No hard feelings, Stephen Colbert…

News arrived today that Stephen Colbert, and not myself, has been selected to replace David Letterman. TV execs informed me I didn’t come in first place mostly because it’s a talk show guest who customarily sells their book, not a talk show host.

Eric F. James, author of Jesse James Soul Liberty

So I’ll be off this Saturday, April 12, 2014, to Union College in Barbourville, Kentucky, to appear at the Redbud Festival of Appalachian Culture. You’ll find me at Union College on Writer’s Row, where I’ll be discussing my book without any prohibition whatsoever with everyone coming to see me. Fans of Stephen Colbert are especially welcomed to join in.


Q & A with Eric F. James

I love hearing from my readers, and I reply to them personally. However, one of my readers questions gave me pause. I decided that both her question and my answer were probably of more interest than just the two of us.


What is your favorite James family story?

A reader of my book has asked, “What is your favorite James family story?” I answered as follows:

Lillith Snyder & Daniel Lewis James

I have countless favorite stories, including many more that don’t appear in this first volume of Jesse James Soul Liberty, and others yet to appear in the future volumes.

From this first volume, however, I think my favorite would be the story of Daniel Lewis James Jr. It’s my favorite because Dan’s story synthesizes both the fundamental character and personality shared among the James family as a whole. Dan typifies the James family’s bent for social integration, progress, equality, and individual liberty, combined with pro-active championing that is intent on bringing about social change. Dan’s story also demonstrates that no matter how good the intentions of a James family member may be, social persecution will follow.

Based on Dan’s chapter in my book, a play by an award-winning Hispanic playwright, Carlos Murillo, was commissioned By Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theater, and a production now waits. Also, a book now is being written about him by one of Dan’s former Hispanic protégées. I’ve even had calls from a Hollywood production company about doing a television series about Dan’s life.

My next volume will show how this shared character among the James family evidenced itself in Frank & Jesse’s grandfather, John M. James, in the period between the American Revolution and leading up to the establishment of the U.S. banking system. The anti-bank sentiment of Frank & Jesse James did not just magically appear to national effect. It was born in the genes of the outlaw brothers.


You’ve Got Mail !

I got some interesting mail today. Have a look. You might want some mail, too.


Jesse James Family & Gang Reunion, 2002 – Pt 2

Here’a another video in our series of the Jesse James Family & Gang Reunion from 2002. Watch Mayor Frank Mechum of Paso Robles as he dedicates James Founders Day to honor Drury Woodson James, an uncle of Frank & Jesse Jame who founded Paso Robles.


Jesse James Family & Gang Reunion, 2002 – Part 1

YOU’RE INVITED… to view videos from today’s family of Frank & Jesse James, as they celebrated James Founders Days in 2002 in Paso Robles California, & Drury Woodson James, founder of the town. These videos have only been seen by the James family and their friends before. Now they’re available for you. Here’s the first. There’ll be more. Have a look, LIKE the video, and your comments are welcomed. Thanks.


The Caravaggio Donation of Milton N. & Joan McGreevy Green

Joan "Jean" McGreevy-Green

Jean Green, who appears in the chapter “Underrated Men & Unleashed Feminists” of the Jesse James family in my book Jesse James Soul Liberty, Vol. I, appears here in a video, produced by the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City.

Jean speaks about her and her husband’s discovery and acquisition of a Caravaggio masterpiece.

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Why So Silent, Eric F. James ?

Regarding Mark Gardner’s new Jesse James book, Shot All to Hell, the discussion group Books, Books, and More Books on the blog for True West Historical Society, tweaked me about my noticeable silence on Garner’s book. The following is my reply – more an explanation, though, than the expected book review.

I’ve purposely sidestepped commenting on Mark Garner’s book, Shot All to Hell: Jesse James, the Northfield Raid, and the Wild West’s Greatest Escape. Reading the book made clear to me that Gardner’s focus on Jesse James’ history and the focus of the James family differs meaningfully.

Normally, any book related to Jesse James, would merit a book review on the James family’s blog Leaves of Gas. I elected not to publish a review of Gardner’s book, because he and the James family cater fundamentally to two different audiences.

The difference in audience appeal is perceptible. Where Gardner promotes his work on Book.TV, giving good banjo plucking. I promote my book before specific historical interest groups, giving good lecture and PowerPoint. Where Gardner appeals to Second Amendment, pistol packing, Lutherans, I engage with subterranean, anarchist Christians who still believe personal, activist morality trumps both the gun and organized religion.

Showmanship is Gardner’s forte. His book is colorfully written and generously promoted to guarantee sales success, in the fashion of news reporters of the past who promoted Jesse James into legend with their stirring storytelling. Gardner, no doubt, will find his way into cable TV’s history or biography programming, which prefer a smartly-crafted expression by an author, that’s a fast-grab to entertainment, over any desert-dry new fact an historian may utter, that will lead to discernment, thoughtfulness, and perception.

The James family historically has gravitated towards fail-safe informational history that will withstand time as authoritative reference resources. Their first favorite was Jesse James Was His Name by William A. Settle Jr. published by the University of Missouri in 1966. References to the James family’s fondness for Settle are sprinkled among the family’s letters.

The James family initially bucked and obstructed the research of Joan Beamis, one of their own kin, as I show in my book citing the family’s own correspondence. But, when Joan’s book Background of a Bandit was published by the Kentucky Historical Society in 1970,  the family rallied in support, yet still with reservations, as Joan’s subject matter became widely disseminated and imitated by others since.

Not until 2000, when Ted P. Yeatman published Frank & Jesse James, The Story Behind the Legend, did a book exist that was an accurate encyclopedic accounting of the partisan and criminal exploits of America’s favorite outlaws. I doubt if Yeatman ever will be topped. With all of T. J. Stiles’ expertise, knowledge, and connections in the book publishing business, even Stiles’ book Jesse James, Last Rebel of the Civil War could not beat Ted P. Yeatman. Yeatman proved that commercial publishers can produce literary history that enjoys broad audience appeal, and still will have long shelf life as a reference work. Yeatman still holds the James family’s unqualified imprimatur.

Mark Gardner’s book has introduced little that is new. The books authored by the late John J. Koblas – principally The Jesse James Northfield Raid and Faithful Unto Death - will remain for some time to come as the go-to history of the James Gang and the Northfield bank robbery, and their aftermath.

Dr. Cathy Jackson

While Gardner justifiably prides himself on his newspaper references, the seminal story of Jesse James in the press still belongs to Cathy Jackson PhD. of Norfolk University. Her treatise, Jesse James and Late Nineteenth Century Missouri Newspapers: They Never Did His Legend Wrong, won the Milton F. Perry Award seven years ago, after first becoming a convention highlight in 2004 at the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication.

Despite grabbing the Milton F. Perry Award myself last year, it is not surprising to me that my recent book Jesse James Soul Liberty Vol. I has not been reviewed on this Books, Books, & More Books True West forum, but that I am asked to comment on a Jesse James book written by another author. My own True West blog has taught me much about the audience appeal of Jesse James. The audience for entertainment stories of the shoot ‘m up variety is far larger here than the audience for literary, historical narrative that remains indisputable reference history.

Mark Gardner’s book is superb entertainment, superbly written to grab and satisfy an audience craving entertainment. Like the books of Jackie Collins, though, that also enjoy broad appeal, Gardner’s book is fun to read, but I am not looking forward to more. Besides, Gardner is already off, writing on a different historical figure. ‘Til death do us part, I’m stuck with the ones I’ve got. Knowledge and so much new research of them will keep me busy, writing four more volumes.


FREDDA LOUISE JAMES-JOHNSON, in Memoriam

People are better known and remembered by what they write themselves, than what appears in their obituary. Fredda Louise James-Johnson died this week, on Feb. 3, 2014, following a fractured shoulder and declining health. I met Fredda in 1998 at the annual Jackson Waite James family picnic. She was very interested in our family history and shared much of it with me as she introduced me to other family members – all of which for, I remain grateful. Previously, Fredda had written recollections about her childhood for her daughter-in-law, Ruby Tidwell-Johnson. Ruby was collecting stories about the James family, descended from Fredda’s father Jackson Waite James and her grandfather, John James of Alvarado. The following is Fredda’s own memory of a childhood life on the Texas prairie.


MY CHILDHOOD YEARS
by Fredda Louise James-Johnson

Fredda Louise James-Johnson in 1998

The memory of my first home was on the old Grandbury (Texas) road which is now Highway 4. We lived there when I was about six months old. When I was about 3 or 4 years old, that house burned down. My mother always had to wash outside on the rub board in the pot, and what have you, and she usually washed until after lunch. On this day while she was washing, Finis (Finis LaVaurne James, her brother) and I were aggravating her, and she told me to go in the house and go to bed, which I started. When I did, I looked up. There was fire everywhere and on my bed. I came out there and told her there was a fire in the house, and she said she was supposed to get papers out of the house if anything happens. But she knew Finis and I would follow her in so she didn’t get to save anything, and that’s the first house I remember. Mama and Dad (Maggie Dozier Fitzgerald & Jackson Waite James) lost 3 or 4 houses to fires, but that’s the only one I saw. Then I don’t remember any other houses til my Dad built a house. He built the house Bobbie West lived in for a long, long time, and then he sold it here not too long ago. I think about three years ago.

The only Grandparents I remember was Grandpa James (John James of Alvarado) and I only saw him once. It was about May, a year or two before he died. He was blind and they put me in his lap, so he could feel of my face to see what I looked like and it scared me, scared me to pieces, and that’s the only thing I remember of him.

My Grandmother (Mary Elizabeth Roslaine “Ross” Bradley) had died a long time before my grandpa. After my Dad was born, my grandmother had a baby boy and they both died in the same week. Then my grandpa found someone else (Louisa Ellen Sutton), and married her, cause back then he had a bunch of kids and he had to have someone to help take care of them. So, my Dad had several half brothers and sisters, but I never saw too many of them, just every once in a while.

I got lots of whippings from my Dad, and my Mother never did whip me. I got whippings just like the boys did, with a belt. Sometimes I really think I shouldn’t have gotten it, but because I was with the boys I got a whipping too. He had what they call a razor strap too. He would use that on us and if one got into trouble it looked like all of us did. If Mama had any pets in the family I didn’t know it. When I came along, I had a brother that was fixing to get married, and my older sister stayed til Mama was up and about. I was born in June and she married in October same year. From there Herbert and his wife (Herbert John James Sr. & Rosetta Matthews) married, and one night they was going to bed and I wanted to go to bed with them and everybody laughed. I didn’t know why until later. They lived there with us for a while. That was in the old house.

Jackson Waite James

My Dad was a Deacon in the Baptist Church, but after I came along, I don’t remember them going to church very much, and if we went, we went with my brothers to church and places like that. My Dad was a farmer and raised cotton, corn, wheat, and that kind of stuff and raised everything in the garden. Everything had to be raised or killed or you don’t get anything to eat. Mama raised chickens and turkeys. I seen her many times go in that little smoke house with a duck, and every time she plucked, that duck would go chirp. And she would pluck again, and it would go chirp. That’s what she made pillows out of, duck down, and that’s the way we had to get our own pillows and what have you. Mama quilted a lot. She didn’t have any certain patterns. She’d just use old scrapes she had. I remember helping her some, you know I was a big help, I thought I was anyway. But I seen her go out many times, we had a lot of company when we was growing up, my Mother’s brothers and some other people, I’d see her go out and get a chicken and fix it for breakfast. Mother always had her hog meat, too. We killed for nearly all our meat.

Jackson Waite James Family with Fredda Louise James standing left

We had our own butter. I used to have to churn butter, and we had buttermilk you know. But I didn’t like to churn butter. I churned on the old churn and every chance I’d get, I’d try to break it thinking I wouldn’t have to finish churning, but I usually had to finish.

I’d go down to the barn and get them to let me try to milk, and they knew what was going to happen and it wasn’t anytime and I was having to help milk by myself. We had a lot of cows to milk and we had to wear boots; I can’t remember in the winter time, the mud would come up to our knees. Well maybe it wasn’t quite that bad, but it was awful, but that milking had to be done.

I always had cats and dogs, if I could get a dog. I can remember one time I had a dog, I think I called him Patches. One day I couldn’t find him and Dad told me he raised up a rock and he went under it…I always had a cat and one time I had a goat, a neighbor had given it to me and brother (Finis), I had to get rid of it because it was an old male and we sold it back to the people who gave it to me and they killed it for meat. But he was getting too mean, and he didn’t mean very much to me anyway.

Bertha Duke James-Nichols, 1998

Rosetta made some of my clothes, my oldest sister (Lillian Roseline James) and Bertha (Bertha Duke James, her sister) made some too, slips and things like that you know, but we didn’t buy clothes like people do now for sure…Mama made all the men work shirts, her aprons, her slips, and things like that.

Talking about raising food, my mama would sell eggs, and take that money to buy groceries and things like that, but when you raise all your milk, eggs, and butter and that sort of thing, you don’t need much of anything else.

We had to pick cotton a lot, and I don’t like it at all. I couldn’t pick it. I guess everybody had a weak back but I just couldn’t pick it. I picked with brother and he’d get like 100 pounds and I would only get 50 pounds. But brother would help me. He would pick it and pile it up in a row so that I couldn’t put it in my cotton sack, trying to keep me up with him. This is how we got our school clothes. We had to work for them. I think my Dad would pay us like a dime a pound for picking cotton, and then when we get through, we could work for the neighbors, and they would pay us and that’s what we bought our clothes with. Brother would take some of his money and buy some of my clothes. That’s how close we were. You don’t see that nowadays. He was always good to me.

Fredda Louise James-Johnson in January, 2013

I went to school at Lone Cottonwood until they had to close it down, because there were lack of funds. That was when I was in 7th grade and they could only have a six month school because they didn’t have enough money to run it. Those that had a way had to go to Godley School, but we didn’t have a way and the country schools at that time had to go to the Johnson County Court House. That’s when we took our test. All the country schools had to go in at the 7th and was fixing to go into High School. We were out there three months and brother and I went in and took the test. My teacher wrote us a letter that said we could pass on trial basis, just try it and see if we could make it, we thought that meant that we passed, then when graduation came, it was over here at the High School where you kiddos went to; everybody had to go into this room and they called your name out. They never did call our names and they said they have no record of when we passed. Anyway, I started to Cleburne, and I believe Finis went to Alvarado for a little while and then they decided we were in the Godley School District, so they sent us up there. We went there for a while, and finally brother had to quit, and then the next year there wasn’t a bus, so I didn’t have a choice since there was no way to go to school and this was about the 8th grade. But I had always passed all my subjects and made 90′s and 100′s in this school and then send you to High School in town, now that was different.

I had to work in the fields, help bale the hay, shock the wheat, I was a Tomboy and I could get up on the top of the barn, and I’d climb to the top of the windmill and when we were baling hay; you had an old baler that had to have a mule that would go round and round, and I had to punch the wires through the bales so they could be tied. I rode horses bareback, and I knew how to saddle, and a few times we rode horses to school, but not many times. I helped Mama put up vegetables and I helped take care of the garden. We always had a big orchard. Mama would cut up peaches and I would get on top of the barn and lay them out on it and that’s the way you dried peaches. I had to go up every day and turn them you know, one way or the other, then when they dried you would gather them up and put them in bags. For some reason, when we emptied a jar we didn’t wash it and when it came spring time to put up the vegetables, it was my job to wash those jars, and you think we didn’t have a time. Our big old wood stove had what you call a reservoir on it and that thing held about 5-10 gallons of water and I had to carry the buckets of water to the wood stove and keep water in it. Then after Bertha got married, she told me I would have to keep house because Mama had all the cooking and everything else to do. I mean I went through the house every morning, and because Bertha told me to do it, I thought I had to do it. I was about 11 years old at this time. We worked, we all had to work.

Fredda in July, 2013, recovering from a fractured shoulder with daughter Glenda Johnson-Dunn

There weren’t too many at home when I was there, but some of the older ones may have come back for a spell, but there were many Christmas’ that I didn’t get anything. I think when Finis was about 12 or 13, we had a big tree put up in the hall, but we didn’t have any presents under it, except for one box of candy somebody had given Mama, and that’s what we had. If you don’t have money, you don’t have money.

We always had lots of storms in early spring nearly every year and maybe it would hail a crop out or it would always do a lot of damage and it was always at the last of school when it was worse. We had a cellar and one time I remember we had a storm and we went into the cellar, the house wasn’t very far from it and Dad looked out the cellar door and Jesse was helping him hold the door down because it was just so bad and then directly it came lightning and he said that the house was still there and everything else was gone, the barn was laying in the garden and ruined it, it picked my Dad’s wagon up and took it about a mile into the pasture, and Mama would always have to go out and gather her chickens many, many times after storms, cause they would be killed if you don’t get them. The babies would hatch about that time…It was every year we had something like that.

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RELATED STORIES

Obituary for Fredda Louise James-Johnson

Jackson Waite James Family Reunion, 1998 – slideshow


Jesse James Treasure Discovered…and Returned

Who’s treasure is it? The email from the unidentified woman was insistent. “This family is part of the Jesse James family. You represent the Jesse James family. These things now are yours.”

Nothing about the woman, what she said, or what she described made any sense at all. But I’m used to dealing with that. All I could glean was that some woman died in Florida – I couldn’t get a name. Locally, she was known to be kin to Jesse James – How? I couldn’t learn that either. Now, the deceased woman’s house was being cleaned out, and her debris was flying my way.

What I expected to receive was a letter envelope with, maybe, some photos. What I got instead was a shipment box. Inside was a large plastic shopping bag. The bag was loaded with studio portrait photos in their cardboard fold-out frames, piles of fading snapshots, an envelope of records and official documents, and a baby shoe.

Like most people, the deceased woman was a bad record keeper. The photos were not identified by names, but rather by relationships. “Sis’s grandkids.” Great. Who’s Sis? Who are the grandkids? Who are these people? I was reminded of occasions when asking for directions in the South. Replies contained no specific point-to-point directions by name, but only by oblique references, informed by personal memory. “Go down about two miles to the corner where the gas station used to be.”

Some of the photos bore the name of James. But none of the names was familiar. The images didn’t resemble any James I know. I searched the internet, but found nothing relating to these James. So, whose Jesse James treasure was this? I was stuck with the mystery.

The historian, genealogist, and archivist in me recognized I could not throw any of this away. This belonged to someone unknown, someone yet to be found. Meanwhile, I was stuck with it all. I stashed the collection with my files, hoping someday, someway, someone or something would appear to claim it, or direct me to its rightful heir. For about seven years the bag and its treasure sat waiting, like so many family orphans.

Two weeks ago, I was browsing Find-a-Grave for updates and new information, just as I continually browse court houses, libraries, and research archives for things overlooked, new references, identities familiar from my own growth of knowledge, or for the latest deaths, notices, or entries. A Find-a-Grave listing appeared with references to a James, familiar from my mystery treasure.

I promptly dispatched an email to Christine Cartwright, who posted the entry. “Are you related to this family, or know someone who is?”

“Hi Eric, Yes, I am a relative William Everett James. He was my great grandfather. What kind of information do you have may I ask? Some of us are in the dark because a small part of the family doesn’t want to share pictures, docs, and stories with the rest of us…Please if you have new information I would love it…”

In further correspondence came this revelation “Yes, there has been talk that one of the great aunts had some letters from Jesse and Frank and somehow they are cousins. But no one can find this so-called letters or maybe someone is hiding them. I don’t know but it would be great to know if there is a link.”

Christine Cartwright & Her Orphaned Family Archive

The treasure sent to me anonymously finally has found its rightful home. Returning the collection has been deeply gratifying, like so often before when orphans of the James are rediscovered, or rediscover their past, through the assistance of our Stray Leaves web site and its SURNAMES genealogy database.

True to any genealogy quest, though, arriving at one answer always raises more questions. Is the Everett Roscoe James of Clinton County, Ohio related to the James in our SURNAMES database? Christine has solved one mystery. His actual name was William Everett James, and Roscoe was his nickname. Christine’s research will continue. Is William Everett James related to the Jesse James family? Christine will continue working on that, too; as I stand by to help. Perhaps a DNA test will put the question to rest. But does that really matter? It took six years to resolve the mystery of this lost treasure of family photos. What’s another month or two to nail down a family identity? For many, it takes generations. Meanwhile, Christine and her family now have some lost treasure from their own family to study and enjoy.

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The 1854 Family Bible of Ione Gray, Granddaughter of Mary Harriet James, is Returned to Descendants

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Stray Leaves Has a New SURNAMES Genealogy Database

The new “official genealogy” database for the family of Frank & Jesse James is gigantic. Researchers now will have more paths of discovery to kinship relationships, not only with America’s iconic outlaws, but also with presidents, office holders & public servants, famous arts & cultural icons, and business behemoths who changed the nation.

It’s been a decade since the popular SURNAMES genealogy database on Stray Leaves was last updated. While visits to the database rose as high as 55,000 daily, and its content was replicated across the internet, additional new research in the meantime did not stop.

Eric F. James has been compiling the SURNAMES database since 1997. “Most genealogists only research their own family surname. So did I – in the beginning. But soon I learned that the in-law families of the James knew more about the James than the James knew about themselves. So I started to research the genealogy of the in-law families just as much, if not more. That’s when the explosion came.”

The more his research expanded, the more the names of other historical American icons entered his genealogy. “In 2002, when I showed Judge James R. Ross, Jesse’s great grandson, my findings about his previously unknown ancestry, he was not so surprised. James family lore historically foreshadowed his relationship to the French Bourbon Kings, but never to Judah, the King of Judea. As a lifelong Democrat, though, Judge Ross was dumbfounded completely to find himself related to the Presidents Bush.”

One research discovery now produces more controversy for the James than does their relationship to outlaws. “In today’s social climate, what can you say when you find out WalMart’s founder Sam Walton is your cousin?” As Eric F. James is called upon often to defend kinship with the criminal career of Jesse James, he’s just as often called upon to defend the business practices of WalMart. James thinks he found the perfect answer, though. “I simply tell people that when I request the family discount at WalMart, I never receive it.”

Upload of the SURNAMES database began January 23rd, and continued to upload over 100,000 new web pages around the clock until 2 a.m. January 28, 2014.

Stray Leaves’ new SURNAMES database expects to serve more than just genealogists and family historians. The database now includes 273,469 individuals, in 94,761 family groups, almost double the size it was before. “It got that way,” James says,” because a third tier of research was added. Beyond the James family and their in-laws, I also explored the relatives of the in-laws of the James. That’s when a lot of new James family history was discovered.”

The third tier of research led Eric F. James in unexpected directions and down pathways he never would have considered taking. “Soon, not only was the genealogy piling up, but a lot of new history, previously unknown, was revealing itself, too.

“That’s when it became necessary to start writing the history of the Jesse James family. I had to explain with more than just a skeletal genealogy format what happened with the James , with whom, and why. That’s also why his book Jesse James Soul Liberty is just the first of five volumes to be published in the coming years. Volumes of new history have emerged from the genealogy. “I could write more than just five volumes.”

“The new SURNAMES database includes many of the characters who populate my history books. Readers will be able to go to the database, and clearly see the relationships, how they went back generations, and why their existence was not so surprising after all. The James family were not isolated. The James were part of a large influential community, that cut its path across America together, all the time creating the fundamental identity of America and what it stands for in the institutions they founded, that still hold sway and influence in American life today.”

What will another decade hold for the SURNAMES database? “Believe it or not, the database had to be cut back about 15% in order for the software to compute and report kinships. The process of very selective trimming took almost two years. The database continues to grow exponentially. In the future, there may be more than one gigantic database. There may be many, hopefully all interlinked.”

James adds, “My time for this may be running its course. The next stage probably will be handled by someone younger, coming up behind me. I love everything I’ve learned hanging out with the dead. But, really, I’ve got to get up from this desk.”


A Glitch Steals Christmas by Phyllis Marchese

Each year we try to share a Christmas greeting with you, created by one of the many talents among the James family. This year, Phyllis Ann Phillips-Marchese shares a Christmas story from her past. From the entire James family to you and yours, a Merry Christmas for us all.

When I was a youngster, I read a lot of books, heard endless radio programs, and saw count-less movies about Christmas. There was a certain similarity in all of those tales. Wishes and prayers magically came true. Santa Claus always had the ‘requested’ gifts for everyone. They were wrapped, tagged and tied with big, bright red bows. Families would get together to share their blessings and the joy of the Christmas season. Separated couples would reunite, exhausted battle weary soldiers would return from wars in far off lands. Lonely people would find their perfect mate. Miracles, miracles, they were everywhere! Even on 34th Street in New York City! Peace and love covered the globe.

That never quite happened in our family. Something seemed to take a bit of the warmth out of our family gatherings. There was always a glitch or two, no matter how well those special occasions were planned.

In my vivid memories, one of those holiday glitches was the year we had the most unique Christmas tree in the neighborhood. My Uncle Bud came to our house a few days before Christmas. The plan was for him and my Dad to go shopping for our Christmas tree. After a light lunch, they were off to find a tree. They must have been looking for the perfect tree, because they didn’t get home until 10:30 that night.

They went straight to their task with vigor. The tree stand and the lights came out of the storage boxes. Bud held the tree while Dad, on his hands and knees, tried to get it centered and level. There were some orders given to Bud to hold the tree straight while Dad twisted and turned the screws into the trunk. Bud told Dad that he was doing it wrong because the tree was leaning. Dad told Bud that it was because he wasn’t holding it straight. After some name calling and a few expletives, Dad got up off his knees. He became keenly aware that the trunk of the tree resembled the S-curve on Lake Shore Drive. Off to the cellar they went, in search of a rope, ladder, a large nail and a hook. Bud held the ladder while Dad used a spike (they couldn’t find a large nail) to tap on the ceiling to find a joist. After a few trips up and down the ladder, and a number of tries, the hook was inserted. The rope was securely tied to the tree, and the two men raised the tree until they felt it was hanging straight.

That was the one and only time that the tree was placed in front of the sofa instead of the bay window, its traditional setting. It was the year that I can truly say “Santa put our presents under the tree.” I added a few new words to my limited vocabulary that night. New Years’ Day was going to be celebrated at our home with my grandmother, aunts, uncles and cousins. The tree was taken down the day after Christmas. It was lowered down to the floor, and the rest of that week was spent patching and painting the ceiling and walls.      -  A holiday glitch.

Pete & Phyllis Marchese

Now let us fast forward about twenty years. My family, my siblings, and all of the nieces and nephews are at my parents’ home for our traditional Christmas Eve. I bought a new crystal punch bowl. It sat in a brass rack with twenty four matching cups. It was to hold the gourmet eggnog that I created at home. I used two quarts of cream, whipped into lovely little peaks. Milk, vanilla beans, fresh ground nutmeg, cinnamon sticks, a simple sugar syrup, and farm fresh eggs were added. I thought I had the perfect combinations of spices and texture. My ten year old niece was intrigued with it. She took the glass ladle and started to stir the eggnog. I asked her not to do that. Her mother, my oldest sister informed me that I had spoken too abruptly to her little girl. That is when the little “darling” stirred it faster and the ladle went through the side of the bowl. All of the food on the table was covered in a soft, rather sticky, flowing, white blanket. The floor was also covered with it. –  A glitch.

Another Christmas Eve, my nephews were hanging around outside my parents’ home. They were playing in the snow, waiting to open the presents under the tree. We had just purchased a new Corvair and it was parked in my parents’ driveway. Unknown to us, the fifteen year old, had been in our car and played with the floor mounted stick shift. We called them in to open the gifts. A few minutes later, the neighbor across the street knocked on the door to tell us that our Corvair had just torn down his fence, his garage door and smashed his car that was parked inside the garage. Try explaining that to the insurance company.  -  Another glitch.

Before my big night, Christmas Eve at my home, I started to watch the cooking shows on television. I wanted it to be as perfect as possible. One of the tips was to peel the celery on the appetizer tray. That would make it tender and much more palatable. A little granddaughter was getting some new teeth. I gave her a celery stick like I gave to my children at that age. It feels so cool and soothing on sore gums according to Dr. Spock. Her new teeth were sharper than I thought they were. Panic came over the room when she started to choke and turn a peculiar shade of blue. My son saved the day, and his kid, by giving her a variation of the Heimlich maneuver.   –  Another glitch.

Three years later on Christmas Eve, my one year old granddaughter had her arm broken. My formal dinner was delayed a few hours, while the little one had her cast put on in the emergency room. Her parents didn’t partake in that Christmas feast. They chose to go straight home from the hospital.  -  A glitch.

I am now nearly two decades older, I cannot wait to see what Christmas surprises I have this year!

You’re invited to send us your Christmas stories, as well as your stories year round. Or, add them below.


Fraudulent Images of Jesse, Frank, Anna, & Younger Brothers

Claimed image of Frank James & Anna Ralston assessed as fraudulent

Photos claimed by a collector to be Jesse Woodson James, Frank James and his wife Anna Raltson, and Bob and Cole Younger appeared this week on the blog of the True West Historical Society. I was requested to respond, and posted the following:

The image may be of a Jesse W. James, but assuredly 100% NOT of Jesse Woodson James, America’s iconic outlaw. Additionally, no provenance appears related to the images to support the claim.

When images are submitted to the James Preservation Trust for possible authentication, prior to anything being done a visual assessment is made of the subject image. Comparisons with the known and authenticated images of the outlaw are assessed. The image also is visually assessed against multiple archives of images of James family members. If the image does not appear to resemble the archival known images, the submitter of the image is advised not to waste the expense of proceeding with a costly formal forensic analysis. Even if the submitter may wish to proceed anyway, the Trust will decline to do so, in essence deeming further effort a waste of time. Regarding the images here, my advice would be to not risk the expense.

Gone are the days when an historical image can simply be claimed to be that of an historical figure. There’s simply too much knowledge now, and forensic techniques have advanced immeasurably. However, that will never stop claims from being made. On average, I receive 2-4 images monthly, and occasionally entire photo albums, that claim to be members of the Jesse James family. The other day, someone asked me what I thought of a claimed image on the internet of Jesse James seated. I responded, “Which one? I have about 25 in our files.”

One certainty is this. There always will be more claimed or fake Jesse James images yet to appear, than there are authentic and true images of the outlaw that exist.

For fun, you may want to view a recent posting to the family on their blog about physical ear formation among the James. It took many among the family by surprise. A bevy of email resulted from family members, so many stating “I have one!”

Claimed full image of Frank James and wife Anna Ralston assessed as fraudulent

Following considerable adverse criticism of the collector’s claims, the collector responded in a manner typical of the behavior of countless con men in both the near and distant past. The collector did not address intelligently and coherently any issues of provenance, nor offer any evidence to substantiate his claim. Instead, the collector responded, lacerating his critics, calling them names, and in the most infantile fashion denigrating them by parodying their names. The collector subsequently attacked his critics also of the True West site in their social media. Such is not the behavior of an average, bone fide collector.

Aficionados of the Civil War and Old West well recognize the physical personages of history. If an image holds a possibility of being authentic, calls are made publicly for forensic analysis to be conducted. For the most part, countless claimed images are promptly dismissed publicly as untrue.

A dead giveaway that the claimed image in this situation is not Frank James is the simple historical fact that Frank James has never been known to have a head full of gray hair when he was the age of the man in the photo. Frank James was bald by that time of life. Plus the facial features, spacing, and relationships in the claimed image differentiates wildly from known images of Alexander Franklin James.

Claimed image of Jesse Woodson James & Jesse Woodson James seated with Younger brothers, assessed as fraudulent

No authentic image of either Jesse Woodson James or the Younger Brothers would come close to favoring these.

Con men arrive with their claims, always pumping their frauds together with their own bad behavior.


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