Bank of Huntington 1875 robbery features quite an interesting story

January 30, 2019

The last few weeks in this space has been devoted to modern politics, so I thought I would switch gears and tell one of my favorite legends of the area, the 1875 robbery of the Bank of Huntington.

Before I get into the story, a word of warning: this entire story needs to be taken with more than a few grains of salt. While there most certainly was a robbery, and two men were convicted for the theft, it’s the tales of the two accomplices that we will focus on today.

During the American Civil War, arguably the tensest and bloodiest area of fighting between civilians was on the Kansas and Missouri border. The reason for this is complicated, but to narrow it down for this article it was because of the fight over slavery.

When Kansas was admitted to the Union in the 1850s, they were given a choice to vote for slavery or emancipation in their new state.

Neighboring Missouri was a slave-holding state, and the border area between Missouri and her new neighbor became a war zone. Called “Bleeding Kansas” for a reason, the area became the center of the pre-war fighting and guerilla fighting throughout the war.

A guerilla outfit is a band of soldiers that are not official members of an Army. Citizens during the day, soldiers during the night, these men were vigilantes for the most part and had no scruples with using terror and murder as their preferred method of fighting.

The most infamous and deadly guerilla fighter for the Confederate States of America was a group led by William Quantrill. Quantrill’s Raiders as they would become known, terrorized free soil Kansans and fought to preserve the slave-holding way of life in Missouri.

A family of young men joined Quantrill throughout the war, the James and younger brothers. Frank and Jesse James were Missouri farm boys who, along with their friends and distant relatives, the Younger Brothers, joined Quantrill.

After the war, the James boys were not satisfied with going back to the farm, and they were fuming over the loss to the Yankees. Jesse, Frank and the Youngers would become the most infamous train and bank robbers of the old west. Focusing on stealing from Yankee businesses and Yankee railroad companies, these men sparked terror throughout the mid-west, but in 1875 it seems they cast their view east.

On Sept. 6, 1875, two men, with two others outside on horseback, walked into the Huntington Bank and demanded money. The bank building still stands in Heritage Station today and houses a T-shirt company.

The two men and their accomplices dashed off with a local posse in hot pursuit. The two men, arrested under aliases and refusing to give real names nor give up their accomplices, were captured. One was fatally shot on the run in Kentucky, while the other was sentenced to prison at Moundsville.

The sensational story that follows is what makes this such a great story. It seems that local legend, with a few secondary sources, says that their accomplices were two members of the James gang, Frank James and Cole Younger. Wayne County legend even says that Frank bought a farm in southern Wayne County and changed his name, but that’s almost certainly false as Frank committed other robberies in Missouri after 1875.

Younger and James escaped continuing their robbing ways until the gang disbanded later in the century.

Thank you to the following sources. West Virginia Public Broadcasting, CLIO, Legendsofamerica.com and the Stories podcast.

Matthew A. Perry is a history teacher at C-K Middle and writes about the odd side of history at www.theoddpast.com.

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