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The Roscoe Gunfight: The Youngers vs. The Pinkertons

Early in the second week of March 1874, two detectives from the Pinkerton Detective Agency arrived in St. Clair County, Missouri. The Pinkerton Agency had been hired to bring down the James-Younger Gang. The two operatives who arrived in Missouri were Capt. Louis J. Lull (AKA: W. J. Allen) and John Boyle (AKA: James Wright). Their assignment was to capture the Younger brothers; Cole, Jim, John, and Bob, who were wanted for several bank and train robberies. A few days prior, on March 10, a third Pinkerton agent, Joseph W. Whicher, was sent to Clay County, Missouri, with the assignment to capture the James brothers, Jesse and Frank. His body was discovered early on the morning of the 11th, having been shot three times, most likely by Jesse James and fellow James-Younger Gang members Arthur McCoy and Jim Anderson.

After arriving in St. Clair, Lull and Boyle rented rooms at the Commercial Hotel in the town of Osceola. It was there that they met up with local constable Edwin B. Daniels. Daniels had been hired by the Pinkerton Agency to serve as a guide for Lull and Boyle, since he was very familiar with the people and the terrain of St. Clair County. Unbeknownst to the trio of lawmen, only two of the Youngers, Jim and John, were in St. Clair County. Brothers Cole and Bob were currently in Hot Springs, Arkansas. They had left for Hot Springs a few weeks earlier, and John was planning on leaving Missouri on March 17 to join his brothers in Arkansas. Before leaving, John was able to talk his older brother Jim into attending a dance with him at the Monagaw Hotel in the town of Monagaw Springs on March 16. The two brothers apparently stayed at the dance very late and ended up having to stay the night at the home of some family friends, John and Hannah McFerrin. After awakening on the morning of the 17th, Jim and John decided to eat breakfast with their friend Theodrick Snuffer, who lived on Chalk Level Road, just outside the small settlement of Roscoe. Upon arriving at their friend’s house, Snuffer gladly prepared them a meal.

Sometime during the meal, Jim, John, and Snuffer could hear the sound of approaching horses. Jim and John immediately grabbed their guns and ran up to the loft above Snuffer’s house. Snuffer, meanwhile, went outside to investigate. In front of his porch outside he met Louis Lull and Ed Daniels, seated on their horses. Unbeknownst to Snuffer, John Boyle was sitting on his horse about three quarters of a mile behind Lull and Daniels. Lull and Daniels exchanged greetings with Snuffer and Lull said that they were cattle buyers. He went on to say that they were in need of directions to the house of a widow Simms, who he figured might sell some cattle to them. Snuffer gave the pair directions to Mrs. Simms’s place and Lull thanked him. After that, Lull and Daniels turned around and headed back to Boyle, the opposite way that Snuffer had told them to travel to the Simms place. Jim and John had watched the entire encounter from their hiding place through some slots in the wall.

After Snuffer reentered the house and Lull and Daniels were out of sight once again, Jim and John came down from their hiding place. Jim merely went back to his meal as if nothing had happened. John, however, stated that he didn’t buy the statement that the two men were cattle buyers. To support his opinion, he pointed out how both men were far too heavily armed to be simple cattle buyers and that the younger of the two men (Daniels) had remained quiet in the whole discussion and appeared to be very nervous. John then proposed that he and Jim arm themselves and go follow the two men. Jim refused, saying they should just mind their own business and deal with them later if the need arose. John persisted however, stating that if Jim would not accompany him, he’d go after the men himself. Faced with this, Jim reluctantly agreed to accompany his younger brother. Both men went out and mounted their horses, then turned down Chalk Level Road in the direction that Lull and Daniels had been seen taking. Jim was wearing a pistol on each hip and John was wearing one pistol on his right hip, but was also holding a double-barrel shotgun in his right hand.

About a quarter-mile up the road from Snuffer’s place, John and Jim spotted the Pinkerton men. Boyle was a short distance ahead of Lull and Daniels, who were lagging behind and talking to each other. When they heard the sound of the Youngers’ horses behind them, Lull, Boyle, and Daniels stopped their horses and turned around to face the approaching men. As Jim and John approached, John lowered his shotgun in the direction of the men. With that, Boyle turned his horse to face a field with a cluster of woods located at the end of it and took off at breakneck speed. Jim immediately pulled out both his pistols and aimed one at Boyle. He fired one shot, which took of Boyle’s hat, but otherwise left him unharmed. Boyle continued on his way, apparently without noticing he lost his hat, and was soon out of sight.

With Boyle gone, Jim turned both of his pistols on Lull and Daniels. John also leveled his shotgun directly at Lull’s chest. By now, there was only a few feet distance between Lull and Daniels and Jim and John. The Youngers ordered both men to put their hands up, and this they did. John then ordered both men to throw all their weapons to the ground. As Lull and Daniels did this, Jim holstered one of his pistols and dismounted. While on the ground, he kept his one still-drawn pistol on Lull and began picking up all the guns that Lull and Daniels had dropped down. One of the guns that belonged to Lull that Jim picked up was a .43 caliber Trantor, which was made in England and was very expensive. Jim, in a cocky manner, thanked Lull for this new “present.” John, in a threatening manner, demanded to know who the two men were. Lull casually responded that they were cattle buyers from Osceola. Jim then asked what they were doing in the Roscoe area then. Lull responded that they were “Just rambling around.” John now came right out and asked Lull if they were detectives. Lull responded in the negative, but Jim then asked him why they were so heavily armed. Lull quickly responded by saying that it was there right to be armed. With this, John turned his shotgun on Daniels, who had up to this point remained entirely silent. Jim also turned his attention (and his pistol) on Daniels. John asked Daniels if he had anything he’d like to add, and Daniels merely shook his head in the negative. Noticing how both Jim and John’s attention, and more importantly, their guns as well, Lull seized the opportunity and pulled a small No. 2 Smith & Wesson pistol out of his coat pocket. Out of the corner of his eye, John saw Lull’s action and began bringing his shotgun back to face Lull. As John was doing this, Lull took no time to aim and fired a single shot. The bullet hit John in the throat and he fell back in his saddle. He also instinctively fired both barrels of his shotgun. The loads of buckshot hit Lull throughout his shoulder and arm. Jim suddenly turned towards Lull and fired a shot at him, which missed. Lull then dropped his gun and, with his good arm, turned his horse to face the direction that Boyle had already fled in and took off. Daniels turned his horse to try to follow him, but Jim shifted his attention back to him and fired another shot. This bullet hit Daniels in the neck and the force knocked him from his horse. He fell to the ground, dead. John, bleeding profusely but still alive and now in a terrible rage of anger, dropped his shotgun, pulled out his pistol, and took off after Lull. Jim, meanwhile stayed behind to examine Daniels’s body. Jim did not know that John had been shot and figured that Lull’s bullet had missed him since he was still in his saddle and was going after Lull. After Lull reached the woods located at the end of the field he had fled through, a low-hanging branch hit him in the head and knocked him off of his horse and into some bushes. John saw Lull fall and fired a shot into the bushes with his pistol. The shot missed, then John fired a second time. This bullet hit Lull in the middle of his chest. John, figuring Lull was dead or dying, then turned his horse around and slowly walked it back to where Jim was. By now he had lost a lot of blood and was swaying in his saddle. When he reached Jim, Jim looked up at him, screamed “John!” and ran towards his brother. Before he could get to him, John toppled out of his saddle and into the dirt. John Harrison Younger, the first of the Younger brothers outlaw dynasty to go, was dead at the age of twenty-three.

After John fell to the ground, two farmers who were in the surrounding fields and witnessed the gunfight, Speed McDonald and Ol Davis, ran out to where Jim and John were. After holding his dead brother for a short time, Jim removed all of his personal affects. When Jim saw Davis and McDonald, he ordered the latter to take John’s body back to the Snuffer place, to tell Snuffer what happened, and to have Snuffer take care of John’s body. With that, Jim saddled up and rode off in the direction that Boyle had previously fled in. Boyle managed to reach Osceola and told the sheriff there that the Youngers had captured his two fellow Pinkertons. The sheriff immediately put together a posse to go after the Youngers, but Boyle managed to slip away and was not in the posse. He left St. Clair County immediately afterward. Meanwhile, John’s body was buried on the Snuffer farm early in the morning of March 18. That evening, the body was dug up and was interred at the Yeater Cemetery in Roscoe. A coroner jury soon decided that John had been killed by Lull and Daniels had been killed by Jim. Lull, still alive, had been discovered in the woods where he fell shortly after the gunfight. For the next several days, doctors worked on him constantly. However, Lull died of his wounds shortly thereafter.

The above photo is of the site on the Chalk Level Road where the gunfight actually took place.

James-Younger Gang members involved

Pinkerton Agents involved