The Civil War is known for pitting brother against brother. Some parts of the country saw the fighting continue long after the surrender of the south. Missouri had chosen to be a neutral state, which neither seceded nor supported the Union. This did not mean it remained in a state of peace. Far from it, as the atrocities of war were metered out on pro-Union and pro-Confederate groups alike. Some people, like Jesse and Frank James, chose to take up arms and ride with William Quantrill’s Raiders, who had sacked Lawrence, Kansas. After the war, these bushwhackers turned bank robbers continued on the path that the war had set them on.
The Union forces laid claim to Missouri, but that didn’t mean that the pro-Confederates would roll over. Throughout the war, an unending series of skirmishes and battles raged across the state. By the end of the war, thousands of Missourians had perished from this fighting. Frank James surrendered to Union troops in Kentucky, but the going wasn’t so easy for his brother Jesse. He was shot through the lung when he attempted to surrender to Union militia in Lexington, Missouri. This would not be his last visit to the area. The James brothers would join forces with the Younger brothers to create one of the most well-known bank-robbing gangs.
Bushwhackers Turned Bank Robbers
On October 30, 1866, the James Gang rode into the quiet streets of Lexington, Missouri. Only eight months ago they had pulled off their first bank robbery in Liberty, which had netted them over $60,000. It was high noon and many people were stopped for their midday meal. Flush with a feeling of confidence, the gang rushed into the Alexander Mitchell & Company Bank. Unlike their first outing, this time they only got $2011.50 in cash. It is worth noting that in the loot there was one $100 bill and one $50 bill. All the rest were smaller denominations. Clearly, this wasn’t the outcome the bushwhackers turned bank robbers had hoped for when they planned their daylight robbery.
Even though they did not rob again for four months, the founder of the Kansas City Times took up writing stories about the gang. This notoriety caught the eye of the law and the gang quickly rose on the most wanted list. For over twenty years, the James Gang was one of the most feared bunch of outlaws. With over twenty robberies to their names, they ended up getting away with a combined total of around $200,000. Their escapade in Lexington was obviously not their largest take, but it is still remembered by the locals. Today, the bank building still stands but is now occupied by The Heist, a local bar and grill.
Break the Bank Burger
Even though the excitement from the robbery had long since subsided, there was still an atmosphere of giddy anticipation. This was probably due to it being the end of the workday and time to celebrate. Inside the old bank building, we found a smattering of locals. They had come to wind down and enjoy dinner and some liquid refreshments. Our arrival created a little bit of a stir, especially when I began taking pictures. After explaining the purpose of our visit, they were happy to tell us all about the historic visit that occurred over 150 years before. Being famished from a day of exploring, we were ready to dive into dinner. I went the simple route with an All-American Burger and a side of onion rings. A crisp Dry Apple Cider was the perfect choice to wash it all down.
Taking a Bite Out of Crime
Crystal was a little more adventurous and ordered up their Reuben Sandwich with fries. When the plate was set in front of her, we both knew she would be asking for a doggy bag in a while. This sammie is piled high with corned beef. Sure enough, after finishing off one side, she was plumb full and unable to even start on the other. Oh well, I guess I will have leftovers for lunch. It’s one of the sacrifices I gladly make, in the name of research.
Fleeing the Scene
Our day had been filled with lots of interesting sites, but we were ready to pack it in and head home. Fortunately, Lexington, Missouri is an easy drive from our home in Kansas City. Even though COVID has been wreaking havoc on our normal travel schedule, we are truly enjoying the chance to focus on these cities and towns closer to home. Whether we do day trips or overnighters, we are learning a lot about our region. It’s amazing how many places we have nearby that we have never explored. How many of you have discovered a surprising story during your travels?