Story of Cole Younger: By Himself by Cole Younger
reviewed by Deb Houdek Rule for Civil War St. Louis
Cole Younger’s autobiography doesn’t answer all the questions. It creates more. For one thing, Cole Younger claims that the Northfield robbery, that landed him in prison for 25 years, was his first and only robbery. This makes him either one of the world’s most misunderstood innocents, or one of its most blatant liars.
Most authors and historians come down on the ‘liar’ side of the argument and, bearing in mind Younger was an admitted and convicted criminal, that’s not unreasonable. However, I’m inclined to think there’s more truth in his tale than is generally acknowledged. Most people just don’t lie outright in autobiographies–they hedge and recolor and leave things out to make themselves look better. Reading Cole Younger’s book, you can see him doing all these things, as well as avoiding outright statements of his own in favor of quoting other people who had favorable things to say about him, or quoting old statements of innocence he had made. Take the book for what it’s worth and make your own judgments.
As to the writing itself… Cole Younger is no writer. The book is uneven and choppy, but parts are quite good. He has some moments of actually inspired prose. He includes the text of a lecture he gave in his later days at the end and it’s quite good. Some of his war tales are well-told, but a bit scanty on details. He assumes you know the general stories and is often focusing on quelling lies, myths, and fabrications that had grown up around his story. In many of these cases he’s probably being quite honest.
Though dubious history, this book is a valuable and intriguing look at the person and personality behind the historical figure.