The Russellville, Kentucky Robbery
Illustration from “The Border Outlaws,” 1882, by J. W. Buel
Russellville, Kentucky – Nimrod & Co. Bank
March 20, 1868
about $12,000 taken
Named as participants by various sources:
- George Sheperd
- Oll Sheperd
- John Jarrette
- Arthur C. McCoy
- Cole Younger
- Jim White
- Dick Little
- ___ Saunders
- Frank James
- Jesse James
Of these, between five and eight were actually there.
George Sheperd initiated this robbery, bringing in his cousin Oll. George invited his wife’s first-cousin, and his war-time comrade, John Jarrette. Alternately, it may have been a joint venture between the three from the start with the original idea coming from any of the three. Jarrette, in an account published after the Northfield robbery, is blamed for having led Cole Younger into crime by bringing him into this robbery. A family member confirms it (see Settle, pg 97). Jarrette is also the connection that brought in Arthur McCoy–both had been captains under Shelby and knew each other well.
Were Jesse and Frank James involved? It is possible but, as with many of the robberies attributed to them, their involvement seems to have come up as an afterthought–after the “legend” is established their names are attached in retrospect to robberies that they weren’t connected with initially. This is the case in Russellville. Detective Bligh, from whom most of the identifications of the robbers comes, later decided Frank and Jesse James were involved. If Frank and Jesse James did take part it was through the Sheperds that they would have been brought in. During the war, when Frank James followed Quantrill into Kentucky, Jesse James stayed in Missouri with the Sheperds.
Looking at the realities of the people involved, certain factors regarding the famous Jesse James are impossible to ignore. Even if involved, he was not the leader, not in this nor several following robberies. In 1868 Jesse James was 20 years old and had seen war-time service only toward the end of the war. The Sheperds were 27 and 26 years old. John Jarrette was 32 and had extensive war experience; had been a leader of men. Arthur McCoy was 38. He’d been a leader during the war and even before. He’d led raids and commanded men. There is no way these men would be taking orders from a relatively inexperienced boy like Jesse James.
If Jesse and Frank James were involved, it does, however, provide the connecting link between them and McCoy that gives credence to their later associations.
Description of the robbers who were in the bank from a contemporary newspaper account:
26 years old, black hair and whiskers, florid complexion, 5’8″ tall, weighs about 140 pounds… [This is probably John Jarrette]
5’7″ in height, short curly, sand hair, round bull-dog head, prominent eyes, red face, weights about 160 pounds. [Oll Sheperd? A bit short to be taken for Younger, or either of the James. Maybe Jesse James?]
5’6″ high, thin visage, 32 or 33 years old, shabbily dressed in light clothes, defect in one eye, light hair and whiskers, weighs about 150 pounds… [This is George Sheperd. He had one eye. Also, witnesses later identified him, leading to his conviction for the robbery.]
6′ high, weighs 140 pounds, 33 or 34 years old, light hair, inclined to curl, thin whiskers… [This is may be Arthur McCoy. McCoy’s description would match that of Frank James reasonably well, except at this time Frank James was no more than 25 years old and McCoy was 37 or 38.] More on Arthur McCoy.
This leaves Oll Sheperd and, possibly, Cole Younger covering the outside. If the James brothers are worked into the scenario, they may have been covering their escape from town further out from the bank–unseen by any witnesses.
“At the time of the Russellville bank robbery I was gathering cattle in Ellis county, Texas: cattle that I bought from Pleas Taylor and Rector. This can be proved by both of them; also by Sheriff Barkley and fifty other respectable men of that county. I brought the cattle to Kansas that fall and remained in St. Clair county until February.”–Cole Younger, November 15, 1874
From the Nashville Banner, March 22, 1868
About ten days ago, a man calling himself Colburn, and claiming to be a cattle dealer, offered to sell to Mr. Long a 7-30 note of the denomination of $500. As none of the coupons had been cut off, and the stranger, who pretended to be from Louisville, where the notes were worth a premium, offered it at par and allowed interest, Mr. Long became suspicious and refused to take it. On the 18th he returned again and asked Mr. Long to change him a $100 bill. He was accompanied by a man of forbidding aspect, and suspecting the note to be counterfeit, Mr. Long declined changing it. On the 20th, about 2 P. M., as Mr. Long, Mr. Barclay, clerk in the bank, and Mr. T. H. Simmons, a farmer living near Russellville, were sitting behind the counter, Colburn and another man rode up to the door, hitched their horses and entered the bank, three companions remaining outside. They asked for change for a $50 note. Mr. Long pronounced it counterfeit, but was about making a more careful examination, when Colburn drew a revolver, placed its muzzle against his head, and cried out, ‘Surrender!’ Mr. Long wheeled around and sprang toward the door leading into a room in the rear of the banking office. He hoped thus to make his exit from the building and give the alarm. He was, however, anticipated by one of the robbers, who intercepted him at the door already mentioned, placed a pistol within six or eight inches of his head and fired, without having uttered a word. The ball did no greater injury than grazing Mr. Long’s scalp for about two inches, tearing away the hair and flesh, but not fracturing the skull. Mr. L. seized hold of the weapon, and made an effort to wrench it from his assailant, but the robber succeeded in regaining possession of his pistol. He immediately commenced to beat Mr. Long over the head with the butt, and, after a few furiously dealt blows, felled him to the floor. The latter, however, sprang to his feet and again got hold of the pistol, just as the robber was about to cock it for the purpose of giving him the finishing touch. During the scuffle which now took place, Mr. Long managed to reach the back door of the rear room. Here he concentrated his almost exhausted strength into a final effort, freed himself from the clutches of the robber, sprang through the door and closed it after him. He then ran around toward the front part of the building, shouting for assistance. When he reached the street, he found two men sitting on their horses before the entrance to the bank. They were all armed with Spencer’s rifles and pistols, and were shooting up and down the street at all citizens who came within range. As Mr. Long ran by, they also fired twelve or fifteen shots at him, but, fortunately, without effect.
Inside the bank, while Mr. Long was struggling with the fellow above mentioned, and before Messrs. Barclay and Simmons could rise from their seats, the latter were confronted by Colburn and his companion with cocked revolvers and threats of instant death in case the least show of resistance was made. Neither of the gentlemen was armed and they had to accept the situation with the best grace they could command. As soon as Mr. Long made his retreat by the lack door, his antagonist returned to the banking office and assisted in the work of plunder. One of the robbers stood guard over Messrs. Barclay and Simmons, while Colburn and the other proceeded to clean out the establishment. They appeared to have an exact knowledge of its resources. As was afterward ascertained, Colburn had made some cautious inquiries as to its capital, deposits, etc., and we have already shown that his previous visits had enabled him to make a thorough inspection of the interior. In the cash drawer they found over nine thousand dollars in currency. From the vault, the door of which was standing open, they took several bags of gold and silver. This specie consisted principally of dollars, half-dollars and quarters, and had been placed in the bank on special deposit by several of the neighboring farmers. The amount has never been ascertained, but it will’ not, we understand, exceed five thousand dollars. Several private boxes which were on a shelf in the vault and contained bonds were broken open, but none of the bonds were carried off-doubtless because of a fear that they had been registered and would lead to the detection of the robbers. Two robbers kept guard outside while the work of pillaging was going on, and, though the alarm had spread, kept the citizens at bay until a Mr. Owens had the courage to begin firing upon them with a pistol. He was seriously but not dangerously wounded. Finally the sentinels became alarmed and called for their accomplices inside to come out. They quickly complied, bringing with them saddle-bags crammed with gold and greenbacks.
” They were greeted with a heavy volley by a squad of citizens who were advancing up the street. All were soon in their saddles, and, at a signal from Colburn, the party dashed at full speed out of town by the Gallatin pike. Many a leaden missile was sent after them, but beyond the report that one had his arm broken, there is no ground for supposing that any of the shots took effect. Ten minutes later, some forty citizens, mounted on such animals as they could collect from buggies, wagons and hitchingposts, started in hot pursuit. All the advantage, except in point of numbers, was with the robbers. They rode splendid horses, and were as completely armed and equipped as the most daring and accomplished highwayman could desire. Five miles from Russellville the trail was lost in the woods, nor was anything heard of Colburn and his men until the 21st, when a dispatch was received here stating that they had crossed the Louisville and Nashville Railroad early in the morning, near Mitchellsville.
“The bank at Russellville, Ky., was raided March 20, 1868, and among the raiders was a man who gave his name as Colburn, who the detectives have endeavored to make it appear was Cole Younger…”
-Cole Younger “The Story of Cole Younger,” 1903