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 Libertyquintet, 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.
I have enjoyed the former historical 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
Jodie 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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
The following is a preview of what readers can expect to find in THIS BLOODY GROUND – Volume II of the Jesse James Soul Liberty quintet, scheduled for publication in 2015.
While history recognizes Henrietta Younger-Rawlins as a sister to the notorious Younger brothers, history has ignored Retta’s husband A. Bledsoe Rawlins. When Retta married A. Bledsoe Rawlins on April 2nd of 1894, two families whom Frank and Jesse’s grandfather John M. James had known as his neighbors in Kentucky, were brought together in a union destined to be both comfortable and natural. The two families had known each other for over 100 years, through at least three generations.
When Retta’s young but aristocratic grandfather, Col. Charles Lee Younger, arrived on the Kentucky frontier at Crab Orchard, no one could mistake the young man for what he was. Col. Younger first appeared as the dutiful son of his father, John Logan Younger. But the untamed and wild frontier of Kentucky soon transformed him into the man he was destined to become, as the destiny of many of Col. Younger’s new neighbors also was being constructed.
The elder Younger was crippled. John Logan Younger had suffered “a rupture” while serving at Valley Forge in the 12th Regiment of Gen. George Washington’s Continental Army. John M. James, then a wagoner and spy for Washington, was there, too, suffering from a bullet wound. Valley Forge was where the alliance of the James-Younger families first aligned. Despite his disability, John Logan Younger continued in military service until discharged in January of 1779. He and John M. James then migrated with a Traveling Church of rebel Baptist preachers, arriving on the Kentucky frontier around 1782. Also among those rebel preachers were the brothers Moses Owsley and William Miller Bledsoe. According to pension papers, the elder Younger was a farmer, but now he was “unable to follow it.” He was in need of an income. More importantly, he needed his youngest son’s help. Col. Younger arrived to assist his older brothers, Lewis, Peter, Henry, and Isaac. The Colonel brought the company of his Indian woman.
Nothing on this bloody ground of Kentucky wilderness could be achieved alone. The land Col. Younger tried to farm, also forced him into taming and protecting it. Around Crab Orchard, Col. Younger found himself among the surveyors and cabin builders from Fort Harrod, Abraham and Isaac Hite. From Harrods’s Fort, their cousin Col. John Bowman repelled the Shawnee back into Ohio territory with his brothers Isaac, Joseph, and Abraham, all grandsons of Hans Jost Heydt and Hite cousins. The Bowman brothers were renowned as “The Centaurs of Cedar Creek.” The bonds formed here among the Hite, Younger, and James families would strengthen across two future generations, when the grandsons of John M. James and Col. Charles Lee Younger produced the explosive identity of the James-Younger gang in the Civil War era.
Nearby at Cedar Creek in the shadow of Col. William Whitley’s station, John M. James was acquiring land adjacent to his neighbors, the former Marylanders Thomas Owsley and Johannes Vardeman. Daniel Boone hired Vardeman as an ax man to blaze his Wilderness Road. John M. James was captain of a militia protecting it from Native-American assaults.
An early arrival at Cedar Creek, William Whitley became mentor to all of these men. Whitley perfected the principle of fighting the enemy on its home ground. When he did, Whitley always returned with the finest horses the Indians could breed, excellent enough to attract the eyes of Col. Younger and John M. James, who became gambling turfmen of horse racing at Whitley’s Sportsman’s Hill. Here the personality for racing and risk entered the DNA of the James-Younger gang.
As the rebel preachers, led by the rabid Elijah Craig, fanned out across this new frontier, ferociously founding churches in all the future Kentucky strongholds of the James family, Rev. William Miller Bledsoe married Craig’s niece, Elizabeth Craig. When she died giving childbirth, Bledsoe married Patience Owsley, a daughter of Thomas Owsley, John M. James’ adjacent neighbor. Bledsoe initiated a religious revival, expecting to seed the meetinghouse at Cedar Creek as the first Baptist church of Crab Orchard. Through the power of four hundred conversions, Bledsoe made his move.
The expectation of the upstart preacher John M. James to build a house for the Lord was eclipsed once more. John had occupied himself too much with ushering and settling migrants, furnishing supplies for them, and keeping an eye for more land to acquire, and perhaps a town he could found for a church of his own. For now, the ministry of others shadowed the fervor of John M. James. He vowed, someday his fervor would be unleashed.
As a teenage miscreant, Jerry Vardeman, a son of Johannes Vardeman, played fiddle for balls in William Whitley’s attic. After eloping with a daughter of John M. James, Jerry was brought into the fold of the Cedar Creek Baptist Church, later succeeding William Miller Bledsoe as its pastor. From his 4,000 converts and an abundance of other churches he preached among, Rev. Jeremiah Vardeman culled money necessary to supply Frank & Jesse James’ father, Rev. Robert Sallee James, with 7 slaves, and $20,000 in additional funds to buy James Gilmore’s farm and found William Jewell College in Clay County, Missouri, installing one of Vardeman’s converts, Robert Stewart Thomas as its first president.
When William Miller Bledsoe’s son was born, Rev. Bledsoe looked at the infant and commented, “He looks like a Bledsoe,” pronouncing the word a as the letter A. The boy was nicknamed “Honest A. Bledsoe,” to become the future namesake of A. Bledsoe Rawlins.
Prior to the Civil War, A. Bledsoe moved to Texas. He purchased the headright of Capt. Roderick A. Rawlins, who later became his son-in-law. In 1865, A. Bledsoe was elected Chief Justice of Dallas County, but was unseated in the following election. During Reconstruction, A. Bledsoe was elected again to the Constitutional Convention, aligning himself with the Radical Republican faction, familiar to some among the Younger family. When A. Bledsoe took the oath of loyalty to the United States, A. Bledsoe was nicknamed a second time as “Iron-Clad Bledsoe.” A. Bledsoe established the controversial and unpopular Texas State Police. Then A. Bledsoe returned to Dallas County to live out his days as a judge.
In 1852, Roderick Alexander Rawlins married Virginia Bledsoe, granddaughter of Rev. William Miller Bledsoe who eclipsed John M. James in founding a church, and the great granddaughter of Thomas Owsley, John’s neighbor at Cedar Creek. The couple named their firstborn, A. Bledsoe Rawlins. On April 12th of 1894, A. Bledsoe Rawlins met his destiny when he took Retta Younger, the granddaughter of Col. Charles Lee Younger, as his midlife bride. Except for his eight children spawned in his prior marriage, his marriage to Retta Younger went unfruitful. The families of Cedar Creek and Crab Orchard had forged the destiny of the union of Retta Younger and A. Bledsoe Rawlins beginning one hundred years before.
This biographical history focuses on the grandfather of Frank & Jesse James, John M. James, a patriot of the Revolutionary War who falls in with the rabid Baptist preachers, violently persecuted by the Anglican establishment. This band of rebel, sharpshooting preachers barter their participation as minutemen of the Revolution for the promise of religious freedom and the separation of church and state. They fight pivotal battles that win the Revolution.
As adoption of independence and religious liberty is lagging, the rebel preachers exit the Old Dominion with their Traveling Church for New Canaan, the violent and uninhabited western frontier of the Cain-tuc. There, John M. James and his fellow Baptist ministers construct the socio-political, religious communities and structures that separate the independent Commonwealth of Kentucky from the Old Dominion. They win the War of 1812 to secure their own establishment, and for the future of a new frontier pastorate. Then, they migrate once more, this time into the West and Far West to ground the political environment of American religious conservatism, still so much in evidence today.
Doing so, John M. James further imprints a legacy upon his family’s progeny with the socio-political interests that not only made iconic outlaws of the James brothers, but also formed the modern American character and identity of the James family, so amply depicted in Volume I, “Behind the Family Wall of Stigma & Silence.”
Official website for the family of Frank & Jesse James – Living lives, telling the story. Knowing self.
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