MOzarks Moments: Guerilla warfare in Civil War era Missouri

Clockwise from top: A group of former Quantrill's Raiders attending a reunion in Independence, MO in 1906. The list of attendees at the reunion include Allen H. Parmer of Wichita Falls, Texas. Allen Parmer pictured at one of the reunions he attended with a ribbon on his chest indicating he was a former Quantrill Raider. The list of pall bearers at Parmer's funeral included at least one other former guerrilla, Claude Miller, whom Parmer was visiting when he died of a heart attack.

Eight months after Jesse James had ridden into Lexington, Missouri, and attempted to give himself up to Union troops and was wounded for his troubles, he and his brother Frank along with Cole and Jim Younger and other former Confederate guerrillas formed the James Gang to rob and loot for a living.

It seems likely that the lawless and violent nature they developed as guerrillas lent itself to the lawlessness and violence that characterized their lives after the conclusion of the Civil War.

The former guerrillas and their cohorts robbed and killed from February 1866 to September 1881. During that time there were 24 robberies attributed to the James Gang and several more that were later proven to be copycat robberies by others. That doesn't include one attempted bank robbery where no money was taken because the gang was shot to pieces by the citizens of Northfield, Minnesota, on Sept. 7, 1876.

The robberies took place in 10 states, with the majority of them (13) occurring in Missouri. The state with the next highest number of James Gang robberies was Kentucky with three, probably because the gang knew that region from being there during the war. Equal-opportunity thieves, the James Gang robbed banks, stagecoaches, trains and even the ticket office for the Kansas City Exposition.

At their very first robbery at Liberty, Missouri, the gang made off with a whopping $62,000, but a 17-year-old boy was killed in the process. He was the first of nine persons reportedly killed by the gang during their robberies. Several other folks were wounded, but recovered.

Allen Parmer, who had not yet married Susan James, was alleged to have been a member of the gang that conducted this bank robbery, but it remained nothing but an allegation.

The second robbery on Oct. 30, 1866, was in Lexington and may have been planned by Jesse James in revenge for his having been shot there while trying to surrender.

Other robberies occurred in 1867 and 1868. One of those was May 22, 1867, in Richmond, Missouri, and may have been revenge against that town because that was the place Bloody Bill Anderson's body had been displayed after he was killed by Samuel Cox and his men.

Warrants were issued for eight men and one of those was Allen Parmer. However, he had an ironclad alibi for the time of the robbery and the case against him was dismissed.

One of the fugitives with an arrest warrant, a man named McGuire, was captured in St. Louis and brought back to Richmond to stand trial, as was another such fugitive named Devers who was caught in Kentucky. Vigilantes took them both from the jail and lynched them before they could be tried.

The next robbery was on Dec. 7, 1869, when the James Gang held up a bank in Gallatin, Missouri. Again, this robbery site may have been chosen for the motive of revenge.

As a boy, Samuel Cox had moved with his parents to Missouri from Kentucky in 1839. In 1847, he served in the army during the Mexican-American War. Then he returned to Gallatin, where he worked briefly as a deputy sheriff.

Cox worked for Russell, Majors & Waddell as a wagon master in 1859. That firm at the time was the biggest freight, mail and passenger transportation company in the U.S. They would create the Pony Express in 1860.

When the Civil War started, Cox joined the Missouri Militia as a major. He rejoined in 1864 as a lieutenant colonel and later that year led the Union troops who killed Bloody Bill Anderson. When the war concluded, Cox returned once again to Gallatin, where he established a mercantile company. His commanding officer, James McFerran, founded the Daviess County Savings Association.

It was this bank that the James Gang targeted. During the robbery, one of the masked men shot cashier John Sheets in the head and in the heart. Apparently, Jesse James thought that Sheets was Samuel Cox and executed him, and later bragged that he had avenged Bloody Bill Anderson's killing by Cox.

On Oct. 8, 1879, an express train at Glendale, Missouri, was robbed by the James Gang. Allen Parmer was arrested in Henrietta, Texas, on a warrant for having been involved in that robbery. He supposedly had a half-dozen witnesses who swore that he was home at Henrietta during the time of the train robbery, but the authorities took him to Kansas City to stand trial. After corroboration of his alibi, he was once again released.

According to the newspaper at Mount Vernon of Oct. 27, 1881, Parmer had dismissed a lawsuit he had filed against the superintendent of the U.S. Express Company and a former U.S. Marshal for that “false” arrest. The article went on to state that he had recently been arrested for “complicity” in the “Winston affair.” That was a reference to the July 15, 1881, robbery of the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific train near Winston, Missouri. If he was arrested for that train robbery, he was again apparently exonerated. 

Susan (James) Parmer died in 1889 at the young age of 33. Parmer married again in 1892. He gave up ranching in 1905 and then worked in railroad construction before retiring 1920.

In 1902, Parmer attended a reunion of Quantrill's Raiders in Independence. At that reunion there were 27 of the survivors who lived in Missouri at the time in attendance. One of those attendees lived in West Plains. In 1914, Parmer attended another reunion in Sherman, Texas, and attended still another in McKinney, Texas in 1916.

Allen Parmer died on Oct. 25, 1927, in Wichita Falls, Texas, while visiting at the home of another former Quantrill guerrilla, Claude Miller. Parmer was 79 years of age at the time of his death. 

Whether he was a member of the James Gang of robbers and murderers can not be proved nor disproved, but one thing is for certain—he killed plenty of men during his years as a Confederate guerrilla. That didn't seem to bother the Fort Worth Daily Gazette in April of 1891, when they wrote, “Allen H. Parmer and family of Wichita Falls spent yesterday in Fort Worth. He is one of Wichita County's best citizens and has two interesting children.”

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