Category Archives: Media

The Smack & Zing of This Bloody Ground

This Bloody Ground, Volume II of the Jesse James Soul Liberty quintet
Jesse James Soul Liberty, Vol. II, This Bloody Ground

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 Liberty quintet, 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.

Kent Masterson Brown
Kent Masterson Brown

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.

Scitt New as Daniel Boone
Scott New portrays Daniel Boone

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.

Hot to Trot for How to Write Family History

Writing my presentations for the upcoming annual conference of the Ohio Genealogical Society has me super-charged.

Program presentations by Eric F. James for the Ohio Genealogical Society Annual Conference 2015
Program presentations by Eric F. James for the Ohio Genealogical Society Annual Conference 2015

It makes no sense at all though if I show up in front of my audience all hot to trot only to find that my audience needs a warm-up.

I hate losing ten minutes of precious presentation time, or lose content from either of my two talks:  “From Bodice Ripper to Jack the Ripper, How To Write a Family History Everyone Wants to Read,” and “How to Publish, Sell, or Give Away a Family History Everyone Wants to Read.”  I want my audience jazzed from the moment they walk into the conference room.

Program for talks by Eric F. James at the Ohio  Genealogical Society Annual Conference 2015
Program for talks by Eric F. James at the Ohio Genealogical Society Annual Conference 2015

My solution is to grab their interest with the following video that will arrest their attention the moment they walk in the door.

As the audience takes their seats, this video already is at work relaxing the house and setting the tone for my talk. If everything  goes as expected, the video is building anticipation, excitement, and readiness for my moment to appear. In fact, I can play the same video after my talk, and have them dancing out the door.

Next, I just have to find a way of keeping the attention of anyone who takes a potty break.

Viewers of this video may recognize some of its images. They were used first in banners appearing on the Facebook page for my book Jesse James Soul Liberty, Vol. I. My own book cover appeared in the box “My Book Here.”

Since I change Facebook banners often, I had plenty of banners from which to choose. The ones I selected for use in this video chiefly reflect upon the content contained in my talks.

Which Makes a Better Genealogy TV Program?

What makes one genealogy TV program better than another? The top two genealogy programs are Who Do You Think You Are and Finding Your Roots. One is better than the other because one more accurately reflects the real genealogy experience.

Who Do you Think You Are TV ProgramFinding Your Roots TV Program

Both programs, however, misrepresent genealogy for what it is. That’s because both programs are constructed as entertainments. A television program, devised from the need to attract a defined audience demographic, cannot ever be true to its subject, because the program will be skewed towards the demographic. In essence, the only general audience appeals the program may have in the end is an appeal to entertain.

In the Finding Your Roots TV program, Henry Louis Gates presents himself as an authoritarian who will show to a subject’s surprise unknown facts about the subject’s past. His narrative discoveries appear, as if by magic. There’s no insight for the audience into the magician’s bag of tricks. Nothing is required of the focal subject, or of the audience for that matter, other than to sit back and be entertained by Mr. Gates’ wizardry.

On the other hand, the TV program Who Do You Think You Are actually displays a journey of personal discovery. The subject must travel from place to place, from one institution to another, often seeking help, to find the desired evidence of fact, often coming up short. The journey may produce yet another clue for yet another segment of discovery, leading in the end to a satisfactory conclusion though trial and error to accomplishment and fulfillment, regardless of one’s originally desired expectation. This more closely represents the real genealogy experience.

Ironically, Who Do You Think You Are displays the warrior experience of mythology. The program shows an individual can arise from the unknown to go forward. That person can be tested and tried, over and over, and ultimately return home to one’s family, or tribe, as a hero, who now is the enlightened one. This in fact is how genealogists become heroes among their families. Genealogists are the heroes families turn to. They are ones who hold the tested knowledge, the truth, and the history. Genealogists become family leaders.

Mr. Gates, though, would prefer to be every family’s leader and hero. That’s as much an unrealistic expectation as the leaf in the ancestry.com television commercial, which promises if you simply click on it, all your family ancestry will magically be provided.

It is not surprising if viewers might not identify with the genealogy experience presented to them in these television programs. Viewers are passive receptors, nothing more than observers. Few among them have been warrior tested. But, if they were, they soon would recognize the weaknesses in these entertainments. In fact, they would probably come to prefer sifting through old records in the basement of a dingy courthouse basement, to sitting comfortably in their lounge chair, awaiting the big reveal. If they’d just go and be tested, they would return with stories as magical, entertaining, informative, and enlightening.

The Lost Cause: The Trials of Frank and Jesse James

BOOK REVIEW: Muehlberger, James P. The Lost Cause: The Trials of Frank and Jesse James (Westholme Publishing, LLC, 2013) 255 pp. index, timeline, bibliography, end notes, some photos, illustrations, and maps, hardcover $18.96.

By Nancy B. Samuelson

The author begins the book with a Prolog where he expounds on the “myth of The Lost Cause.” He seems to believe that the only cause of the Civil War was slavery. There were a number of other causes and many of them had to do with economics.

The Lost Cause, the Trials of Frank and Jesse James

One of the main themes of the book is the Gallatin, Missouri bank robbery. He makes a fair case that this may have been a planned assassination and not a bank robbery at all. Jesse James and maybe Jim Anderson set out to kill Major Samuel Cox who killed Bloody Bill Anderson during the war. However, Captain John Sheets, who looked much like Cox, was killed instead. The author does not believe Frank was involved in this event at all.

The author makes much of the suit that was filed against the James boys after the Gallatin affair. The attorney who filed the suit was Henry Clay McDougal. He represented Daniel Smoote, whose horse had been taken by the fleeing gunmen. Smoote won the suit and as settlement was awarded the horse that had been left behind the by the supposed Frank and Jesse James. The author relies on McDougal’s book, Recollections: 1844-1909, for much of what he says about the suit and the aftermath. Throughout the book McDougal is on a real ego trip and much of what he says is open to question. McDougal says he was working with Samuel Hardwicke, a Clay County attorney, and the Pinkerton Detective Agency as early as 1869. However, all the evidence that this reviewer has been able to locate shows that the Pinkertons did not become involved in trying to catch the James boys until after the Corydon, Iowa bank robbery in 1871. Further, Samuel Hardwicke did not begin to work with the Pinkertons until the spring of 1874. McDougal claimed that Jesse James tried to kill him twice because of his involvement in the law suit. This claim is not supported by any other evidence that this reviewer has been able to find. We have only McDougal’s word for this.

James P. Muehlberger

There are any number of inaccuracies in the book. Several names are incorrect. Union General James Blunt is identified as Jones Blunt. Sheriff James Timberlake is identified as Henry Timberlake. One of Frank James’ key attorneys during his trial at Gallatin in 1883 is first identified as John F. Philips then suddenly he becomes Thomas Philips. The author says Susan James and Allen Parmer married in Kentucky instead of in Clay County, Missouri. Archie Samuel’s age is given as thirteen when the Pinkertons bombed the James-Samuel home in 1875. He was actually not yet nine years old when he was killed. Zerelda Samuel’s age is given as fifty-five at the time of Frank’s trial when she was really fifty-eight. The date of Frank James’ surrender to Missouri Governor Crittenden is stated as October 5th 1881 instead of 1882.

There are also a number of omissions that seem odd. For example, the hanging of Dr. Samuel by Union troops is discussed but the severe beating the same troops gave Jesse James is not mentioned. One of the key attorneys in Frank James’ trial in Alabama is never mentioned either. He was Robert W. Walker, a graduate of Princeton and Columbia University Law School and a former member of the Alabama Supreme Court.

In summary, this book adds little to the knowledge of the James-Younger gang and it contains a lot of misinformation.