On Monday, September 6, 1875, four armed men walked to the entrance of the Bank of Huntington. It was early afternoon and the bank’s president had gone to lunch. The cashier was alone. While two men stayed outside, the two others entered with revolvers drawn and robbed the bank of $20,000.
The bank president returned from lunch in time to witness the getaway. The robbers mounted their horses, fired their pistols in the air, and rode into the hills south of town, heading toward Wayne County. The Cabell County sheriff organized a posse and started after the robbers. Some of the posse chased the desperadoes into Kentucky. Eventually, one of the robbers was captured in Tennessee with some of the stolen loot on him. He was returned to Huntington for trial, found guilty, and sentenced to the West Virginia Penitentiary. Another of the gang was wounded by two Kentucky farmers and later died of his injuries. The two others, supposedly Frank James and Cole Younger, escaped with most of the money.
This event spawned a host of legends, including stories of Frank James hiding in Wayne County. According to local folklore, James tended a farm, made well-crafted furniture, and lived peaceably under the alias of Frank Morris near Cove Gap, a community close to the Lincoln County line, for several years. Furniture credited to him has been handed down through Wayne County families.
Another persistent West Virginia legend identified the U.S. senator and industrialist Stephen B. Elkins as the outlaw Jesse James. Elkins and James were contemporaries. Both men grew up in Missouri, and Elkins arrived in the East from New Mexico territory near enough to the time of James’s death to fuel the rumor. In fact, Elkins had taught Cole Younger in school, and Younger had befriended him during the Civil War. There was at least some contact between Elkins and Younger in later life.
This Article was written by Joseph Platania
KYOWVA Genealogical Society. Cabell County Heritage 1809-1996. Huntington: 1996.
Platania, Joseph. Tracking the James Gang: Folklore of the Great Huntington Bank Robbery of 1875. Goldenseal, (Fall 1983).
Huntington Quarterly, (Winter 1989-90).