Saturday, August 27, 2005

The Young Brothers' Massacre

The 1932 gunfight that claimed the lives of six law-enforcement officers, the Young Brothers' Massacre is a truly lost piece of American history. Outside of the Ozarks, where it occurred, it is virtually unknown, but it is still the largest loss of LE life in a gunfight in American history (it lost its status as the largest loss of LE life total when 9/11 occurred, as Henry Garfield pointed out to me in my comments section).

The story of how the men who went to arrest Harry and Jennings Young were slaughtered is a central part of my family's history. Ollie Crosswhite (below), who died that day, was my great grand-uncle. My grandfather, who recently passed away, told me of remembering sitting at the dinner table when the call came to say that Ollie, his father's brother, had been killed. Ollie's wife was sitting at home with a pot of ham and beans, Ollie's favorite food, when she learned about it herself. (Ironically, Ollie was only a "special deputy" at the time, not a full-fledged one, due to a Republican administration coming into power and kicking the Democrats in service out of full-time work (according again to my grandfather). He was supplementing his income as a security agent for the railroads at the time of the massacre, and joined up on the raid at the spur of the moment).

The Young brothers were car thieves (their sister was trying to sell a hot car, alerting the police that the Youngs were in town) and already suspected cop-killers, but Sheriff Hendrix knew the family and couldn't have dreamed that they'd come out killing. This explains the lackadaisical nature of the raid, and the fact that the cops ran out of ammo early on in the fight, leaving them at the mercy of the killers.

The two men, armed with a rifle and a shotgun (and possibly gas masks, although that's disputed) hid inside a house and picked off the officers who attempted in vain to take cover behind small trees when the shooting started. Sheriff Marcell Hendrix, who thought he could round up a small posse and go get the bad Young Brothers, was one of the first to die when he walked into the house after forcing it open.

It might seem strange that two men could take on so many police (ten total plus one civilian, several survived the massacre, mostly those who went for help), and there is some debate as to whether the killers acted alone. But shooting unseen from a house at men with scant cover, and being able to climb to the second floor to get a shot, offers untold advantage.

This occurred on January 2nd, 1932 ... just before the Midwest when crazy. It's the year just before the famous 1933-34 crime wave that Bryan Burrough wrote about in his recent best seller Public Enemy (which mentions the massacre in passing). It really can be seen as the moment that rural law enforcement, having grown lax since the Mother of Bandit years, received its first wake-up call that they were going to have to get tough again. But it would be later, with the Kansas City Massacre, that the world would listen.

There was a massive manhunt which led down to Texas, where the Youngs had been stealing their cars. The two men wound up dead in a motel room when they were surrounded by the cops. Was it suicide? Murder/suicide? Or, seeing as how they were both "riddled with bullets," did the police just shoot the bastards to not bother with a trial? I don't know.

Later in 1932, a book was written and printed up in Springfield (partially funded by my great-grandfather, Raymond Crosswhite). I have just discovered that this website has transcribed the whole book online. It's a great piece of American history, and needs to be preserved. My own copy of the pamphlet is in okay shape, but they weren't really built to last. It's not 100% historically accurate (the book was also partially funded by a tear-gas company, and there are a suspicious number of references to the effectiveness of tear gas), and the writing style is baroque (to put it politely). But it's something very near to me, a relic from my own personal history and the nation's history, and I'd like to say thanks to the folks who took the trouble to get it on the web.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can't believe this was the deadliest raid in U.S. history! I literally live 2 miles from the house where it all happened! I never knew that until yesterday but this shit is nuts! Talk about bad motherfuckers!

10:53 AM  
Anonymous bekka said...

im doing a report over this event could u talk to me?

9:18 AM  

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