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Chasing Frank and Jesse James: The Bungled Northfield Bank Robbery and the Long Manhunt

BOOK REVIEW: Fanebust, Wayne; Chasing Frank and Jesse James: The Bungled Northfield Bank Robbery and the Long Manhunt

(Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2018) pp.v-238, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index, ISBN 978-1-4766-7067-6, paperback, $35.00

By Nancy B. Samuelson

This is another rehash of the Northfield Bank Robbery and the escape of Frank and Jesse James. The author used several creditable sources for the book, but he also used a lot of newspaper articles as sources. The newspapers are often from areas far removed both geographically and in time from the crimes which they described. It stretches the imagination to believe newspapers from Vermont or Florida forty years after the incident would be considered as accurate sources.

The author repeats many of the more garish tales about the James and Younger gang members and often says that what he repeats is probably just a story. For example the tale of Cole Younger checking out his new Enfield rifle. Cole supposedly lined up fifteen Kansas Jayhawkers and kept shooting until he killed them all. Competent historians have long dismissed this story as a complete myth.

Author Wayne Fanebust

The author repeatedly proves that his knowledge about the state of Missouri is not very comprehensive. He makes the statement that Missouri was a slave state with most slaves in the southern part of the state. In fact, most of the slaves in Missouri were along the Missouri River in the area often referred to as “Little Dixie.” When Jesse James is living in St. Joseph, Missouri, the author states he was living there in the “Cracker Neck District”. The Cracker Neck area was located in Jackson County, near Independence, Missouri, not in St. Joseph.

Jesse James is made out to be a most brutal man. He reportedly shot and killed a “St. Louis drummer” who was just walking down the street out of pure wantonness.  Jesse was also a real ladies man and had liaisons with hundreds of women. He supposedly had a daughter living in Howard County, Missouri at the time of his death. And Jesse also killed Ed Miller because Miller caught Jesse fooling around with his girlfriend. Ed Miller was a married man, but I guess he might have had a girlfriend too.

Bill Anderson’s men always rode under the Black Flag. And when Anderson’s men killed Major Johnson and his troops during the Centralia raid, they shot Johnson and all 148 men in the head.

Two new members of the James gang are revealed in this book, Sam Kaufman, and Sam Hill. None of the most reliable books about the James gang every mentions these two names. This author also claims the notorious liar, Kit Dalton, is a friend of Jesse James. This is very unlikely although Kit Dalton did know Frank James in later years.

This book has little to recommend it. The book is full of inaccuracies, has misspelled words (deputy marshal is consistently deputy Marshall) and contains some dubious photos. It is very disappointing to see McFarland & Company publishing such a poor quality book at such an outrageous price.

RELATED

The following two books by John J. Koblas, Faithful Until Death and The Jesse James Northfield Raid,  remain the most authoritative accounts of the James-Younger Gang’s robbery of the Northfield Bank.


 

The Troubled Life of Peter Burnett

At the Jesse James family reunion in 2002, living descendants in the family of Peter Burnett appeared. They were seeking knowledge of the Burnett family’s connections to the Jesse James family. Stories of a connection had come down in their family lore.

To date, no specific connection with the James family, or with Drury Woodson James, Jesse’ s uncle and founder of Paso Robles, California, has been found. Given D.W. James social and political connections, it remains highly likely some connection existed. Is also is highly certain that Peter Burnett would have known Rep. Coleman Purcell Younger of Santa Cruz, California, the husband of Burnett’s niece, Rebecca J. Smith, among other Burnett-Younger kinships.

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“Ancestry & Kinship of Peter Hardeman Burnett”

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BOOK REVIEW: Nokes, R. Gregory, The Troubled Life of Peter Burnett: Oregon Pioneer and First Governor of California

(Corvallis: Oregon State University Press, 2018) pp.ix-270, several photos and maps, appendix A-D, notes, bibliography, index, ISBN 978-0-87071-923-5, paperback, $19,95.

By Nancy B. Samuelson

Peter Burnett may not be a name that is familiar to many people these days. It seems a pity that he has been largely forgotten. He was a man of some rather significant achievements in the states of Missouri, Oregon and California. I have been interested in him for some time and was pleased to see that someone had finally written a book about him. However, I found that the author chose to judge Burnett by today’s standards of political correctness and ignore or belittle his many real accomplishments.

R. Gregory Nokes
R. Gregory Nokes, author of The Troubles Life of Peter Burnett

R. Gregory Nokes is a journalist and is a competent writer but the book will appeal more to a general audience than to historians or scholars. He did do a fair amount of research and has discovered a number of Burnett’s letters that have never been made public before.  He has also thoroughly researched Burnett’s other writings, and there is a considerable amount of this material.  There is no evidence, however, that he consulted any contemporary newspapers reports of the actions and events in Burnett’s life.  Nor did he dig very deeply into family connections and the accomplishments of many other members of this talented Burnett family and their near kinfolks.

The author makes much ado about Burnett’s contributions to the deplorable “Lash Law” in Oregon that Burnett helped put on the books. But little is said about the almost immediate revision of the law and the fact that the law was never once enforced. Many, in fact, most other states and territories had similar or worse laws on the books concerning African Americans and other minorities. Nokes is highly critical of Burnett in many ways and this detracts from the contributions Peter Burnett did make.

Peter Burnett was almost completely a self-educated man. He was born into a poor family in Tennessee but the family soon moved to Missouri to better themselves. Burnett was able to become an attorney and established a good law practice and engaged in several business enterprises. He was one of the men responsible for getting the U. S. Congress to approve the Platte Purchase that added a considerable amount of territory to the northwestern section of Missouri. Some of Burnett’s business enterprises were not successful and he soon turned his eyes to the Oregon Territory. He “boomed” Oregon and organized the first major wagon train to travel to Oregon in 1843. He was active in the organization of the Oregon Territorial Government and was Oregon’s first Supreme Court judge.

When word came of the discovery of gold in California, Burnett once more decided he could improve his fortunes by going to California. He took the first wagon train from Oregon to California and achieved a fair amount of success in mining for gold in California. He then moved to Sacrament and went back into the legal business. He took over some of the real estate sales for John Sutter and was well on the way to repairing Sutter’s finances until Sutter, Sr. fired him in a huff. Burnett did bolster his own finances as well from his sales of Sacramento real estate.

Burnett then turned his hand to helping get a state government organized in California and was overwhelmingly elected as the first Governor of California. He later resigned from this office to pursue his business interests. He later went into the banking business in San Francisco and was president of one of the most successful banks in California. Peter Burnett died a wealthy and highly esteemed man.

Burnett was completely honest, a rare quality in the hectic days of Gold Rush California, a deeply religious man, and a devoted husband and father. All of his children that survived were successful and talented people. His sons-in-law were attorneys and served in state government as did some of his grandchildren.

An item of interest to Wild West buffs was completely missed by the author. Burnett had close connections to the Younger and Dalton families. His brother, George William Burnett, was married to Sydney Ann Younger, an aunt of the Younger boys of James-Younger gang fame. Sydney Ann’s half-sister, Adeline, was the mother of the Dalton brothers of Dalton gang fame.  George William Burnett served in the Oregon legislature for some time and his son George Henry Burnett served on the Oregon Supreme Court from 1911 to 1927, twice serving as the Chief Justice of the court. Peter Burnett also maintained close social relations with Coleman Younger, the uncle of the outlaw Younger brothers, in Santa Clara County. California for a number of years.

This book is certainly worth reading and it inspired me to dig even deeper and to see what else I could learn about this fascinating man. Peter Burnett is worthy of more study so we can fully appreciate his contributions to our history.

The Largest Knights of the Golden Circle Treasure Ever

BOOK REVIEW: Myers, Jack, Knight’s Gold: The Largest Documented KGC Treasure Ever Discovered (Jack O’Llantern Press, 2016) pp. iv +498, illustrations, endnotes, no bibliography or index, ISBN 9781539896562, soft cover $18.95

By Nancy B. Samuelson 

Like a lot of books about the Knights of the Golden Circle (KGC) and the tales about treasure that the KGC supposedly buried to finance a second Civil War, this work contains a lot of speculations, garbles a lot data, and contains a ton of misinformation. The book is tedious to read, everything the author says he repeats at least three times.

Knight’s Gold
Knight’s Gold: The Largest Documented KGC Treasure Ever Discovered by Jack Myers

A lot of the book deals with two treasure troves found in Baltimore, Maryland. Both of these troves are believed by the author to have been buried in basements by members of the KGC. Little factual data and a lot of questionable information is given to support this theory. We are asked to believe that two teenagers who found the first trove carried five thousand gold coins home in their pockets and shoes! A practice problem from the book, New Practical Arithmetic, published in Boston in 1875 is construed by the author to be a coded message by the agents of the Knights of the Golden Circle in Baltimore concerning the buried treasure.

Ray's New Practical Arithmatic
A coded treasure message published in 1875?

 

Another reported treasure trove is located within Victorio Peak in New Mexico. This area is now on the White Sands Test Range. A lot of various stories are related about this reported treasure trove. The odor of fraud permeates almost all of what is reported about this supposed treasure location.

The most bizarre “treasure” parts of the book deal with none other than America’s most famous bandit, Jesse Woodson James. 

The James boys did not spend their loot but socked it away to help fund the Knights of the Golden Circle and the second Civil War. No mention is made of all the race horses the James brothers bought, raced and bet on.

Almost all of the off the wall stuff published about Jesse James is trotted out in this book. Orvis Houk, Del Schrader, Ron Pastore, Henry J. Walker and a variety of other questionable James literature is quoted.(Somehow Betty Duke and her claim that her great-grandfather, James L. Courtney, was the real Jesse James got left out. This must have been an oversight.) This specious material is jumbled in with material from well written and well researched books. The author makes no effort to select the wheat from the chaff in any of this.

The James material is all a total tangle of out and out falsehoods, misinformation and speculation. One fiction novel even is cited to support some of this material.

Examples of some of this material are: (1) William Clark Quantrill was head of the KGC’s Knights of the Iron Hand; (2)John Newman Edwards wrote dime novels after the war; (3) After the war Jesse James worked as a bounty hunter and tried to go straight; (4) Gov. Crittenden appointed Sheriff James Timberlake as a deputy U. S. marshal (these are federal appointments); (5) Sheriff Timberlake went to New Mexico after he collected his reward and likely helped stash some of the Victorio Peak treasure;  (6) Albert Pike started the KKK:  etc. etc. etc. The nonsense boggles the imagination!

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RELATED

Jesse James, Lost Treasure, & The Golden Circle – Where’s the Beef?

Making (Up) History Every Day

The Latest Fake History from Ron Pastore

James-Younger Gang Journal Pans Jesse James Hidden Treasure

Knights of the Golden Circle Exposed

Knights of the Golden Circle Exposed

BOOK REVIEW: Baker, L. C., The Ones That Got Away: Knights of the Golden Circle Exposed (no publication information given) pp.177, some photos and illustrations, no endnotes, bibliography, or index. ISBN 978149959393, soft cover $14.99

By Nancy B. Samuelson

Book jacket: The Ones That Got Away, Knights of the Golden Circle ExposedThe Knights of the Golden Circle seems to attract all kinds of strange people and theories. This book, indeed, contains some strange theories and a lot of misinformation. The writing is littered with errors in grammar, punctuation, and spelling. The photographs and illustrations used are of very poor quality. The author gives little or no information about where he got his material.

The author would have us believe that Lewis Cass, who resigned as Secretary of State because Buchanan took little or no action against the secessionists, and Illinois Senator Orville Browning were connected with the Knights of the Golden Circle. He hints that both men may have had something to do with Lincoln’s assassination. He also makes the preposterous accusation that Browning, a close friend and confidante of Lincoln for many years, carried on a lengthy love affair with Mary Todd Lincoln!

L.C. Baker
L.C. Baker, author of The Ones That Got Away, Knights of the Golden Circle Exposed

There is a lot of misinformation about Ben Ficklin and his association with Sen. William M. Gwin of California and the freighting firm of Russell, Majors and Waddell. He says Ficklin was a West Point graduate. This is not so, Ficklin graduated from Virginia Military Institute (VMI). Ficklin was acquainted with Sen. Gwin and Gwin did back the Pony Express, which was first Ficklin’s idea. Gwin was a farsighted man who fought long and hard for all sorts of development on the Pacific Coast that would benefit California and the nation. Gwin was, as one author put it, “adept at reconciling contradictory forces for his own political advantage”.  However, to state that Gwin was trying to obtain a monopoly in the opium trade to raise money for the Knights of the Golden Circle is way out there in left field.

The author’s idea that Russell, Majors and Waddell and Ficklin had a monopoly of freighting during the “Mormon War” and made a fortune is completely wrong. Russell, Majors and Waddell lost a half million dollars when their wagons and livestock was stolen or destroyed by the Mormons and the Indians. The Pony Express also lost money and the company went broke and sold out to Ben Holladay.

Jesse James gets into the story in the chapter on Captain Logan Enyart. Enyart served in Company G. of the First Missouri C.S.A. He was married to a sister of Col. Richard B. Chiles, his commanding officer. Chiles later joined Quantrill’s Raiders and was killed during the war. Enyart probably knew Frank and Jesse James during the war. The author would have us believe Jesse James made regular visits to Enyart’s home in Nebraska City, Nebraska after the war. The author states that is was a well known fact that Enyart had a secret underground passage between his house and stables over 100 yards long to give the James gang entrance to his house. (He must have borrowed this one from some Dalton Gang mythology.) The author did not, however, seem to know that Enyart did invite Frank James to stay at his home when Frank was an official race starter in Nebraska City in August 1909.

Many other examples of bad information in this book, could be pointed out. The above should be enough to tell the discerning readers to save their book money for something more worthwhile.

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RELATED:

Jesse James, Lost Treasure, & The Golden Circle – Where’s the Beef?

Making (Up) History Every Day

The Latest Fake History from Ron Pastore

James-Younger Gang Journal Pans Jesse James Hidden Treasure