In 1879, Jesse James, the famous Missouri bandit came to Union County and Stanly County, North Carolina. Although there is a James family in the area, Jesse didn’t come to see them. In fact, Jesse James was not related to anyone in this area of NC, but members of his band of outlaws did live near Marshville. The man who was responsible for Jesse’s visit was Lorenzo “Merriman” Little who was originally from Stanly County, and in 1879 lived about three miles from Marshville, very close to the Union-Anson County line. Little was a fascinating man, both feared and respected in that part of the country.
Merriman Little was born February 8, 1829 in a part of Montgomery County that later became Stanly County. He grew up in an area near the Reed Gold Mine and as a young man worked as a miner. He was the second oldest of ten children born to James and Sophia (Klutz) Little. James Little (1798-1847) was the son of James Little, Sr. (1767-1842) and wife Rosanna Tucker (1773-1857) of Stanly County, NC. James Little, Sr. was the son of Capt. Daniel Little (d.1775) of Rowan County, NC.
About 1855, Merriman Little left Stanly County bound for the gold fields of California, eventually settling in Tuolumne County. He was there working as a miner with his cousin, William R. Tucker , of Cabarrus Co, NC, when the Civil War broke out. William R. Tucker (b.c.1836) was the son of Lewis Tucker and wife Catherine Fisher of Cabarrus County, NC.
Many Southern men returned to their native states in the early days of the war and signed up to fight for the Confederacy. Little chose to stay in California, a state that was part of the Union but with a great many loyal Southern men. It is not known what became of Tucker.
Little was a Southern man through and through and became involved in an organization known as the Knights of the Golden Circle or KGC. The KGC was a secret clandestine paramilitary organization bent on causing trouble in Union states and was active in recruiting men for Confederate service.
Little eventually became a Confederate soldier, joining up as a mounted scout with Company A, Baylor’s Arizona Regiment (CSA). Because of a remarkable set of circumstances, he would ultimately meet ex-Quantrill men Cole Younger and John Jarrett. Younger and Jarrett were from Missouri, but at the end of the war found themselves assigned to assist a select group of men from the Arizona Regiment on a dangerous recruiting mission to California. It was Younger and Jarrett who organized a group of men after the war to rob banks. That group would include Frank and Jesse James and by 1872 was widely known as the James-Younger Gang.
Merriman Little was present at the first daylight bank robbery in U. S. history which occurred at Liberty, Missouri on February 13, 1866. He would soon afterwards return to North Carolina where he married on Nov 8, 1866 in Union County to Hester E. Curlee, of the New Salem area of union COunty. She was b.1842 Union Co., NC-d. Nov 5, 1925 in Union Co., NC. She is buried at the Harmony Community Church Cemetery, just over the Anson Co. line. She was the daughter of Thomas Griffin “Grif” Curlee (1808-1877) and wife Jane Lotharp of Union Co.
Even though they lived in Stanly County for several years, just across the Rocky River from Union County, he continued his association with members of the James-Younger Gang. In 1873, they moved to Union County, to a house which stood off of old Lawyers Road, near Marshville, not far from the Anson County town of Peachland (known as Mulcahy at the time).
Little would eventually recruit a young neighbor, Andrew Moorman “Mome” Diggs , who lived just across the Anson County line into the gang. A.M. Diggs was b.Jun 27, 1857, Anson Co., NC-d. Jan 26, 1897 Monroe, Union Co, NC, and was the son of Dudley Daniel Diggs (1833-1904) of Anson Co. and wife Lucy Baucom (1838-1909) of Union County. A.M. Diggs was married on Feb 15, 1877 in Anson Co. to Sarah “Alice” Hubbard.
Together with other men, Little and Diggs would assist Jesse and Frank James as well as the Younger Brothers to rob banks across the country. In December 1874, Union County men robbed the Tishomingo Savings & Loan in Corinth, Mississippi. The next day Jesse James and the Youngers robbed a bank in Muncie, Kansas. The two attacks were designed to throw off lawmen and until research revealed the North Carolina faction of the James Gang, everyone was at a loss to explain how Jesse managed to conduct two robberies in distant places only a day apart.
Jesse James came to North Carolina to visit Merriman Little in 1879. He may have stayed for several weeks traveling in and around the area of Marshville and Olive Branch in Union County and Peachland and Polkton in Anson County. He also visited Rocky River Springs and the Oakboro area of Stanly County. Little and Diggs would later join Jesse and Frank in Nashville, Tennessee. Incredibly, a photograph of Jesse and Frank with the two North Carolinians along with others survived and is currently on display at the Jesse James Museum in Kearney, Missouri.
Merriman Little and Mome Diggs lived very colorful lives. Little would survive his outlaw partner, dying of old age in 1903 in Union County. He is buried at the Edmund L. Davis Cemetery, on Olive Branch Road. His obituary confirmed that he was a member of the James Gang:
Stanly Enterprise, Jan 22, 1903. "At his home, in Lanesboro township, Mr. Merriman Little, after a short illness of pneumonia, died Saturday, 10th. Mr. Little, who was 76 years of age, was well known in upper Anson and Union Counties. The Messenger is informed by several reliable parties that Mr. Little was, at one time, a member of the famous James Gang, the history of which is well known to every one. Just how long he followed the daring James boys, or why he left them, is not known, as Mr. Little, of course, was always reticent in regard to the matter. He, however, imbibed some of the daring spirit of his leader, as many of his neighbors well know, and some of them to their sorrow."
Diggs would not be so lucky. In 1885 he shot a man in Wadesboro, NC. The trial was held in Union County. He was held for two years in the jail in the old City Hall in Monroe. Although he served time in the NC State Penitentiary, he would return to Union County in 1895 and worked as a gunman guarding railroad payrolls! Diggs was assassinated in 1897 in Monroe, just after arriving back in NC by train from Tennessee. He is buried in the Peachland Cemetery, Anson County.
A detailed history of the lives of Merriman Little and Mome Diggs can be found in the new book: UNCOMMON MEN, A SECRET NETWORK OF JESSE JAMES REVEALED, by historian Ralph P. Ganis. For inquiries, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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