But later turned against them.
Frank James was bound and determined not to go back to a life of crime, so in the fall of 1879, Jesse James returned to Missouri to form a new gang without his older brother. The members included Jesse’s cousin Wood Hite, Ed Miller, Jim Cummins, Bill Ryan, Tucker “Arkansas” Basham and a blond-haired Missourian who had recently served time in the state pen for horse stealing—James Andrew “Dick” Liddil. Later described by Frank as a “good industrious young chap” but one who was “easily influenced,” Liddil was packing a pair of Smith & Wesson revolvers on October 8, 1879, when Jesse and his recruits rode to the depot in Glendale.
The James Gang went to work quickly at the station, which was on the Chicago & Alton line 15 miles east of Kansas City. Capturing the telegraph operator and smashing his equipment, the outlaws used a green signal light and a boulder on the tracks to get an eastbound train to halt. The robbers, some wearing primitive masks, fired in the air to intimidate any would-be heroes before emptying the safe in the express car. They made off with at least $6,000, maybe as much as $50,000. Liddil later said he collected just over $1,000. That wasn’t much, especially considering he got engaged to his sweetheart Mattie Collins the very next evening and married her three weeks later. On the night of his marriage, he had $2,000, which the newlyweds managed to spend in a couple of weeks. There would be other attempts to make crime pay in Liddil’s future.
Dick Liddil said that he was born on September 16, 1852, the son of James Milton Liddil and the former Elizabeth Forby, and raised in Missouri’s Jackson County. Although he has often been called a former William Quantrill raider, he never rode with the infamous Civil War Southern guerrilla leader; Liddil would have been 13 in 1865. He has often been confused with two relatives, brothers James (1844- 64) and John T. (1838-62) Liddil (sometimes seen as “Little”), who did ride with Quantrill. Dick also had a prominent uncle, Judge A. “Jack” Liddil. Judge Liddil not only lived through his stint as a Quantrill guerrilla but also organized the annual reunions for the notorious group. Dick Liddil has no known connection with early James-Younger Gang member Tom Little, who was lynched in Warrensburg, Mo., shortly after a May 22, 1867, Richmond, Mo., bank robbery.
By the mid-1870s, Dick Liddil was living in Missouri’s Vernon County, where he was arrested for horse stealing. After he was pardoned by the governor and released from the Missouri State Penitentiary, he was introduced by a mutual acquaintance to Jesse James in September 1879. According to Liddil’s later account, Jesse had asked for help because he needed money. Before the new James Gang struck at Glendale the following October, Liddil took a special interest in a woman who was on trial in Kansas City for killing Jonathan Dark, her brother-in-law and employer (she being a servant for his family). This was Mattie Collins. Once she was acquitted on emotional insanity, Liddil jumped over the railing of the courtroom and offered her his hearty congratulations. She appreciated his support, and soon they became more than friends. On the evening after the Glendale robbery, Dick professed his love for Mattie and asked her to marry him. As she later recalled, “Well, to tell the truth, I was as badly stuck on Dick as he was on me, and right then and there we became engaged.” Mattie Collins was often described as a beauty, and one reporter said she was “naturally one of the keenest and most subtle-minded women” he had ever known.
The newly engaged and somewhat richer Dick Liddil spent most of his time with the extended Hudspeth family of the “Six Mile Country” (between Independence and Lake City) in Jackson County. He stayed with horse breeders Lamertine “Lam” Hudspeth, who lived in Lake City, and Bob Hudspeth, who lived on a farm two miles away. The Hudspeths were friends and supporters of Frank and Jesse James and the Younger brothers (see article in the August 2003 Wild West), and all of these men shared an interest in thoroughbred horses. One of Mattie Collins’ brothers-in-law was George W. McCrow, a farmer and neighbor of Lam Hudspeth who also knew Liddil.
Liddil probably did not get back into the crime business for close to a year. In September 1880, he, Billy Ryan and Jesse James were likely the robbers of the John Dovey Coal mine payroll near Central City, in Kentucky’s Mercer County. Liddil reportedly acted as lookout, guarding the front door of the mine store building. On October 1 and 2, 1880, Liddil and Jesse James attended horse races at the historic Nashville (Tenn.) Blood Horse Race Course. Later that month, Liddil traveled to Atlanta to race Jesse’s thoroughbred, “Jim Malone” (“who won a big silver cup,” according to Frank James), and also went with Jesse to Louisville, Ky., and St. Louis for more horse races.
On March 11, 1881, Liddil was likely one of the gang members, along with Jesse James and Billy Ryan, who held up a federal paymaster delivering money to workers on the Muscle Shoals Canal project in northern Alabama. Liddil later implicated Frank James in the robbery; Frank was tried and acquitted of the charge. But Frank was back in the fold and involved—along with Jesse, Liddil, Clarence Hite and Wood Hite—in the July 15, 1881, robbery of a Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad at Winston, Mo. Liddil, by his own admission, rode a sorrel in that caper that he had purchased from Lam Hudspeth. At the robbery, a conductor and a passenger were killed. On September 7, 1881, a Chicago & Alton train was stopped at Blue Cut, Mo., and the suspects included the James brothers, Liddil, Clarence Hite and newcomer Charlie Ford.
For three years (1879-81), Liddil often lived with Frank or Jesse (and their families) in Nashville and used the alias Joe Smith. Liddil, however, did not get along with Wood Hite, a first cousin of the James brothers. They may have become rivals for the affections of the widow Martha Bolton, sister of Charlie and Bob Ford, or got involved in a dispute over money. In any case, in November 1881, Liddil and Hite opened fire on each other inside a barn on the Hite farm outside Adairville, Ky. Neither was hit, but the protagonists met again at the Harbison place (where Martha and her brothers were living) in Ray County, Mo., that December. Liddil teamed up with Bob Ford and killed Hite. Liddil was wounded in the fight and later taken to Uncle Jack Liddil’s house in Independence to recover. Afterward, in January 1882, he went to Kansas City and turned himself in, mainly for fear of what Jesse James would do to him for killing Jesse’s first cousin. Liddil apparently told the law most of what he knew about Jesse and the gang, but it was not until the end of March that Missouri Governor Thomas Crittenden revealed to the public that Liddil was in custody. Meanwhile, Mattie Collins, Liddil’s wife, was not pleased with Dick for showing Martha Bolton so much attention. “It is just like a man to go back on women that have stuck to them through thick and thin,” Mattie told a reporter.
Dick had nothing more to fear from Jesse James after April 3, 1882, because Bob Ford shot down the famous outlaw in St. Joseph, Mo., that day. Four months later, Liddil was taken to Huntsville, Ala., where he stood trial that fall for the Muscle Shoals federal paymaster robbery. In November, he was found guilty but was pardoned, so that he could testify against Frank James at trials in Gallatin, Mo., in 1883 and again in Huntsville in 1884. The juries had trouble believing that Liddil, who had been a traitor to his friends, was a reliable witness, and Frank James was found not guilty both times.
In the mid-1880s, Liddil appeared in the boomtown of Las Vegas, New Mexico Territory, where he briefly co-owned the Bank Saloon with Bob Ford and then leased and managed the combination saloon and billiard room in the Las Vegas Plaza Hotel. He returned to Missouri’s Vernon County, but throughout the 1890s he often traveled on the racehorse circuit, mostly in the Midwest and the East. Between 1896 and 1901 he trained his horses at Kentucky’s Newport Park, across the Licking River from Cincinnati. The Cincinnati Post reported in 1901 that Liddil owned several of the finest thoroughbreds on the Western tracks that season and was one of the best-known horsemen in the West. That June he suffered a heart attack while at the old Latonia Race Course in Kentucky, just south of Covington. His condition grew grave over the next three weeks, and he died at 49 on July 13 in Cincinnati, with his second wife at his side. The name of the second wife remains unknown. As for his first wife, Mattie Collins, she reportedly went mad and was institutionalized before dying about 1915.
Originally published in the April 2007 issue of Wild West. To subscribe, click here.