My great-grandmother Della Belle Malcomson-Smith died from complications when she gave birth to my grandfather Stanley D. Smith. My great-grandfather Arthur Kingsley Smith blamed Stanley for his wife’s death. He would not have much to do with Stanley until seven years later when he remarried and had a new wife.
Stanley’s grandparents, Oliver M. Smith and Elizabeth Shaw, raised Stanley. Oliver was a veteran of the Civil War. In Oliver’s household, Stanley’s four aunts spoiled him. They had a lot of influence on his upbringing.
Stanley Smith grew to manhood in Braytown in Switzerland County, Indiana. His maternal grandparents, John Shaw Malcomson and Emily Jane Thiebaud, were very prosperous farmers who farmed the historic Thiebaud farmstead. When they died, Stanley received a large inheritance.
Stanley married Grace Barnes Adams and spent his entire inheritance on her. He took Grace to Europe, but when the money was gone, Grace was gone, too. For the rest of his life, Stanley never proved himself a good money manager.
In his broke status, Stanley married a second time to my grandmother, Geneva Curry. The Curry farm was not too far from where Stanley grew up. When Stanley’s father took Dollie Turner as his second wife, Arthur reconciled with his seven-year-old son. When Stanley married for his second time to Geneva, Arthur built them a small house on his land to live in. Having watched his son squander an inheritance making bad financial decisions, Arthur never deeded the land to Stanley. It was in this house where my father, Arthur William Smith, was born.
Next to this small house, Stanley built and ran a small gas station and store. He also, farmed and did custom butchering in the fall of the year. Occupied as he was, Stanley began drinking and going to bars in Vevay and Madison, Indiana. Sometimes he would take Geneva and the children, only to leave them outside in the car. My aunt Elizabeth remembered going into a tavern to get her father and the bartender giving her fresh fried potato chips.
When Stanley’s money would run out, he was known to pass a bad check, only to be arrested. Geneva would sell a cow to get Stanley out of jail. This went on for several years until Geneva had enough of it. Even though she was pregnant at the time, my mother Geneva filed for divorce from StStanley in 1939.
Geneva’s divorce from Stanley was final in 1940 when my uncle, Paul Edward Smith, was born. Stanley was to pay child support for Paul. According to my Aunt Elizabeth, he never did.
Stanley moved to Indianapolis, Indiana with his son Arthur, my father. They lived with a cousin, Harold Mains, who was working for the Indianapolis Street Car Company. Harold and Stanley were raised together in Switzerland County. They were lifelong friends. Stanley’s store and gas station reverted to Arthur and Dollie and Stanley’s half-sister Reba Smith. They continued to run it for several more years.
In Indianapolis, Stanley married for the third time to Laura Woolford, bringing my father Arthur together with his new step-sister Myrtle Woolford. Stanley managed a parking garage, and my father Arthur worked for him parking cars. Stanley continued to drink but more responsibly. He had a hobby wood shop in the basement of his home, where he cut off part of his fingers on his left hand. I remember watching his hand when I was a small boy, with amazement as he ate his breakfast with missing parts of his fingers.
As his grandsons, my brother Randy and I always were treated well by Stanley. We stayed many a night at his house with Laura. Myrtle babysat us. Myrtle always likes to tell the story of me at age five when I told Stanley that teenage Myrtle had begun smoking. I suggested she should be spanked. Stanley did not spank her, but he did tell Myrtle’s mother Laura. Ironically, Laura and Stanley were heavy smokers. I remember Laura, smoking cigarettes, drinking coffee and play solitaire. She was always, Grandma Smith to me.
Sadly, Stanley D. Smith brought on his own death. He got diabetes. Stanley would not stay on his diet, which caused him to have a stroke. I saw him at his home then. We hugged. He was slender and frail. The damage was done. He had a second stroke and then a heart attack killed him at his home in 1961. I went to his funeral and burial. No matter what flaws my grandparents had, I still loved them.
“William Arthur Smith, His Military Life & Purple Heart” is a new installment series, revealing a New Found Line for Stray Leaves. Written by Dennis Smith, a first cousin of Frank & Jesse James, Dennis traces his ancestry in personal family stories through each generation. He reaches back to his ancestors Anthony Lindsay III & Ailsey Cole, Richard James Cole & Anne Hubbard, and Anthony Lindsay Jr. & Rachel Ann Dorsey. The series culminates in the story of the author’s cousin Dr. James V. Scruggs, the doctor and family relative who was the first to arrive on the bloody scene of the Pinkerton Agency raid on James Farm in 1875.
Arthur “Art” Smith had already dropped out of school prior to his marriage to Lois Roberta Roberts. He worked at various jobs to support his new family. That included working for his father Stanley D. Smith, parking cars. Stanley managed a parking garage in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Art and Lois R. Smith were now living with Nellie Roberts, his mother-in-law, on the east side of Indianapolis, in a half of a double at 251 S. Gray St. Nellie Roberts was paying most if not all of the bills. My brother, Randall Robert Smith, was born there on March 23, 1947.
Art Smith and George Thayer, a first cousin of Lois, decided that they would enlist into the U.S. Army, together in September of 1948. According to military records, they entered the U.S. Army in Madison, Indiana.
George Thayer related that they left for basic training from Indiana to Fort Lewis in the State of Washington. On the train ride to Fort Lewis, Art and George visited one of the stores at a train stop and they took some candy without paying for it. They were caught and the U.S. Army had to pay for the candy. Art and George were not allowed off the train at any other stops.
While at Fort Lewis, Art and George decided to go into the Airborne together, but George got injured in basic training. Art was transferred to the 82nd Airborne in Fort Bragg, North Carolina after basic training. George stayed at Fort Lewis. During this time, Art received Airborne training, even though George related later they had to push Art out of the airplane every time they took him up to jump.
In 1949, the 82nd Airborne had the rare opportunity of going to Philadelphia for a parade. President Truman visited the parade and Art was one of the guards along the president’s parade route. Art’s photo was in the newspaper together with Harry Truman that year.
While at Fort Bragg, Art missed his wife Lois and son Randy. He had them come and live with him on the base. Lois related that Art did not make enough money as a private to take care of the family. She said Art ate in the mess hall. All she had to eat one night was a candy bar. She wrote her mother for a train ticket home. Her mother, Nellie Roberts, sent the ticket.
Art Smith had been friends with Chuck Hughes since he was a teenager in the Westside of Indianapolis. Chuck Hughes and two other unknown friends had come to Fort Bragg to visit Art about the same time Lois was preparing to return to Indianapolis. They had driven down in an old car. They were running low on gas money. Art, Chuck Hughes, and their friends talked Lois into cashing in the train ticket her mother sent her, and use it instead for gas money. Lois and son Randy drove back with Chuck Hughes back to Indianapolis. Art stayed at Fort Bragg. This was in the late summer of 1949.
On the drive back, Lois related she had used an outhouse at a rest stop where she was attacked by a rooster. Blood was running down her leg where the rooster had spurred her. Chuck Hughes knocked the chicken out with a dirt clod. The farmer who owned the rooster was upset because it was his fighting rooster. They high-tailed it from the rest stop.
By late 1949, Lois was back in Indianapolis. She lived with her mother Nellie at 316 S. Gray St. on the east side. Lois was pregnant again. Art no longer wanted to be in the U.S. Army. He asked Lois to get him out on a “hardship discharge,” because he had a wife, son and a baby on the way. Lois went to the Red Cross in early 1950 and the Red Cross got Art Smith out of the Army by the Spring of that year.
Art’s Father, Stanley D. Smith drove Lois to the hospital in an old pickup truck, on the day I was born. Stanley drove a little faster every time Lois had a labor pain. After I was born, Art and Nellie Roberts were in the living room at 316 S. Gray St., where they gave me the name of Dennis Smith. My grandfather Stanley always kept a good relationship with his grandson’s.
To explain in one word, the marriage of Art and Lois turned “volatile”. They fought the whole time. Lois threw a bottle at Art as he was walking away from her and hit him in the back. Art, Lois, sons Randy and me continued living with grandmother Nellie in the small two bedroom house on Gray Street.
Art was working in Auto Body Repair but he went out for cigarettes and a newspaper one day. He never returned. Nellie Roberts who was making less than $20.00 a week took care of her daughter Lois with grandsons Randy Smith and me while paying all the bills. There was no welfare in Indiana at that time.
My mother Lois searched Indianapolis for Art. She found him on the Westside, lying on a couch with a blond girl that looked like the actress “Doris Day”. She asked him to return home but he refused.
Lois then went to the Red Cross to see what they could do to help with her financial situation. They could not help her but they were upset that Art Smith was not living with his family and informed the U.S. Army. Lois R. Smith then consulted with an attorney and filed for divorce and support in June/July 1950, her only recourse. In June 1950, the United States went to War with Korea. On 22 Sept 1950, the divorce of Arthur William Smith and Lois Roberta Smith was final, with custody and child support of Randall R. Smith and me, Dennis Smith, going to our mother.
Lois R. Smith then consulted with an attorney and filed for divorce and support in June/July 1950, her only recourse. In June 1950, the United States went to War with Korea. On 22 Sept 1950, the divorce of Arthur William Smith and Lois Roberta Smith was final, with custody and child support of Randall R. Smith and me, Dennis Smith, going to our mother.
On 25 Sept 1950, the U.S. Army sent Arthur William Smith to Fort Hood, Texas. By Oct 1950, Arthur William Smith was on his way to the Korean conflict. He had requested to be returned to the 82nd Airborne at Fort Bragg. The U.S. Army refused his request. Arthur William Smith was sent to the front lines of the Korean War.
Art was sent on patrols and guard duty. One time he was disconnected from his company and he found himself in the midst of North Koreans and Chinese. He covered himself with dead bodies to evade capture. Then on Jan 7, 1951, Arthur W. Smith received the Bronze Star. The U.S. Army had Art’s service record number incorrect in this order. He never received or knew of his Bronze Star. An attempt to get this corrected has been filled with an Indiana Senator.
Art sent a letter to his mother. Nine days later, Arthur W. Smith received the Purple Heart, for getting wounded in the buttocks from friendly fire. Korea had the worst winter in history with the temperature going 30 below zero at night.Geneva Curry Smith in Madison, Indiana telling her “he doesn’t expect to survive”, he has body lice, his feet are frozen and his friends are dying around him. An army colonel had taken their blankets away because he thought they had it too soft. By Jan. 22, 1951, Art was in a hospital in Osaka, Japan.
After his somewhat physical recovery, Art Smith was assigned to Osaka, Japan as a pay clerk until March/May 1951. Then he was sent to Wake Island to work as a clerk. They did not send him back to the front line because of his prior military service and the short time left in his enlistment. Art finally was discharged on Nov. 10, 1951 in Camp Carson, Colorado.
My grandfather Stanley was living at 1330 Naomi St. in Indianapolis in 1951, with his wife Laura Smith and stepdaughter Myrtle Woolford. When Art got out of the Army he lived with his father, stepmother, and stepsister. Art had post-traumatic stress, from his experience in the war. He was hard to wake up. Stanley had to throw a glass of water on him and run. Art would always come up fighting.
Art’s drinking increased. He was a bartender in several rough and seedy bars, one being “Blake’s Tavern.” Once, he claimed he played cards in the back room after closing with “Elvis Presley,” This could not be confirmed. It was possible, though, since the owner of Blake’s was an entertainment promoter.
Art started racing motorcycles and stock cars. He raced stock cars at the old “Art Zipps” or now Speed Drome on Kitley Road. He married a second time to Margie Louise Moore on Sept. 2, 1956. The marriage soon ended in divorce. It is said that she tried to shoot Art.
Art’s drinking led him to have a stroke before he was 30. The stroke left one side of his face paralyzed for a while.
He dated several women until he met Lorene Kellams Sodrell, who had a young son. He married Lorene on Aug. 31, 1958.
He remained married to her until his death in 2009. Art helped raise her son but he remained estranged to his own son’s his entire life. He rarely paid any child support for me and Randy. This put a huge strain on grandmother Nellie Roberts who mostly raised us. She never complained.
It is believed Art blamed Lois for his return to the Army and for his being sent to Korea. It is believed this resentment was directed against his sons, too. The casualties of War extend far beyond the battlefield.
Art deserved his Purple Heart and Bronze Star, but he would not have been in Korea if he had just stayed home and taken care of his family.
SMITH FAMILY TODAY
Arthur William Smith was born Nov. 15, 1928, in Switzerland County, Indiana.
On Aug. 31, 1946, Arthur William Smith married Lois Roberta Roberts, in Indianapolis, Indiana. Arthur was 17 years old and Lois was 16 years old. Lois was pregnant with Randall Robert Smith. They were living on the westside of Indianapolis, Indiana.
Arthur W. Smith was the son of Stanley D. Smith and Geneva Curry Smith. Stanley divorced Geneva in 1940. Stanley remarried to Laura B. Woolford. They lived in Indianapolis. Geneva later remarried to Edgar Fredenburgh. They lived in Madison, Indiana. Arthur’s sister Elizabeth A. Smith lived with Geneva Curry Smith Fredenburgh.
Lois Roberta Roberts-Smith’s mother was Nellie Plummer-Roberts. She had married John D. Roberts but John Roberts left her and Lois Roberta Roberts in 1941 in Indianapolis, Indiana. Lois’ father moved to Mississippi to train troops for WWII, where he married another woman.
Known as Little Sodom in its day, Cole’s Bad Tavern and the Cole Cemetery nearby sit in serious danger today. The encroaching development could trigger their disappearance. Thanks to the present owners Jim and Mary Nuckols, and Jim being a Cole descendant, efforts have begun to help the two historic sites ensure preservation and escape extinction. Future preservation begins here, adding new research to what has been written before about the tavern, about the inn, and about the cemetery.
COLE’S BAD TAVERN, aka LITTLE SODOM
The two historic sites reside on land once settled by Richard James Cole and Anne Hubbard, the second great-grandparents of Frank and Jesse James.
Migrating first from Pennsylvania to Culpeper County, Virginia, the couple moved next into the Kentucky District of Virginia in 1787. The District was America’s westernmost frontier. Kentucky was not yet an independent Commonwealth. They followed the prior mass exodus from Virginia of the rebel Baptist preachers of the Traveling Church and their congregations. Between 1782 and 1784, the Traveling Church brought thousands of pioneers into the wilderness frontier. John M. James, believed to be the grandfather of Frank and Jesse James, was one of the Traveling Church exodus. He arrived in Kentucky five years prior to the Cole family.
Unlike the Traveling Church that led John M. James into Kentucky, Maj. John Hancock Lee (1742-1802) led Richard James and Anne Hubbard-Cole in their migration to their new home in the Cain-tuc. The Coles formerly executed a leasehold in Virginia with Maj. Lee’s father, Capt. Hancock Lee (1709-1765) who was married to Mary Willis. The leasehold was a farm of 150 acres on Horsepen Run in King George County. The term of the lease was for life. Whether the leasehold was abandoned by the Coles is unknown. More likely, Capt. Lee needed the Coles to settle part of his Kentucky survey and released the Coles from their leasehold obligations.
Capt. Lee surveyed land in Kentucky beginning in 1773. His son, Maj. Lee, also surveyed in Kentucky with his cousin Willis Lee. Father and son surveyed in and around today’s Midway, Kentucky on behalf of the Ohio Company of Virginia. The Lee’s company was seeking to replicate a settlement colony, the kind William Penn did in founding the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. To claim Kentucky land, the Lees needed to establish permanent settlers on their new surveys.
On the Lee family’s settlement farmland outside today’s Midway, the Cole family established an ordinary. The pending arrival of future settlers virtually guaranteed the success of their enterprise. The location of the ordinary was ideal, cited equally distant from Frank’s Ford and the new settlement at Fort Lexington, today’s towns of Frankfort and Lexington. The road, which Richard James Cole surveyed for Maj. John Hancock Lee between the two localities bore his name for decades to come as Cole’s Road. Cole was responsible for the maintenance of the road and its supervision. In later time, the developing geography renamed the road as Leestown Pike.
A BAD REPUTATION
Based on its reputation for the clientele it served, Cole’s Tavern over time degenerated in name and reputation. The ordinary’s earliest name of Cole’s Tavern then became Cole’s Bad Tavern. In its final days, the travelers and the public called the place Little Sodom.
Cole’s Tavern was a popular center for political meetings. As settlers populated the manufacturing town of Sodom nearby, the tavern also served as a community meeting place. Sodom village was located on Elkhorn Creek. Its businesses included flour and gristmills, hemp and cotton factories, a tannery, a shoe shop, a machine shop, and a storehouse. Decades later, encroaching railroads passed by the community of Sodom. The village, its people, and enterprises disappeared.
THE BLACK HORSE INN
Foreign visitors, curious about the unusual American scene, were common on the Kentucky frontier. On his return trip from his tourist exploration in the last decade of the 1700s, Fortesquieu Cummings wrote about his experience at Cole’s Bad Tavern, contrasting it to the Lee’s Black Horse Inn.
“Quitting Frankfort, we took a different route which brought us, after riding ten miles mostly through woods, to Cole’s who keeps an inn on this road in opposition to Daly, on the other end. But any traveler, who has once contrasted Cole’s rough vulgarity and the badness of his table and accommodations, with the taste, order, plenty, and good attendance of his mulatto competitor, will never trouble Mr. Cole a second time; especially as there is no sensible difference in the length or goodness of the roads, and that by Daly’s is through a generally much better settled country.”
Cummings assessment of Cole’s business stood in stark contrast to Cummings’ prior experience in his former departure from the Dailey-Kennedy Stagecoach Inn, a few miles distant.
“After crossing the town branches of Wolf Fork, Steels Run and the South Branch of the Elkhorn River, to which the three former are auxiliaries, we arrived at the hamlet of three or four houses called Leesburg, twelve miles from Lexington. One of the houses had been the seat of the late Col. Lee and is still owned by his widow who rents it to a mulatto man named Dailey, who had converted it into an excellent inn. Nearby Dailey occupied much cultivated land as required to furnish supplies to his well-frequented stables with hay, corn & oats.
“There is also a good kitchen garden in which are vast quantities of culinary sweet herbs, besides useful vegetables and he has good stabling and other out offices – for all which he pays only forty pounds per annum. We experienced the benefit of his spacious icehouse. Where everything was good, particularly the coffee which was almost a la Francaise.
“Dailey having a good violin, on which he plays by ear with some taste, entertained us with music while we supped, in return for which we played for him afterward some duets, by the aid of another violin borrowed of young Mr. Lee, who resides in the neighborhood with his mother.”
In his Memorandum Book, William Clark noted his visit to the Black Horse Inn in 1806, following his return from exploring America’s westernmost frontier to the Pacific Ocean with the Lewis & Clark Corps of Discovery – “…took the Frankfort Pike. The party spent the night of 29 October at William Dailey’s tavern at present Nugent’s Crossroads.”
COLE FAMILY ACQUIRES THE BLACK HORSE INN
Before Christmas on December 12 of 1811, Richard James Cole Jr. executed a lease to operate Little Sodom’s classy competitor, Lee’s Tavern. William Dailey and John Kennedy had been operating the inn under the Lee’s name as well as their own. Cole and his wife Sally Yates assumed proprietorship of the place and its business. The excellent reputation carefully cultivated by Dailey and Kennedy now fell into the hands of the Cole family. The inn was rebranded as The Black Horse.
The earliest survey period of 1773 and1774 identifies the inn’s site as Hancock Taylor’s Station Camp. This was an initial destination for incoming migrants and the meeting camp for surveyors in the Kentucky District. In 1785, during the ownership of Willis Lee and his brother Capt. Hancock Lee, the station developed into a public inn. Two log rooms were constructed. Maj. John Hancock Lee added a two-story brick addition in 1799. At this point, the building officially was identified as the first stagecoach stop west of the Allegheny Mountains. Here, Maj. Lee died in 1802. John Hancock Lee Jr., who was born in the tavern, divested himself of his family’s business when he executed his lease of the premises to the Coles.
A son of Richard James Cole Jr., named James Cole, assumed the operation of The Black Horse with his wife Sarah Lindsay, a granddaughter of Anthony Lindsay Jr. who arrived in the Cain-tuc with his wife Rachel Dorsey in 1784, about the same time as John M. James entered the District. Lindsay promptly constructed Lindsay’s Station. On January 29 of 1825, Sally Lindsay Cole gave birth to Zerelda Elizabeth Cole, the future mother of Frank and Jesse James. Zerelda was born in the upstairs brick addition that often converted into a swanky ballroom. when an entire wall was lifted, much like a garage door of today, to create the needed space.
Two years later on May 12, the reputation of the Black Horse Inn was irreparably stigmatized by the Cole family. Young Zerelda’s uncle Amos Cole was stabbed and killed at the inn. Two men, named R. Taylor and Mr. Gallaspie, arrived at the inn in the evening. They were intent on creating trouble for the Coles. A knife fight ensued with Amos. The struggle spilled outside the front door. When Amos was mortally wounded, he was taken inside. Amos was laid before the fireplace of the upstairs room in the old log building. His blood stains remain embedded in the floor and unremovable to this day, indelibly marking his demise. It is the only evident memorial of Amos Cole.
Following the death of her uncle, Zerelda and her brother Jesse Richard Cole were sent to live with their grandparents Richard James Cole Jr. and Sally Yates at Little Sodom. For the next ten years, young Zerelda was witness to every kind of high life and low life imaginable, from horse thieves and murderers to politicians and international diplomats. When her grandparents died, Zerelda was sent to live with her uncle Judge James Madison Lindsay at his home in Stamping Ground. When Judge Lindsay found her too much of a handful, he sent her to be disciplined by the Catholic nuns of St. Catherine’s Academy in Lexington. Zerelda escaped by marrying Rev. Robert Sallee James before the fireplace of Judge Lindsay’s parlor; but not before her Christmas wedding was delayed as a wedding guest caught ill, lingered for three days while everyone waited, and died in the room above the wedding couple’s heads.
From what she witnessed and was exposed to in her childhood, Zerelda Elizabeth Cole learned how to deal with people of every status. Her experience stood her in good stead later in life when her son Jesse was assassinated and she held the Missouri Governor and political establishment accountable for her financial support. As her robust frame grew to six feet tall, she acquired a lifelong taste for bourbon. Mary Ellen Clemens, who once kept house for Zerelda testified to her boisterousness. “After a few drinks, she would yell, ‘I’m wild and wooly and hard to tame, but my name’s Zerelda just the same!'”
Zerelda and her brother Jesse Richard Cole remained close all their lives. Zerelda named her third child in honor of her brother. Though a successful farmer and father to nine children, Jesse suffered intensely from depression. On November 25, 1895, the Liberty Tribune in Missouri reported, “he went out to the chicken house. he put his watch and pocket book in his hat and set it in a hen’s nest, and with further deliberation made a pillow of some old sacks and laid down. Placing a revolver to his heart he pulled the trigger and sent his soul to eternity. “
The Cole family’s first need of a burial site in Kentucky occurred in 1795 when Ann Hubbard-Cole died on February 11. She and her husband, Richard James Cole Sr., had moved to the area of Midway, Kentucky in 1782. Richard died on November 21 of 1814 and was buried with Ann. It is known that other burials occurred with them on the farmland set aside as the Cole Cemetery. No documentation exists to account who is buried with Richard James and Anne Hubbard-Cole, although it is believed to be principally their descendants and their enslaved.
A reasonable assumption is that at least one child of the couple is buried with them. Richard James Cole Jr. died on July 9 in 1839. Most certainly, he would have been buried with his parents and his wife Sally Yates who predeceased him on November 8 of 1836. Other siblings of Richard James Cole Jr. would have been buried by their in-law spouses in separate burial grounds located on their separate farms elsewhere.
The children of Richard James Cole Jr and Sally Yates most likely rest with their grandparents, too. William Yates Cole died in 1823 at the age of thirty-five. His is the earliest burial after his grandparents. Following his murder, Amos Cole was likely buried in Cole Cemetery. His widow, Elizabeth Hynes Cole, a first cousin of the same surname, quickly remarried. Three months after the murder of Amos, his brother James Cole was thrown from a horse and died. At the height of a cholera epidemic when a mass exodus departed Kentucky for Missouri on religious missions and escape from the disease, Jesse Cole died on August 3, 1833, at the age of forty. He left a widow, Fanny Rice, and a young child. Fanny also quickly remarried. All of these Cole family members likely rest in Cole Cemetery without markers. Due to customs of the time, the enslaved and servants of the Cole family were interred at Cole Cemetery, too.
PREFACE: Who would believe that the family of Frank & Jesse James had cousins with origins in the Aboriginal outback of Austrailia? The idea is unimaginable, despite the fact that the brothers’ uncle, Drury Woodson James, married a woman who came to California from Austrailia. Uncle Drury’s wife, Maria Louisa Dunn, however, was of Irish ancestry. Today, new research documents that our American-Aboriginal family is not just a fanciful imagining. It is fact. The love story of Robert Lee James & Susan Anne Syron extends the diversity of the Jesse James family further than known while continuing to offer unique insights into our James family character and persona.
Our American-Aboriginal Family
The Love Story of
Robert Lee James & Susan Anne Syron
By Elizabeth Lee James-Brown, their daughter
Sometime in 1969, my parents Robert Lee James and Susan Anne Syron met in Sydney, Australia. Like other military in the Vietnam War, the U.S. Army sent Robert to Sydney for R&R – rest and relaxation. He was twenty-four. At twenty-six, Susan was older than Robert. They were just two young people about in the city to have a good time.
When Robert was a teenager, his grandfather, John Oliver James, called Jack, adopted him and his younger brother George. Jack’s daughter Virginia abandoned her two sons. The brothers lived in Midland, Texas with Jack and his second wife, Goldie White. Jack’s first wife, Dimples Hite, was Virginia’s mother. Although they were not affectionate people, Jack and Goldie provided well for Robert and George. Interaction with extended family was limited to holidays and special occasions.
Robert joined the army straight from college, intending to make military service his career. During his second tour of Vietnam and his visit to Sydney, he was considerably older than many of the other servicemen at the time. He served with the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment -“Blackhorse Regiment”.
Susan was the youngest of eight children in her family. She grew up in the inner city suburbs of Sydney. Houses were close together and so were the people. Her godmother lived next door. The extended family visited often. Susan spent time daily with her mother and siblings, even as an adult. Susan’s mother was an English migrant. When she came to Australia, Australians called them £10 POM’s, slang for English people who paid £10 for boat fare from England to Australia.
Susan’s father was an Aboriginal man from the Biripi Nation. According to a Biripi historian, before Anglo contact, Biripi women kept the history of their lives. Today, many still do. Healing sick children were the job of Biripi women. Aboriginal women took their children into the bush to teach them about medicine. They taught children to observe and mimic rather than to question. Kin relationships among Biripi were complex. Every known and unknown Aboriginal person had a relationship with everyone else. Biripi women kept alive their bitter history of dispossession and oppression by their colonizers.
Robert and Susan were married on September 20, 1969, in Kings Cross, Australia. In 1970 when Robert returned from Vietnam, Susan met him in San Francisco. They drove to Kentucky where Robert was based at Fort Knox, as a drill sergeant. Robert and Susan bought a house trailer and lived off base in a trailer park in Radcliff. Later, they bought five acres of land and moved there. Soon after, Robert’s brother George was sent to live with Robert and Susan. George then was about age fourteen.
Susan soon was pregnant. She gave birth to a healthy girl, me. I was born in February of 1971 in Ireland Army Hospital on Fort Knox army base. I was named Elizabeth after my Aboriginal grandmother, Susan’s mother Lizzie. My middle name of Lee comes from my father, Robert.
While Susan was extremely homesick for her Aboriginal family and Australian homeland, all other things seemed well and good. Living in America was a very different lifestyle for Susan. Not only was it the other side of the world in another country, there were multiple cultural differences, too. Army culture for one. White versus black culture in America for another. The only family that Robert had in Kentucky was his Aunty Catherine, who we called ‘Annie’ as that was how the children pronounced aunty and her brother Uncle Lee. Robert and Susan regularly had Sunday lunch with Annie and Lee.
In early 1974, Robert was posted to Germany for peacekeeping duty. He refused to take Susan and me. Robert believed that women and children had no place in another country in such times, and said so strongly. Susan felt very alone and isolated. The way she put it was, “I was alone with two kids, miles from the nearest neighbor, in a house trailer, on the top of a hill in tornado season.” Late one night, Susan called her mother and burst into tears. Her mother asked each of Susan’s brothers and sisters to contribute what they could to pay for airfare for Susan and me to come to Australia. When Robert would return from Germany, Susan planned she and I would go back to the States
My Big Trip andAboriginal Family
Now it was September of 1974. I remember much of the travel from America to Australia, although I was only three years old. I remember feeling very sad. Mum agreed that I did cry quite a lot. I cried for “my Annie” and told everyone who spoke to me that my daddy is in “Germawee.” I had a deep southern American accent and my family back in Australia laughed when I spoke.
My Australian grandmother Lizzie wrote to Annie in Elizabethtown, Kentucky at some stage. I think Lizzie must have appreciated that Annie and Lee accepted Susan and me as their family. Annie and Lee were simple and kind people. Susan loved Annie and Lee very much. Susan spoke of a conversation where Robert said that Jack had not realized that Susan was Aboriginal and he didn’t think that Jack would be happy if he knew. Lee said, “Robert did you marry who you wanted to?” Robert said, “Yes, sir!” And Lee said, “Well I reckon that’s all that matters, then.”
Susan and I arrived in Australia with a suitcase of clothes between us. We had nowhere to live, and we owed our airfare to Susan’s family. We stayed with Grandmother Lizzie for some time, until one of Susan’s brothers told Susan, “Mamma’s too old to live with a small child.” We then lived with Susan’s sister, my Aunt Betty, for a while until our welcome was worn out there too. Susan and I moved on to another sister, my Aunt June and our welcome was soon worn out again. The problem was simple. Susan needed to pay back the cost of our airfare before we could afford to pay rent. Susan’s minimal wages as a barmaid were just not enough.
Until I was about ten, I had thought George was my brother. No one told me otherwise. I just assumed this because he was there when I was born and he was there when we left Kentucky. My mother was horrified to think I believed she had left her child behind. I think I thought that he stayed with our father. She later told me that she spoke to Jack and asked permission to bring George to Australia with us. Jack refused and George stayed with Annie and Lee in Kentucky. I guess when Susan did not return to the U.S., George eventually was sent back to Jack and Goldie in Texas.
In 1977, doctors diagnosed Grandmother Lizzie with terminal cancer. Susan wanted to be with her family until Lizzie died. Robert was not pleased about this. In 1978 before Lizzie died, Robert and Susan divorced. Afterward, Robert married twice more. Susan never remarried. She bought a house; and, in female Aboriginal tradition, she fostered over 100 Aboriginal children, for thirty-five years until she passed away in 2015.
I believe that the only real issue within the relationship between Robert and Susan was one of cultural difference.
My Life Moves On
My father’s contact with me was intermittent and very much influenced by his second and third wives. He also focused obviously on his lost relationship with Susan. Robert had long conversations with Susan, but short conversations with me. Our conversation often went like, “Daddy loves you pumpkin, now put mommy on.”
I did not see my father again until I was 30 years old. Contact between Susan and Robert was lost during Robert’s divorce from his third wife Geraldine, particularly after an incident where Gerri called Susan accusing her of being the reason that her marriage to Robert was failing. Susan called Robert, saying please keep your drunken wife off my phone. An argument ensued. Then, contact ceased for the next 10 years. About a week before I was to be married, Susan called local police in Texas asking that a message is delivered to Robert to urgently contact Susan. However, this message was never received by Robert.
I had finished high school at a local public school and in 1991 started as an administration trainee at a government television station, the Special Broadcasting Service. By 1994, I had bought a house and attended university part-time in 1995. At university, I met Craig Brown, an Aboriginal man from the Gumbainggir tribe. We were married in 1997.
Although a doctor diagnosed me with cervical cancer, I was concerned that treatment might affect my ability to have children. However, we had four children in quick succession. Marlyn Bruce Ronald Brown was born in October 1996, Desmyn Francis Gregory Brown was born March 1998, Leeroy James Peter Brown was born January 1999 and Adina Sussanne Vite Marie Brown was born February 2000.
After the birth of Adina, I searched for Robert again. In all the years since Robert and Susan separated, Susan never spoke badly to me about my father. I asked Susan where she thought Robert might be. Susan foreshadowed, “He won’t be well. Vietnam will have impacted his health. Look near army hospitals.” Susan knew Robert first had tested positive and subsequently inconclusive for Agent Orange maybe around 1987 to 1989.
In 2000, the internet was primitive but helpful. I so recall the dial up sound. With four children under age four, it was often very late at night when I sat down to search for my father Robert. What I found was the old address: 1200 Alpine Way in Midland and a phone number. Could it really be this easy? This was the address were Robert and George grew up. it was the home of John Oliver James, where Jack died. Jack built this house. He lost in a bankruptcy. He bought it back. Robert inherited this house. Robert fought Gerri for this house during their divorce.
I called the phone number. To my surprise, it rang; but it rang out. Again the following night, I stayed up due to the time difference. Into the wee hours, I called and called again. Finally, I told Susan that I had been calling for a week. Susan said, “Why don’t you let me call? You don’t need to be awake all night.” Two weeks later, Susan called me and said, “Sit down…I spoke to your father.”
Robert “On the road again”
Through tears of joy, I asked question after question. Susan laughed as she told me how Robert proposed to her on her call, and quite seriously too. The big news was that Robert was terminally ill. He had lung cancer. The reason there was no answer for three weeks was, Robert was driving trucks for the
The big news was that Robert was terminally ill. He had lung cancer. The reason there was no answer for three weeks was, Robert was driving trucks for the Landspan trucking company. He was on the road for twenty-eight days. He was back in Midland for only four days, then back out again. When in Midland, Robert would see his oncologist on Monday morning, do chemotherapy treatment on Tuesday, and go back on the road on Thursday evening. Robert had been doing this for two to three years. Now, Robert owned his home. He had no debt, expect a store account for his furniture.
I called Robert. He agreed to send me money to come to Midland. After a conversation with my husband Craig, we agreed I also would take Robert’s first-born grandchild, our son Marlyn who was age four.
I and Marlyn visited Robert in late July of 2001. The following Christmas, Susan also visited with Robert. Susan was concerned that Robert would not be alone for Christmas. She thought correctly. It may be his last Christmas. Robert was very honest about his intentions in paying for Susan to come visit. Susan had said it was obvious that Robert was still trying to win her back.
On the 14th of December 2002, Robert passed away after a long and brave fight. He is buried in the Resthaven Memorial Park cemetery in Midland Texas where his father Jack is buried. In Robert’s dying days he proposed to Susan again, which she refused with a laugh, saying, “I did that once before and it didn’t work”. My father once told me that divorcing my mother was the greatest mistake he ever made.
Leeroy James Peter Brown - Heart Throb
Marlyn Bruce Ronald Brown proves that James family members literally can fly.
Marlyn Bruce Ronald Brown, graduate, photobombed by students being photobombed by other students.
Marlyn Bruce Ronald Brown of the Biribi Nation Police
Desmyn Francis Gregory Brown, with curly locks reminiscent of those of Stray Leaves publisher Eric F. James
Desmyn Francis Gregory Brown sporting Biribi wear
Desmyn Francis Gregory Brown, sporting soccer medalist
DJ Des sporting his bling
Adina Sussanna Vite Brown on social media
Adina Sussanna Vite Brown out and about
Adina Sussanna Vite Brown - Ready for the red carpet when you are.
The following letter of apology written by Thelma Duncan Barr to Joan Malley Beamis is transcribed as written. No editing has been applied.
Thelma Duncan Barr is the spouse of Henry Lafayette Barr, a grandson of Jesse Woodson James. Joan Malley Beamis is the great-granddaughter of Drury Woodson James, an uncle of Jesse Woodson James, America’s iconic outlaw.
Overland Park, Kansas
Oct. 26, 1970
Mrs. John F. Beamis
7 Hamilton Street
Somersworth, N.H., 03878
Dear Mrs. Beamis.
My name is Thelma Duncan Barr. My husband is Lawrence H. Barr.
We were in Los Angeles, Calif. In Oct. on our way home from Hawaii. We visited several days with our cousins, the daughters of Aunt Stella James. Ethel Rose Owens gave me your letter, Sept. 1970, to read. I wanted to write you and offer an explanation for my husband not answering your letter of several years ago?
I am sorry he did not see fit to answer your letter. You have no idea how many inquiries he gets through the mails. He simply didn’t want to be bothered. I told him at the time he should have answered your letter.
However, he does not know very much about the historical facts of the family. Mother Barr would not let it be “talked about” in her home. Now Forster has always been interested in the “James Stories” and got into his possession all he could find about Jesse James. He has all the keepsakes, historical data, pictures (what there are) etc. Lawrence has very, very little about his grandfather! Only in the past few years has he become interested. If all I recall correctly you were asking for a picture of Drury Woodson James.
He did not have it and has only very few pictures of his mother. What we do have is in books we have had to buy and newspaper clippings. Forster was always the one who answered people’s letters. Now that is the best excuse I can give him, which is true, believe me.
However, in the past three years I have been doing a Genealogy of “my” family. I started with my mother’s family and then my father’s family. They both came from the early day settlers of Mo. They came from Virginia to Kentucky, to Mo. About 1820 & 1825. This, to me, has been most interesting. I am not finding very many stories or historical events. It is mostly lineage.
A long time ago, when on a trip to Calif., we went to see Lutie Mimms. She gave me, to bring home with me a Genealogy of the Mimms family. She & Mother Barr were double cousins. At that time it was all in a gig-saw puzzle to me. I read, read, & read it before I could begin to understand it. When I finished copying it I found a “gap” in it that directly linked the Mimms & the James families together. She (Lutie) said he niece had it. I never did get it from Lutie, her niece, or Aunt Stella.
We went to the nursing home to see Aunt Stella & she did know us!
In the research of some of the related families to my direct lines I came across a James family in the “Germanna Records” of Richmond, Va. But Dr. B. C. Holtzclaw said he did not think there was a connection with the Rev. Robert Sallee James.
In Ethel Rose’s letter you spoke of a book, or pamphlet, that you and your co-author Mr. William E. Pulliam, were going to publish! Has it been published yet? You said you were going to give them away to historical societies, libraries, D.A.R. of Washington D.A.C. of Texas.
I belong to the Clay Co. (Historical) Museum Ass. They are endeavoring to write a new history of Clay Co. of some of their earlier families. Of course they have not asked the Barr boys for the James Family because many, many books have been written about them. (There is a Jesse James Museum in Liberty. He makes money at it and seems to think he’ s an authority.)
Each month they have a resume of a family on their monthly letter. I wrote one on my Duncan family fr Jan. 1969 (I believe) it was. I also belong to Smithville Historical Society. They are compiling a lot of families. I have given them the Thomas Fry family; the McCullough Family; Capt. James Duncan; John Duncan and have a great deal on related families (which others are working on, too.) I don’t type so mine is all handwritten. It has been work. I know how to appreciate your labors, believe me!
I am interested in where you got your information on the exact connection of Mimms or (Mims) & James line. I “think” I have it figured out, but am not sure I am correct!
Do you get all the brothers & sisters that you can of each family or – do you just get direct lineage?
The only data we have on Drury Woodson James was that he was the youngest of 8 children (of John James who married Mary Polly Poor.) He was born Nov. 17, 1825 (also have another date from another source as Nov. 14, 1826.) Which is correct?
You no doubt have more authentic data than I do. What I have has been from books others have written. A Mr. Ed Knowles who in 1908 was at Topeka, Ks. on the “Topeka Capitol Journal”. He is no longer with them. He sent my husband a “copy” of a talk he gave at Clay Co. Museum meeting in Liberty. That is where I got my little on “Lindsay” and “Cole” family.
All I have on James Family is
I. Martin James married?
II. John James married Mary Polly Poore their ch.
1. Mary; 2. William; 3. John 4. Elizabeth; 5. Robert Sallee James; 6. Nancy; 7. Thomas and; 8. Drury Woodson.
III. Gen. Robert Sallee James married Zerelda Cole
Their children & on down to present day
Do you have any data back older than Martin James?
We have Carl Breihan’s book but didn’t think much of it. I couldn’t find the entire Genealogical history of Lindsay-Cole line in it. Has he written more than one book?
We thought “Jesse James was His Name” was a good book (as far as we know) that is.
If I have any data you don’t have I’d be willing to exchange with you. I would like for you to verify my connection between the Mimms & James family. It isn’t in too good an order right now, but I could re-write it for you.
You see I have written so much these past three years that I have about ruined my right hand. I hurt a tendon in it over 3 yrs. ago. When I write too much it gets very sore.
I am corresponding with a Mrs. Sale on Ind. In respect to some mutual family connections. Also a woman in El Centro, Calif on a connection with a branch in my mother’s line. It seems to never end.
This week I had a request for some Barr data. It don’t have any to speak of so now I have to search for it. I think Forster has the Barr family Bible too.
I must quit for tonight.
If you are going to give out copies of your “James Family” I’d love to have one.
If you contact the Clay Co. Historical or Museum Ass. Don’t contact a Mrs. Eldridge. She is a “professional”. She gets her material
“free” then sells it. This woman in deed paid her $20.00 for research & got very little” for it.
The Clay Co. Museum told me about 2 yrs. ago they didn’t want mine because they at that time did not have a facility for handling them. No file system or anything. Of course mine was hand written and not printed. A book might be different. Mr. Donald Pharris is the Pres. He is rather up in years tho. He re-wrote some of my sketch & misspelled so many names it made me sick. He botches up nearly every one. He wanted another sketch but I wouldn’t give him another.
Are you a member of D.A.R. or D.O.C.? I can’t find proof of Dr. James Duncan in the Rev. War. He was; but I haven’t found the proof yet. They sent my money back twice. I’ll have to find another source. There were dozens of James Duncans, one in every generation!
It has been nice visiting with you. Please don’t think too harshly about my husband. He just doesn’t see the importance of our work. He thinks I’m wasting my time!
Thelma Duncan Barr
9519 El Monte
Overland Park, Kansas 66207
Next Day – Oct. 27, 1970
My husband finally dug out of his files, this morning, your letter that I asked him several times to hunt up for me.
You wrote him March 1, 1966/ He ans. You Aug. 21, 1966. Then you sent him an air mail card Sept. 23, 1966 & a Xmas greeting. You said you were going to send him copies of your research but we did not received them.
So he didn’t ignore your letter completely. He has an office in the basement. I never know who he writes to or anything about it.
He is retired now but “sits a lot.” Not me, I have to be up and doing things! This Genealogical work I have done on my family has been done by correspondence mostly. We do have a good library down town Kansas City; but it is hard for me to get there. It costs about $1.50 to park car. I always get so interested I forget to eat lunch. I stay so long I get caught in heavy traffic. Some trips you don’t find a thing you want – other times more than you can copy.
In re-reading your letter I see you do belong to D.A.R. I am eligible for D.O.C. but have not found proof yet on Duncan line for D.A.R. Duncan Tavern in Paris, Ky. Has it but can’t get it unless I go there.
(final unmarked page)
Do you have cousin Luties’nleice’s address?
Do you have the Mimms line back to Thomas Mimms who came to Lancaster Co., Va. In May, 1657?
In 1947, the long-widowed Mary Louisa James Burns wrote to R. C. Heaton in Paso Robles, California. She sent him a history of her father, Drury Woodson James, a founder of the town. In 1905, Heaton had purchased the home Drury Woodson built for his family, the same home in which Mary Louise was born. The residence was one of many buildings Drury Woodson James built as part of his El Paso de Robles Hotel, around which he built the town of Paso Robles. In one correspondence, written by her granddaughter Mary Joan Malley Beamis, Mary Louise James identifies and tags the early building of Paso Robles.
Joan Beamis transcribes the identification tags dictated by her grandmother Mary Louise James…
This is froma wood cut. I have the original copy.
D. W. James Home – 1969 or 70. I was born in this house. A very good likeness considering.
South Cottage where your “Nana” was married (long cottage).
Original Hot Springs Hotel.
Patsy Dunn store. (Ed.: D.W.J.’s father-in-law Patrick Dunn) My father moved this and we used it for storage for many years. It was torn down in 1960.
The Ralston Cottage, or at least its location.
Bath House – original – another was built here but burned in about 1910.
Old Stage Road, now Spring St.
Park Water Station
(does not appear)
Sunnyside Cottage, or Cottage A
LETTER FROM R. C. HEATON TO MARY LOUISE JAMES BURNS
Paso Robles, Cal. April 20th, 1948
Mrs. E.F. Burns
Dear Mrs. Burns: Thank you for the copy of your father’s history sent me by the Paso Robles chamber of commerce at your request. I have it filed away in the history of San Luis Obispo county.
Thinking that you would like to see a picture of the old home place as it was in your younger days I had some copies made and am enclosing one to you. I sent one to Carrie.
Please tell me when the house was built and when your folks moved in – also anything that you recall about the place.
Frank and Jesse James were out to California twice but I do not have the record of what years or where they stayed.
This would be interesting to some people.
The visit of Carrie and Hattie B.* last year with us is a happy remembrance.
Too bad that your father could not have ended his days peacefully in the grand old hotel** he had the faith and courage to build in those early days.
Too few people appreciate what he and that other active generous citizen – Uncle Jim Blackburn – done for this community and its old time residents.
* The references to Carrie and Hattie is to Mary Louise’s sisters Carolina F. James Maxwell and Helen James Bennett.