Remembering Jesse James Author John Koblas

Two days ago on my blog at True West magazine, I wrote about the passing of my good friend Jack Koblas, who finally succumbed to his three-year battle with Parkinson’s. Jack did not go without a fight.

Most people who know Jack’s books about Jesse James don’t know he was a prodigious author outside the Jess James genre. In the past year, Jack published a book of poetry. Our joke was, he was gathering together all the lovely women he had wooed with his poems, hoping that if his time came one might write a poem for him.

John Koblas and daughter

As recently as six weeks ago, Jack was still working to produce another Jesse James book, about Frank’s James and Col. Jack Chinn. Jack had found material that led him to believe that some in Jack Chinn’s Kentucky family had been working out of Jack’s home state of Minnesota through the ruse of a business. I was highly skeptical. Jack sent me his entire research file. I would have liked nothing better than for Jack to make a final “discovery” before he left. Painfully, I had to tell him I saw nothing familiar in his research. I knew Jack was disappointed, but I also knew Jack wasn’t about to quit. I heard he was shopping his research among others who might be able to confirm it.

I first met Jack about 15 years ago. He was in San Diego, writing one of his books. Thurston James, publisher then of the James-Younger Gang Journal, and I went to spend the day with him. Jack kept us waiting almost two hours.  When he appeared he said he had been in discussion with his publisher, North Star Press, about his forthcoming book.

During the day, I asked Jack how he wrote. He said, he sat at his computer in the morning, and kept researching and writing from there, until he could do it no longer. As I learned later, that was pretty much how Jack lived, and now died, too.

If you’re ever in Minnesota, check out the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame. You’ll find Jack there, too. For many years, Jack was a musician. His doo-wop group The Magpies earned their award over many years. Jack could be counted on for music at any meeting of the James-Younger Gang.

Anyone who heard Jack speak about Jesse James or about Jack’s books always came away knowing there was nothing sham about him, about what he stated, or about his favorite topic. Jack was married to facts and the truths as he found them, even the most inconvenient of truths, like the girl friend who tried to murder Jack. Facts were facts, and facts alone, for dear Jack.

John Koblas with daughters

About a year ago when we last visited together here in Kentucky, we discussed his precarious hold on life. He had no illusions. He talked at length about his daughters warmly. Their love had sustained him through every trial of his life.  And we talked about his “other children,” his books. His daughters were his favorite among his family. His Jesse James books were his favorite among his “other children.” Anything and everyone else fell far behind.

I asked Jack, “When you finally know all the Jesse James secrets, will you let me know somehow?” “Are you kidding?” he shouted. “You’re on your own,” he said. He shrugged, and  then concluded, “That’s life!”