Shoot Out at Hanska Slough By: Sue Eckhoff, Grundy County Heritage Museum
September 27, 2013
On September 21, 1876, four fleeing outlaws, believed to be the robbers of the First National Bank in Northfield, Minnesota, slipped into a slough on foot and disappeared into a dense thicket of wild plums and vines. The slough was surrounded by two civil war veterans, Sheriff James Gilspin and Captain William W. Murphy. They asked for volunteers to go in and flush out the bandits. There were dozens of men on the scene and a large number of sightseers present, yet only five stepped forward. Gilspin and Murphy and the five volunteers made their way down into the river bottom and spread out at fifteen foot intervals, their orders being to fire only if fired upon and even then to shoot low so the fugitives might be more inclined to surrender. Hunkered down in the dense thicket were Charlie Pitts, and Cole, Jim and Bob Younger. Pondering their position, Pitts said they were surrounded and had better surrender. Cole Younger replied “Charlie this is where Cole Younger dies”. Pits replied he stood up and fired. Dropping to one knee, Sheriff Gilspin fired back, hitting Pitts in the chest. (He didn’t bother with the shooting low rule). Gunfire erupted all around and the Youngers returned fire. As the smoke cleared a voice from the thicket said “I surrender, they’re all down but me”. Gilspin yelled for him to come out and Bob Younger hobbled out into the clearing waving a white handkerchief. Another shot rang out, hitting Younger. Gilspin yells “I told you to hold your fire! I’ll kill the next man who shoots”. Inside the hollow, the outlaws lay in scattered positions, but not all dead. Gilspin walked up to Jim Younger, put his hand on his shoulder, saying “Boys this is horrible, but you see what lawlessness has brought you?” Cole Younger survived though wounded with eleven bullets. (Which remained in him). The Youngers were amazed at the hospitality given by their captors. Expecting to be hanged, they were instead housed in the Flanders Hotel. Mrs. Vought provided clean sheets for the body of Charlie Pitts, and clean underwear for the Youngers. Many prepared food, some sent flowers. The Youngers received life sentences. Bob Younger eventually died from his wounds. Jim and Cole were paroled in 1901. Jim committed suicide soon after. Cole received a conditional pardon in 1903 and returned to Missouri. He toured with the Frank James and Cole Younger Wild West Show and after that went on the lecture circuit, speaking about “What Life Has Taught Me”. He died in 1916, at the age of 72, and with 11 bullets still in his body. He is buried in Lee’s Summit, Missouri.
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