Sometime back in the fifties my Lodge, Liberty #31 in Missouri, had a fire. It's a familiar story: the fire destroyed nearly everything including precious membership records. Members, as usually happens, rebuilt the building but the membership records were lost forever... or so we thought. Then one day back in 2004 our secretary was rooting through our "junk room" and came upon an old box. When he opened it he discovered membership logs from the mid 19th century. What a find!
Rummaging through the records proved fascinating and before our next meeting — for what it's worth I was Master at the time — the secretary and I sat there going through some of them. We were mainly looking to confirm the names of some of our previous Masters and also trying to see if any of the members had been prominent citizens of the era.
Suddenly the secretary slid a book across the table to me and pointed at an entry, "What do you make of that?"
The name on the line read, "C. Younger, Entered Apprentice." Underneath that was another entry, "Littleton Younger: rejected." The entries were from the records of 1852.
We were both thinking the same thing: "C. Younger." COLE Younger? The notorious bandit turned Confederate Civil War guerrilla Cole Younger? In my opinion, Cole Younger wasn't exactly Freemason material, but I had to find out.
I began checking the next morning. It took about fifteen seconds to figure out C. Younger was not Cole. Thomas Coleman "Cole" Younger was born in 1844 and would have been a kid at the time. But who was C. Younger; and, in fact, who was Littleton Younger and why was he rejected?
We found no records to indicate our C. Younger advanced beyond the First Degree. He was not Cole's father, whose name was Henry. His paternal grandfather, however, was named Charles. Cole also had an uncle named Charles Younger. Nothing in my research led to any concrete conclusions. Cole's Grandfather, Charles Lee "Cole" Younger, died in 1854. He wouldn't have been a Mason for long, but perhaps that might explain why he only received the First Degree. Since Cole's Uncle Charles was not as old, it may be more likely he was Liberty's Entered Apprentice. If he advanced, those records might be among the items still lost. Once Cole's escapades as a thief, murderer and member of Quantrill's Raiders began, Uncle Charles moved out of the area.
Born in Virginia, Littleton Younger, also one of Cole's uncles, moved to Kentucky where he met and married his wife, Eliza. From there, the couple moved to Liberty, where they had five children. After their children were born, they moved to an area northeast of Eugene, Oregon. There is no record as to why his petition for membership was denied. Once described as a sportsman, perhaps he shot something other than the white-tailed deer indigenous to the area. Whatever the case, once established in Oregon he did, in fact join the Fraternity. His gravestone shows he was born in 1816, died in 1893, and it bears that familiar symbol... the square and compasses.
It is almost certain Cole Younger was never a Freemason. At the age of eighteen he had already committed his first murder and had a $1,000 bounty on his head. He is known to have killed 17 men and was shot so many times he once said of himself, "I guess you could strike lead in me in almost any place you drilled." He died peacefully in 1916, at the age of 72. In all he was one of the most notorious men in the country, along with another famous Clay County, Missouri resident, Jesse James, whom he hated... but that's altogether another story.