Jesse James Auction Artifact – Lacks Provenance

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The James D. Julia auction house, in Maine of all places, is claiming an 1860 Army revolver they have for auction came through a “direct descendant of the James family.”  The descendant is not identified.  Some of the James family have lived in New England since the 1880s.

The auction house does not identify the provenance for its claim that Jesse might have used an Army revolver. Frank & Jesse James already had a clear preference in guns. They used the Colt Navy revolver. Upon his death, Jesse’s guns went to his wife and son, then to his grandchildren, who then donated them to James Farm & Museum. There’s been a clear and unmistakable chain of custody and provenance.

The father of Charles D. Schmelzer, a German born manufacturer who owned the Schmelzer Fire Arms Company, worked at the Colt armory in Hartford, Connecticut. The family company was located next door to T. M. James & Co. the store in Kansas City of Jesse’s uncle, Thomas Martin James. Charles D. Schmelzer himself served with T. M.’s son, Luther Tillman James, on the Kansas City Board of Education. Schmelzer’s immigrant father had sold fire arms in the Far West, through Kansas and Nebraska and all the way to Colorado, as he stood at trading posts beside stacks of buffalo skins, waiting to be shipped to New York.

I’ve submitted an inquiry to James D. Julia, and am waiting on a response of the gun’s provenance and the auction’s claims. I’m not holding my breath.

4 thoughts on “Jesse James Auction Artifact – Lacks Provenance”

  1. This just in…So we’ll see.

    Dear Eric:

    Thank you very much for your inquiry regarding the Jesse James gun we are offering in our October Firearms auction. We are mow in the final stages of creating the catalogues for that auction and do not yet have the final versions of all the descriptions completed. Once we have finalized everything, we will contact you with the information you have requested.

    Sincerely,
    Judy Labbe

    Firearms Division
    James D. Julia Inc.

  2. James D. Julia, Inc., the auctioneer of this claimed gun & trunk “that belonged to Jesse James” provided The James Preservation Trust & myself with the catalogue for the auction of these artifacts. They also provided a copy of the provenance assembled by the anonymous consignor.

    Having reviewed both, my conclusion and that of the Trust is that numerous claims by Julia & the consignor regarding these artifacts are false and misleading. My objections were made first via telephone call with Julia representative Judy Labbe, who conveyed them to the firm’s owner James D. Julia. Mr. Julia responded via email, stating his confidence in the provenance and authenticity of the artifacts & claims. I then followed with an email letter to Mr. Julia, stating further objections. I received confirmation of his receipt of the email.

    Here is the full text of the email letter:

    Mr. James Julia
    James D. Julia Inc.
    203 Skowhegan Road
    Fairfield, Maine, 04937
    September 25, 2009
    Via Email c/o Janet Robbins [jrobbins@jamesdjulia.com]
    Dear Mr. Julia:
    Thank you for your unsolicited email of September 24, 2009, received by me at 2:30 pm of the same date. As you state, when one person tells something to another, and it is told to yet another, the fact of the original statement may become lost. Allow me to restate directly from this horse’s mouth my concerns and issues, regarding your consignment #2438 and #2439, scheduled by your firm for auction on October 6 & 7, 2009.
    If the James Preservation Trust was in the business of the acquisition of artifacts related to Jesse James – which it is not – the Trust would have no interest whatsoever in the acquisition of the artifacts identified above and being advertised by you and your firm as having “belonged to Jesse James.” The position of the Trust rests in the review of the provenance generously provided by your company and by the consignor, together with the Trust’s own knowledge and records of the Jesse James family it represents.
    Founded in the information acquired and maintained by the James Preservation Trust, as well as in an abundance of neutral depositories of factual historical information, it is believed the claims made by your advertisement are inaccurate and misleading, as are some claims of the consignor. I particularly refer to your advertised statement that the consignor is “a direct descendant of the James family.” No evidence of fact resides in any of your provided background material, nor in the provenance provided by the consignor, that you have provided me. Nor does any evidence exist in the public record, historical record, nor in the genealogical database maintained by the Trust, that contains information on approximately 274,000 inter-related individuals among 93,000 families, including and surrounding the Jesse James family.
    In support of our position, allow me to state clearly some specific concerns.
    The genealogy claimed by the consignor:
    Nothing in the statements of genealogy provided in the consignor’s provenance evidences factual proof of a relationship to the James family, nor to its in-law families. At best, the offered provenance provides a cut and paste genealogy, unsupported by any source citations, references to public or historical records, consistency, or progressive logic, that a true and factual genealogy mandates and requires.
    For more than a decade, the James Preservation Trust has conducted extensive genealogical research into the James family, its in-law families, and families related to the James in-law families, and further into their related social communities. Expending more than $250,000 and 8-10 hours of time per day, 6-7 days per week, the massive database of information noted above has been compiled, sufficient to produce multiple volumes of history related to the Jesse James family. This information has been available publically and has been held to public and professional scrutiny for over a decade. Additionally, the Trust is custodian and maintains the original research archives of James family member Joan Beamis, author of the first genealogy and family history of the Jesse James family, Background of a Bandit, first published in 1970 by the Kentucky Historical Society. Nothing among these archives and their findings in possession by the Trust links to the claims of familial relationship made by your consignor. Nor does anything in them support your advertising claim that the consignor is a direct descendant of the Jesse James family.
    The consignor’s trunk, as advertised “that belonged to Jesse James”:
    Only two trunks are known to have belonged to Jesse James. Many, however, have been claimed. One trunk resides at James Farm & Museum in Kearney, Missouri, having been placed there by the great grandchildren of Jesse James. This trunk contained personal family mementos, as well as the boots and guns of Jesse James, left in a clear chain of documented custody to his widow, passed on to his son Jesse Edwards James Jr, and in turn passed to Jesse Jr.’s daughters and their children, who provided them to the Museum. The trunk and artifacts now are on public display at the museum. The other trunk resides with a private collector. It, too, was authenticated by a former historian associated with James Farm & Museum, and formerly contained family photos, bibles, and personal mementos. The physical condition or appearance of each of the known trunks is not so opulent as this trunk presently offered for auction.
    The consignor’s provenance of the trunk for auction is suspect on several accounts. The consignor’s affidavits state the trunk was given by Jesse’s widow to Rufus, Babe, and Lamartine Hudspeth a few days after Jesse’s assassination. Jesse was killed on April 3, 1882. In the same affidavit, a conflicting statement appears, stating two of the Hudspeth brothers, specifically unidentified, received the trunk two decades earlier in April, 1862. In April of 1862, Jesse James was fourteen years old, and was not yet associated with members of the Hudspeth family in Quantrill’s Guerillas.
    In a subsequent affidavit, the consignor states Jesse’s wife said, “Jesse’s trunk was hid in the attic and that Jesse would want them to have it.” No evidence exists in the past 125 years for the recording of this quote. Nor, if it actually was made, to whom Zee James was referring when she stated “them.” Most perplexing of all is the fact that Zee was left a penniless widow with two orphan children to raise and no visible means of support. When all the family possessions external to the Lafayette St. residence were looted immediately following Jesse’s murder, including the attempted theft of the family dog and the uprooting and taking of souvenir landscape plants, why would Jesse’s widow suddenly give away the only valuable items of monetary value left to her and her children’s survival? Jesse left his widow and family with roughly two hundred dollars in near-worthless Confederate currency. She later had to auction and sell many of her possessions, including her children’s dog, netting merely and approximately $200.00 for her and her children’s sole economic survival. For Zee capriciously to give away a gun belonging to Jesse that easily could have given her an additional one hundred dollars of cash money support simply does not stand to reason.
    The consignor’s gun, as advertised “that belonged to famous bank & train robber Jesse James”:
    The gun is identified as a “Colt Model 1860 Army Percussion Revolver,” and further bearing “serial number 13725.” Among the provenance, a letter, dated 2006, from the Colt Archives Properties LLC of Hartford, Connecticut, states the Colt company is “unable to locate any information on this revolver.” No evidence is offered in the provenance to support the claim and your advertising that the gun belonged to Jesse James, other than the claim found in the provided affidavit that the fire arm was contained in the trunk when received by the Hudspeths from Jesse’s widow.
    From the James family’s history, it is known that in Kansas City, adjacent to T. M. James & Sons, owned by Jesse’s uncle Thomas Martin James, was the Schmelzer Fire Arms Company. George J. Schmelzer served as vice-president of the Provident Association, on whose governing board sat T.M.’s son, Luther Tillman James, Jesse’s cousin. The two also served on the Kansas City Board of Education. As an immigrant to America, Schmelzer first was employed at the Colt armory in Hartford, Connecticut. He later sold Colt fire arms at trading stations in the West before establishing his permanent trade in Kansas City. History has well documented the preference of Jesse James for Colt Navy revolvers. Nothing links Jesse James to a Colt Army revolver, as nothing in the provided provenance evidences how and why this fire arm in particular came to belong to Jesse James, or even was known to belong to him.
    The consignor’s relationship to Quantrill Guerillas Joel Rufus & William Napoleon “Babe” Hudspeth, and their brother Joseph Lamertine Hudspeth:
    The fact that the Hudspeth siblings were associated with William Clarke Quantrill and his guerilla band is historically documented, as is that of the James. Disturbingly, what particularly is not evident among the provenance is the lineal descent of the Hudspeth siblings to the consignor. Nor does the provenance provide the matrix of familial connections claimed by the consignor to the Hudspeth siblings, to Jesse James, or to any among the James family. The hodge podge of cut and paste genealogy provided in the provenance offers no confidence in fact. Nor is it found among historical source citation evidence. Instead, the genealogy of the provenance is a fabrication. The affidavit that claims a family bible as say so, also is left unsupported by the minimal evidentiary standards of photocopies of the bible’s referenced pages and content, as is required under formal rules of evidence employed by countless lineage societies.
    Particularly startling to the James Preservation Trust is the notable absence of any new revelatory information, photos, artifacts, etc. absent from the consignor’s own claim of provenance. Peculiarly absent in the consignor’s provenance is any reference to Quantrill Guerilla Baker Hudspeth. Neither does there appear in the affidavits any references or use of the Hudspeth family’s legal names, as might be required in a legal affidavit. In recent years several families descended from bands of brothers who served with Quantrill’s Guerillas have come forward. Notable among them is Samuel Anderson Pence of the family of Bud and Donnie Pence, and most recently David Owings of the family of Gabriel, Hiram J., and John Hicks George, all of Quantrill’s Guerillas. All offered abundant new historical information, supported by numerous artifacts, images, and documents attesting to the descendants’ ancestry, and social and professional relationship with the James. Each of their contributions has increased the historical record of knowledge. Pence’s archive of information produced the book I Knew Frank…I wish I Had Known Jesse. The consignor’s provenance, by contrast, offers appallingly little in only its cut and paste Quantrill Guerilla history, generically gleaned from previously published sources of long ago.
    To conclude, the consignor’s provenance appears to be manufactured solely to support the auction and sale of the artifacts with a claim that they “belonged to Jesse James.” For its lack of consistency, logic, and supportive hard evidence, the provenance fails in its mission.
    The James Preservation Trust, representing the Jesse James family, its historical record and history, disclaims the advertised assertions, published for this auction by the James D. Julia auction firm. The Jesse James family, including its known in-law families, have no blood relationship, kinship, or extended family relationship with the consignor, nor with the consignor’s claims of relationship and ancestry. By this virtue, the James family also denies that the gun and trunk that you advertise as having belonged to Jesse James is false, misleading, and not true in fact.
    Respecting your stance to remain steadfast in your consignment and its scheduled sale, its asserted provenance and claims, and your published advertising regarding these artifacts, I am confident you have no objection to public assertions by the James Preservation Trust regarding your auction and its artifacts.
    Sincerely,
    ERIC JAMES
    President
    The James Preservation Trust

  3. Today the James D. Julia Inc. auction house posted the following updates to their forthcoming auction of a gun and trunk, disputed by The James Preservation Trust as having belonged to Jesse James together with the consignor’s claim the consignor is “a descendant in the James family.”

    http://www.jamesdjulia.com/auctions/div_catalog_278_search.asp?search=lots&do=Search&SValue=2438
    REVISED: 10/5/2009 ~ Additional Information:
    1. Please note, in our description we state that “Nannie” was the wife of Frank James. That’s not correct, she was Babe Hudspeth’s wife. She was Nannie Ragland Hudspeth and thus it makes perfect sense that her name would appear on the top of the belt keeper since Babe owned this rig for approximately 30 years.
    2. It was noted in our description that Babe Hudspeth was born on May 15th, that is incorrect; he was born on January 15th.
    3. It is noted in the catalog description that the consignor (Mr. James Elsea) was a direct descendant of Jesse James. This is not correct. He was a direct descendent of Babe Hudspeth, who originally owned the gun rig and family lineage to Hudspeth is clearly documented in the provenance.
    4. Some documentation provided to us states Jesse was a cousin of the Hudspeth’s. We have been told by one source there is no family link. Thus at this time, we only guarantee that the consignor is a descendant of Babe Hudspeth, who received the gun rig from Jesse’s wife.

    http://www.jamesdjulia.com/auctions/div_catalog_278_search.asp?search=lots&do=Search&SValue=2439
    REVISED: 10/5/2009 ~ Additional Information:
    1. It is noted in the catalog description that the consignor was a direct descendant of Jesse James. This is not correct. She was a direct descendent of Rufus Hudspeth, who originally owned the trunk and family lineage to Hudspeth proves this.
    2. Some documentation provided to us states Jesse was a cousin of the Hudspeth’s. We have been told by one source there is no family link. Thus at this time, we only guarantee that the consignor is a descendant of Rufus Hudspeth who originally acquired this from Jesse’s wife.

    Following posting of the revisions for the gun and trunk, the James Preservation Trust further notified James D. Julia of the following:

    “While we remain in opposition to the still pending claim of the consignor, now recognized as Mr. James Elsea, that Zee provided the auction trunk and auction gun to the Hudspeths, we are confident sufficient documentation exists to put Mr. Elsea’s claim in the discredited file.”

    “Regarding the remaining claim the gun was received from Zee James, the wife of Jesse Woodson James, I refer you to “The Guns of Jesse James” by Ted Yeatman in the Fall, 1996 issue of Old West magazine. You are probably aware of Mr. Yeatman. He authored Frank and Jesse James, The Story Behind the Legend. Yeatman’s book stands as the definitive encyclopedic accounting of the James brothers’ careers. In his article about the guns you will find the documented disposition of all the guns in the possession of Jesse and his wife at the time of his assassination, including their provenance since.”

    And furthermore:

    “…you may want to consult the withdrawal from auction of the 1860 Army Colt Revolver by Little John’s Auction Services Inc. in Anaheim, California on May 22, 2001. Judge James R. Ross, a great grandson of Jesse Woodson James, and co-founder with me of The James Preservation Trust, attended this auction where Judge Ross read a prepared statement, regarding the falsely claimed provenance that the gun was “taken by Jesse James” from a Pinkerton operative. Judge Ross offered detailed reasoning that the claim could not be true.”

    The James Preservation Trust appreciates that the false claims made about the Jesse James family appears to have been resolved, and continues to disclaim the marketing of James D. Julia Inc. and the claims of consignor, James Elsea, that the gun and trunk to be auctioned “belonged to Jesse James.”

  4. I just checked the auction results. The trunk did not sell at all. The gun sold for $230,000, within the range of $200-400,000 projected by the auction house. Prior to the auction, the auction house backed off its claim that the consignor, James Elsea, was related to the Jesse James family. This left the consignor to his claim of being related to the Hudspeths of Quantrill Guerillas. Since the consignor claimed the trunk was received by the Hudspeths with the gun from Jesse’s widow and the trunk did not sell at all, it’s reasonable to assume the purchaser of the gun did not rely upon the claim that the gun belonged to Jesse James. More probably the purchaser relied on the cnsignor’s claim that the gun belowed to Babe Hudspeth, a Quantrill Guerilla.

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