Clell Miller Gets No Respect

Clell Miller, aka Clelland B. Miller 1849-1876
Clell Miller, aka Clelland B. Miller 1849-1876

Maligned. Misquoted. Misinterpreted. Misunderstood. Except for the deadly hit Clell Miller took in Northfield, Clell’s life always ran amiss. Clell Miller gets no respect. Even in death, Clell’s bones are missing. How did the James gang ever wind up with the likes of hapless Clell Miller?

Imagine my surprise, to learn that I live just two blocks from Clell Miller’s grandparents. Since Henry Logan and Mary Kenley Thurmond died together back in 1866, Clell’s grandparents haven’t gone missing at all. For almost 150 years, they’ve been right here in Danville, Kentucky, in plain sight. And like poor Clell, no one has cared.

Tombstone of Henry Logan, Thurmond & Mary Kenley, grandparents of James Gang member Clell Miller. Bellevue Cemetery, Danvile, Kentucky.
Tombstone of Henry Logan, Thurmond & Mary Kenley, grandparents of James Gang member Clell Miller. Bellevue Cemetery, Danville, Kentucky.

Moving here twelve years ago to write my five-volume history of the Jesse James family, Jesse James Soul Liberty, I made Danville my home base, because Danville’s the geographic center of the James family’s history in Kentucky, ever since 1782 when Jesse’s grandfather, John M. James, arrived with his Traveling Church. The Youngers, Pence, Scholls, Chinns, Hites, Vardemans, etc. – and now Clell Miller’s family – lived among one another first around Danville, before moving to Clay County in Missouri. These families left an abundance of history in plain sight, still waiting today for the arrival of serious historians.

John Loyd Thurmons Jr. 1870-1945
John Loyd Thurmond Jr. 1870-1946. First cousin of Clell Miller of the James Gang.

Often I take a refreshing walk over to Bellevue Cemetery after long hours of writing. Bellevue is an historic, tree-filled place, where Victorians went for Sunday picnics, courting, and family recreational diversions. Since Danville is where Kentucky separated from Virginia in 1792, Bellevue is populated also by countless blue blood figures of the Commonwealth’s frontier. I commune with them, just as I do with those in Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Kearney, Missouri.

Clell’s grandparents were not Kentucky blue blood. Henry Logan Thurmond and Nancy Kenley were just simple, average folk.

Earnest Clarence Thurmond 1873-1940
Earnest Clarence Thurmond 1873-1940. First cousin of Clell Miller of the James Gang.

Henry’s father, Absalom Thurmond, first lived on Pistol Creek in Bedford County, Virginia, but he died in Wilkes County, Georgia. Two of Henry’s orphaned sisters won land lotteries there. When Henry’s brother, John Thurmond, returned to Georgia from the Cain-tuc, he was known as “Rich John.” His cousin Fielding Thurmond became captain of a Kentucky militia, during separation from Virginia, protecting the incoming flood of migrants, as did Jesse’s grandfather, John M. James. Fielding returned to Georgia, too. The orphaned Henry Miller, though, arrived in Kentucky sometime before 1808 to stay. Near Abraham Lincoln’s boyhood home in Washington County, Henry married Mary Kenley. The couple spent some time in Logan County, at the time called “Rogue’s Harbor,” a place for killers, thieves, and con artists to flee Kentucky’s emerging new laws and local governments. By 1828, the couple settled more safely in the established, cultured, and Presbyterian community of Danville.

William Paschal Thurmond 1869-1952
William Paschal Thurmond 1869-1952. First cousin of Clell Miller of the James Gang.

Henry and Mary Thurmond were in the mid-70s in April of 1866 when they both died. The couple had nine children, most of them from home, or dead. Henry and Mary recently suffered through the aftermath from the bloody battle at Perryville, when scores of wounded, maimed, and dying were treated in every quarter Danville could offer. Henry and Mary were here the day Frank James, Bud and Donnie Pence, and the Youngers rode into town with Quantrill, severing telegraph lines, isolating the train depot, and pillaging food and supplies, while Frank casually stole some books from a store. The gang rode off to Harrodsburg where Frank’s cohort Col. Jack Chinn lived. But the Pence brother’s in-law on the Union side, Maj. James Bridgewater, rode up from Stanford in hot pursuit, cornered the gang at Sally Van Arsdale’s house, and killed off a good number of them in the bloody shootout of a snowy winter’s night. Weeks later, Henry read in the news that Quantrill had died in Louisville’s Catholic hospital, and Frank James turned in his guns.

Soldiers were returning to Danville from Charleston, New Orleans, and Mississippi, bringing diseases with them. About half of Danville’s population was black, and most had been freed long before the war. Those newly emancipated were joining the Union Army at nearby Fort Nelson just to be employed, leaving the town without much help. In sunny April of 1866, old and feeble Henry Thurmond died within weeks of his wife Mary, as hapless as did Clell. Their brains exploded unexpectedly with the excruciatingly painful disease of cerebral spinal meningitis.

Cettie Thurmond 1848-1907
Tombstone of Cettie Miller 1848-1907, first cousin of Clell Miller of the James Gang. Bellvue Cemetery, Danville, Kentucky

By then, Clell’s parents, Emaline Thurmond and Moses W. Miller, were in Kearney, Missouri. Most of Clell’s uncles and aunts had settled in Ash Grove. Only Uncle Fielding and Aunt Cettie Thurmond stayed behind to bury Clell’s grandparents. Fielding, who died in 1896 and Cettie in 1909, now rest next to Henry and Mary.

Exactly when Clell’s parents left Kentucky for Missouri is unknown. An early exodus of Baptist missions had begun in the 1830s. The same rebel preachers of Virginia who took Jesse’s grandfather, John M. James, into Kentucky now were sending missions into Missouri. John’s son, Rev. Robert Sallee James, was part of that effort in 1843. Brother William R. Cave laid out his half of Kearney in 1856, using the settlement land of his father, Uriel Cave. William’s great grandson, the late Darrell Cave, was sextant of Mt. Olivet Cemetery almost all his life. He assisted me and Jesse’s great grandson, Judge James R. Ross, when we reinterred Jesse’s twin children at Mt. Olivet Cemetery, following the twins’ exhumation in Tennessee. The James association with the Cave family reaches back to the American Revolution.

The cholera outbreak of the 1830s in Kentucky also sent other families westward. Alice Lindsay-Cole, Frank, and Jesse’s grandmother, married a second time to Robert Thomason. In 1836, the entire Thomason family was uprooting itself from Kentucky and going to Clay County, triggered in no small part by their neighbor Richard Mentor Johnson, who had just married his second slave woman. Johnson, who had claimed to have killed Chief Tecumseh in the War of 1812, was bent upon being elected president of the United States. He also had set up his Choctaw Academy and was bringing Indians back into the Commonwealth to be educated. Among some, that didn’t sit too well. They fought Indians and spilled blood to settle the land.

Nora Ruth Miller 1900-1964 & Annie Harwood Miller 1895-1993
Nora Ruth Miller 1900-1964 & Annie Harwood Miller 1895-1993, second and first cousins respectively of Clell Miller of the James Gang.

When Clell was born on December 15th of 1849, Moses W. and Emaline Thurmond Miller were established residents of Clay County. Clell never knew his grandfather, Jacob Miller, on his father’s side, just as he didn’t know his Thurmond grandparents. But Clell probably learned that his papaw Jacob Miller was one of those tough-minded Germans, like the Hite family. The Hites/Heydts all came from Germany, then to Pennsylvania, then into Kentucky, all ending up in Missouri. Despite what trouble Clell and his brother Ed Miller found themselves in, their father Moses W. Miller was well-regarded in Kearney. Moses was a far more respectable citizen than his sons, as shown by the expensive obelisk that graces his grave.

Since the Civil War ended, and especially after Jesse was presumed to have killed Clell’s brother Ed, what Clell shared no doubt with the James brothers was a sense of family disaffection. Like the James family with the James boys, Miller family cousins had little, if nothing at all, to do with Clell. Most had moved away, gone to Texas or Oregon. Isolated, Clell Miller never knew his Miller or Thurmond cousins at all. Like the James family, too, Clell’s family spent their days building honest and respectable lives for themselves, for the most part ignoring Clell, or his brother Ed.

Darrell Mansur, 1st cousin of Clell Miller
Darrell Mansur, a first cousin, four generations removed of Clell Miller 1848-1846, aka Clelland B. Miller, shot and killed in the failed Northfield Bank Robbery by the James Gang, September 7, 1876

Recently when I met Clell’s first cousin from his Miller side, now four generations removed, I asked Darrell Mansur about his family and about Clell. Darrel knew nothing at all about Clell Miller or Ed. I provided Darrell his genealogy of his Miller-Thurmond family and explained the murderous history it contained. Darrell then replied, “This is all new and a bit of a shock to me. It probably explains why I wasn’t told anything about that part of the family when I was growing up…”

Gee, Clell Miller, we hardly knew ya. Seems like your own family didn’t, either.

This article first appeared in the James-Younger Gang Journal in 2014.


Lost Jesse James-Bob Ford Photos – Not Lost, Not Authenticated

Robert Ford & Jesse James as hoaxed by Lois Gibson
Robert Ford & Jesse James as hoaxed by Lois Gibson

Two days ago, the Houston Chronicle headlined a story, “Lost Photo of Jesse James, assassin Robert Ford is found. Authenticated.” Here we go again, I thought. Another day.  Another fake Jesse James photo. Another fake authentication. Another con artist, or two, or maybe more. The fact is, there are no photos of Jesse James or Bob Ford that are lost. And the ones claimed by the Chronicle are not authenticated. Here is why.

Lois Gibson
Lois Gibson

According to the Guinness Book of Records, Lois Gibson holds the world record for “most successful forensic artist.” Gibson is the chief forensic artist for the Houston Police Department. In my experience as genealogist and historian of the Jesse James family, Texas is the birthplace of numerous Jesse James hoaxes. Some have carried on for decades. Apparently, with three images of Jesse James, Robert Ford, and Zee Mimms-James, which Gibson claims to have authenticated, the 65-year-old Lois Gibson is an artist with a leg up on creating another Jesse James hoax in Texas.


Sandy Mills
Sandy Mills

Let us back up on Gibson’s story to my first encounter with Sandy Mills. Sandy is the owner of the image in question. Gibson claims this image was lost, now found, and she has authenticated it.

As happens with regularity in most any month here at Stray Leaves, images of all types believed to relate to the Jesse James family are submitted here for review, and opinion. Mills submitted her image to me for review in March of 2013. Mills stated, “I have a tin type photo of Jesse James sitting with another man, we think it is a first cousin Robert Woodson Hite. We are interested in showing you. Please contact me.” The email from Mills arrived under enhanced suspicion. Mills sent the email under an alias email account of Robyn Anderson. Con artists love alias names. Red flags were waving already.

In 2002, Jesse’ great-grandson, Judge James Randall Ross, and I founded the James Preservation Trust.  Part of the mission of JPT is to archive the family history, as well as to address issues about the veracity of Jesse James family history, genealogy, images, and documents. Upon receipt of a claimed image, the image is circulated first for preliminary review among family, respected historians, and/or specific authorities most relevant to the image’s provenance.  If the image is believed to be possibly verifiable as authentic, the image owner is referred for full forensic investigation and analysis to a reputable authority fully trained in the metrics of scientific forensic analysis and Jesse James history. The image owner then can chose to employ, or not to employ, such services.

Claimed by Sandy Mills to be Jesse Woodson James and possibly Robert Woodson "Woot" Hite
Claimed by Sandy Mills to be Jesse Woodson James and possibly Robert Woodson “Woot” Hite

The image Sandy Mills provided me was so blatantly false about being either Jesse James or Woot Hite, I told Mills not to waste any money for an authentication.

I also included an authentic image of Woot Hite from the Joan Beamis Archive for Mills to compare with her claimed image.

There exists only a handful of authentic images of the outlaw Jesse James. Those images appear variously on Stray Leaves and have done so for nearly 20 years.

Actual Robert Woodson Hite (L) compared to the claimed Woot Hite (R).
Actual image of Robert Woodson Hite (L) from the James Preservation Trust, compared to the claimed Woot Hite (R). Woot Hite is a James descendant. His mother is Nancy Gardner James, an aunt of Jesse Woodson James. Woot Hite displays the same genetic physical characteristics common among the James family.


1 EMAIL Sandy Mills to EFJ 3 16 13
1 EMAIL Sandy Mills to EFJ 3 16 13
Author: Eric F. James
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The Houston Chronicle article now links Sandy Mills with Lois Gibson. This raises many questions and more red flags.

Who is conning whom? Did Mills inform Gibson of my reaction to the image? Did Mills offer other information to Gibson that Mills did not offer to me? Or, did Gibson see another opportunity for self-promotion, as Gibson formerly did when she stated a tintype image of Billy the Kid was the authentic tintype of the widely circulated image of the Kid already known to be authentic. At that time, Gibson fell under intense scrutiny. She was widely derided among the western artifact collector community, another red flag.

Regardless of what remains unknown about the relationship between Mills and Gibson, what is known is that the images Lois Gibson states are authentically Jesse James, Robert Ford, and Zee Mimms-James cannot be authenticated as true when, in fact, they are fake.


Customarily, a reputable authentication of any historical image is documented in abundant clinical detail in an image’s authentication report. The report usually bears the signature of a witness or witnesses,   and/or a notary for formal and legal recognition. Gibson provides none – a red flag. The report will give a full account of the credentials of the expert performing the authentication, a full explanation of the scientific techniques applied, the entire known provenance of the image and its condition. Gibson pretends to do so, but provides none – another red flag. The report concludes with arguments and resulting findings which the applied forensic analysis produced.

No evidence exists that Lois Gibson performed any scientific authentication of image assessment, or that she is qualified to do so.  In her biographical statement, Gibson says she is a forensic artist. At first glance, her record as an artist is impressive. She claims no forensic science training, though – a significant red flag.

What Lois Gibson has proudly produced from her palette of artist tricks is a deception intended to fool the eye of the indiscriminate viewer and a public un-knowledgeable about Jesse James.  Gibson’s deft artwork is intended to convince you she has authenticated the subject image when fact it does not – an additional red flag.

Gibson’s cardinal sin was first to alter the image to her preference by a process of image reversal. Lois Gibson reverses the images presented to me in 2013 by Sandy Mills. In the field of legal evidence, this is termed “tampering,” – a most compelling red flag.

In a series of plates Gibson next manufactures and develops her suppositions with no reference to actual history that is known or recognized.


Lois Gibson Case-Plate 1-False Claim
Lois Gibson Case-Plate 1-False Claim

In Plate 1, Gibson describes the spare provenance provided by Sandy Mills. Neither one addresses Mills own genealogy or the personal family background or circumstances that might offer the slightest explanation for how this image fell into the Mills family’s possession. Gibson proceeds to compare Mills’ image to the authentic wedding photo of Jesse James. Mills’ fake Jesse James is cross-eyed, something Jesse was not. Although Jesse suffered from “lazy eye” in his youth, the condition corrected itself by his adulthood. Mills references no relevant history about the condition.

The most telling giveaways of the Mills image are the spatial relationships and physical features. A reputable scientific forensic analysis would have applied a grid system, mathematics, and spatial metrics. Such analysis would have identified the discrepancy in forehead, hairline, eyebrows, eye formation and nose that is all too evidently wrong in the fake photo.

Lois Gibson-Plate 2-Rejected as Fraudulent
Lois Gibson-Plate 2-Rejected as Fraudulent

In Plate 2, Gibson commits the authenticator’s crime of comparing one fake photo to another fake photo. She misidentified the comparison fake photo as being “Historically accepted group shot of Jesse James and cohorts, circa 1880s.” Mills cites no recognized authorities for this false claim.

A check of the clock informs the most un-knowledgeable person that Bob Ford assassinated Jesse in 1882. Jesse’s popular death photo reveals his physical features. They resemble the fake comparison photo, not in the least. Jesse, in fact, was a bit chubby when killed. A check of any Jesse James history book also tells us Jesse had no cohorts in the early 1880s, other than the despicable Ford brothers.

Most egregiously, Gibson fails to discuss the physical discrepancies between her fake Jesse James and the fake comparison Jesse James. Between those two fake images, forehead, eyes, nose, ears, and facial width are all different.

Here is the quintessential question everyone looks for in claimed pictures of Jesse James. Where is Jesse’s famous missing fingertip in the comparison fake Jesse James? Mills’ fake Jesse James image displays a full set of unharmed digits.

“Historically,” Gibson’s comparison fake Jesse photo was rejected already as a fake. The image that originated this fake image went to auction in 2002. At that time, Jesse’s great grandson, Judge James R. Ross, lodged his written complaint with Swann Galleries in New York that was auctioning off the image. The image sold for a paltry sum to a man from Kentucky. I met that collector a few years later. The auction house had not informed him of the written opinion issued by Judge Ross. Proper and full disclosure might have influenced the bidder not to buy.

Lois Gibson-Plate 3-Images are not Jesse Woodson James
Lois Gibson-Plate 3-Images are not Jesse Woodson James

Plate #3.  Remember that shell game where three shells move around while you try to remember under which shell a pea was placed? Artist Gibson plays this game to fool the unsuspecting eye. She is not alone in deploying such tricks. We recently encountered the same technique by an auction house that was trying to sell a fake Jesse James image for an advertised $40,000 to $60,000 windfall expected. Some fool actually anteed up $12,000 for an image known publicly to be worthless. The price of ignorance in the Jesse James artifact market can be dear.

While Gibson focuses the unsuspecting eye on her fake image, a knowledgeable eye is asking, “Where did this other fake image come from?” Mills cites no origination. No one among the Jesse James community ever has seen the other claimed image of Jesse James. Not ever among the Jesse James family. Certainly not among Jesse James historians. Not even among the public. Again, Gibson produces one fake image to compare against yet another fake image. The image she identifies as “Jesse James, 1870s, Webb City, Missouri” is another of Gibson’s gallery of Jesse James fake photos.

Lois Gibson-Plate 4-Not Bob Ford
Lois Gibson-Plate 4-Not Bob Ford

In Plate #4, Gibson performs her same slight of the eye trickery. However, the physical features at the start of her slide characterization are not the same as at the end.  If Gibson had simply looked at the photo of Bob Ford and his wife Dot Evans that appears on page 311 of my book, Jesse James Soul Liberty, Volume I, she might have surrendered her gambit to fool the Jesse James family. That photo of Bob Ford, never published before, has been in the possession of the James family for more than a century. That image of Bob Ford should have been integral to Mills’ authentication, had she tried.

Lois Gibson-Plate 6-Not Jesse Woodson James. Not his wife Zerelda Mimms-James
Lois Gibson-Plate 6-Not Jesse Woodson James. Not his wife Zerelda Mimms-James

Plate # 6  Incredibly, stunningly, and arrogantly, Gibson no longer can control her hoax. She goes full-bore con game. Lois Gibson not only introduces a third, previously unknown, and additional fake image of Jesse James, Gibson also throws in a fake image of Zee Mimms-James, Jesse’s wife, to boot. To the trained eye, this third Jesse looks nothing like Gibson’s other two fake Jesse James photos. Nor does it compare to any known and authenticated historical image of Jesse and his wife.

At this point, Gibson loses all objectivity. She clearly has no knowledge of James family genealogy. Nor has she made an effort to know it. Jesse’s wife Zee is, in fact, a James family descendant herself. Zee’s mother is Mary James, Jesse’s aunt. The couple is first cousins. They share the same genetic DNA that marks their physical appearances with shared identical physical features. Those physical features have been accounted and quantified across five generations of the James family. In physical appearance, Gibson’s fake Jesse James couple share no common physical features that match the proven genetics of the James.


The simple answer is environment and enablers, whether actual conspirators or not.

Texas is home to nefarious con artists who have preyed upon the Jesse James family and its identity for generations. From Orvis Hauk, to J. Frank Dalton, to Betty Dorsett Duke, Texans lift up their tall tales as they throw factual history into the trash. Texas legislators actually do this with school books, too.

The true Jesse James family in Texas goes unrecognized. Around Granbury, authentic members of the real Jesse James family who live there roam in confident privacy and anonymity. They can do this because Granbury would rather fete its fake Jesse James internment there. Authentic Jesse James family members populate Texas terrain and cemeteries from Red River to the gulf coast. No Texan celebrates Geneva James who taught Willie Nelson in grammar school in Waco. Nobody in Johnson County knows of John James of Alvarado unless they follow Stray Leaves or read my book. Texas has yet to recognize the kinship shared between Houston’s George W. Bush and the Jesse James family.

But Lois Gibson and Sandy Mills can find ample news coverage for fake Jesse James photos by the Houston Chronicle, whom we now must acknowledge as an enabler of bogus Jesse James imagery, along with their correspondent Dylan Baddour who broke the story.

Dylan Baddour
Dylan Baddour

We contacted Dylan Baddour and asked for his defense of what he wrote. He provided the following statement:

“Lois Gibson, who identified the photo, is one of the world’s most credible sources for facial recognition. She’s a forensic artist and analyst with the Houston Police Department who has garnered a Guinness world record and features in national media for her success. When it comes to identifying faces, there is no higher authority. Every auction house we spoke with found it very compelling that Gibson made the ID, and couldn’t immediately refute it.”

What motivated Baddour to inquire of an auction house and not of reputable Jesse James family, historians, or authorities? When it comes to Jesse James artifacts, we repeatedly take auction houses to the woodshed for their inflated and inaccurate claims, not to mention their despicable practices of deceit. In all of Jesse James auction history, there has been only one auction who performed ethically and responsibly; and, ironically, Heritage Auctions is in Texas.

Sarah Laskow
Sarah Laskow

We also reached out to Sarah Laskow, a news harvester for Atlas Obscura. She replied, stating, “I used the Houston Chronicle as a source for this short post, as well as the analysis that Lois Gibson had posted. If there’s countervailing evidence about the authenticity of the image, I’d be interested to hear about it.”

Arden Dier
Arden Dier

Arden Dier harvested the story for re-publication for Newser, whose slogan is “Read less. Know more.” Really? We found no contact information for Arden Dier.

Michael Pearson
Michael Pearson

The only reporter we found to question the Mills-Gibson story was Michael Pearson of CNN, for whom we also found no contact information other than his LinkedIn page. Skeptically, Pearson asked, “Does photo show outlaw Jesse James with his killer?” Talk about a slick, Texas slide step.

There is more to this hoax than is apparent at this moment. New information is being researched and developed. More revelations will come.

In the end, this hoax will enter history under the names of Sandy Mills and Lois Gibson. No matter how long it takes, history always gets to the truth. Sandy Mills and Lois Gibson will stay on our Watch List of tricksters, con artists, and frauds for some time.

Lois Gibson 7 - fake
Photo of Robert Ford & Jesse James as hoaxed by Lois Gibson, authenticated to be a fake.

State Historian Speculates on Jesse James History

What motivates an historian to speculate about history? Historians deal only in facts. Historians do not speculate. Wouldn’t you like to know what makes a noted historian break the rule? I did.

When I discovered Marshall Trimble, “Arizona’s Official State Historian,” speculating about the history of the James-Younger Gang, drunkenness, and a bank robbery, I put the question directly to Trimble. What motivates a historian, especially a state historian like him, to speculate about history. Remarkably, I could not get a straight answer from Marshall Trimble.

Marshall Trimble AZ State Historian

The history of Jesse James is pockmarked by fake history. So much fake history has been written that it is very difficult for most people to ascertain what Jesse James history is fact and what is not. Intelligent people who rely upon history to provide a factual record don’t support history that is speculation. When Marshall Trimble crossed the line to engage publicly in speculation for no apparent reason, purpose, or apparent serious intent, I wanted to know why.

I put my simple question to Marshall Trimble in a private, personal email.  Referring to Trimble’s speculation in his article “Were members of the James-Younger Gang drunk when they robbed the bank in Northfield, Minnesota?” I stated to Trimble, “I have to question the motive behind it.”

Trimble replied, “Would you please enlighten me? I didn’t say they were drinking or drunk; I only speculated on the possibility.”

I reframed my question for Trimble. “What is the purpose behind a bonafide historian engaging in speculation?”

Trimble descended deeply into his speculation and into his subject matter. His content was irrelevant to my question. ”I speculated on the possibility they were drinking. The bookkeeper at the bank said they smelled of whiskey. Marley Brandt refers to a myth perpetuated by Cole that had written a letter to Dr. A.E. Hedback that whiskey had been consumed before the robbery. That’s why I wrote that Frank, Jesse and Cole thanks to their military experience didn’t normally tolerate drinking on the job. Who can say for certain one or more of the gang didn’t consume alcohol. Since none of us were there who can say for certain whether or not someone had been drinking. Brandt says, ‘It is possible that it was Frank who had been drinking, but this is highly unlikely…’ Isn’t that speculating?”

“Let me try a third time,” I asked in a third email. “Please put aside the content of the speculation you’ve written about. It’s not in question. What I question is the role of an historian with regard to speculation.”

I did not expect the response Trimble provided. He stunned me. Trimble got up on a high horse and left me in the dust and debris of his speculation. He never answered my question.

“It’s clear to me this conversation is going nowhere,” Trimble concluded. “I tried, apparently unsuccessfully, to respond to you in a professional manner. I’ve been a western historian for almost fifty years and during that time I’ve attended a number of conferences and observed people who enjoy arguing finer points, splitting hairs and arguing for the sake of argument over historic minutia. I’ve seen them almost come to blows over such things. I make it a point never to engage in such things. So, if you want an argument take it somewhere else.”

Trimble’s reaction was no surprise to me. Often when confronting speculative history, factual inaccuracies, self-promoted historical interpretation, or just plain fake history, those who proffer it quickly disappear without explanation when questioned about it. Details are the most pesky of nuisances for history’s speculators. Especially the detail that questions their motivation for speculation.

The countless historians I’ve worked with over several decades all have been helpful, focused, and always very responsive. Reputable historians make every effort to respond to questions with facts and to convey history as fact. They relish details. They run to history, and not away from it.

Marshall Trimble is retired now. So much for the historian’s teaching ability and for being “Arizona’s Official State Historian.”


1 EFJ to Trimble
1 EFJ to Trimble
1 - James to Trimble
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Betty Dorsett Duke – Lying in the Grave

Betty Dorsett Duke wasted her life, claiming she was someone she never was. That woman, who is dead now, goes by a new name – Betty Gail Duke. But some things never change. The obituary of Betty Gail Duke writes a whole new meaning to the phrase “lying in the grave.”

OBIT Betty Gail Duke
The obituary of Betty Gail Duke states inaccurately that “Betty was the author of three historical non-fiction books proving that the outlaw Jesse James was her great-great-grandfather and that he didn’t die as history reported.” The claims in Duke’s book are fraudulent.
Betty Dorsett Duke, 2001
Betty Dorsett Duke, 2001

To her credit, Betty Duke lied to the Jesse James family to their face. Betty appeared at the annual conference of the James-Younger Gang at San Angelo, Texas in 2001, to demand that the biological great grandson of Jesse Woodson James, Judge James R. Ross, surrender his blood to her for DNA testing. Judge Ross debunked her.

At the same meeting,  Kathy Renard, an actual family relation of Betty, stood before Betty and the Jesse James family. Kathy proceeded to set the record straight on Betty’s ancestry, claim, and lies. Following the meeting, Kathy constructed a website, which meticulously pits Betty’s lies against Betty’s family-known facts.

Duke-JJ in Texas

Wikipedia defines several categories of lying. A favorite pastime of those who knew Betty Duke was filling Wikipedia’s categories with examples from Betty Duke’s life.  The category I don’t see on Wikipedia, that I believe most applies to Betty Duke, is “con.”

Betty Duke was such an accomplished con woman that she ultimately conned herself into becoming a non-existent person, or non-entity. Her descent into self-inflicted anonymity coincided with her petition to the FBI to have me arrested for conspiring and attempting to murder her. The FBI’s investigation easily and quickly ascertained who was the one attempting a crime.

John James claimantThe prosecution of a person not in charge of her faculties went foregone as pointless. For me, the episode was all too reminiscent of another con artist, John James. He once claimed he was the living Jesse James. Like Betty’s family, John’s family debunked him. At trial, John was quickly assessed as not being mentally competent. In the end, the financial support of John James was provided by Jesse James’ son, Jesse Edwards James Jr., and his wife Stella McGowan. No such charity would be forthcoming for Betty Duke.

In the trial of John James, the Jesse James family had learned an invaluable lesson. Con artists are mentally ill. The best solution to the confrontation of the con artist is to consider them as such and to treat them accordingly. In “Murder, and Betty Dorsett Duke,” I myself concluded that Betty Duke was no longer relevant. She had erased herself. She no longer existed.

Betty Gail Duke, or Betty Dorsett Duke, succeed in two things only. She defrauded her own children and corrupted a son into complicity in her nefarious acts. Her children are deprived by her of their rightful legacy of inheritance and ancestry. Doing so, Betty Duke has written herself into the wrong side of history. She continues to do so, lying from the grave.




Author Hideaways & Lairs for Writing Jesse James History

From what lair and hideaway of authors is the history of Jesse James and his family being written today? The places may not be where you suspect.

T. J. Stiles
T. J. Stiles

T.J. Stiles has posted to his Facebook page the place where he wrote his book about the outlaw history of Jesse James.

“I wrote Jesse James: Last Rebel of the Civil War in a study in a floor-through apartment in a brownstone on 6th Avenue in Brooklyn, between Park Place and Sterling, and finished it at a desk in the living room of a basement apartment in another brownstone on the same block, after I was forced to move. In both places I usually went out for lunch; I got a Jamaican beef patty and coco bread JJ Last Rebelor ate at the little North African restaurant next door, where they baked fresh, from scratch, each pita in a pizza oven, even if you just had the lentil soup with caramelized onions. I am still haunted by the memory of those delicious tan disks, puffed like balloons as they came out of the wide oven door.”

Sixth Avenue, Brooklyn, NY, between Park Place & Sterling Ave.
T. J. Stiles’ writing lair on Sixth Avenue, Brooklyn, NY, between Park Place & Sterling Ave.

Stiles’ memorandum prompted me to describe the places where I wrote Jesse James Soul Liberty, Behind the Family Wall of Stigma & Silence.

24582 Del Prado, Dana Point, CA
The research hideaway of Eric F. James at 24582 Del Prado Aevnue in Dana Point, California

My  years of research began in my home base at The Meridian in California. I was living in a townhouse in the heart of downtown Dana Point, where I was a city commissioner. The great-grandson of Jesse James, Judge James R. Ross, lived nearby in Fullerton. Judge Ross also kept a summer retreat in San Clemente next door. In Fullerton, Judge Ross sentenced me to 10 years of hard labor. He charged me, “Why don’t you write a book about the Jesse James family? Everyone writes about Frank and Jesse. No one ever writes about the family.”

Years of accumulated research that I acquired while I traveled extensively back and forth across the nation filled my townhouse to overflowing. I needed more space, affordable space, and a lot of it. I retreated from Dana Point to Danville, Kentucky. Historian Ron Bryant, then associated as research historian at the Kentucky History Center in Frankfort, advised me, “If you just move to Kentucky, instead of making all your research excursions here, the doors of Kentucky history will open for you.” Ron could not have given me better advice. I moved, and indeed the doors of information opened widely. Ron became my guiding authority, trusted guru, and friend.

At the turn of the previous century, Margaret Sallee and her husband Thomas Stratton Lanier built the Victorian home I occupied in Danville. The name of their daughter Edna graces Danville’s Edna L. Toliver School today, where Edna was the school’s principal. Next door, In the four-square house, lived the Hamlins. Robert Hamlin is a Samuel family descendant from the family of Jesse’s step- father Reuben Samuel.  His wife, Mary Stith, operates the family business, the Stith Funeral Home.

637 N. Third St., Danville, KY
The writing hideaway of Eric F. James at 637 N. Third St., Danville, KY
Anne Yeager Hamlin-McCrosky
Anne Yeager Hamlin-McCrosky

Their daughter, Anne Yeager Hamlin-McCrosky, herself a third generation undertaker, assisted me when Judge Ross also tasked me with the exhumation of Jesse James’ twin children in Tennessee and subsequent re-internment with their parents in Kearney, Missouri. From the confines of my Victorian drawing-room in Danville,  in the dusty midst of a cacophony of tradesmen, coming and going, constantly creating and solving decades of historical problems, I set forth to tear the old house apart and restore it. As I did, I proceeded to write my history of the Jesse James family.

1000 E Main St. Danville, Kentucky
1000 E Main St. Danville, KY, where Eric F. James put the finishing touches on his book, Jesse James Soul Liberty, Volume I

A couple of years later, I and my writing removed to a comfy, new, clean and quiet, townhouse on the outskirts of Danville. In the serenity and quietude there, my book lumbered near to completion. I took the smallest of the three bedrooms of the townhouse for my writing space. The room only was big enough for a desk, a printer, a phalanx of reference bookshelves, a closet full of stationary and office supplies, and the mega-story of my book. Total focus was mine.

Jesse James Soul Liberty 250x375Completing my book occurred in Danville’s old Hemp House situated on Kentucky’s historic Wilderness Road. I could not resist the lure of living in a 200-hundred-year-old home, where history is pungent as the musk of every room and no floor is straight. In a room addition of the Civil War period, constructed above a cistern and well, my first volume of Jesse James Soul Liberty, Volume I was completed. and sent forward to publication and sale from amazon the world.

I now am writing Volume II, This Bloody Ground, in the oldest part of the house, built circa 1800.

Writing desk of author Eric F. James
Writing desk of author Eric F. James at the historic Hemp House in Danville, Kentucky

This second volume focuses upon Jesse’ grandfather, from the American Revolution to his frontier Kentucky settlement and demise that left Jesse’s father an orphan. From my computer screen, I can gaze outside my window upon the old Wilderness Trail that I am writing about. It is the trail first blazed by Daniel Boone into the Kentucky frontier, together with his trusted ax man Johannes Vardeman. Boone is a direct ancestor of Jesse James’ grandchildren and their progeny. Vardeman is a James family in-law. Later, Jesse and Frank’s grandfather John M. James patrolled the Wilderness Road, as John secured protection for the migrants who entered into this blood land.

In this author’s well, I am inspired to open two doors, one door to the earliest history of the Jesse James family and the second door to the earliest formation of the Kentucky Commonwealth as  the Jesse James family built it.

Hemp House, Danville, Kentucky
The 200-year-old Hemp House in Danville, Kentucky, where Eric F. James is completing the second volume of Jesse James Soul Liberty – This Bloody Ground.

The Smack & Zing of This Bloody Ground

This Bloody Ground, Volume II of the Jesse James Soul Liberty quintet
Jesse James Soul Liberty, Vol. II, This Bloody Ground

Daniel Boone and John M. James are ancestors of today’s descendants of Jesse James. In the present film documentary Daniel Boone & the Opening of the American West, Boone once more cuts a path and trail for Jesse’s grandfather John M. James, again today as Boone did in the past. The film is worth viewing as a preview of the smack and zing of John’s own history, soon to come in my book This Bloody Ground.

In recent years, as I sat in Danville, Kentucky, writing the story of Frank & Jesse James’ grandfather as the second book of my Jesse James Soul Liberty quintet, Kent Masterson Brown was in Lexington, Kentucky, beginning his journey of three years to bring Boone to film.

Both my book and Brown’s film cover the same period, the same territory, many of the same people, and a lot of the same history. However, each of us delivers a different view. Much of Boone’s story, as Brown tells it, is located north of the Kentucky River. The story of John M. James in This Bloody Ground, as might be expected, resides south of the Kentucky River.

Brown credits Boone in part with opening the Northwest Territory that became everything from Ohio west to Minnesota. John M. James and his band of rebel Baptist preachers, not only opened the West from colonial Virginia to Missouri Territory, but also way beyond into the Far West, to the Rockies and California.

Daniel Boone is a star in history’s firmament, replete with legend and misleading mythology, which Brown goes to great length to extinguish in a shower of facts. John M. James, for the most part, is unknown to legend, mythology, or fact. Equally, unknown is the origination in John’s Kentucky of many of those families affiliated with John who later spawned their own history of the American West.

Kent Masterson Brown
Kent Masterson Brown

I have enjoyed the former work of Kent Masterson Brown. Brown resembles for me the often fabled Kentucky lawyer whose telling of a good history lesson, more than a trial, vindicates justice. His voice that speaks through grit is invaluable. Brown and I are in the same business. Maybe that explains our mutual fondness for a neat and tidy bow tie.

Scitt New as Daniel Boone
Scott New portrays Daniel Boone

As a boy, John M. James tried to join Daniel Boone, when Boone stood beside his wagon in Stevensburg, Virginia, seeking recruits to enter the dark and unknown wilderness. Though John was too young for Boone to accept, each man became a pioneer. Each did so in his own way. Each has had a lasting effect on American history.

In This Bloody Ground, I will argue, however, that John M. James was more an average person’s pioneer. John M. James, not Daniel Boone, produced a more lasting effect relative to the common person. The legacy of John M. James endures in the social, religious, and political culture of America.

The marriage of Jesse’s son Jesse Edwards James Jr. to Estella Frances “Stella” McGowan might have appeared surprising at the time. It should not. He is a great-grandson of John M. James. She is a third great granddaughter of Daniel Boone. Their marriage represents the reunion of Daniel Boone and John M. James. For today and all tomorrows, the descendants of Jesse James will be the progeny of a star pioneer and a pioneer of the common man.

To view the entire program of Daniel Boone and the Opening of the West, and to savor the smack and zing of This Bloody Ground coming this year, CLICK HERE. The program may not be available for very long.

Behind That Book Cover of Jesse James

Why not go behind that book cover and read some chapter previews of Jesse James Soul Liberty? You know what they say. You can’t judge a book by its cover.

                          Click on the book jacket below to preview chapters.                                                                    Click here to purchase now.       

I’m not saying my book cover is bad. I intentionally made it look imperfect. This book cover, in fact, has drawn more attention than what readers expect to find inside the book. That’s because this image of Jesse James never has been published before. This book cover is intended to surprise and arrest, like what’s inside the book that also never has been published before. I’m inviting you to consider imperfection.

CLICK ON BOOK JACKET to preview chapters

Jesse James Soul Liberty book cover
Jesse James Soul Liberty book cover
Book cover for Jesse James Soul Liberty, Vol. I,
« 1 of 16 »

Do you recall other books about Jesse James, and what the pictures on those book jackets reveal? For the most part, nothing is revealed. When Jesse James appears on a book jacket, he appears mostly in relief, leaving you a vague image of the outlaw, and an even more vague image of what to expect inside the book. Not so, here. That’s one reason why you may want to read some chapter previews to find out for yourself what’s behind this book cover.

Here is why I chose this particular image for the book jacket.  Jesse appears matter-of-factly on this book jacket. Like the scarred tintype this image comes from, Jesse is a flawed character. He’s defective. Universally, Jesse James is unacceptable. Like his damaged tintype, he’s not useful to society in the manner society expects. If he is, in fact defective, what do his defects represent? There’s another reason for you to read the chapter previews behind this book cover.

This image holds the promise of what you will discover inside Jesse James Soul Liberty.  Inside, you will find the Jesse James that only Jesse’s own family can bring to you.  It’s an understanding of the outlaw, his reality behind his distortions, fallacies, and mythology, that no historian ever has been able to capture. Not in books. Not on TV. Not in the movies.

No historian of Jesse James ever has looked at the genetic makeup that made him an outlaw. Behind this book cover, though, individual members of the Jesse James family reveal to you in their own actions just what it takes to make the quintessential character, personality, behavior, and soul that is a James. They do this in generation after generation. For that, however, you’re going to have to get behind the book cover and delve more deeply beyond chapter previews alone.

What the James family shows you behind that book cover of Jesse James will have you looking again and again at what you think you know about Jesse James, and what exactly was the meaning of his actions and history.

You definitely can’t judge a book by its cover.

The Plot to Assassinate Jesse James

The Plot to Assassinate Jesse James

By Phil Stewart

                              This article first appeared on Stray Leaves in 1999                              as part of Phil Stewart’s Article Archive

Jesse James was killed on April 3, 1882. What began as a desire of several neighbors to the fear and killings since the days of the Civil War had developed into a death plot to kill a wanted outlaw. Jesse James was assassinated in every definition of the word.

The plot against Jesse was building. On December 6, 1881, Wood Hite arrived at the home of Martha Bolton. In addition to being a member of the gang, Wood Hite was Jesse’s cousin. Hite’s presence made it impossible for the gang to discuss, plan, or coordinate their assassination efforts. The next day, Dick Liddil and Bob Ford killed Wood Hite.

Henry H. Craig
HENRY HARRISON CRAIG – Commissioner of Police, Kansas City, Missouri

The first attempt to capture Jesse James occurred on or around December 28, 1881 in Richmond, Missouri. Jesse walked into Cap Ford’s store asking where he could find Dick Liddil and Wood Hite. Cap Ford told him he had not seen Wood at all. The last time he had seen Liddil was at the Bolton home. As Jesse rode out of town, Cap Ford telegraphed Sheriff Timberlake. By the time a posse arrived at the Bolton’s, Jesse had gone.

Two days after the raid on the Bolton home, in the little town of Greenville, just a few miles east of the James family’s farm, James Rhodus was having a New Year’s party for the young people of the neighborhood. One of those who arrived was eighteen-year-old John Samuel, the half-brother of Frank and Jesse. Rhodus wanted no trouble. It became obvious that John Samuel and his two friends had a bottle. They were becoming increasingly boisterous. Rhodus asked them to leave. Young John pointed out that he was the brother of Jesse James. He would not be told what to do by Rhodus or any man. Rhodus simply pushed him out the door and into the January cold. John Samuel began throwing rocks at the door and windows. Rhodus took a pistol, walked out on the porch, and shot John Samuel in the belly. Many believed the young man would not survive.

Rumors spread, that Jesse would soon arrive to avenge his younger brother. Few would have given a plug nickel for the life of James Rhodus. The group of neighbors discussed the situation. Terry Stephenson, who lived less than a half mile east of the Samuel farm, was selected to give Zerelda a message. The message was clear and to the point. If one hair was harmed on the head of James Rhodus, the Samuel home would be burned to the ground. If the family happened to be inside at the time, so be it.

Thomas T. Crittenden
THOMAS T. CRITTENDEN – Governor of Missouri whose family was close to the James in the days of early Kentucky

On  January 6 of the new year, Sheriff James Timberlake was contacted with Dick Liddil’s proposal. Dick would surrender and assist with the efforts to capture or kill Jesse James in return for a full pardon by the Governor and a part of the reward money if the plan was successful. Both Timberlake and Crittenden agreed.

Dick Liddil surrendered to Sheriff Timberlake on January 24, 1882. He met with Governor Thomas T. Crittenden. He received the Governor’s assurance that he would not be prosecuted if he cooperated and provided information that would bring an end to Jesse James. Dick must have sung like a bird. Within a week, a group of Kansas City officers, led by Commissioner Craig, went to Kentucky. Clarence Hite was arrested and returned to Missouri to stand trial for the Winston train robbery, Commissioner Craig gave to Liddil $500 of the $5,000 reward.

Charlie Ford
CHARLIE FORD – Conspirator to assassinate Jesse James

On February 13, Bob Ford “surrendered himself” to Commission Craig in Kansas City. On February 22, the entire group, including Governor Crittenden and Sheriff Timberlake, Commission Craig, Dick Liddil, and Bob Ford, met at the St. James Hotel in Kansas City to finalize plans and agreements. The group now had an “inside man.”

In late March of 1882, there was another bank to rob. Perhaps it would be his last, for Jesse had inquired about a farm that was for sale in Nebraska. His “gang” now consisted solely of himself and Charlie Ford. Jesse wanted one more man to accompany him on the raid. Two men inside the bank and one outside to hold the horses. It was a tried and proven plan. Charlie suggested his young brother, Bob Ford. Bob was a brash little cuss and could be depended upon. Jesse had little choice in the quality of men who rode with him. Bob Ford, the governments “inside man,” would have to do.

On March 30, 1882, Jesse and Charlie arrived at the home of Martha Bolton. He asked if Bob was around. He was told Ford was with his Uncle Cap in Richmond. Showing boldness, of not arrogance, Jesse rode right into Richmond to the home of Cap Ford. Jesse asked Bob if he was interested in a “little job.” Bob agreed to join him. As Jesse and the Ford brothers left town, Cap Ford sent a message to Sheriff Timberlake and Commissioner Craig. The trap was set. Within day, Jesse James would be assassinated by the “inside man.”

Ed O'Kelley
ED O’KELLEY, killed Bob Ford in Creede, Colorado

Following the events on the morning of April 3, 1882, Charlie Ford received as much condemnation for killing Jesse James as his brother, Bob Ford. The evidence indicates Charlie knew nothing about it until the night before Jesse was killed. Sheriff Timberlake stated he knew that Jesse was living in Leavenworth or Atchison, Kansas, or in St. Joseph, Missouri. These are the exact towns Jesse was checked when searching for a home after leaving Kansas City. Cap Ford said he knew Jesse was living in St. Joseph and he had advised Timberlake of the fact. Timberlake did not want the world to know that he knew where Jesse was living. That fact would not only support the position that Jesse James could have been captured.

The Plot to Capture Jesse James

From Phil Stewart’s Archive, first published on Stray Leaves in 1999. 

The Plot to Capture Jesse James

By Phil Stewart

Robert Ford, the "dirty little coward"
Robert Ford, the “dirty little coward”

Bob Ford killed Jesse James with the full knowledge and consent of Sheriff James H. Timberlake of Clay County, Police Commission Henry H. Craig of Kansas City, and the Governor of Missouri, Thomas T. Crittenden. While the James neighbors plotted to capture Jesse James, the government plotted to assassinate Jesse James.

By the fall of 1880, it was nearly impossible for Jesse and his family to justify robberies and murders on injustice and social conditions brought about by the Civil War. There was no place for roaming bands of old guerilla fighters and outlaws. Jesse was bad for business. Land prices in the outlaw’s home county were lower than in other parts of the state. Business and banking interests avoided the area, despite opportunities for growth. Jesse James was an economic liability.

John Watts Shouse, conspirator to capture Jesse James
John Watts Shouse, conspirator to capture Jesse James

A small group of Clay County citizen talked among themselves, although very quietly. Chief among them was John Watts Shouse, a veteran of the Mexican and Civil Wars, and a southerner by birth. Shouse was a no-nonsense man who had organized and commanded on of the first Confederate Home Guards. With him were other prominent citizens: John T. Pettigrew, William Dollis, William Dagley, Riley Henderson, William Wysong, and John Shouse’s younger brother James. Most of the lived in the Bethel community, which also was the home of the Ford and Cummins families, a few miles from James farm.

The neighbors made at least one attempt to convince Jesse’s mother, Zerelda, to speak to her son and convince him to surrender. The feisty, fiery, and protective Zerelda Samuel would not consider surrender. Not Jesse James! Having failed, the group shifted focus to capture Jesse and  turn him over to Sheriff Timberlake for prosecution.

Jim Cummins
Jim Cummins

During the fall of 1881, Jesse came searching for one of his old associates, Jim Cummins. Jesse believed Cummins was about to turn traitor. Jesse already had killed Ed Miller, one of his gang and a neighbor who Jesse no longer trusted.

Jesse arrived in the Bethel community during the first few days of October. Jesse soon learned that Cummins had been seen around the home of Cummins’ brother-in-law, William Ford. Bill For was also an uncle to Robert and Charles Ford. When Jesse arrived at Bill Ford’s home, he found Bill’s wife, and fifteen-year-old son, Samuel. In a scene reminiscent of the time young Jesse James himself was beaten by Union soldier in search of his brother Frank James, Jesse grabbed the teenager. He threated to kill him if he didn’t “fess up” where Jim Cummins could be found. When the boy would not, or could not, provide the information, Jesse lost his temper. Frustration got the best of him. He began slapping the boy. The slapping became a beating. When Jesse mounted to leave, young Samuel Ford was beaten and bloody.

New of the beating quickly made its way throughout the neighborhood. John Shouse and his group were fed up. Jesse once protected the farmers and resident of the area. Now he was the aggressor and torturer. Time had come to bring the others into the group to plot the outlaw’s capture. Not surprisingly, William Ford eagerly and enthusiastically joined.

Sheriff James H. Tiberlake
Sheriff James H. Tiberlake

Dick Liddil separated from Jesse following the beating. Liddil worried about being around Jesse. His boss was increasingly paranoid and irrational. Liddil believed it was only a matter of time before Jesse came after him. Although not quite ready to turn traitor against Jesse, it would not take much to push Dick Liddil to side with the neighbors.

The conspiring neighbors changed focus and makeup. Some now plotted the murder of Jesse James. Not wishing to become involved in planned murder, many of John Shouse’s group departed. Capturing Jesse was one thing, but planned assassination left their mouths bitter. John Shouse himself wanted nothing to do with it. The group was asking for war against the James gang. Shouse had a family to consider. Others soon took his place. A brother of William Ford, Elias Capline Ford known as “Cap,” quietly and cautiously joined the group. The group now comprised of a few silent citizen and several members of the Ford and Cummins families. The conspirators sought someone they could trust inside Jesse’s new gang.

In early November of 1881, William Ford contracted Sheriff James Timberlake. He informed Timberlake that a network was in place. They could inform Timberlake of the comings and goings of Jesse James. They could assist with his capture.

Timberlake was more than enthusiastic. He offered William Ford $1,000 for his assistance in capturing Jesse James. He further assured Ford no members of the group would be prosecuted if the plan resulted in the death of the outlaw.

But they needed the assistance of other agencies. Timberlake, along with Cap Ford, traveled to Kansas City and contacted Police Commissioner Henry Craig who was briefed. Commissioner Craig traveled to Jefferson City to enlist the cooperation of the Governor of Missouri, Thomas T. Crittenden. The Governor had made the subject of Missouri outlaws the main topic of his campaign. He would do whatever possible to fulfill his campaign promises. Rewards were guaranteed and pardons would be given. The plot to assassinate Jesse James was formed.

Frank James – Scholar with a Gun

From Phil Stewart’s Archive, first published on Stray Leaves in 1999. 

Frank James – Scholar with a Gun

By Phil Stewart

Frank James received more education as a young man than did most rural Missouri farm boys of the 1850s and 60s. The James farm was just a mile from Somersette school. Frank attended regularly…almost enthusiastically…until he was eighteen years old.

Frank James
Frank James

In addition to “The Three Rs,” Frank developed a love for classic literature. He would sit for hours with the works of Shakespeare and other famous writers of the time. His father, the Rev. Robert Sallee James, had been a scholarly man himself. Frank had his father’s collection of books readily available. Frank’s love for literature would remain with him throughout the dark years of the Civil War, and even through the outlaw years to come.

Many researchers believe that Frank James desired to further his education by attending William Jewell College in nearby Liberty. There is no doubt Frank had the intellectual capacity. His acceptance into the college was a given. His father had been a major influence in the founding of the school, and had been a member of the first Board of Trustees. Any such plans were dashed, though, with the coming of the Civil War. Frank James was 18 years old in 1861, and like most young men, left home to serve “the cause.”

Henry IV
Henry IV, Tomb Effigy, Canterbury Cathedral

The blood, death, and brutality of the border war could not extinguish the love Frank James had for reading, knowledge, and for classic works of literature. They became his passion. It is difficult to imagine one member of Quantrill’s Raiders sitting around a campfire reading anything, let alone reading English literature like Frank.

If Frank desired to further his education, the circumstance had changed. Like most schools of the area, William Jewell College closed shortly after the opening shots of the war. The college would not reopen for nearly three years. Frank still had his father’s library. Shakespeare had become his favorite works. He read and reread the plays until he could snap out a quote for almost any situation. During the war, Frank and been tabbed with the nickname “Buck.” “Professor” might have been more appropriate afterward.

If more education was out of the question, Frank certainly could put Shakespeare to work on behalf of the James Gang…which is exactly what he did at Gad’s Hill, Missouri. Frank James lifted the script of Shakespeare’s HENRY IV for a train robbery, during which Frank performed Shakespeare for a captive audience.

Henry IV-Pt 1

ANALYSIS by Drew Fracher

So, what about this play?

Although called HENRY IV, I believe that this is the story and journey of his son Hal, the Prince of Wales, who will go on to become Henry V.

Here we have a young man who knows in his heart that he will inherit a huge job…and who is trying his best to have some fun before the fact. I realize that much of what Hal I doing is not avoiding responsibility, but trying to learn as much as possible about the job to come. Trying to experience the society that he will eventually be in charge of from all levels, figuring out what fairness and justice are all about, who you can trust and what realis is important in his own world. A journey all of us must go through.

Hal clings to his life and friends in the tavern as substitutes for the things that are lacking in his relationship with his father. Hal and his dad are having trouble communicating. We witness Hal’s coming of age, his growth to manhood and an acceptance of huge responsibility, all the steps on his rocky road.

The good news is that he not only survives, but flourishes. There are no true villains or heroes here, only different sorts of people trying their best to figure out how to make it in the world. That is perhaps what I like best, that no one is clearly in the right and politics is politics, then and now.

DREW FRACHER,  Director, Georgia Shakespeare Festival, 1999


COMMENTARY by Eric F. James

As a former actor myself, I perceive Frank James as Prince Hal…an eldest son, a carefree and boisterous youth, distinguished in war, a “wild prince” given to audacity and rebellion.

Henry IV expelled and banished his son, Hal. Did Frank James spiritually experience a similar disapproval by his deceased father?

Frank James was 27 years old at the time of the Gad’s Hill train robbery. His performance from HENRY IV in the middle of the robbery intentionally may have been foreshadowing his expected retirement.

Serendipity Encounters at the Ohio Genealogical Society Conference

Months ago, I answered the Call for Papers from Ohio Genealogical Society (OGS), intending to broaden the audience for my book Jesse James Soul Liberty. My proposal offered a presentation about the unique methodology adopted in my twelve years of researching and writing my history of the Jesse James family. Illness stopped me once before from presenting my talk Jesse James’ Genealogy Is Not For Crackpots Any More to the Minnesota Genealogical Society. With OGS, I was expecting a second chance.

Ohio Genealogical Society, 2015 Conference

Ohio Genealogical Society, 2015 Conference

My expectation was thwarted. OGS was not excited about the genealogy of Jesse James. Fair enough. Not everyone is.

Looking for a backup, I defaulted to the two talks I finally did present at OGS – How to Write a Family History Everyone Wants to Read. I also produced a companion presentation – How to Publish, Sell, or Give Away a Family History Everyone Wants to Read. Still steadfast to promote my book, I also subscribed to an exhibit table at OGS, where I’d display the letters of the Jesse James family from the Joan Beamis Archive, as the James family wrote to one another, trying to identify and define their genealogy and family history.

Ohio Theater, Columbus, Ohio
Ohio Theater, Columbus, Ohio

Arriving at the luxurious Sheraton Hotel in Columbus, Ohio, I encountered my first serendipity. I literally had to drive around the block twice to make sure my eyes had not deceived me. Right around the corner from the Sheraton was the Ohio Theatre. Back in the late 1960s I appeared in that beautiful theatre for two years in a row while touring in the hit Broadway shows, Generation and Impossible Years. Thirty-five years later now, I was booked for two more appearances. However, this was not my only serendipity at OGS.

Mark Gideon
Mark Gideon

The first person to stop and talk with me at my exhibit table was Mark Gideon. Mark’s family farm sits outside of Northfield, Minnesota. I’d expect to meet Mark in Minnesota, but never in Ohio. There he was, telling me about the Gideon family’s experience following the Northfield robbery by the James-Younger gang. Jesse James had appeared at the fence of the Gideon farm. As fast as the Gideons spotted Jesse, he disappeared. Who would expect to hear that Jesse James story in Ohio?

Craig R. Scorr
Craig R. Scorr

Next, Craig R. Scott stopped by my table. Craig is president of Heritage Books, Inc., the largest seller of genealogical books in the nation. He lives in North Carolina. Craig was speaking at OGS about Researching Your Revolutionary War Ancestor and Beyond the Compiled Military Record. At my table, Craig was most interested in telling me about his Woodson ancestry. Craig has a double Woodson ancestry, one from Robert “Potato Hole” Woodson, plus another in a different Woodson line. The only Woodson I would expect to encounter in Ohio was one who descended from Sally Hemmings and Thomas Jefferson. Those Woodson cousins have resided in Ohio since Jefferson died. Serendipity instead produced James-Woodson cousin, Craig R. Scott.

Pam, a Hite family relative
Pam, a Hite family relative

Serendipity then began to swirl. Pamela, whose last name escapes me now, stopped by to pick up a copy of my book. She has Hite cousins. Pamela informed me well about Russellville. Another book buyer told me their family in St. Louis knew the blacksmiths named Butcher who tended to the horses of Frank James.

Standing Turkey-Cunne Shote-Francis Parsons 1762-Gilcrease MuseumJodie L. Logan, president of the Huron Chapter of OGS, bought my book.  A day later, she had read parts of it already and informed me about Lillie James and Jodie’s Choctaw kinfolk from the Trail of Tears. She mentioned Cherokee warrior Oconostota, whom some believe may have been the son of Chief Moytoy. James family member Mark New is a descendant of Chief Moytoy. Jodie also claims kinship with Chief Standing Turkey. Reading about the Choctaw in my book, Jodie delivered me a note, joking, “Oh my! Certain I’m an outlaw.”

Rena Goss
Rena Goss

Jodie was not the only one reading my book at the OGS conference. Within hours of buying a copy, Rena Goss reported she already had read the first chapter. Rena thought Joan Beamis was quite an extraordinary woman. Rena talked at length about a bundle of letters she inherited, titled “Percy’s Letters,” which describe in rich detail the raunchy life in a Colorado frontier town. I told her, without reading the letters, I was ready to publish them.

Martha Gerdeman
Martha Gerdeman

Serendipity then closed in on me, big time. Martha Gerdeman, a professional genealogy researcher at Climbing Family Trees, in Dickson, Tennessee stopped by. We talked about the James families there, who will appear in Forks of the Road, Volume III of Jesse James Soul Liberty. The James in Tennessee always have known they were kin to Frank and Jesse James, though they’ve never known how. Volume III will show how. I was very excited to meet Martha, and plan to revisit with her my next time in Tennessee.

Rick Hollis & Eric F. James
Rick Hollis & Eric F. James

Then as my stay was winding down, Rick D. Hollis appeared from Clarkesville, Tennessee. We had communicated briefly many years ago after I researched there. Rick sat with me for a very long talk, as Rick waited for the banquet dinner and his induction into one more of the twenty lineage societies of which he is a member. Rick formerly was married to a James.

Like Martha Gerdeman, Rick also knew about the James in Tennessee and their claimed kinship to Frank and Jesse. I previewed for him, some of the information that will be in my forthcoming Volume III. Rick added many interesting details I had not known. He also invited me to visit him in Tennessee for more. I’ll definitely be taking him up on the offer as soon as Volume II is published this year.

Society of the Descendants of Washington’s Army at Valley Forge
Society of the Descendants of Washington’s Army at Valley Forge

Rick also is deputy president general of the General Society of the War of 1812. Next year, he becomes president of The Society of the Descendants of Washington’s Army at Valley Forge. We discussed the meeting of the grandfathers of the James and Younger brothers at Valley Forge.

Genealogy leads the family historian, who then must follow. I know. Never does the family historian lead genealogy.  In addition, a family historian sometimes experiences revelations of a spiritual nature. The hand of some “other” at times directs the family historian. Occasionally the slap of spirituality is so forceful, the notice to alter course is impossible to ignore. My slap of serendipity at the 2015 annual conference of the Ohio Genealogical Society tells me, time has come for me to get crackin’ on Forks of the Road, Volume III of Jesse James Soul Liberty.

Declare Liberty for All – Boycott Indiana

Thomas Edward "Bud" Pence
Thomas Edward “Bud” Pence 1842-1880

Bud & Donnie Pence were members of the Jesse James gang. The Pence brothers are ancestral cousins of Gov. Mike Pence in Indiana. Today Gov. Pence signed SB101, Indiana’s “right to discriminate” law. Old history has come around again. The solution is to declare liberty for all, and boycott Indiana.

Those Pence people have seemed somewhat flaky to me. When Bud and Donnie came riding through Kentucky with Quantrill, Jesse & Frank James, and the Younger brothers in 1865, Maj. James Bridgewater chased them into a deadly shootout on a bleak winter night outside Harrodsburg. Eight men were killed. Bridgewater’s wife was Bud and Donnie’s cousin! It appears that even among family, the Pence penchant for discrimination was OK.

Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana
Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana

Today, following the signing of the bill by Gov. Mike’s Pence, I have decided to boycott the 5th Annual Authors Fair in Indiana. I’ve submitted my resignation. Since SB101 is state law, I will boycott Indiana entirely. Ever since Arizona legalized bigotry with its notorious “papers please” law, I have boycotted Arizona.

Previously I wrote about what the Youngers would have to say about that nativist discrimination. I also wrote about Frank and Jesse’s cousin, Daniel Lewis James, and how he would deal with discrimination, too, after his own U.S. Government blacklisted him.  As other states legalize their blatant bigotry and hatred, I will boycott them, too.

The history and people I write about are devoted to social justice. As an author, so am I. If I disrespect my subjects and their beings, as Arizona and Indiana disrespects the people its laws target, I as a creative artist becomes a target also, as does the brand of my art. Bigotry, when supported, diminishes not one person or one class, but everyone.

Upon my liberty and for the liberty of others, I will stand up against such bigotry and put my art, my money, and my livelihood where my mouth is. I have never forgotten “with liberty and justice for all.” That spells equality.

In the words of Jesse & Frank’s cousin, Daniel Lewis James, who wrote The Great Dictator with Charlie Chaplin, “Speak. You must. It’s our only hope.”

More Lookalike Photos From the Gene Pool

Photos appearing in lookalike galleries from the Jesse James family have proved a big success, ever since they first appeared on Stray Leaves in the late 1990’s. Whether it is comparison images of Jesse Woodson James, Jesse James Jr., Frank James, Susan Lavenia James, Rev. Robert Sallee James, the childhood photos of Mary Susan James, or Jesse’s great grandson Judge James Randall Ross, all of the lookalike photo galleries prove popular with Stray Leaves’ family,  guests, and visitors. The time has come for more.

Jesse James Jr Jesse James lookalike Ribert Salle James

With rapid changes in internet technology, and the pressing need to expand publishing to platforms that are more mobile friendly, now seems a good time to update the availability of those preciously endearing lookalike photos. We’d like to ensure they can be enjoyed everywhere.

The thought also has occurred; why not expand the   lookalike galleries, to better show the unique characteristics that are common, not only within the gene pool of the James family, but also among those who are key relevant figures to the James family  saga?

In my recent articles, here about Henrietta Younger and about Clell Miller in the James-Younger Gang Journal, the physical characteristics that appear in their family photos as genetic, are very evident. They recur generation after generation. In fact, they are so arresting that they remind us something additional should be done to mine this overlooked category of interest.

In Jesse James Soul Liberty, I advocate the recurrence of genetic personality, behavior, and character that permeates the James family, through each and every generation. That identity is the James family’s very soul of personhood, their  quintessential identity that has eluded Jesse James historians from the start. The genes that form this very soul of behavior, character, and personality, are the same genes that form the family’s physical features. The continual evolution of that physicality compels the same attention as does the family’s personhood. This is true now more than ever, as our study of the James family turns increasingly more toward DNA, family genetics common heritage, and their underlying implications for heredity and health.

Zee Mimms James ear

My article “Hey, James Family, Send Me Your Ears” is an excellent example of reader interest in this subject of lookalike photos and family genetics. This story shows up in the daily statistics as a web page of continual interest bearing a very high visitor count. The stats indicate Stray Leaves may be overlooking a key parameter for assessing the identity of the James family.

History books often rely upon illustration for telling stories. Illustrators lean heavily toward attention grabbing techniques that insert invented details. Those details may appear dramatic in rendering and succeed in securing a reader’s focus,  but seldom are they historically accurate. Such illustrations skewer historical fact. Nowhere is this more evident than in every reality TV program ever produced. Note: I said reality TV program, not documentary history or documentary film.

However, an historic photo that is reliable and true does not distort history, unless, of course, the photo is fraudulent. In fact, when relevant and factual images appear together to tell a story, the image enhances history and the understanding of it. The history is rendered better. An illustration may enhance a reader’s imagination, but the use of a photographic image does the same with accuracy and reliability. Of course, this does not pertain to photoshopped images.

An underlying goal of Stray Leaves and of Jesse James Soul Liberty is to dispel mythologies. A primary objective is to wipe out the chronic myth-making or fictionalization and revisionism that plagues the history of Jesse James and stalks his family. Here, we identify and call out the fraudsters and con artists who lie. We put media on the chopping block, when media feeds the public pabulum instead of the nutritious sustenance of truth and facts. In every effort, we intend and strive to be historically accurate and correct, whether it be in the hundreds of thousands of genealogical details appearing in the SURNAMES database, the history featured in our stories or in blog posts or commentary.

A decision has been made. As our SURNAMES genealogy research formerly expanded beyond the core of the James family alone to include research into their in-law families, and by a third-level extension to include research into those individuals who form the social communities of the James, the James family lookalike galleries now will be expanded to include those additional levels, too.

Watch for the upcoming post “Cole Younger’s Lookalike Gene Pool.”

Official blog for the family of Frank & Jesse James