In the little mountain
town of La Honda, nestling in the redwood groves of the Santa Cruz Mountains,
is an old weather beaten building known as "The Bandit Built Store."
Built by John H. Sears, who came to La Honda from Searsville in 1861, the
store served as a trading post for the early settlers and the lumbermen
of the area. Since it was first built it has provided a trading center
where the residents of La Honda could purchase the necessities of life
and, at times, a bit of liquid refreshments.
During the many years the store has served La Honda, little has been done to change the appearance of the original building. Some of the old bar furnishings and counters, worn smooth with constant use, are still doing duty. Perhaps the only changes ever made in the "Bandit Built Sotre" were the additions of a post office and later a branch of the county library and a telephone exchange.
Around this old store hangs a bit of American history more vivid and exciting than the dime thrillers of yesteryear. It is the flaming story of the Younger Brothers (Cole, Jim, Bob and John), four Missouri outlaws who made history with six-guns and the part they played in the building of the La Honda Store.
At the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, the Younger Brothers were living on the family farm in Jackson and Cass Counties, Missouri. Their father, Col. Henry W. Younger, a Union man in sentiment and sympathy, was proud of his large holdings and his properous livery business in Harrisonville, Missouri.
Cole Younger, the oldest son, being a Southern sympathizer, fought as a regular Confederate in the Iron Brigade of Brig. General Jo Shelby of Missouri where he won the military title of Captain. Three years prior to that service he was a guerrilla lieutenant under Quantril and Anderson. During the time of his guerrilla service a dime novel published a full-page picture of a terrible man named Cole Younger shooting and killing no less than fifteen men at one discharge of his trusted rifle. The sotry, according to the dime trhiller, explains how Cole captured the fifteen men in battle, stood before them and pronounced their death sentence in three words. "You must die-un!" he thundered and quickly stood the fifteen men in line, one behind the other. Then standing a few feet in front of the doomed men Cole raised his long rifle and carefully tood aim at a spot on the first captive's forehead. He then squeezed the trigger and the gun roared. One by one the fifteen men fell, each man shot precisely through the center of the forehead. The old woodcut depicting the massacre shows the first man to be shot prone on the ground and stone dead. The second man was writhing in agonies on his knees and the third, fourth, fifth, and sixth were in rythmical process of tumbling. The rest of the captives were still standing in line, awaiting the impact of the leaden bullet as it moved swiftly along on its mission of death. Just where the death-dealing pellet halted is not known but the sudden death of a cow across the line in the next county is cause to believe it ended its flight there.
One day in November, 1861, Cole Younger found himself in the vicinity of his father's farm. Deciding to visit his family which he hadn't seen for some time, he obtained a short leave and started home. Approaching his father's farm after a hard ride, he saw it in flames. Spurring his horse to greater effort he rode up only to find the farm in ruins and the body of his father hanging from a tree. On the ground close by he found the body of his sister lying face down in the snow. From his brother, Jim, Cole Younger learned what had happened. A band of Union troops and local Northern sympathizers had ridden to the farm, driven off the stock and burned huge stores of grain. The troops had thrown his youngest sister, who was suffering from tuberculosis, out on the cold ground causing her death. When the father drove up in his buggy to see what was happening a rope found its way around his neck and he was strung to the nearest tree.
Cole Younger swore vengeance on those who had committed this terrible deed. He and a friend quickly organized a band of local Southern sympathizers and they, after learning of the crime committed at the farm, started in pursuit of its perpetrators. In a short time they were tracked down and killed with Cole accounting for over 100 men alone.
At the end of the war there was a price on Cole's head, for desertion from the army, killing for revenge, and a long list of other crimes posted by the victorious North. Unable to return to his home Cole gathered his family together and left them with the parents of his cousin John Jarret. Then in the company of John and several other friends, he hurriedly left for his uncle's ranch in the vicinity of San Jose, California. Arriving at the ranch Cole was advised by his uncle that his ranch was no place for a hide-out and suggested that he and the others go to his brother's ranch, The Ray place in La Honda.
At the Ray Ranch, after a brief rest, it was decided that the gang of ten men should split up for reasons of safety. Andy Brooks, one of the gang, went to Hollister to work as a farm hand. Barney Martin and Barney Lyons enetered into partnership and purchased a small ranch at San Gregorio while a man name Giles returned east risking capture. The remaining members of the gang that visited the Ray Ranch went to Washington territory and Southern California to make a new start in life.
The only members of the gang to stay on at the Ray Ranch were Cole Younger and John Jarret. They worked about the ranch and helped build the Lakeside Ray ranch house into a larger building before they returned east for Cole's family. When they arrived at the Jarret Ranch, Cole learned that Mrs. Younger had died during his absence and that his brothers Jim and Bob, having been accomplices to the James gang robberies, were in hiding.
Cole decided to return to the Ray Ranch at La Honda but before leaving for the west he sent his young brother, John, to the local gunsmith to have the trigger on one of his six-shooters repaired. John, like most boys of fourteen, strapped on the gun and strode into town. At the general store he paused to buy some candy and overheard a drunken Union soldier fighting the war all over again. In the soldier's vivid description of the war he happened to mention "those damn Youngers" and the storekeeper upon seeing John, jokingly said, "You had better watch your step, you are in the presence of a Younger."
"Where is he?" asked the soldier, as he turned to glare at the boy with the gun. "O'll knock his damn head off" and promptly began putting his words into action.
John, with tears streaming down his cheeks begged the storekeeper to make him stop but his plea fell on deaf ears. Finally, unable to stand the abuse any longer, he warned the soldier to stop or he would kill him. The drunken soldier waved the boy's warning aside and continued beating and kicking him. John backed away, raised his brother's six-shooter, leveled it at the soldier's head and fired.
Like a frightened rabbit John raced home to tell his brother Cole what had happened in town. While the two brothers were trying to decide what course of action to follow the sheriff, accompanied by a large posse, rode up to the door after John. Cole talked with them at the front door while the lad carefully slipped out the back way and fled to Austin, Texas. Here he obtained employment as a cowboy on a large cattle ranch.
One day, while in Austin, John happened to be standing at the bar of a local saloon. A couple of Union sympathizers, talking over their drinks, saw John and recognized him as a Younger. They crowded around him and after much quizzing forced him to admit that he was a brother of Cole Younger. By this time the crowd had grown and John was urged, under pressure, to demonstrate his prowess with a six-shooter. The Union sympathizers had arranged for him to shoot a corn-cob out of the mouth of a drunk. John, unable to refuse, drew his gun and took aim. The crowd of onlookers and the one drink made him a bit nervous and he missed the corn-cob. Instead, he nipped the end of the drunk's nose, drawing blood.
Upon returning home next day John was met by the sheriff with a warrant for his arrest. The Union sympathizers had sobered up the drunk and talked him into preferring charges against John. The sheriff told John the arrest was just a matter of formality and that his stay in the lock-up would be very brief. John received permission to go to his room for some clothing before leaving for jail. In his room, after thinking things over, he decided the town folks would probably string him up, so he left the house through the rear window. Racing to the corral he mounted a horse but failed to make good his escape. He was spotted by the storekeeper who killed him with a charge of buckshot.
At the time John left for Texas his three brothers, Cole, Jim and Bob, and their sister Mollie, together with John Jarret, left for La Honda. They arrived about the time R.J. Weeks opened his new sawmill and found John Sears clearing the site of the old bear pit for his store and hotel. Through the efforts of Oscar, John Sears was induced to hire the Youngers who were now using the name of Hardin. The three Youngers and John Jarret went to work on the store. The roof was shingled by Cole while Bob and Jim helped Sears and and Jarret below. When the store was completed it was harvest time so the three brothers and Jarret returned to work on the Ray Ranch.
John Jarret, before returning east, worked one season with the Rays and Woodhams, and one season in Redwood City. When he returned to La Honda he married Mollie Younger, thereby becoming a brother-in-law to the Youngers as well as their cousins.
In the east the James boys, now famous as outlaws and bank robbers, were planning another job. The First National Bank of Northfield, Minnesota, was on their list but before it could be successfully robbed help was needed. They got in touch with William Giles, a former member of the Younger gang, and told him they needed the Youngers for the Northfield job. Giles came to La Honda and through Richard Ray got the Younger boys together and explained his mission.
In a short time the Younger brothers and the James boys were renewing old acquaintances in the vicinity of Northfield. Elaborate plans were laid for the bank robbery and every man was rehearsed in the important part he was to play. For over a month the two Jameses, the three Youngers, and three unidentified men, all old-timers in horse and revolver work, went over the ground thoroughly. Every precaution was taken to insure a successful job but with all their carefully laid plans, the robbery proved to be both the gan's Gettysburg and Waterloo.
On Thursday, September 7, 1876, the quiet streets of Northfield suddenly became a battleground with citizens yelling "Murder! murder! robber! robber!" and each seeking a place of safety. With pistols flaming, shotguns crashing, and rifles cracking the eight outlaws left the bank and fought every inch of their way toward the edge of town. A shotgun in the hands of a citizen drew first blood from a bandit. Clell Miller was knocked from his saddle by the blast while trying to help Cole Younger. The next to fall was an innocenct aid to the bandits--one of the splendid horses carrying Bob Younger. Stiles the "Bill Chadwell" of several forays was the next deperado to cash in with a bullet through his heart.
Bob Younger was next on the list to feel the sting of a rifle ball. His right elbow was shattered by the leaden pellet fired by Anselm Manning. Now horseless and with a mangled arm, Bob was snatched from sudden death by Cole who rode past and swung his wounded brother up on the horse behind him.
The six surviving robbers had more than enough. The professional dead shots had failed miserably, the amateur sharp-shooters had carried off all the honors of the day. With Bob Younger's mount being dead, they were but five horses for six men. If they were to save their lives they had to get out of town before the citizens could again organize. Swinging to the center of the street and firing a fusilade to cover their retreat the six gunmen on five horses galloped out of town.
The memorable man-chase that followed is now history. For weeks the bandits were hunted and chased until they were either killed or captured. The Younger brothers, Cole, Bob and Jim, were finally cornered in a thick jungle by a posse of thirty men led by Captain Murphy, a veteran of the Civil War. After the terrible gun play had ended Bob Younger was the only bandit able to stand on his feet. He had a wound in the breast in addition to the one that shattered his right elbow at Northfield. Jim Younger was wounded five times, four at Northfield and one in the last fight with Murphy which crushed his upper jaw. Cole Younger had received eleven wounds most of which he received from Captain Murphy's posse.
The Younger brothers pleaded guilty to all charges. Cole Younger was charged as the principal and his two brothers as accessories. They were sentenced by Judge Lord to life imprisonment in the state prison at Stillwater for their ten years of crime. Bob Younger died in prison from tuberculosis in 1889, but was buried in the family plot on Lee's Summit, Missouri. Cole and Jim were released on parole in 1901, Jim committing suicide in the Reardon Hotel, Saint Paul in 1902, and Cole, after a long illness of heart disease, died at his home on Lee's Summit. This brief sketch of the Younger brothers, Cole, Bob and Jim, the bandits who helped build the La Honda Store, will suffice to connect this famous gang of bank robbers with the Peninsula's early history.