On August 21, 1897, the day 27-year-old Cora Hubbard was arrested for robbing the McDonald County Bank in Pineville, Missouri, she stunned observers with her unrepentant attitude. Cora told the Daily Herald in nearby Joplin that she was ‘not a damn bit’ afraid during the robbery and suggested her only regret was that she and her accomplices hadn’t ‘held up the whole damn town.’
Cora Hubbard and her partners had hatched the bank robbery scheme a month earlier on a farm in Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma) near Nowata, where Cora had taken up residence with her new husband, Bud Parker. She had married Parker around July 1 after divorcing her previous husband just two months earlier. Twenty-three-year-old John Sheets was working on Parker’s farm as a hired hand, and 31-year-old Whit Tennyson drifted in about the time Parker brought home his new bride. Two of Cora’s brothers, Al and William (‘Bill’) Hubbard, were also living in the area at least part time.
Tennyson claimed to have experience in the ‘work’ of bank robbery, and he soon had the destitute bunch at the farm ‘in the notion of helping him out’ on his next caper. The gang chose the McDonald County Bank in Pineville because Bill Hubbard had briefly lived in that town and knew its layout. He drew up a map of the place, while Parker, Sheets, Tennyson and Al Hubbard were supposed to carry out the plan. When it came time to put the scheme into action, though, Al Hubbard and Bud Parker backed out. In anger at her new husband, Cora rode off toward Kansas with Sheets and Tennyson, saying she would not live with ‘a damn coward.’
The downsized gang stopped at Coffeyville, Kan., long enough for Sheets to buy a Winchester and ammunition and then continued to Cora’s hometown of Weir City, Kan., where her father, Sam Hubbard, had worked in the coal mines. The old man was alarmed when Cora showed up at his door with her hair cropped short, dressed in men’s clothes and accompanied by Sheets, a young desperado Sam had never seen before. As he later explained, however, he didn’t have the heart to turn his daughter away, since she was ‘a motherless girl.’ After hanging around Weir City a few days and procuring more ammunition, the three-person gang set out for Pineville in the southwest corner of Missouri more than 60 miles away.
They reached Pineville on August 16, 1897, and camped that night just outside town. The next morning, Sheets and Tennyson went into town to reconnoiter the place one last time before putting their plan into action. Seeing nothing to make them reconsider their design, they returned to camp to get Cora Hubbard.
Then all three rode back into town. They stopped about a block from the bank at the Hooper residence. Hubbard held the gang’s horses at a stable on the property while Sheets and Tennyson walked off toward the bank. When Brit Hooper, the landowner’s son, appeared at the door, Hubbard pointed her weapon and told the young man to stand still. He did ‘just as he was told,’ but to Cora he appeared a mite nervous. ‘It’s no use to get excited at a time like this,’ she remarked coolly.
Meanwhile, Sheets and Tennyson sneaked around the corner of the bank and presented their weapons to the three men sitting out front — A.V. Manning, president of the bank; John W. Shields, cashier; and Marcus N. LaMance, county treasurer. ‘We’re here for the money and we want it damn quick,’ one of the outlaws announced as they ordered the two bank officers inside.
While Sheets followed the two men into the bank, prodding them with his Winchester, Tennyson stayed outside to watch LaMance and stand guard. Almost immediately, two ladies drove up to the hitchrack in front of the bank in a buggy, and Tennyson greeted them with an ominous wave of his weapon. ‘Just sit still and you shan’t be hurt,’ he told them.
Inside the bank, Shields turned to remonstrate, but Sheets promptly knocked him to the floor with a blow from his Winchester and sent the cashier on all fours toward the vault. Punctuating his demands with profanity, Sheets ordered Manning to hold a sack and forced Shields to fill it with money. Cashier Shields quickly crammed in all the coins and currency he could find, a total of $589.23.
With cash in hand, Sheets herded Shields and Manning out of the bank ahead of him, and he and Tennyson marched the two bank officials at a ‘lively trot’ through the street along the same route the outlaws had come, keeping the bankers in front of them to discourage bystanders from shooting. Along the way, Tennyson relieved Manning of his $15 silver watch. When the party reached the stable, Sheets, Tennyson and Hubbard mounted up and headed out of town to the northeast, the same way they’d come in. One of the bandits celebrated their escape with a shot fired into the air as they rode away.
A mile down the road, the outlaws came upon Floyd Shields, the cashier’s 11-year-old son, riding a bay mare named Birdie, and Tennyson took the animal in exchange for his own mount. In Pineville, a posse hastily formed and followed the trio out of town. When the gang changed directions, circling around Pineville, someone came back to town to report that the brigands were headed toward Indian Territory. News of the robbery and a description of the bandits were quickly telegraphed to Noel, a small town five miles to the southwest. The outlaw who’d remained at the stable was identified as ‘a small young man or boy, part Indian.’
Late in the afternoon, about two miles south of Noel, a search party from Pineville got beyond the fugitives and joined another posse from Noel at the crossing of Butler Creek to lie in ambush. When the robbers rode down a gulch toward the creek as expected, the six-man posse opened fire. Both Tennyson and Sheets were filled with buckshot, Sheets’ horse was gravely wounded, and Cora Hubbard had her revolver shot out of her hand. The robbers managed to return fire, slightly wounding one of the deputies, but Birdie, the horse Tennyson was riding, became frightened and bolted away, separating Tennyson from his partners. Meanwhile, Hubbard and Sheets wheeled their horses around and made their escape back up the gulch through heavy timber before Sheets’ horse collapsed and died.
The posse turned its attention to Tennyson. They found Birdie grazing not far from the scene of the gunfight with her saddle still on but her bridle missing. At midmorning the next day, August 18, a report reached Southwest City, in the extreme southwest corner of Missouri, that a man answering the description of one of the robbers had taken breakfast earlier that morning in Indian Territory six miles to the west and paid for it with pennies. This seemed to confirm that he was one of the outlaws, since many pennies had been taken in the robbery. A posse headed by Joe Yeargain of Southwest City set out on the trail, and that evening at a lonely cabin 20 miles inside the territory, they found a wounded man in possession of a bridle, a .45 Winchester, a .45 revolver and $121.50 that had been taken in the robbery. Tennyson was captured without incident and brought back to Southwest City, on to Pineville the next day, August 19, and then to nearby Neosho, where he was housed in the Newton County jail.
Tennyson identified his sidekicks, and when word spread that one of them was a woman, the news was greeted with exaggerated excitement. The headline of one area newspaper called Cora Hubbard the ‘Second Belle Starr,’ referring to the famous female ‘outlaw’ in Indian Territory who was shot to death by an unknown person in 1889. Another headline read, ‘Female Bandit Rivals the Daring Deeds of Belle Starr and Kate Bender,’ the latter being the leading spirit of a murderous family that killed eight people in southeast Kansas in the early 1870s. When authorities extracted from Tennyson the additional information that Hubbard and Sheets were from Weir City, a posse led by Yeargain and cashier Shields set out for the fugitives’ hometown.
Meanwhile, Hubbard had dismounted a rider at gunpoint near the scene of the shootout in southwest Missouri, securing a horse for her partner, and the duo rode west toward Kansas. They didn’t stop until they reached Parsons, about 70 miles away. From Parsons, Hubbard took a train back to Weir City on the morning of August 21. Sheets promised to follow in a day or two, and from Weir City the pair planned to escape to Iowa.
Cora Hubbard had scarcely arrived at her father’s home in Weir City when the posse hit town. They enlisted the help of the city marshal, Jim Hatton, who scouted the Hubbard residence at the edge of town under the pretext of borrowing Sam Hubbard’s tar kettle. The marshal saw that Cora was there and went back to the posse to report his findings. As the possemen were returning to the Hubbard residence, they discovered Cora’s brother Bill on the street and promptly arrested him for his role in the Pineville robbery. After escorting him to the city jail, they went back to the Hubbard residence, and one of the deputies rapped on the door with the muzzle of his rifle. When Cora opened the door, the deputy presented his Winchester and ordered her to put up her hands. She did so calmly and with no sign of fear, but rather, according to one account, ‘like a child at play putting up its hands before a toy pistol.’
Cora, now wearing a calico dress, was hustled off to the city jail barefoot. Later that same day, she and her brother were transported back to Missouri, and during a layover at a Joplin hotel, Joe Yeargain bought her some shoes and stockings. Cora put them on in the presence of her guards and a newspaperman, who reported that she did so ‘without any special display of modesty on her part.’
On the evening of August 24, Marshal Hatton became suspicious that some of the loot taken in the bank robbery might be hidden at the Hubbard residence, and he and a deputy returned to search the place. They uncovered $25 in the garden buried in a hill of peppers. The next day they came back at dawn and found another $141 buried in a hill of potatoes. Also on the premises they found the men’s clothes worn by Cora Hubbard during the holdup and a Colt .45 revolver with the name ‘Bob Dalton’ etched on the handle and seven notches carved near the trigger guard. Cora had often bragged around Weir City that she had been with the Dalton Gang in earlier years and that she had Bob Dalton’s six-shooter. The discovery seemed to confirm what had previously been passed off as an idle boast, and the notches were presumed to represent the number of men killed with the Colt.
Marshal Hatton wired Pineville about his discoveries, and cashier Shields and McDonald County Sheriff Richard Jarrett arrived in Weir City on the morning of August 26. The officers had gathered at the Hubbard residence to further interrogate Sam when John Sheets drove up unaware in a buggy and was promptly arrested. Found in the buggy were $91 taken during the McDonald County Bank robbery and a .45-caliber six-shooter. Along with Sheets, Sam Hubbard was also arrested and taken back to Missouri because of his reluctance to cooperate with officers in their search for the loot.
However, both Sam and his son Bill were released at Pineville on August 28, the day of the preliminary hearing for the three bank robbers. With rifle in hand, Cora Hubbard posed for a picture dressed in the male attire she had worn during the holdup, and then she, John Sheets and Whit Tennyson were bound over for trial and returned to the Newton County jail in Neosho. They were convicted of bank robbery in January 1898 and sentenced to the state prison at Jefferson City — Hubbard and Sheets for 12 years each and Tennyson for 10. The Missouri governor commuted Cora’s sentence the day after Christmas in 1904, and she was released on New Year’s Day 1905. During her imprisonment, the one-time bank robber had let her hair grow out but had apparently done little else to enhance her feminine allure in the eyes of the reporter who described her at the time of her release as’short in stature with…black eyes and a greasy dark complexion.’
This article was written by Larry Wood and originally appeared in the June 2004 issue of Wild West.
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