Tales abound of Frank and Jesse James visiting Nebraska during their outlaw careers, but few confirmed sightings of them or their gang exist. The files of the Omaha World-Herald at the Nebraska State Historical Society tell of one appearance long after their bank-robbing days.
In July 1908 Cole Younger, one of the Younger Brothers, set up his “Cole Younger and Nichol Amusement Company” at Council Bluffs. Pardoned a few years before from the Minnesota penitentiary, the 64-year-old Younger now made his living in show business.
About his earlier career, Younger was reticent. “I do not talk about it.” But the reporter was insistent. “I went through this town thirty-two years ago. I was on my way to Minnesota then [to rob banks at Northfield]. And for state reasons I stayed in Minnesota some time [he was caught and imprisoned]. I remember stopping here a few days and buying a ‘beegum’ hat. That’s what we called a high silk hat in those days. I wore that hat on my trip to Minnesota. We stopped at a hotel at Ninth and Broadway, I think it was. It was the biggest hotel in the town those days, and the other day when I got to Council Bluffs I walked down the street to see the place and I was surprised to see the very same old hotel standing yet, as natural as ever.”
It being an election year, 1908, during which William Jennings Bryan was making his last stab for the presidency, Cole Younger had to comment on the Nebraskan. “I’m a democrat, and, of course, will vote for Bryan. Been a democrat all my life.”
Younger, one of the four outlaw Younger brothers, was born in Missouri and joined the Confederate guerrilla band of William C. Quantrill during the Civil War. After the war ended, Cole joined with the James brothers–Frank and Jesse–in robbing banks and trains around Missouri.
In a disastrous bank robbery in Northfield, Minnesota, in 1876 by the James-Younger outlaws, Cole and two of his brothers were captured and sentenced to the state prison. Cole was paroled in 1901 and pardoned in 1903. His brief stint with the Cole Younger and Nichol Amusement Company in Council Bluffs was only one of a number of occupations (including management of a Wild West show with Frank James) that Younger tried after his release from prison. He finally retired to Missouri, where he died in 1916.