Updated July 10, 2002

A Terrible Quintette


By John Newman Edwards:

Noted Guerrillas and, the extremely rare, A Terrible Quintette for the first time available on a searchable CD-ROM:

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"Noted Guerrillas, or the Warfare of the Border", John N. Edwards, 1877, 488 Pages, 26 illustrations.

Quantrill (“Quantrell”), Bloody Bill Anderson, George Todd, Arch Clements, Fletch Taylor, Jesse James, Frank James, Cole Younger, John Jarrette, Arthur C. McCoy, John Thrailkill  —they’re all here, described by a man who knew them.

“A Terrible Quintette”, John N. Edwards, St. Louis Dispatch, Nov. 22, 1873. 21,000 words.


"Edwards had for the first time put together some of the most important ingredients of the James legend."  --William A. Settle, Jr, author of "Jesse James Was His Name", describing "A Terrible Quintette"

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This is the first part of one of the most often cited, yet most seldom actually read of the contemporary accounts of Jesse James, Frank James, Cole Younger, John Younger, and Arthur C. McCoy. It took years of hunting in libraries, archives, and other sources, to find what appears to be the only copy of this famous article.

  The two James brothers, Cole & John Younger, and Arthur C. McCoy were the "Terrible Quintette" of outlaw fame at that time. Of these, John Younger was to die within four months of the article's appearance in a gunfight with Pinkertons. Cole Younger, Frank and Jesse James became famous, or notorious, but within ten years were out of business, or dead. And Arthur C. McCoy almost vanished from history. It's a puzzlement because he was, at least according to John Newman Edwards, who knew all these men personally, a key player in the outlaw gang to the point where McCoy is counted as one of the five most significant names as of November 1873.

Of the five, McCoy is the one Edwards knew the best during the war with Edwards being Genenal Shelby's adjutant and McCoy being one of Shelby's captains. McCoy's history is told in Edwards' 1867 "Shelby and His Men" in considerable detail while Cole Younger is only mentioned once, and that only by his last name. The James are not mentioned at all. By Edwards' 1877 book, "Noted Guerrillas," the James take a starring role, though McCoy's stories are also expanded upon. It's a measure of their war vs post-war connections.

McCoy is an odd-man character among the other four for a number of reasons--he was much older than the others, about 48 years old at this time while the others were between 21 and 30. Where they were all farmers from the 'bushwhacker country' of western Missouri, McCoy was a city man with a long career in business behind him from St. Louis and a wife from a large, prosperous, and respected old family. The James and Youngers had been jerked into the conflict as children while McCoy was an adult who was one of the founders, with later-General Basil Duke, of the secessionist Minute Men in St. Louis. He had three children by the time the war had started and two more born by the time of this article.

Related Pages on Civil War St. Louis:

Arthur C. McCoy

James-Younger Gang

The Outlaws

The Robberies


James & Youngers in the Census

Frank James Trial


for reviews of books on the James-Younger gang, the guerrilla war, and Missouri and St. Louis Civil War history, and links where to find them

John Newman EdwardsSt. Louis Dispatch

November 22, 1873


(no byline given, but well-known to be John N. Edwards)

Men with Prices on Their Heads.

An Interview with the James Brothers and  History of Their Lives---Their Own Account.


 Who He is---Where He served During the War---A Talk with Him by Our Special Correspondent---Interesting Disclosures.


All About their Past---Why They Took Up Arms and How They Have been Dealt With---Blood Curdling Reminiscences.

The Gang Charged With the Iowa Railroad Robbery.

A Series of Exploits---Thrilling Adventures and Exhibitions of Courage and Fortitude Almost Incredible.

Two Months in the Field and on the Trail---The Task of an Enterprising Reporter.

The request made by the Dispatch that your correspondent should write, as soon as might be, the truth concerning Jesse and Frank James, John and Coleman Younger, and A. C. McCoy, formerly of St. Louis, came at an inopportune time.

The sheriff of an Iowa county was down on a foray, leading armed men hither and thither, and those who had been accused of robbing the St. Genevieve bank lately, and quite a number of other banks at various other times and places, were naturally on the qui vive, and as wary of surprisal and as skilful of reconnaissance as men might well be who had a price set upon the head of each, and who meant to face death to the last, no matter in what shape it came.

Much has been said and written lately concerning these men--much that was purely sensational, fictitious and romantic.  Perhaps the world


Perhaps, in the insatiable craving of the Anglo-Saxon nature, it is necessary to spice all the viands as high as may be-turn upon the feast all the light possible--make the contrasts strong and grim, fanciful or ludicrous, and seize only upon those things which have features exaggerated in every conceivable way, incongruous, imaginative, and wonderful.  Personal prowess always attracts, no matter how utterly abused or misapplied.  In the West especially is this the case.  Individual daring, more perfect the nearer the man approaches the pastoral life, is a peculiar feature of western civilization.  It existed in a latent but easily aroused condition before the war, now and then breaking forth into deeds of sudden yet antique heroism; and since the war—quickened by all the tremendous energies of the strife, and given a new phase because of a society that in losing its homogeneity lost its power,  to entirely regulate an element so dangerous—it has become a part of the character of the people itself, often made prominent, rarely cruel or vindictive, never brutal, and always more or less serious or tragical.  And there are degrees in prowess just as there are elements in the atmosphere.  Each Western State has its type of the desperado, and each Western State impresses its local characteristics upon


To illustrate:  The Texan prefers to fight on horseback.  His pistol practice culminates when, at a slashing gallop, he can hit the size of a man at twenty paces upon the right or left.  In Colorado the necessity is to draw first, fire first, and advance as you fire.  The first shot it is believed, demoralizes and makes the answering one uncertain.  In the climate of Colorado it is not imagined that one bullet can kill a man, and hence, he who gets the first shot and follows it up, generally gets the second and the third, and the laurels of the combat.  In Utah the fighting is closer.  Derringers are relied upon oftener than revolvers.  The combatants are not so cool, nor could they be, having only single shots, as those who use revolvers.  Death is not so certain as in Colorado, nor wounds so universal as in Texas.  The personal prowess of the Missourian, however, is known and recognized throughout the entire West.  In rencontres where death finds either the one or the other, it comes other than to the Missourian in the proportion of eight to ten.  Twice in ten times the


His points of superiority are soon summed up.  He is cooler, quicker, more accurate, and more in practice with the revolver than with any other weapon.  The pistol, which carries a dragoon ball is his choice.  This makes fearful work and ends a combat speedily.  Besides, the Missourian—either from superior physical development, or from a larger share of that old Highlander blood which died hardest when the sword-cuts were deepest and the lance-thrusts the most numerous—can carry off more lead than the best of the other States or Territories.  The first shot is very rarely fatal, no matter how it may end afterwards.  Taken at a disadvantage and mortally wounded, a Missourian has yet struggled up against the blow and killed even while in the hands of death himself.

As you ask information of Missourians, and would have your correspondent deal with the lives and history of Missourians, perhaps a preface of this kind might be endurable even if it were not instructive.

There had been a bold


A railroad train had been thrown from the track, an engineer had been killed, a pistol fusillade had been opened upon some of its officials, an express car had been robbed, there had been terror and confusion generally about the event; and then flaming accounts in all the newspapers.  The robbers were known, described, located and individualized.  They were from Missouri, they were from western Missouri, they were highwaymen by practice and profession, they were guilty beyond all possibility of a doubt, and they were Jesse James, Frank James, John Younger, Coleman Younger and Arthur McCoy.  In no single instance, so far, has a single newspaper described the men properly, and in no articles so far published about them has anything like reality been told of their history.  The St. Louis Democrat had a correspondent at Sedalia who professed to know whereof he wrote, and who did write long and well of things he had never seen, and of men who had never been seen even by men whom the correspondent had seen.  Hence his letters were rich as a gold mine in display heads and black letter—barren as an east wind in accuracy and information.

The five men you desire a history of are eminently creatures of the war—three of whom lived upon the border and were tried in the savage crucible of border warfare.  There are memories of the struggle, too, in the hearts of some of them that are terrible even yet as they come back to them through [here the bottom line of the column is missing] in the gray hairs of a father are turned to crimson in the blood of his own head, and the last days of a tender and aged mother made miserable because of the flames that consumed the homestead, and the cruelty that butchered the husband.

For some brief space back the journals of Missouri have published much concerning


And much besides concerning Arthur McCoy and John and Coleman Younger.  Wishing to comply with the request of the DISPATCH as nearly as might be, and to furnish at the same time something like the truth concerning these men, your correspondent sought for and obtained an interview with the two brothers, Jesse and Frank James.  Their home is in Clay county, Missouri, two miles and a half probably south of Kearney, a most flourishing and prosperous town.  Their mother, Mrs. Zerelda James, was the widow of the Rev. Thomas James, [note: Robert James] a Baptist preacher of much ability and influence,  who was born in Logan county, Kentucky, and who graduated at the Georgetown College in 1843.  1841 he married Miss Zerelda Cole, of Scott county, Kentucky, and in the fall of 1843, the year of his graduation, he moved to Missouri with his family and entered at once zealously upon his religious duties.  His labors in Clay county were manifold, unobtrusive and devoted.  Through his intelligent exertions many churches were guilt, and in the organization and successful development of William Jewell College, a well known and popular institution of learning, he took a most prominent part.  In the spring of 1850 he went as a missionary to California, but contracting disease on the road, he never fully recovered from its effects, dying there in the fall of the same year.  All who knew him loved him, for his character was singularly gentle, charitable and devout.  To him and his wife were born Jesse and Frank, and a lovely daughter now married to a most worthy citizen of Arkansas. [note: Susan James married Allen Parmer. He was not originally from Arkansas though may have spent some time there. They eventually settled in Texas.]

        JESSE W. JAMES,

The youngest of the two brothers, was, when the war commenced not sixteen years of age.  His mother, some time after the death of his father in California, had married Dr. Reuben Samuels, of Clay county, and was living upon her farm near Kearney.  One day a squad of Federal soldiers went to this place, hung Dr. Samuels to a tree three or four times and finally left him for dead.  Jesse, then a mere boy, plowing in the field, was also led forth with a rope around his neck, abused quite severely, struck several times with the sabers of the men, and savagely threatened with death if either he or his step-father was ever heard of again as having given aid or encouragement to southern soldiers.  The same week his mother and sister were arrested, carried to St. Joseph and thrown into a most filthy prison.  The hardships they endured there were simply terrible.  Often without adequate food, insulted by sentinels who neither understood nor cared to learn that first lesson of a soldier—courtesy to women—cut off from all communication with the world—the sister was brought near to death’s door from the fever which followed the punishment, and the mother, a high-spirited and courageous matron, was released only after emaciation and suffering had made her aged in her prime.  The week, however, after the treatment he had received, and after the hanging of his step-father, and the arrest and imprisonment of his mother and sister, Jesse, not yet sixteen years old, mounted the best horse on the place and rode posthaste into the camp of the


then operating all along the border between Kansas and Missouri, killing where he could, having over him only the black flag, taking his life in his open hands and offering it daily, together with the lives of all who followed him, to whoever was bold enough and brave enough to reach out for the property. Frank had preceded Jesse, and had already made a name, brief as the service had been, for supreme and conspicuous daring. And from the beginning of the war to the end these two brothers, who have now a price set upon the head of each by the Governor of Missouri, fought always and desperately under the most savage guerrilla leaders the savage border war produced. I have said that it was not easy to obtain an interview. A sheriff from Iowa, a young man named Bringholff, and a novice in all the arts of bushwhacking ways, had come down in quest of the Iowa train robbers. He was certain he knew them, he was absolutely certain that they were the five men of whom I write. With him were two or three detectives. One of these detectives had been over in Clay county, and had gone to the house of a Federal soldier a short distance from the house of Dr. Samuels. He sought the confidence of this man, tempted him with money, urged his wife to visit Mrs. Samuels and obtain if possible from her album the photographs of her two sons, and represented to both of them the importance of the capture and the immense amount of the reward that would be theirs in case of success. The Federal soldier refused to have anything to do with the detective, and the soldier’s wife, without waiting to hear more, went immediately to Mrs. Samuels and revealed the whole plot. That day the detective received


which was curt and expressive. “I know your mission,” it said; “I know who you are and what you are, and if by to-morrow morning you still remain to show yourself in the county I shall kill you like I would a dog.” That night the detective left, and to the knowledge of those best informed, he has never returned again.

In going south from Kearney to the home of the brothers, one has of necessity to ride through heavy timber, and across creeks having bottoms and banks good for ambushment. Big trees grow by the roadside. Paths and blind ways lead off through the undergrowth, excellent avenues for the sudden dash of horsemen, and for the exercise of that sudden marksmanship which is always so fatal because always so near. Your correspondent rode unarmed and alone. When one hunts for information one does not hunt with either revolver or shot-gun. Others who are paid for it do this, but not those who seek to satisfy that great hungry devil-fish—public curiosity. On the left, two miles and a half out from Kearney, a large gate opens into a large woods pasture. The gate opens and shuts easily, as if men who had been used to soldiering had been in the habit of riding through. Beyond the gate the timber thickens, and at noonday it is dark there. In the turn of the nights spectres may abound there, for in riding into it one feels like riding into the unknown.

Suddenly a remarkably clear and penetrating voice called out “Halt,” and before its echoes died away, two men, superbly mounted and splendidly armed, rode out from a clump of bushes into the middle of the road and drew up their horses as picquets on an outpost. Neither gun nor pistol was presented. Between the man having a mission of peace and a man having a mission of war, it was not difficult to distinguish. They rode forward after a few brief seconds of observation and extended their hands. The man on the right was Jesse and the man on the left was Frank James—two horsemen unsurpassed for skill and endurance in the West, and


without a peer in all Missouri. Each one had a Spencer rifle, with sixty rounds of ammunition to the gun, and each had also three breech-loading dragoon-size Smith and Wesson English pistols, the deadliest and most accurate patent in the known world. A long talk was demanded, and all dismounted and took a seat in the shade of the trees. Not once, however, was a hand released from its hold upon the bridle-rein, and not once did the look of quiet caution and determination die out from the eyes of the men who had over their heads the shadow of an official outlawry.

Jesse James, the youngest, has a face as smooth and as innocent as the face of a school girl. The blue eyes, very clear and penetrating, are never at rest. His form is tall, graceful and capable of great endurance and great effort. There is always a smile on his lips, and a graceful word or a compliment for all with whom he comes in contact. Looking at his small white hands, with their long, tapering fingers, one would not imagine that with a revolver they were among the quickest and deadliest hands in all the West. Frank is older and taller. Jesse’s face is a perfect oval—Frank’s is long, wide about the mouth and chin, and set always in a look of fixed repose. Jesse laughs at everything—Frank at nothing at all. Jesse is light-hearted, reckless, devil-may-care—Frank sober, sedate, a dangerous man always in ambush in the midst of society. Jesse knows there is a price upon his head and discusses the whys and wherefors of it—Frank knows it, too, but it chafes him sorely and arouses all the tiger that is in his heart. Neither will be taken alive. Killed—that may be. Having long ago shaken hands with life, when death does come it will come to those who, neither surprised nor disappointed, will greet him with the exclamation: “How now, old fellow.”

“You are accused of a multitude of bank robberies,” the correspondent said, “and I have come to you for a full history of your lives, embracing of course your connection with the guerrilla service, and a recital of some of the most important actions connected therewith. If the newspaper reports can be relied on, you are certainly two of the most wonderful men in Missouri.”

Jesse complied with alacrity, breaking in often upon his narrative to sweep all of the horizon possible from beneath the undergrowth, and listening ever and anon as an Indian might to catch the sound of approaching hoofs or the tramp of


“During the war,” he commenced, “Frank and myself served under Quantrell, Todd, Anderson and Taylor.”

Many of your readers will recognize these names—all of them certainly, the names of [William C.] Quantrell and [“Bloody Bill”] Anderson. George Todd was a Jackson county man, living in Kansas City when the war broke out. At first he was a lieutenant under Quantrell, and afterwards organized a company of his own and did border service that was remarkable for its desperation even in a land of desperadoes. [Fletcher] Taylor in turn was a lieutenant under Todd, and afterwards he, too, organized a company and exhibited all the enterprise and daring of his famous leaders. Of this terrible quartette, Taylor alone survives. One of his arms was shot away in a desperate combat. The sight of one eye was for a long time endangered by another wound; for months he lay at the point of death with a bullet through his right lung, he was wounded in the left thigh and through his remaining arm, but he still survives a maimed, reticent, quiet citizen, making no moan over the past and well content that he got back from the strife with even as much of his frame as was left to him. Quantrell was killed in Kentucky, Anderson in Ray county, and Todd, while leading a forlorn charge in the Price Raid of 1864, upon the rear of the Second Colorado cavalry. The heavy ball from a Spencer rifle struck him fair in the throat, severed the jugular vein, and the man was dead almost before he touched the ground.

Jesse continued:

“Under some one of these four men we served during the war. On the 15th of May, 1865, I was wounded near Lexington, Mo., in a fight with some Wisconsin cavalry men—soldiers, I believe, of the Second Wisconsin. On the 21st of the same month I surrendered at Lexington. I was in a dreadful fix. A minie ball had gone through my right lung and everybody thought the wound would be mortal. The militia were clamoring for the death of all guerrillas, and people were afraid to come near me or about me. A Mr. Boosman, however, generously and fearlessly came to my relief, borrowed a carriage from Mrs. Early and hauled me into Lexington. On the 13th of June, 1865, I went to Kansas City, where, at my uncle’s in Harlem, just across the river. Dr. Johnson Lykins, a Christian if there ever was one in this world, visited me daily and did everything for my wound possible. So also did Dr. Jo. Wood, one of the noblest and best men God ever created. You see I am very particular about these things, for I want first to get at the


with which Frank and myself are charged. On the 15th of July, 1865, I went up the river to Rulo, in Nebraska, were my family were. On the 26th of August I returned towards home again, but such was the condition of my wound that I was unable to be hauled to my mother’s house in Clay county. Again I stopped in Harlem, at the house of my uncle, and it was here that I received the visits of Dr. Wood.

“Just able barely to mount a horse and ride about a little in the spring of 1866, my life was threatened daily, and I was forced to go heavily armed. The whole country was then full of militia, robbing, plundering and killing. As for Frank, he was never permitted to come home at all. True, he did come, but it was in defiance of the orders of the authorities and at his own peril. After remaining at home awhile he went to Nelson county, Kentucky, and while at Brandenburgh, got into a fight with four Federal soldiers. Two of these he killed, the third he wounded badly, and the fourth shot Frank in the point of the left hip, inflicting a terrible wound. This was in June, 1866. Frank wrote for me to come to him at once, and although my own wound was still very bad, I started immediately and stayed with him at the house of Mr. Alexander Severe, in Nelson county, until he recovered, which was in September. From Nelson county we went to Logan county to see some relatives we had there, and after staying until the middle of October, I returned alone to my home in Missouri. During the winter of 1866 and ‘67 I came almost to death’s door. My wound would not heal, and I had had several hemorrhages.

“On the night of February 18th, 1867, an effort


Five militia men, well armed and mounted, came to my mother’s house and demanded admittance. The weather was dreadfully cold and I was in bed, scarcely able to get up. My pistols, however, I always kept by me. My step-father heard them as they walked upon the front porch and asked them what they wanted. They told him to open the door. He came to my room up stairs and asked me what he should do. I requested him to help me to the window that I might look out. He did so. There was snow on the ground and the moon was shining. I saw that the horses hitched to the fence all had on cavalry saddles, and then I knew that the men were soldiers. I had but one thing to do—to drive them away or die. Surrender had played out for good with me. Incensed at my step-father’s absence, they were hammering at the door with the butts of their muskets, and calling out for me to come down, swearing that they knew I was in the house and would have me out dead or alive. I went down stairs softly, got close up to the front door and listened until from the talk of the men I thought I might be able to get a pretty good range. Then putting my pistol up to within about three inches of the upper panel, I fired. One halloed and fell. Before the surprise was off, I threw the door wide open and with a pistol in each hand began a rapid fusillade. One I killed as he ran, two more were wounded besides the one on the porch, and the fifth man got clear without a scratch. So complete was the surprise that not a man among the whole five fired a shot.”

This night attack, just as it is here recorded, actually took place, the circumstances being vouched for by a large number of people in Clay county, who were quite familiar with them.

“The four wounded men were brought into my mother’s house, my step-father went for a doctor, and they all recovered in a short time. Three of them are living in Clay county to-day, and are as good friends as Frank and myself have anywhere.

“I knew, however, that the next morning after the fight I would have to get away, and I did just in time, for a full company came early to look for me and were furious because I had escaped them.

“Being recommended to consult the celebrated Confederate surgeon, Dr. Paul Eve, of Nashville, Tennessee, I went there in June, 1867, and remained under his care for three weeks. He told me that my lung was so badly decayed that


and that the best thing I could do was to go home and die among my people. I had hope, however; I had been wounded seven times during the war, and once before in this same lung; and I did not believe I was going to die. I went from Nashville, Tennessee, to Logan county, Kentucky, and remained with my[bottom line is cut off] when I again returned to Missouri. In December I went back to Kentucky, and remained in Logan county until the latter part of January, 1868, and then went to Claplin, Nelson county.”

The gate leading down from the road was heard to open and latch at this point in Jesse’s narrative, and the two men were on horseback and on guard before a bird, startled from its perch among the leaves overhead, had gained another tree not fifty feet away. Horses and riders seemed carved from the same block. Instinctively, the steeds knew the wishes of their masters, and not an ear moved or an eyelid quivered. They had been well-trained—trained indeed as only guerrillas know how to train horses when a neigh might bring down ruin or catastrophe. This newcomer was only an old neighbor farmer, however, who gave good day pleasantly and rode down under the hill to the house. Jesse and Frank again dismounted, and again reclined lazily in the shade, an arm through the rein of each bridle, and ever and anon an eye well to the front that watched not only the woods, but listened as well.

“About the bank robberies, Jesse,” your correspondent asked, “tell me about them. According to the newspapers you and Frank have now about money enough to start a newspaper yourself, or take a goodly pile of stock in the Northern Pacific railroad.”

“It was to get at the question of these robberies,” Jesse replied, “that has caused me to be so minute in introducing my career since the close of the war. The first robbery with which our names have been connected was the robbery of the bank at


 A Terrible Quintette continues for another 17,000 words with Jesse James discussing at length the robberies of which he and brother Frank were accused and the lives they were leading in 1873. John Newman Edwards then tells some of the stories of Cole and John Younger before concluding with a long interview with Arthur C. McCoy, the fifth member of the "terrible quintette" of James-Younger gang fame. The entire article, rare in the extreme, is available along with Noted Guerrillas, by John N. Edwards on CD-ROM for only $9.95 +$2.00 shipping.

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