The Joplin Funeral of the Villainous Young Brothers

If you are from Joplin or have lived in Joplin, then you have undoubtedly heard of Bonnie and Clyde’s infamous visit in 1933. You may have even visited Peace Church Cemetery to view the grave of Joplin native William “Billy” Cook who committed six murders before he was apprehended, tried, and executed at San Quentin. But you may not be aware that the two men responsible for one of the deadliest days in law enforcement history are buried in Joplin.

On the morning of January 13, 1932, the bodies of Harry and Jennings Young were brought to Joplin for burial in Fairview Cemetery. Watching the caskets being removed from the hearse, one onlooker remarked, “I wish I were the devil. If I were I’d be getting my pitchfork sharpened up for those two.” One reporter recounted that there was a “slight undercurrent of jeering” as the Young family filed toward the grave.

Harry and Jennings Young were career criminals. In 1929, after Marshal Mark Noe pulled Harry Young over for drunk driving in Republic, Missouri, Young shot and killed Noe. Harry and his brother Jennings went on the run, but returned to the Springfield area to visit family. Their presence became known when Springfield police were contacted by a car dealer who claimed that Young’s sisters had tried to sell him a couple of stolen cars. When questioned by police, the sisters admitted their brothers were holed up on a farm outside of Springfield. Greene County Sheriff Marcel Hendrix, two deputies, three Springfield city police officers , and others, headed out to apprehend the Young brothers. In the gun battle that ensued, six of the officers were killed, including Sheriff Hendrix. Some of the surviving officers were able to return to Springfield and brought back reinforcements only to find the Young brothers had escaped.

During a national manhunt, the brothers were eventually located in Texas were they engaged in another shootout with law enforcement authorities. This time, however, they did not survive. Instead, the two brothers shot each other in order to avoid capture. Their bodies were brought back to Missouri on the insistence of their mother, who, according to one reporter, could not leave the state of Missouri due to her status as a prisoner. The bodies were sent from Texas to Vinita, Oklahoma, before being embalmed at the J.J. Gees Undertaking Parlor in Pittsburg, Kansas. From there the bodies were reportedly driven to the Greene County, Missouri, line, were the hearse was met by Greene County officials who then returned it and its cargo to Joplin.

It was reported that “Joplin police protection was not afforded the funeral. [Joplin] Police Chief Harrington was opposed to holding the funeral in Joplin, and said this morning, ‘I wasn’t going to have any of my boys hurt, for no good reason.’”

Before the caskets were lowered into the ground, the lids were taken off so that the bodies of the Young brothers were visible. A Greene County deputy sheriff formally identified both corpses as that of Harry and Jennings Young and then took fingerprints. This was done so that if someone filed for a reward claim, law enforcement officials could provide the reward money without hesitation over the identity of the two men.

Dirt was then shoveled onto the caskets and the family members under arrest were taken back to the Joplin city jail for holding.

If you do plan on visiting the graves of any of the aforementioned individuals, please be respectful of each respective cemetery’s rules, and do not disturb any grave sites.

For a more detailed glimpse, including photographs of the men involved and the house,  into what became known as the Young Brothers Massacre, here’s a link to a book published shortly after about the shoot out (note of warning: the book describes the bullet wounds received in graphic terms and photographs of the deceased brothers, as well there may be some creative embellishments).

White Man’s Heaven

Cover to White Man's Heaven by Kimberly Harper

White Man's Heaven by Kimberly Harper

Interested in reading about local history? A new book this fall will offer the first comprehensive examination of five interconnected episodes of racial violence in the Ozarks.  We like it already because its cover art features the work of Joplin’s famed resident, Thomas Hart Benton.  Here are the details:

“Drawing on court records, newspaper accounts, penitentiary records, letters, and diaries, “White Man’s Heaven” is the first book to investigate the lynching and expulsion of African Americans in the Missouri and Arkansas Ozarks in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Kimberly Harper explores events in the towns of Monett, Pierce City, Joplin, and Springfield, Missouri, and Harrison, Arkansas, to show how post–Civil War vigilantism, an established tradition of extralegal violence, and the rapid political, economic, and social change of the New South era combined to create an environment that resulted in interracial violence. Even though some whites, especially in Joplin and Springfield, tried to stop the violence and bring the lynchers to justice, many African Americans fled the Ozarks, leaving only a resilient few behind and forever changing the racial composition of the region.”

The book has received high praise from noted scholars Edward Ayers, Fitzhugh Brundage, and Brooks Blevins.

“Kimberly Harper has written a powerful, deeply researched, and persuasive account of the driving of entire communities of African Americans from their homes. These stories of the Ozarks speak of a larger tale of violence and subjugation we must understand if we are to understand the history of this country.”
Edward L. Ayers, President, University of Richmond, and author of The Promise of the New South: Life After Reconstruction

“An uncommonly sophisticated piece of local history that demonstrates why local / micro history is so valuable.”
W. Fitzhugh Brundage, William B. Umstead Professor, University of North Carolina, and author of Lynching in the New South: Georgia and Virginia, 1880–1930

“A valuable contribution to the study of American race relations and the Ozarks.”
Brooks Blevins, Noel Boyd Associate Professor of Ozarks Studies, Missouri State University, and author of Arkansas / Arkansaw: How Bear Hunters, Hillbillies, and Good Ol’ Boys Defined a State

Keep an eye out for it in the fall. If you want to pre-order, you can purchase it on Amazon.com or through the University of Arkansas Press.   At the time of the book’s release, we’ll offer  more comprehensive coverage.

UPDATE:  Check out the White Man’s Heaven website at www.WhiteMansHeaven.com.