I had just finished delivering some farm tractor fuel to a customer. The farm was located along an old country road in the Osage River bottoms just north of Roscoe in St. Clair County Missouri. I was making my way back to the highway when I noticed a large stone in the fence row. It is not unusual to see a rock in the fence rows of St. Clair County, but this one appeared to have lettering on it. I was interested in the things most young guys would be interested in, but I also had a keen interest in things historical.
I stopped my truck and walked back to have a look. The message carved in capitals read: “A BATTLE BETWEEN THE YOUNGERS AND DETECTIVES OCCURRED HERE, MAR. 17, 1874. KILLED JOHN YOUNGER, E. B. DANIELS AND CAPT. LULL – CWA 1934”.
I was aware that the James-Younger gang had family connections to the Monegaw Springs and Chalk Level area. As a teenager I had even visited Monegaw Springs and explored the nearby cave.
Back then, I was not aware of the Roscoe Gun battle. Finding that marker years later made me happier than if I had found a twenty dollar bill at the side of the road. I have continued researching the gun battle over the years…
The year was 1874. After the Gads Hill train robbery in January, Frank and Jesse James returned to their home area near Kearney, in Jackson County, Missouri. James and John Younger were miles away in the Monegaw-Roscoe vicinity in St. Clair County, Missouri area by March. A Pinkerton detective, operating covertly as a farmhand seeking employment, was set upon and killed on a Jackson County road by parties unknown. Allen Pinkerton blamed Frank and Jesse James, and the Pinkerton Agency was desperate to capture or kill members of the James-Younger gang. Two men were assigned to pursue the Younger brothers: Louis J. Lull, a former Chicago police Captain turned Pinkerton detective; and another Pinkerton detective, James Wright.
After several weeks the detectives were directed to refocus on St. Clair County and the Monegaw Springs area. Arriving in Osceola, the St. Clair County seat, the detectives took rooms at the Commercial Hotel and began to visit with locals. The detectives pretended to be cattle buyers. They enlisted the guide services of 23-year-old Ed Daniels, a part time deputy sheriff. Captain Lull used an alias of “W. J. Allen.” Wright was a former Confederate soldier and decided to use his real name in case he ran into an old acquaintance.
Just thirteen years before, Osceola had been ravished, looted, and burned to the ground by the Kansas Jay Hawker Federalist force led by General Jim Lane. The townspeople were polite, but strangers in their midst were met with silence and suspicion. After a few days the detectives and their guide traveled twelve miles southeast of Osceola to Roscoe and took rooms in the Roscoe House Hotel. The owner of the hotel was Oliver Burch. Local historians believe that Burch rode with Quantrill during the war.
On the evening of March 16, 26-year-old James Younger and 23-year-old John Younger attended a dance at the Monegaw Springs hotel, a large log and frame three-story building. They danced, drank, and had a good time. After the dance, the brothers rode about three miles southeast to the Negro Settlement and stayed overnight with long time family friends John and Hannah McFerrin. The McFerrins were a much respected family at the settlement and were long time friends of the Younger family. Aunt Hannah, as she was affectionately called, was known for the Persimmon beer she made. The boys slept late and after visiting with the McFerrins, proceeded on down the road in a southeasterly direction to the Theodrick Snuffer home. They tied their horses out of sight behind the chicken house and loosened the cinches. Theodrick Snufffer was a close friend to the boys grandfather, Charles Younger, who lived in the Chalk Level area. To avoid capture, the Younger brothers were following a regimen of visiting family and friends briefly and moving on.
Meanwhile, back at Roscoe, Lull, Wright, and Daniels left the hotel just after noon. The trio crossed the Osage River on the ferry and proceeded north on the Chalk Level road. After a short distance they turned east on a narrow road, passed the Benton Green schoolhouse, and headed for the Theodrick Snuffer farm. It is believed they had a tip from an undisclosed source. Lull, using his alias of Allen the cattle buyer, would look the place over.
Inquiring at the hotel, Lull learned that a Widow Sims might have some cattle for sale. He also learned she lived on down the road north of Snuffers. Nearing the Snuffer farm, Wright decided to drop behind because he feared that he might be recognized. After all, Snuffer’s son had fought on the Confederate side too.
The Younger brothers were just sitting down to late dinner with the Snuffers when they heard the sound of horses approaching. Jim and John climbed a ladder into the attic and peered out at the riders through a crack between the logs. Wright rode on past the house and on into a wooded patch up the road. From astride his horse Lull hailed the house.
Snuffer opened the door cautiously and stepped outside. Lull dismounted and asked, “Sir can you direct me to the Sims place?”
Snuffer asked, “Do you mean Col. Sims over by Monegaw Springs?”
“We were told that a Mrs. Sims had some stock for sale and that is the place we would like to find,” Lull replied.
As John and Jim watched the two men below they noted that both men were well-armed. Lull just did not look like he belonged to the area. They also noticed that Daniels was visibly nervous.
Snuffer gave the riders directions to Widow Sims farm and returned to the house as Lull remounted his horse. It was a few minutes past two o’clock in the afternoon. Lull and Daniels rode off at a leisurely gait. Jim and John returned from the attic.
Jim asked, “What do you make of that, Theodrick?”
“I dunno, they didn’t go the direction that I gave them,” Snuffer replied.
The riders had joined Wright and turned left onto a wagon road and proceeded in a northwest direction. The road taken would go by the McFerrin home and come out near the forks of the Monegaw and Chalk Level roads. The Sims’ farm was in the opposite direction almost a mile straight north of Snuffers.
The Younger brothers were at once very suspicious of the strangers.
“Jim, let’s go see who they are,” John said.
Jim the older of the two, said, “No, let them go on. There is no use in asking for trouble.” John kept insisting that the strangers should be checked out. Jim gave in. They went to their concealed horses, jerked the cinches tight, mounted up, and left in fast pursuit of the detectives. About a quarter of a mile from the McFerrin house the two detectives and their guide rode through a grove of smaller trees. Hearing hoof beats they turned to find the Youngers coming fast upon them.
John Younger was carrying a double barrel shotgun. In addition to the cocked shotgun, both men carried several pistols each. Wright, riding a considerable distance in front, could have turned left or right into the timber and flanked the Youngers using his two double action pistols to cover them in a crossfire if need be. Instead he put the spurs to his horse and ran. Jim Younger considered that as confirmation that he was a lawman and fired at the fleeing Wright. Even though he had a considerable lead, the pistol bullet took Wright’s hat off and only hurried the thoroughly scared detective along.
Lull and Daniels remained steady under the threatening muzzle of John’s shotgun. The Youngers ordered Lull and Daniels to drop their pistols on the ground and they complied. Jim dismounted and picked up the guns. Pinkerton’s detectives carried English-made Tranter revolvers. The guns are odd-looking but smooth-working double action guns. Lull carried two of these pistols on his belt. The Tranters were a dead giveaway that they were Pinkerton men. Jim commented, “John, these are fine guns. It is sure nice of these boys to make us a present of them.”
“Where are you fellas from?” asked Jim.
“We are from Osceola,” Lull answered.
“What are you doing here?”
“Just rambling around.”
“Are you sure you are not detectives looking for someone? I believe I have seen you over at the Springs,” John said.
“No,” said Daniels. “My name is E. B. Daniels and I can prove who I am and where I am from.”
“Then why in the hell are you carrying all these side arms?” asked John.
“Good God,” pleaded Daniels. “Doesn’t every man traveling through the country carry guns, and don’t I have a right to carry a gun as anyone?”
“That is enough of that,” answered John. “Let’s not have any of that smart talk.” John raised the shotgun in a threatening manner. Then something distracted John, possibly his horse, and he slightly lowered the shotgun.
Lull took advantage of the distraction. He reached for a hidden 32 caliber Smith and Wesson revolver and shot John in the throat.
As Lull’s startled horse started to run, John fired the shotgun and hit Lull in the left shoulder and arm. Lull tried to change rein hands to control his horse as Jim also fired at him but missed. Jim then turned his weapon on Daniels and fired. Daniels fell from the saddle with a mortal wound in the throat, dying almost as soon as he hit the ground. Lull rode through some nearby trees, still trying to control his horse. His horse ran under a low branch and Lull was knocked from the saddle. Though wounded, John managed to stay in his saddle and follow Lull. John approached the fallen Lull and shot twice at him. One round missed and the second went through the left side of Lull’s chest. John turned his horse back towards Jim who was still back where the battle started. But John fell from the horse before he reached Jim and expired. As he fell he went over a hog pen fence just across the road from the McFerrin cabin.
The gunshots and battle commotion attracted the attention of neighbors including George “Speed” McDonald as he worked in his yard at the Negro Settlement a short distance away. Fifteen-year-old Ol Davis was cutting sprouts from a fence row nearby. He saw the last part of the battle. Jim ran to his fallen brother and found that he was dead. He quickly removed John’s pistols, watch, and other personal effects.
Hearing a noise, Jim looked up and saw that Speed McDonald had came to the scene. Jim threw a pistol to McDonald telling him to keep it. He asked McDonald to catch a horse, ride over to Snuffers and tell them what happened, and then return and guard John’s body. Jim then caught John’s horse and raced up the Chalk Level road to try and catch Wright. Not finding Wright, he returned to the Snuffers to ask them to take care of John’s body. Jim mounted his horse and headed south to a place in Arkansas where he knew his brothers Cole and Bob would eventually return to.
Ol Davis ran home and told his father John Davis that he had seen a wounded man fall from a horse. Davis ran to the site of the first gunshots and discovered the bodies of Ed Daniels and John Younger about one hundred feet apart. Walking on down the roadway, he saw Lull. Lull had crawled across the road and managed to pull himself up to a sitting position against a tree. Walking up to Lull, Davis said, “It looks like you have had some trouble.”
Lull replied, “I hope I have fallen into good hands, Sir”
“I can assure you that I will not harm a hair on your head,” Davis replied.
Others arrived on the scene and assisted Davis in tending to Lull the best he could. They carried him to the McFerrin’s porch where Hannah McFerrin fixed a pallet for him. After his wounds were seared, he was carried into the house and placed on a bed, in the same room with John Younger’s body. When it was determined that Lull could be moved he was loaded into a spring wagon and taken to Roscoe. He was placed in a room at the hotel and medical doctors were sent for. A rider was dispatched to Osceola to alert the sheriff. Lull was first attended by local doctors A. C. Marquis and L. Lewis. Later a prominent Osceola surgeon, Dr. D. C. McNeill, was called in to attend Lull. Daniels’ body was taken to Roscoe and then removed on to Osceola.
Wright? During his flight up the Chalk road he worried that being without a hat would flag him for the Youngers. He came upon a farmer Thomas Rosbrough and his son splitting wood near the road. He asked if Rosbrough would sell his hat. The farmer said he would for a dollar. Wright bought the hat and kept running. He hid out for a day or so and then went into Osceola. He reported to the sheriff and then left town. Wright disappeared and was not seen again. One of several mysteries that occurred after the gun battle.
John Younger’s body was kept at the McFerrin cabin that night. An armed guard sat with the body. During the evening a young women appeared on the scene. She had a pistol belt around her waist. She paced back and forth in the room most of the night without saying a word to the guard. At daybreak she left, riding north over the Chalk road. Local belief is that she was Henrietta Younger, a sister to John and the brothers. The Snuffers were afraid that John Younger’s body might be stolen by strangers or desecrated by friends of the popular Daniels. At daybreak the body was buried in a shallow grave near the Snuffers home.
That night Speed McDonald and Snuffer moved the body under cover of darkness. They took it by wagon to the Yeater Cemetery which was on the south side of the Chalk Level to Osceola road. Members of the Negro Settlement took turns guarding the grave for over two weeks. Even Widow Sims took a turn standing guard. John Younger’s grave has lain undisturbed for well over a century.
When he was alive, Ed Daniels was well liked and had many friends. Daniels’ body was taken to Osceola the same day he died. A funeral was held and he was buried on the highest spot in the Osceola cemetery.
On March 18, a coroner’s jury was called. After hearing witnesses the verdict was reached. The verdict read: “We, the jury, find that John Younger came to his death by a pistol shot, supposed to be in the hands of W. J. Allen (Capt. Lull). We, the, jury also find that Edwin B. Daniels came to his death by pistol shot, supposed to been fired by the hand of James Younger.” Signed, A. Ray, foreman of the Jury.
Twenty-three days after the shoot out, it is reported Lull died. The newspapers stated that his body was placed in a coffin and hauled by wagon to the railroad depot in Clinton, Missouri. But did he die? There are those that believed the recuperating Lull was in danger and the only way to get him out of the area with out harm was to fake his death. That perhaps his wife and Pinkerton friends spirited him in a coffin to a Chicago-bound train. The shifty Allen Pinkerton would have not hesitated to make such a move. Historians cite an overheard discussion between Dr. McNeill and a lawyer friend named Frank Nesbit. The very reluctant and ethical Dr. McNeill had sought his lawyer friend’s council about falsifying Lulls death. There we have yet, another mystery in the real life story of the James-Younger gang…
About twenty years ago, I asked the Pinkerton Security Service to let me have access to the company archives on Detective Lull. I contacted them by telephone and by letter. My request was politely stonewalled…
Before we leave the story of the Roscoe Gun Battle, I’d like to take a minute to explain a couple of things. In the narrative, the word dinner was used for the noon meal. Back then and even in my youth, in the rural areas the day’s meals were referred to as breakfast, dinner and supper. Also, the location of the Monegaw Springs cave was purposely not disclosed. Exploring caves is dangerous. It was dangerous when my friends and I did it and I do not recommend unsupervised exploration.
And so this ends the story of the Roscoe Gun Battle, and we touch history again along the Sundown Trail.
Suggested follow up reading:
The Roscoe Gun Battle
By Wilbur A. Zink
Democrat Publishing Inc.
(may be out of print)
A definite work by a local
historian. Good original
pictures. Booklet form.
The Burning of Osceola Missouri
Written and compiled by
Richard F. Sunderwirth
The author’s own research, plus
family histories and information
passed down through the years.
Three hundred seventy five pages
of good reading.
Available from: Richard F. Sunderwirth
P. O. Box 543
Osceola, Missouri 64776
The Younger Brothers
By A. C. Appler
Published by Frederick Fell Inc.
(may be out of print)
Appler was the publisher of the
Osceola newspaper when the gun battle
happened in 1874. Critics fault him for
being too close to the Youngers and event
dates are a bit foggy. But, we must
remember that Appler was living at the time these events happened.
Historical Information for this blog gathered from the above books and these sources:
- St. Clair County Historical Society
- The Outlaw Youngers by Marty Brent
- St. Clair County Courier, Remnants of the Past
- The Pinkertons by James D. Horan
- Desperate Men by James D. Horan