh horses, which were no small advantage to them in their flight. We, nevertheless, held our own in the pursuit. Soon after midday they made a temporary stand in a rocky defile of the road, where we could not attack them to advantage
However, in the brief skirmish at the mouth of the pass, I had the semi-satisfaction of drawing a bead on Jesse James with my Winchester. He was compelled to rein his horse into a rear to save himself from the shot. But he did so at the expense of his peerless steed, Dancer receiving the bullet in his noble breast, and falling dead in the road. Though his master at once vaulted on the back of a spare animal, and continued to organize his flight with unabated vigor, I could imagine the regret with which he left his beautiful sorrel motionless on the road.
Our pursuit was kept up all that afternoon and late into the night. We pressed the outlaws so closely that they did not venture to force relays from the roadside farmers. Such an interruption of their flight would have brought them to a fight at close quarters, which would doubtless have resulted in the destruction of the entire gang. We, on the contrary, could take our time in the matter of relays, which were freely, even eagerly, furnished, and this gave us a great advantage toward the end of the race.
However, though less than half a mile behind the fugitives, we came, as night was falling, at a fork in the dusty road, where we were momentarily at fault. Both roads seemed equally trampled, the heavy dust muffled the fugitive hoof-beats, and we were at a loss as to which one had been selected by the robbers.
`'I have it !" at last cried Gorham, who had been studying the roads at their forking with an old trapper's scrutiny. "Look !"
He pointed to a streak, dotted and irregular, that veined the dust of one of the roads, and continued on
and away until lost in the-gathering shadows, while the road forking away from it showed no such indication.
"It's blood -- life-blood sprinkling from the deathwound of some one of the gang !" he cried. "Come on !"
So once again we dashed forward, tracking our prey by its blood, as the tiger is sometimes tracked in the jungle while trailing the hunter's spear in its side.
But this discovery on the part of Gorham, nevertheless, lost us the two chief fugitives that it was most desirous to capture or kill. I do not see how it could have been otherwise, under the circumstances, but it prevented us from dividing our force at the fork of the roads, where such a disposition would have had a sweeping resu1t, which only became partial by our remaining together.
I will relate as briefly as possible how this came to pass.
When the fugitive robbers had approached the fork, at which our mistake was made, it became noticeable that they were leaving a trail of blood by which they might be tracked, in spite of the closing in of night for a bright moonlight was in prospect. The blood was from but one of their number. This was John Younger, who had received a wound severing an artery of the leg, during the momentary stand in the rocky pass. It could not be effectually stanched, though he still managed to keep his saddle, with the aid of lashings, and with his brothers riding on either side of him. -
The Hites, Charley White, Curly Pitts, Hank Burke, and Frank James had also received shots -- the latter a most serious one -- but had thus far succeeded in stuffing their clothing into their wounds, and riding on without the sprinkling of any ruddy reminders by the way. John Younger was the only one who bled, and his misfortune threatened to lead to the capture or destruction of the entire band.
It was on this account that Jesse, the outlaw, ordered a momentary halt at the fork of the roads, where he coolly proposed to put John Younger to death in the general interest, so that the flight could be no longer tracked by the telltale drops.
But Cole Younger had at once drawn his revolver and threatened to kill the first man who should offer to do his brother further harm.
"But, curse it all, Cole, it's for the good of the gang," said Jesse.
"Good or no good," cried Cole, cocking his pistol "the man that first draws on my disabled brother dies in his tracks !"
"You bet !" mumbled Bob Younger, with half his teeth gone from the bullet that had traversed them. "Murder in the gang sha'n't commence in the Younger family, Jess."
The majority of the band seeming to side with the three brothers, Jesse swore that his brother Frank and he would separate from the others. This the twain at once put into execution by galloping off on the road to the left, while the Youngers and the rest of the band took the road that we were induced to follow in the manner alluded to.
It was in this way that the Jameses managed to elude our pursuit where a division of our force would have perhaps included them in the captures that followed.
It was late at night when we at last brought our
worn-out fugitives to a compulsory stand in the bright moonlight It was at a wildly picturesque spot, where the road crossed a brook over a rude stone arch, with a ruined mill not far o~ to the right, and where the comparatively open country offered them no sort of cover. Four of their horses had already dropped dead with fatigue, and there wasn't a furlong of go left in the remainder.
Nevertheless the gang drew up across the road, and showed a desperate front. It melted to nothing almost instantly before the rain of bullets that we sent in among them, and in the merciless charge with which we followed up the volley.
The two Hites managed to gain a rather distant thicket, under cover of the smoke and confusion, and were seen no more. But Curly Pitts fell dead; Hank Burke was likewise dispatched, while creeping on all fours, with a knife in his teeth and murder in his heart toward one of our men who had been wounded and unhorsed; Charley Miller and Charley White were shot to pieces almost at the same instant, and then the three Youngers, riddled with bullets, were left. With their dead horses for a breastworks they continued to fight while consciousness remained to them.
After the fight was over, however, and when the majority of my men were galloping toward the thicket, in which they doubtless thought that the Jameses had found a refuge as well as the Hites, I suddenly missed Bob Younger, whom I had until then steadily kept in view.
I questioned Gorham and Ford. They were engaged in stanching the wounds of John and Cole Younger, preparatory to shackling them, while the rest of our men who had not galloped away were examining the dead outlaws with a view to their identification.
"Bob's somewhere near at hand, Lawson," said Ford. "Or he may have crawled down to the brook to die."
Sure enough, I found the man I was seeking at the water's brink, and just under the arch of the bridge. Wounded in eight places, he had felt his way thither with a last effort, but had fainted away at the margin without obtaining the cooling draught that he had so thirstily craved.
I at once began to minister to him. A dash of water on the face and head brought a- return of consciousness. Then a deep draught of the same, which I administered with my scooped hands, still further revived him. I then raved his wounds, one after the other bandaged them as well as I could -- my own shirt, torn into strips, furnishing the material -- and had the satisfaction of seeing that he appreciated and was grateful for my attentions.
"Bob -- Bob Younger!" I whispered at last; "do you recognize me?"
The moonlight was flooding both our faces, for I had dragged him out from under the arch. He managed to give a slight nod in the affirmative.
"Will you not now tell me what you were once on the point of telling me?" I went on, eagerly. "Remember, it is solely for the child's good. I swear it! Let me have the secret of his whereabouts. He will be reared into being an honest man and a gentleman.
What will- be, what can be, the -future of your dead brother's little orphan, if left to the ordering of such a man as Jesse James?"
The wounded outlaw closed his eyes, and for two or three seconds he seemed to be turning something over and over in his mind.
He signed me to bend nearer to him. I did so. The next instant the secret was mine, and in less than ten words.
I started up in astonishment. Some of my men at that moment came down the bank in search of me, and Bob Younger was carried away to keep his brothers company.
Then the rest of our band came dropping back into the road, one by one, with the discouraging report that they had succeeded in making no further captures. We had, moreover, been given to' understand before this that neither Jesse nor Frank James had been with the outlaws at their final stand.
I will be brief in summing up the results of the raid. The three Youngers eventually recovered from their wounds, were tried, convicted, and sentenced to the Minnesota State prison for life. The Hites managed to get out of the country. Their usual luck attended the two Jameses in their flight. Brothers in crime as in blood, they clung together with a tenacity worthy of a better cause, Jesse, the younger and abler, aiding his wounded brother, and piloting the way through their long and arduous journey in search of the rest and liberty that neither of them deserved. Frank recovered from his wound.
Of the raiding band, other than Dick Little and the exceptions noted in the last two paragraphs, not one survived. The Northfield expedition had proved a dark and bloody blunder for the James gang.
As soon as I returned to Kansas City I made all haste to Independence. I didn't pause even for a little good natured crowing at the expense of certain other officials, by reason of the rewards attaching to the capture of the Youngers and the killing of their confederates which they had missed and I had shared. For me there was no other thought or consideration just then for anything else than the speedy utilization of the secret I had obtained from Bob Younger, in the recovery and restoration of Judge Rideau's grandchild.
"What do you think, auntie?" I said to old Cynthy, as I entered her cabin, which I intended to make my base of operations until I should have accomplished this object. "What will you say when I tell you that within two or three days I shall bring poor Blanche's child, the little Tip Younger, to you for identification?"
"What'd I say, cunnel?" said Cynthy, rolling up her eyes incredulously, but none the less delighted to see me back safe and sound, once more. "Why, bress de Lor' ! I say dat de good luck you's had in Mynnysoty hate done got de tees' ob you, cunnel -- cat's all."
"Nevertheless, I shall do as I have said," I continued, laughing. "Stubborn as you are in your unbelief, I shall yet see you acknowledge that Tip is alive, and with the little fellow folded to your breast."
However, the event proved me to be somewhat oversanguine.
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