September 13, 2013

Quarrel in Somerset Bank Prevents Jesse James Heist, Pulaski, 1872



There are at least two stories involving Jesse James in Pulaski and Rockcastle County history.  This article is about the story involving Pulaski, which claims in the 1870's Jesse James nearly robbed a Somerset bank, but called off the plan. (Click here for the Rockcastle story). I heard variations of the Pulaski story from my own grandfather, I've also seen it referred to on corners of and genealogy message boards, it's mentioned in A History of Pulaski County by Alma Owens Tibbals, and it's also on the City of Somerset website.  Here are two articles about the event, one from 1872 and one from 1882.

UPDATED 10/9/14: Added the 1872 article.


[May 10, 1872] -


Columbia Bank Robbers--The same who Visited our Town--The Supposed Reason why they did not make an attempt to Rob the Bank here.

Correspondence Interior Journal:


The villians who robbed the bank at Columbia were the five strangers who entered our town on the morning of April 26th, no doubt for the purpose of practicing the same game upon our unsuspecting bank officers and would no doubt have fully consummated their design had not a few timely occurrences taken place, which made the robbers think they were watched and suspected.  The second time two of the gang entered the bank, Wm. Gibson, J. C. Patton, Squire Thompson and J. C. Bogle, four brave and determined looking men, were present, beside Mr. Dunlap the clerk. This formidable defence was too much for the robbers, who merely asked that a twenty dollar bill be changed, and retired.  The attack was intended at the time. One of the villians being stationed at the bank window with a drawn pistol and the remaining two mounted on their horses near the bank for the purpose of keeping the citizens off should an attack be made. After receiving the change, three or four, perhaps all of them, went to the Huskison House and ordered dinner, in the meantime the same two who had visited the bank took a stroll around the square, visiting most of the shops and stores in several of which they found shot guns and rifles, there being three in full view at the store of Collier & Owens, and several young men making their appearance on the street with their guns preparatory to a squirrel hunt.  They soon returned to their companions reporting what discoveries they had made when the whole party mounted their horses and left town, not waiting for their dinners.

The occurrences, together with the anxiety of some of our citizens to find out who the robbers were, (some seven or eight going over to the hotel in a body and propounding some very pertinent questions, one of the crowd having proposed a bet that he could find out their business) saved our bank, perhaps the lives of the worthy and accommodating officers of the same.  The robbers were between this town and Columbia five or six days, planning their movements and gaining all the information they could on the sly, having a complete map of this county, giving every path and cross road, and it is believed that one of the number was acquainted with this part of the State.  They spent several nights in our county, making many inquiries regarding the fighting men of our town, and in each conversation the horrors of bloodshed and tragedies enacted upon our streets were portrayed to them in vivid colors. One of our town blacksmiths telling them, in reply to a question asked him, that before the sale of ardent spirits was stopped here, a man was killed in town most every day--that they fought with knives and pistols and that all the citizens went armed now. This blacksmith believed them to be soldiers and that they were after some of the boys of our town and talked in this manner to  give them a scare if possible.   "ALERT." [1]


[April 22, 1882] -

How He Left the Somerset Bank Without Getting His Check Cashed.
From the Louisville (Ky.) Post.

"The late lamented Col. Jesse James called upon you once for a cash donation, did he not?" asked a Post reporter of Judge T. T. Alexander, who formerly resided at Columbia, Ky.

"Not upon me individually, but upon the Bank of Columbia, of which I was President."

"Was it ever known definitely who was in the party at that time?"

"Yes; we learned shortly afterward the names of all concerned.  The gang consisted of Frank and Jesse James, two of the Youngers, and Jarette."

"When did this transaction take place?"

"It was on Monday, April 29, 1872.  I was not in Columbia at that time, and therefore, did not witness the highhanded act, but I will never forget the affair.  After killing Mr. Martin, the cashier, because he would not deliver everything over to them, then they took what they could find and departed.  Their tactics were about the same as those made use of on other occasions--that is, some went in the bank, while the rest frightened the citizens by firing up and down the street."

"How much did they get?"

"They only got $1,000, which, I reckon, was about the smallest sum of money they ever raided a bank for.  You see, they did not come up into that region to rob the Columbia Bank.  They had selected the bank at Somerset, twenty-five or thirty miles east of Columbia, as their objective point on that raid, but were prevented from making the attack by a very peculiar circumstance.  They entered Somerset on the Friday previous to the attack on Columbia, and after reconnoitering the situation were just getting ready to begin operations when the incident referred to occurred, frustrating their design, and causing them to abandon the undertaking. One of the party entered the bank to have the customary talk with the cashier; another was posted on the corner close by to observe the movements of citizens, while the other three went after the horses.  Two of them mounted and started in the direction of the bank, and the other followed, leading the horses of the two who were planning for the attack and robbery.  The arrival of the first two on horseback was no doubt understood to be the signal for the man on the corner to join his comrade in the bank, when the work was to begin in there; the two mounted men were to keep the citizens from approaching by indiscriminate firing.  The man leading the two riderless horses was to have them ready by the time the work was accomplished, so that the two men in the bank could run out, mount and all retreat out of town together.  But fortunately for that bank and unfortunately for Mr. Martin and the Bank of Columbia, when the financial member of the gang entered he saw something that caused him to alter his plans.  Two men, one a stock raiser of that county and the other a mule trader from the South, between whom several transactions in their lines of business had taken place, had appointed that day and that bank as the time and place to make a settlement, and when they came to compare accounts they could not agree.  Both were hotheaded and impetuous, and instead of trying to reconcile their differences they got mad; hot words passed, and they came near having a fatal encounter.  The quarrel was raging furiously when the bandit--it was Jesse--entered the bank.  Both of their pistols drawn, and the cashier was between them, begging them to desist, and preventing them from shooting each other.  When Jesse's educated eye saw what was going on, he either knew it was no good time to inaugurate a robbery; or he thought the gang was being watched, and the row between the traders was only a ruse resorted to in order to throw them off their guard until they could be surrounded.  He took but one glance at the enraged traders, and turning on his heel he walked out the door, signaled to his followers that the jig was up, and when the two horses were led up the two men mounted, and all five of them rode out of town.  They went in the direction of Monticello, and stopped for the night at a country store, where a political meeting had been held during the afternoon.  The candidates were still there, and the bandit gang represented themselves as stock traders, entered into the discussions that were going on, and had a good time generally.  The next day they rode over the hills of that region and spent the night on the Cumberland River, and on Sunday they turned their horses' heads toward Columbia, and stopped for the night at a farm house a few miles from town.  The next day one of them entered Columbia, purchased a few articles at the stores, examined the location of the bank, and, after satisfying himself that all was quiet, he returned to his compeers, and about 2 o'clock they dashed into town and did their work of murder and robbery.  As soon as the citizens recovered from the helpless condition into which they were thrown by the sudden dash of the murderers and robbers, a pursuing party was organized, and followed them several miles, but they did not come up on them.  They found the place, on a creek a few miles from town, where the band halted and divided the spoils.  They took from the bank a package of papers belonging to me, and these were found where they stopped.  The papers were of no value to the highwaymen, and were left where they divided the money, and I got them back."

"Where did the band go from Columbia?"

"They went to the Salt River Hills, in Nelson County, and remained there several weeks before leaving the State."

"Was no effort made to capture them?"

"No.  There was no direct evidence that the men in Nelson County were the men who committed the crime, but there was a strong suspicion that it was them, but it was a very dangerous undertaking, and they were not molested.  I received several anonymous letters, offering to show me where the band was hiding, and how their arrest could be effected if I would go to a certain place, but I thought then, and I still think, that the letters were written by some of the gang to entrap me, and I therefore paid no attention to them." [2]


[1] "From Somerset." The Interior Journal, Stanford, KY. May 10, 1872. Page 3. LOC.

[2] "Jesse James in Kentucky." Cincinnati Daily Gazette, Cincinnati, OH. April 22, 1882. Page 8.

See also: ("No News Yet") 

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