Oh, Those Shady Characters!
Researching one’s family is certainly a fascinating exercise. It is always exhilarating to find that heroic fellow who made history through a brave and courageous act – saved the world, so to speak. But, the path to that hero (or “shero” as is becoming popular in ModernSpeak) can be littered with those not-so-heroic folks, you know – the shady characters.
My family tree is certainly filled with a bit of both – the heroes and those others, the ones polite families may condemn to the shadows, never to see the light of day.
It may have been merely a quirk of fate that caused my own family tree to have branched out with an abundance of those infamous rather than famous folks. I’d like to believe if the winds of fate had blown a bit differently many of those adorned with the label Outlaw, or Gunslinger, or Horse Thief, even Murderer might have led a life much more engaged in mundane, every day events and not condemned to endless chastisement for the vagaries of their industry that led to their becoming – those shady characters.
Let us consider, for starters, the most infamous (I believe) on my father’s side of the branch: The Youngers and The Daltons. The climate of northwest Missouri, Clay County, bordering the Kansas state line was the impetus that fired passions among the locals that eventually erupted into Civil War.
This branch of the family tree did not begin so ignominiously. In fact, both the Youngers and the Creeks (my line) sprang from historically heroic fellows. Joshua Logan Younger, the father of Colonel Charles Lee Younger, was with George Washington at Valley Forge, wounded at Brandywine according to his pension papers – an injury that would end his military career and lead to remuneration. From the diary of another Younger relative, Jessie Jean Ginn, the following appears:
Family records say of Joshua Younger, "He first fought in the Battle of Boston, was wounded and sent home. He re-enlisted under Col. James Wood and fought in the battle of Quebec under the command of General Montgomery. Was wounded early in the battle and taken a prisoner and later exchanged to his regiment just in time to take part in the Battle of Germantown and the Surrender of Burgoyne. He was with Washington at Valley Forge in the winter of 1778 and 1779. He was in the Battle of Monmouth and others, was wounded in the Battle of Bertheson Bay, served four years and was honorably discharged early in 1770. He was a close friend of Daniel Boone."
The mother of Colonel Charles Lee Younger was Elizabeth Virginia Lee, reputed by Cole Younger to be the daughter of the famous Richard Henry Lee. The Lee Family disputes this fact; however, having recently submitted DNA for analysis, this relationship has been validated by a number of cousin matches whose documented family trees tie back to Richard Henry Lee and to his forebears. The apparent foundation for the Lee family’s claim of no relationship lies in the fact Elizabeth was not named in her father’s will; however, she had predeceased Richard Henry Lee and moved far from the home estate in Virginia. Your author’s research shows the Younger family held land adjacent to the Lee land in Virginia – the proximity begging a closer relationship than typically reported. Some researchers attribute Elizabeth Lee’s heritage to be as sister to Robert E. Lee; some to daughter of Richard Henry Lee and Ann Aylett. The DNA results seem to bear out a familial relationship, yet to be documented in any more traditional way. Richard Henry Lee, if in fact our 6th Great Grandfather, certainly would fall on the Hero Line. A signer of the Declaration of Independence, he served in the House of Burgesses for many years, and was reputed to have a more golden flare for oratory than even one Patrick Henry. His voice was said to be “most mellifluous,” his posture and carriage majestic, his visage handsome and austere. He was tall for the time, graceful, and influential. These characteristics so match those of my father there is little doubt of the genetic lineage in my mind.
Richard Henry Lee - Standing
The trouble seems to have begun with the son: Colonel Charles Lee Younger. A handsome rascal, but one prone to lascivious tastes. He fathered some 19 to 22 children by two wives and a slew of mistresses and slaves. His first wife he wed when he was a mere fifteen years of age and she a year younger by most records. Back in that day, lives were shorter and women were considered spinsters if not “affianced” or wed by the age of 17 or so. Nancy Toney would bear Charles two children before her early death aged 29 at oldest reckoning, 18 by the youngest: Milton Toney Younger (1802-1852) and Elizabeth Darlisco Younger (1805-1892). Having been left single with two young children, Charles soon wed Sarah Sullivan Purcell who would bear him numerous children, including my 3rd Great-Grandmother, Virginia Lee Younger. While yet married to Sarah, Charles would begin a long-term relationship with his mistress, Paremelia Dorcus Wilson, by whom he would sire an additional nine children. We note only two here for their contribution to the cast of “shady characters”: first-born Adeline Lee Younger who would wed James Lewis Dalton and birth the boys who would become the Dalton Gang; and last-born Bruce Arthur Wilson Younger who would wed one Myra Maybelle Shirley, better known as “Belle Starr.”
Not to leave anyone out, ole Charlie also managed to hook up with one or more of his mulatto slaves. Many attribute two children, Nathan and Washington by a slave named Fanny to him as well, by virtue of this portion of his will:
“ ITEM 4th. I will and bequeath that after my death the following slaves belonging to me be manumitted and forever set free from slavery or service or bondage to any man, to wit: Elizabeth, aged 22 of mulatto color and her two children named Catherine and Simpson. Also Fany, aged between 35 and 40 years, and her two children named Nathan and Washington, and that their freedom commence at my death. ITEM 5th. I give and bequeath to said Elizabeth, Fanny, Catherine, Simpson, Nathan and Washington, named in the 4th Item, jointly, the 300 acre tract of land situated on Little Blue in Jackson County, which I bought in part from John Ross and from Hawkins Estate and in part from the U.S. Land Office, all which land is easily ascertained by reference to the deeds from the last named parties to me and from the land office Certificate. To Have and To Hold the same to said last mentioned legatees after their freedom, Forever. “
Your author believes, without particular reason, that Fanny may have been the “mother figure” to Elizabeth; although many have opined she was the mother of Elizabeth as well as Nathan and Washington and that Charles then fell in love with his own offspring! I prefer to believe not. Other researchers believe Elizabeth was the daughter of Solomon Simpson and Sarah “Sallie” Boone. She was half white and half black. Elizabeth Rose Simpson Younger was, without doubt, a real beauty. She held Charles’ heart as he abandoned his legal spouse and spent his waning years in her company. In fact, when he died Elizabeth had him buried, but wife Sarah had his body disinterred, re-housed in a “fitting” casket (in fact it would require a second temporary casket for his removal before residing in his final third casket and third location of burial!) and finally buried on her home turf. Their daughter Catherine was a beauty along the lines of Vivian Leigh in Gone With the Wind.
Catherine Simpson Younger.
Not only did Charles Lee Younger spread his genes far and wide, he also dabbled in a number of entrepreneurial activities: horse racing, ranching, farming, a ferry, “Injun fightin’” with Daniel Boone, and land speculation, among others. His offspring may not have been quite as colorful, but they were accomplished in many ways as well.
Son of Charles Lee Younger and Sarah Sullivan Purcell, and brother to my 3rd Great-Grandmother Virginia Lee Younger, was Henry Washington Younger. A very successful plantation owner, he had a number of additional interests: a mercantile, race horses, and he successfully managed his town as Mayor. Henry Washington Younger attempted to quell the flames that would erupt into the Civil War. He invited Union soldiers to join local citizens at a large ball on his plantation. This attempt backfired, very fatefully. There, one Capt. Walley, a married Union soldier, would affront one of the Younger daughters. Cole Younger invited Walley outside where he proceeded to introduce the Yankee to Southern comfort – a sound thrashing for insulting a Southern lady. Walley was embittered and vowed to get even. Get even he did, in a big and horrible way. He and a few of his Union cohorts ambushed Henry Washington Younger on one of his many business trips. They waylaid him, killed and robbed him and left his body in the dirt. This was the incentive to set Cole Younger off. Cole, several of his siblings and his Creek cousins (including my 2nd Great-Grandfather Absalom Creek, siblings Jacob Creth and Sidney Washington Creek) would join up with Quantrill’s Raiders. In fact, Cole and brother-in-law John Jarrette would become Quantrill’s most trusted lieutenants – and the ones most feared and hated by their Union opposition.
Our list of shady characters even includes, by remote and not blood relationships the James brothers, Johnny Ringo, Belle Starr and, of course, the in-laws. Although many references have been made to the James-Younger Gang, there was not, in fact, such a cohesive group. Frank and Jesse James also fought with Quantrill’s Raiders. They resided in Missouri. They knew Cole, Jim, Bob and John Younger but there was always a bit of competition between Cole Younger and Jesse James.
Frank and Jesse James’ mother was Zarelda Cole who wed Robert Salle James after meeting him at a religious outing. He would become an ordained Baptist minister, move his wife to Missouri and work a farm when not preaching. (He was also one of the founders of the William and Mary College.) Their farm was in Excelsior Springs in Clay County. The Youngers resided, primarily, in Liberty, nearby Paradise and its surrounds, although Col. Charles had other plantations scattered about the state. Perhaps part of Jesse James’ jealousy of Cole Younger arose from the disparate economic status they enjoyed. In 1850 Robert James journeyed to California in search of gold and wealth. Instead, he met his fate only some four months along his sojourn. After his death, Zarelda would wed Benjamin Simms. Simms’ niece, Augusta Innskeep married one of Charles and Sarah Younger’s sons, Coleman Purcell Younger of Clay County, Missouri before he moved out to California. Augusta’s younger sister, Mary, married Martin Ringo. The son of Mary and Martin Ringo was John Peters Ringo, who would become known as “Johnny Ringo” and forever be associated with Tombstone, Arizona. Thus, the James Boys, the Youngers, Johnny Ringo and the Dalton Gang were distant cousins by marriage.
The story, though brief, of Bruce Arthur Wilson Younger and Myra Maybelle Reed, nee Shirley, does not lack in flair, intrigue, and Mystery with a capital “M”. The recently widowed Mrs. Reed wed Bruce Younger, as documented: One Bruce Younger, a Male aged 27 whose birth date was recorded as “abt 1853” on 15 May 1880 in Labette, Kansas wed one Maibelle Reed, documented by microfiche Film Number 001433307. (See Marriage License copy at bottom of column.)
No one seems to know what happened in the few weeks ‘twixt this date of wedded bliss and “Maibelle” Shirley Reed Younger’s next marriage which would be documented a mere three weeks later when, according to “U. S. and International Marriage Records” one Myra Maybelle Shirley, a female born in Missouri about 1848 wed Samuel Starr, born in Indiana in about 1857. This marriage to a Cherokee Indian of the infamous Starr tribe was reputed to have taken place a mere three weeks or so later, in 1880. Bruce Younger, for reasons unknown, had hightailed it out of town and would disappear into the dust of history for many years, arising – as it were – like the phoenix from the ashes…or, well, from the dust of a cave where many believe his petrified remains had lain, so well preserved the “rictus of agony” surrounding his death was plainly writ upon his desicated visage.
Petrified Man Is Not the Body of Bruce Younger, as Alleged (News). The Galveston Daily News (Houston, TX) Tuesday, March 14, 1893; pg. 6; Issue 355; col E . . . . . . . . . . Dallas Morning News, February 28, 1943. Fifty Years Ago Today. Gainesville. -- The identification of the petrified man by Mrs. John T. Biffle, wife of a prominent cattleman of this county, as the body of Bruce Younger is the sole topic of conversation again today. Nobody doubts the lady's sincerity, but a great many think she might be mistaken. Joshua Garham, an old and well-known citizen of Cooke County, thinks the body is that of John Lankston, who left here for California in 1848. . . . . . . . . . .
A sister of those ideal outlaws, the Younger brothers, lives in Kansas City [i.e., Sophronia Kirkpatrick nee Younger]. She is married and few know her identity. Even I did not know it until she addressed me a letter yesterday, caused by the publication of a story that a fossilized body supposed to be that of Bruce Younger had been found in a cave in the Guadaloupe mountains, and had been identified by a sister of Bruce living in Gainesville, Texas. The sister in Kansas City denies the existence of such a woman. Bruce, says the sister, emphatically, was never associated with the James Boys, and even if alive, Frank James would not know him. But she claims that Bruce Younger died in Colorado City and was buried in Colorado Springs 3 years ago last September. The winter of 1885, she says, he was in Kansas City, and made his home with her, under an assumed name, of course. Then he went west. The sister has a postal card written by Bruce when he was first taken sick in Colorado, and from his illness she says he never recovered. "I know what I am saying" she says, "and if Bruce were alive now, he would only be 42 years old. I don't want to see my name in print, but if necessary you may reveal my identity for the sake of the dead. As to Bruce, he never was an outlaw. Bucks County Gazette, Bristol, Pennsylvania, Thursday, April 27, 1893. Watertown Times, New York. Wednesday, May 10, 1893 . . . . . . . . . .
There are a few, however, who know that one of the Younger Boys is buried in Evergreen Cemetery this city. Bruce Younger, the youngest of the family, died at Colorado City and was buried in September, 1880. He had been living at Colorado City for a year or two and was a prominent character among the sporting fraternity. He used his proper name and it is said, he was never mixed up in the wrong doing of his brothers. He was a powerful man physically and was notorious among his acquaintances for the amount of whisky he could drink. At the time of his death, he was without money, and the sporting people of Colorado City supplied the funds for the burial, a notorious woman of the town supplying the most. Colorado Springs Gazette, Colorado Springs, Colorado, April 23,1893. . . . . . . . . . .
Bruce Arthur Wilson Younger
A very Young Belle Starr
News Clipping - Petrified Man
I guess the morale of this story is to be careful when you stir those bones for you never know what ghostly (or ghastly, as it may be) apparitions may arise.
Researched and Compiled by Melinda Cohenour
Click on author's byline for bio and list of other works published by Pencil Stubs Online.