A mother who loves her boys, a church-going “deacon” who neither smokes nor drinks, a Wild West showman and author. Don’t sound much like the South’s worst outlaws, do they?
Just read on, and take a closer look at three more of the most infamous Southerners.
- Ma Barker—Ash Grove, Missouri Ma Barker was thought to be the leader of the Barker-Karpis gang, but little evidence shows this to be true. Her crime was loving her boys and encouraging their violent ways.
For some crime is a family game, and Ma Barker and her boys played it all too well.Ma Barker was born Arizona Donnie Clark in 1873. Growing up in the poor community of Ash Grove, the young Barker was known by many as a bitter and angry girl. Rumor has it that the highlight of her childhood was when the outlaw Jesse James rode right in front of her when passing through Ash Grove.
In 1892 she married a tenant farmer, George Barker. The couple had four boys that Barker loved dearly: Herman, Lloyd, Arthur (“Doc”), and Fred. Ma Barker couldn’t stand for her husband or anyone else to discipline her boys. By their teen years, the lack of discipline showed in their already burgeoning criminal records.
Somewhere between 1915 and 1927 George Barker removed himself permanently from the lives of his wife and children. All four boys had spent time in prison, and it seemed their mother did little to stop them on the path they were on. Incidentally, Lloyd, the eldest, committed suicide in 1927 after a shootout with police in Wichita, Kansas.
The height of the Barker crime life came in 1931 when Fred was paroled along with Alvin Karpis. Over the next few years the Barker-Karpis gang killed numerous law enforcement officials, robbed banks, and kidnapped the wealthy, including William Hamm of the Hamm’s Brewery Family. The violence and crime continued under Ma Barker’s watch, as she traveled with her boys from town to town.
In January 1935, Doc was arrested with a map in his pocket, indicating where the family was staying in Oklawaha, Florida. On the sixteenth of the month, the FBI surrounded the house, demanding Fred’s surrender. Barker boys weren’t raised to back down, and Fred fired his machine gun at the agents from an upstairs window. In response, nearly two thousand rounds were fired upon the house. Ma Barker and Fred were found dead in an upstairs bedroom, side-by-side on the floor. Although there is no solid proof that Ma Barker ever killed anyone by her own hands, there’s no doubt that she raised and encouraged her boys to be the thieves and cold-blooded killers history remembers all too well.
- Thomas Coleman Younger—Jackson County, MissouriThomas Coleman Younger led his brothers in crime, but he was the only one to survive into his old age
Not many outlaws made it to their later years in life, but Thomas Coleman “Cole” Younger beat the odds and lived to tell his own story.
Born to an upper class family just outside of Lee’s Summit, Missouri, his respected family name couldn’t keep him out of the trouble he so naturally fit into. Living amidst the bloody battles in Missouri, Younger was deeply affected by losing his father and home to the ravages of the Civil War. A Confederate sympathizer, Younger, like many would-be outlaws of the West, joined the fight as a Confederate guerrilla. It was during this dark and influential time that Younger met Frank James, Jesse’s brother.
Post-war, the James brothers, along with Younger and his three brothers, formed the deadly James-Younger gang. The group robbed banks, trains, stagecoaches, and shot any who crossed their paths at the wrong time. Despite their crimes, many at the time heralded their actions as backlash against the Union. Even in their heyday, the James-Younger gang was seen as a Confederate Robin Hood, although they stole from the rich and gave to themselves.
But nothing lasts forever, not even legends. John Younger died in a shootout with law enforcement in 1874, and two years later Younger and his two remaining brothers were captured after a failed bank robbery in Minnesota. Pleading guilty to robbery and murder, all three brothers were sentenced to life in prison. While Bob never saw the outside again, dying of tuberculosis while still in prison, Thomas Younger and his brother Jim were pardoned in 1901. Thomas Cole Younger went on to perform in Wild West shows and wrote his autobiography, Cole Younger, by Himself. He died at the age of seventy-two in his hometown of Lee’s Summit, Missouri.
- Deacon Jim Miller—Van Buren, ArkansasJim Miller with his wife Sallie and child. Miller met his end at the end of a rope when a lynch mob dragged him and his accomplices from the local jail in Ada, Oklahoma, and executed “justice” in a stable out back.
If ever someone had a confused set of morals, it was Deacon Jim Miller. Acquiring the nickname of “Deacon” because he didn’t smoke or drink and attended church, Miller also had a reputation of being one of the most violent men of the Old West.James B. Miller was born in Van Buren, Arkansas, in 1861 or 1866 (records tend to disagree on this date). After moving the family to Texas when Miller was still very young, his father died. Even at a young age Miller was known for his penchant for violence. Rumored (without any proof to this day) to have killed his grandparents when he was only eight-years-old, Miller was tried and sentenced for his first murder at seventeen. He was convicted of shooting his brother-in-law, John Coop, as the man lay in his own bed. His lawyer had the conviction reversed on a technicality at the Texas Court of Appeals, and Miller was set free.
Miller began to run with a Texas gang, robbing and killing at will. He worked for a time as a hired killer, earning anywhere from $150-$2,000 per kill, no questions asked. His death toll remains uncounted, but he was known for using a shotgun and preying on his victims during the dark hours of the night. He wore a long black trench coat, black boots, and a black Stetson hat.
In 1891 Miller married Sallie Clements, daughter of Emmanuel Clements, whom Miller had previously worked for. Shortly after, he moved his small family to Pecos, Texas, where he had been hired (obviously without question to his past) as a deputy sheriff by Sheriff Bud Frazer.
Not long after Miller moved into town, horse theft in the town increased. Miller vowed to take care of the problem, but seemed to capture not one thief. Suspicions rose in the minds of Sheriff Frazer and his brother-in-law Barney Riggs. After Riggs proved Miller’s involvement in the theft cases, Frazer fired him and began a dispute between Frazer and Miller that lasted for years to come. The two had several shootouts over the years, but despite Frazer’s impeccable shooting skills, Miller walked away from every one with little to no injury. It was later learned that he wore a metal breast plate underneath his shirt.
Years later, Miller walked into a saloon where Frazer was playing cards and shot him in the head. He was acquitted from the murder and moved around Texas over the next few years. Miller and his wife became wealthy through real estate, but even the securities his finances offered did not overshadow his need to kill. He hired himself out as a killer once again, and was tried often, but witnesses tended to die and Miller was set free.
When Miller, however, was arrested in Ada, Oklahoma in April, 1809, for the murder of Gus Bobbitt, it was the last time he evaded the law through the justice system. On April 16, nearly fifty men broke into the county jail, dragging Miller, along with his accomplices, to an abandoned stable behind the jail. There, the mob took justice into their own hands and hung the four men: Miller’s last words were said to be, “Let her rip.” His body was moved to Texas where it was buried in Fort Worth.