In the book Shot All to Hell, author Mark Lee Gardner tells the story and demise of the infamous Jesse James and Cole Younger. The book has all the elements of a great western story. Some colorful characters, some very bad men, some very courageous people, a bank robbery, a shoot-out, betrayal, an exciting getaway, a giant manhunt, and a daring escape.
I spent a lot of my youth visiting family who lived near the tiny community of Otterville, Missouri. I had heard legends and stories about the day Jesse and Frank James robbed a train in that town. As a child I had listened to my Dad and uncle tell stories better than any movie. As an adult I had dismissed them as tall tales and pure legend. In fact the book actually validated as true some of the stories my favorite uncle told. Missouri was a state that was ravaged by the Civil War and feelings still ran hot. Both the James family and the Younger spent the war as members of Quantrill’s Raiders. Rightly or wrongly, Gardner asserts that their career as outlaws was a product of the still seething division that fueled the Civil War.
The men began a career of crime robbing trains and an occasional bank. Following several daring robberies and some persistent Pinkerton Detectives, Missouri got too hot for the criminals. So they headed north to Minnesota. You learned these were not men you would turn your back on and they certainly were not the honorable romantic characters as portrayed in movies and novels. In search of a large payday the gang settled on the small town of Northfield, Minnesota. There they hoped to make a score where they could retire and live in style. The bank robbery was totally botched and the people of Northfield risked their lives taking to the street to fight back much to the gangs surprise.
Using as many primary resources as he could find, the author details the huge two-week manhunt for the outlaws. In riveting detail Gardner recounts the shoot out and capture of the Younger brothers. Of course you learn the fate of Jesse and Frank James as well. I would recommend Shot All to Hell to anyone who loves to read history about the “Old West.” And certainly fans of the Western genre should find this book an enjoyable.