This is a story about my great-grandmother, Mary Belle Hardin Witcher Woods. Though she was not a thief, her father was alleged to have been one of the notorious Younger Gang and her family was well acquainted with Frank and Jesse James as you will see in the following narrative written by Flip Boettcher. (The whole story can be found at http://www.witchergeny.com/mary-belle-hardin-witcher.html )
Belle was born February 15, 1860, in Blue Township (later Lee’s Summit) Missouri. Her brother William Joseph was born two years later, January 14, 1862. Their parents were Joseph P.L. Hardin and Sarah Isabelle Stokes, who was the daughter of Lamira Young. Presumably Younger, as Sarah’s children called her Grandma Younger. Perhaps Lamira dropped the “er”, as was done in those days, to escape recognition as belonging to the infamous Younger family, according to a 2002 account of Dorothy Houts, Belle’s granddaughter and Nancy Thompson, Belle’s great-great niece, as remembered from stories they were told and research.
February 8, 1863, near Independence, MO, Belle’s father Joe was killed while in winter hiding with Cole Younger’s guerilla fighters. Houts “feels that he [Joe] is buried in an unmarked grave in the Younger plot, next to Cole.”
Without a husband or means of support and two young children, Sarah went to live with Grandma Young. At that time Grandma Young had another woman living with her named Auntie Dickie Hylton. Auntie Dickie did the outside chores and Sarah was supposed to do the inside work, as some days Grandma was unable to get out of bed; perhaps because of arthritis, added Houts.
According to Houts, Belle remembered the Younger boys and the James boys coming to visit, and as Belle grew older she was given the job of lookout for them.
Belle’s mother Sarah did not seem quite normal after her husband Joe’s death. In fact, according to Belle, she seemed no longer able to defend herself or her children. So, Jesse James taught Belle how to shoot.
In 1870, when Belle was 10 years old, the family moved back into town, Lee’s Summit, where Sarah took in boarders. Interestingly, among the boarders was Esther Young (Younger?). She had lived next door to the Young family before Joe’s death.
A short time before 1875, the nearby home of Zelenda Samuel, the mother of Jesse and Frank James, was bombed. Their half-brother Will James was killed and Zelenda lost half of one of her arms.
Because of the bombing, and the fact that her husband Joe had supposedly found gold in Colorado while there on a hunting trip, Sarah decided to move to Colorado in 1875. Shortly before Belle left for Colorado, Jesse James gave her a Smith and Wesson just like his. “He told her to keep it near her always and she did.” Houts still has this gun today, 2002.