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Cole Younger (1844 - 1916)

Thomas Coleman “Cole” Younger was an outlaw who joined forces with Jesse and Frank James to rob banks and trains in the period following the Civil War. He was born into a large and affluent family on January 15, 1844, near Lee’s Summit, Missouri. Though his father was a respected landowner and merchant, Cole Younger became an outlaw in the early years of the Civil War
The Civil War was a military conflict that began on April 12, 1861, when Southern forces fired on Fort Sumter outside of Charleston, South Carolina. Several Southern states had seceded from the United States (also known as the Union) and formed the Confederate States of America (also referred to as the Confederacy) out of fear that the United States' newly elected president, Abraham Lincoln, would not allow the expansion of slavery into new western states. Battles and skirmishes were fought throughout the country by Union and Confederate forces. General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox, Virginia, on April 9, 1865. As other Confederate forces heard the news of Lee's surrender, they surrendered as well and the war was soon over. Over half a million men were killed or wounded in the war. Thousands of former slaves gained their freedom. After the war, the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution were passed prohibiting slavery, providing equal protection for all citizens, and barring federal and state governments from denying citizens the right to vote due to their race, color, or status as a former slave.
. He had trouble with a militiaman, went into hiding, and armed himself with a weapon, a violation of an order by General John C. Frémont who was commander of Union forces in Missouri. After his father was killed, his sister assaulted, and his mother’s house burned down, Younger joined other Confederate
Confederacy is a term used to identify the states that seceded from the United States and formed their own separate government during the Civil War. "Confederacy" is also used interchangeably with the terms "the South" and "the Confederate States of America."

Confederate is the term used to identify an individual who was loyal to the Confederacy.
A guerrilla is someone who fights in a war but is not part of an officially recognized military force. Often outnumbered or facing forces with superior weaponry, guerrillas rely on ambushes, raids, and surprise attacks. Their unconventional style of warfare includes attacking and killing civilians, which conventional militaries typically forbid. One of the most well-known guerrilla raids of the Civil War occurred in 1863 when Confederate guerrillas from Missouri raided Lawrence, Kansas, killed over two hundred men and boys, and burned the town. Guerrillas in Missouri were also called bushwhackers because they frequently launched attacks from heavily wooded areas in order to surprise the enemy and often in hid in rugged, forested terrain that made it difficult for the enemy to pursue them.
s to fight the Union forces.

Younger fought with William Clarke Quantrill in the raid on Lawrence, Kansas, in 1863. He participated in many fierce raids until the end of the Civil War. Afterwards, Younger and his brothers, Jim and Bob, joined fellow bushwhackers Jesse and Frank James in robbing banks, stagecoaches, and trains. They were, to some extent, seeking revenge for the poor treatment Southern sympathizers suffered at the hands of Unionists during and after the war. Many former Confederates supported the James-Younger gang during these years.

Cole Younger’s career as an outlaw came to an end in Northfield, Minnesota. He was captured after attempting to rob the Northfield bank in 1876. Though Jesse and Frank James escaped, Cole, along with his brothers, was captured and sent to Stillwater Prison. Bob Younger died in prison in 1889; Cole and Jim Younger remained there until they were paroled on July 10, 1902.

After his release, Cole Younger worked briefly with Frank James in a Wild West show. Later, Younger wrote a memoir and toured as a lecturer. He died in Lee’s Summit on March 21, 1916, and is buried there.

Text by Carlynn Trout with research assistance by Elizabeth Engel


References and Resources

For more information about Cole Younger's life and career, see the following resources:

Society Resources

The following is a selected list of books, articles, and manuscripts about Cole Younger in the research centers of The State Historical Society of Missouri. The Society’s call numbers follow the citations in brackets. All links will open in a new tab.

  • Articles from the Newspaper Collection
    • "Younger on the Road Again: Has Started Out This Time with a Street Show – Has Not Been Successful." Jefferson City Daily Tribune. March 20, 1908. p. 1, c. 6.
    • "A Letter from the Notorious Cole Younger: He Denies the Charges and Challenges Investigation." Jefferson City People’s Tribune. December 9, 1874. p. 1, c. 3.
  • Books
    • Christensen, Lawrence O., William E. Foley, Gary R. Kremer, and Kenneth H. Winn, eds. Dictionary of Missouri Biography. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1999. pp. 822-823. [REF F508 D561]
    • Croy, Homer. Last of the Great Outlaws: The Story of Cole Younger. New York: Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 1956. [REF F508.1 Y89c]
    • Koblas, John. The Great Cole Younger and Frank James Historical Wild West Show. St. Cloud, MN: North Star Press of St. Cloud, 2002. [REF F508.1 Y89ko2]
    • Younger, Cole. The Story of Cole Younger, by Himself. Chicago: Press of the Henneberry Co., 1903. [REF F508.1 Y89 In Case]
  • Manuscript Collection
    • Younger, Cole (1844-1916), Papers, 1915 (C1670)
      Application for Confederate veteran's pension, data on his Civil War service, correspondence between Missouri and U.S. adjutant's general about Younger, and newspaper clipping about John McCorkle's book, Three Years With Quantrill.
    • Younger, Cole (1844-1916) and James (1848-1902), Papers, 1885-1897 (C0443)
      Letters from Cole Younger in the Stillwater, MN, prison to his aunt and W.C. Bronaugh. Letters from Missouri officials, 1897, and a petition signed by members of the 39th General Assembly to the Minnesota Board of Pardons asking for the release of the Youngers.

Historic Missourians: Cole Younger
Cole YoungerCole Younger, (1844-1916).

[SHS 024258]

Thomas Coleman “Cole” Younger

Born: January 15, 1844
Died: March 21, 1916 (age 72)
Category: Folk Legends
Region of Missouri: Northwest
Missouri Hometown: Lee's Summit
Related Biographies: Frank James, Jesse James