This song is obviously not Cole’s composition (although he was a model prisoner), and
was probably a poem written for a northern newspaper before 1882, as it says Jesse was
still alive. John Lomax collected a version for his 1910 Cowboy Songs. This somewhat
different rendition was recorded by Texas cowboy singer Edward L. Crain in 1931, and
re-released on the “Folkways Anthology of American Folk Music”. Dock Boggs recorded
a fragmentary version using the Roving Gambler tune (Dock Boggs, “The Folkways
Years; Smithsonian-Folkways”) In 1965 he performed at St. Olaf College in Northfield,
he was visibly excited when he learned you could still see the bullet holes in the wall of
the old bank building.
I am a noted highwayman, Cole Younger is my name;
‘Tis deeds and desperation that brought my name to shame.
Robbing of the Northfield bank is a thing I’ll never deny,
But which I will be sorry of until the day I die.
We started for old Texas, that grand old Lone Star State;
‘Twas there on Nebraska prairies the James Boys we did meet.
With knives, gun, and revolvers, we all sit down to play
A game of good old poker to pass the time away.
Across Nebraska prairies a Denver train we spy.
I says to Bob, “We’ll rob her as she goes rolling by.”
We saddled up our horses, northwestward we did go
To the godforsaken country called Minnie-soh-tee-oh.
I had my eye on the Northfield bank when brother Bob did say,
“Cole, if you under-to-take the job, you’ll always curse the day.”
We stationed out our pickets, up to the bank did go,
‘Twas there upon the counter, boys, we struck our fatal blow.
Saying, “Hand us out your money, sir, and make no long delay.
We are the noted Younger boys, and spend no time in play.”
The cashier, being as true as steel, refused our noted band.
‘Twas Jesse James that pulled the trigger that killed this noble man.
We run for life, for death was near, four hundred on our trail.
We soon was overtaken and landed safe in jail.
‘Twas there in the Stillwater jail we lay, a-wearing our lives away.
Two James boys left to tell the tale of the sad and fateful day.