Category Archives: James in the Arts

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 genealogy and 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

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. I filled in Rick about the James and Hite family who defeated the Native-Americans at Chillicothe, two generations before the Hite and James fought as the James Gang. I also alerted Rick to the religious and socio-political influence of the James family and their community in the War of 1812, and their defeat of Chief Tecumseh. Rick said he may have to book me for a talk about that.

Next year, Rick Hollis becomes president of The Society of the Descendants of Washington’s Army at Valley Forge. We then discussed the meeting of the grandfathers of the James and Younger brothers at Valley Forge, again two generations before the two families came together again as the James Gang. Since we both were sitting there in Ohio, I also had to tell Rick about the James family who were captured when John Hunt Morgan crossed the Ohio River from Kentucky to meet his defeat in Ohio.

Genealogy always leads the family historian, who then must follow. I know this too well. Never does the family historian lead the genealogy.  Doing so, 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 is now to get crackin’ on Forks of the Road, Volume III of Jesse James Soul Liberty.

Sons of Liberty Take History Channel to the Woodshed

History logoHistory, the network for male entertainment formerly called the History Channel, is taking steps not be chastised again for producing bogus historical accounts. The effort appears as honest as a baby step.

The website for its upcoming mini-series Sons of Liberty sports a link called the “Historian’s View.” Therein lays History Channel’s disclaimer. “SONS OF LIBERTY is a dramatic interpretation of events that sparked a revolution. It is historical fiction, not a documentary.” So much said for History to set the record straight, but is it?

join or die-sons of liberty

Apparently not enough, for The Journal of the American Revolution. The Journal ‘s TV reviewer Thomas Verenna got an early preview of Sons of Liberty. He was drowned by the network in a sea of promotional material. Despite the appearance of credentialed historians in the series, Verenna observed, “Understandably, one might get the impression from these sneak peeks that this is some sort of docu-drama. Well, it’s not that at all. You have to dig a bit to find it (it’s never explicitly stated in the trailers or promotional content)… actually, it’s more of an alternate history…”

Sons of Liberty logo

Over the years, we’ve taken History to the woodshed a number of times, recently in 2013 for “making [up] history every day” regarding productions relating to Jesse James. Challenging History has stopped it from producing more Jesse James fictional invention. Realistically, though, we expect the network will continue to develop more fictional entertainment around Jesse in the future. Jesse James is too appealing just to give up.

Unfortunately, neither historians of Jesse James, nor historians. in general, carry the political clout of the family of John F. Kennedy, as we reported. The Kennedy clan effectively put a cease and desist order on the network with only the threat of going to court. History has since dropped any proposals altogether of producing fictional history around the personage of President John F. Kennedy.

Journal of the American Revolution

The Journal admits that the production values of the mini-series are pretty good. The show is entertaining. But the show also is flawed, sufficiently enough to warrant a lengthy list of fact checking on its historical facts. The Journal breaks down each episode here, as we’ve done here in the past.

Nothing would please us better than, not to be the guardian of the History Channel’s truancy. If only the network had changed its name from the History Channel to Wishful History. Then there would be no need to disclaim its productions. As it persists in its brand of flawed, interpretative, alternate, or downright bogus history, the network and its productions must continue to be monitored for a chronic lack of integrity masquerading as an authority.

Sons of Liberty principals

Jesse James Family Reunion 2002 Video – Pt. 10

When Judge James R. Ross and I were laying out the event schedule for the family reunion, I asked Judge Ross if he would speak about his childhood and growing up in the household of Jesse Edwards James Jr. as his de facto father. In all the time we spent together, I always was most intrigued by those stories he related to me privately. I thought his family would find them of interest, too.

Judge James R. Ross beside the historical monument that commemorates his cousin, Drury Woodson James, founder of Paso Robles California. The memorial stands in the park D.W. James donated to the city.
Judge James R. Ross beside the historical monument that commemorates his cousin, Drury Woodson James, founder of Paso Robles California. The memorial stands in the park D.W. James donated to the city.

What I didn’t realize was that his agreement to discuss the subject meant he intended to use the topic as an opportunity to sell his book. In the mind of Judge Ross,  he had written his book I, Jesse James specifically for that reason, to tell people the stories he had heard about Jesse James while growing up in the household of the outlaw’s son. The talk Judge Ross delivered was not the leisurely reminiscence I thought he would present. Instead, what he delivered was a short promotion for his book.

What was really on his mind, though, was a deal to make a movie from his book. What he said on that in his talk he had kept close to his vest. I had no idea beforehand of the option contract for a movie that he just had signed. Judge Ross intended to surprise us all.

Sadly, TNT never did make a movie of Judge Ross’ book. The Judge’s lifelong ambition to make the only movie about Jesse James that was factual and true went unfulfilled in his lifetime.

Three great grandsons of Jesse Woodson James: Donald James Baumel, Judge James R. Ross, James Lewis
Three great grandsons of Jesse Woodson James: Donald James Baumel, Judge James R. Ross, James Lewis

Who Loves Ya, Jesse James?


Bill Penn
Bill Penn, proprietor of the Historic Midway Museum Store, sports a new tee-shirt I gave him.

I’ve begun to wonder. Who loves ya, Jesse James?

At book signings of Jesse James Soul Liberty, more women buy my book than men. This was confirmed again last Sunday, as I signed books for the Historic Midway Museum Store at the Midway Fall Festival. My book was purchased only by women. This was the first time, too, that the new JJSL tee-shirt was introduced. And who were the tee-shirt buyers? Women, not men.

A couple of women did say they were buying the book for their husband. Curiously, though, two other women did not buy the book for their husbands after I pointed out that the book is about the Jesse James family principally, and about Jesse James only indirectly through his family.

During the course of the day with hundreds of people walking by my booth, four young men popped out from the crowd on separate occasions to ask, “Did Jesse James really die?” My reply to their question all began with, “That’s the mythology, not the fact.” All of them abruptly walked away. Not one engaged in further discussion, picked up the book, look inside it, or buy it.

I’ve come to view young men like these as the core demographic that the history and biography reality shows target as their viewers. Their productions all are based on the mythology surrounding Jesse James, and rarely upon facts. As a result, young men like these learn nothing about factual history or about Jesse James. They walk on in a cloud of mythology. They read little, and know even less.

By contrast, women attracted to Jesse James engage in discussion about my book first. They pick up the book, leaf through it, and ask questions about what they see. I don’t have to sell the book to women at all. I only have to point out that the book is about Jesse James’ family, and the information comes from primary family sources never published before. When women buy, it is clear they are curious to know more, but they want what they learn to be authentic and true.

One young school girl, who ran over to my table, surprised and delighted me. “Are you related to Jesse James,” she asked. I replied, “That’s what I write about.” She ran back to her parents, shouting, “That’s so cool!” She was not the first girl to ask.

It’s a scientific fact that within the female DNA resides some gene which is attracted to the genes of the bad boy. But I don’t think that’s what attracts women to buy my book. I believe they’re attracted by the idea of finding the factual history of the bad boy inside the context of family. Family is their emotional connection with my book. After they read my book, some have informed me the book did not disappoint them. They were enlightened.

So, who loves ya, Jesse James?

My survey says, young men, ages 18-45, mostly loners lacking connections with a family of their own, who watch way too much TV, and only absorb the mythology dispensed to them in that medium as fact. In short, guys who aren’t too smart.

But intelligent women absolutely adore Jesse and his family.