The promise of Jesse Edwards James Jr. to his mother Zee Mimms James, to reunite her twin children whom Jesse buried after their birth in Tennessee with Jesse and her in Missouri, went unfulfilled for three generations. Before he died in 1951, Jesse Jr. bestowed the task upon his grandson, Judge James R. Ross. Three years before Judge Ross died in 2007, the task was bestowed upon me to execute the exhumation of Jesse James twin children for reinternment with their parents in Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Kearney, Missouri.
The moving confluence of legalities, family permissions, socio-political objections, and conflict resolutions seemed always directed at times by an unnoticed, unseen spiritual hand, ever watching from the past and always guiding the exhumation of Jesse’s twins to final resolution and peace in ways surprising to us living participants.
An exhumation might appear as a clinical exercise, executed coldly by professional technicians, paid to do a job. The cost was not a problem to exhume and re-inter the twin children of Jesse and Zee Mimms James. In the end, though, no cost was necessary. The spiritual hand brought forth descendants of former generations and social relations of the James family generations long past to accomplish the task.
Assisting me was Ann Yeager Hamlin of the Stith Funeral Home in Danville, Ky. Not only was Ann my next door neighbor, she also is a 6th great-granddaughter of Reuben Giles Samuel, who is the great-grandfather of Dr. Reuben Samuel, Jesse’s stepfather. Among Ann’s ancestors are also found some Woodsons and one of the Younger brothers’ uncles. I asked Ann if it was necessary to purchase a casket. She advised, “For exhumed remains, plastic containers that can be bought at any Wal-Mart work best.” I then acquired two plastic containers from Sam Walton’s local store in Danville. Sam Walton is a 4th great-grandson of Jesse’s grandfather, John M. James.
Representing the Humphreys County Court, to ensure all was done properly according to Tennessee statutes, was Anne’s funeral school classmate, B. Steven Spann of the Spann Funeral Home, formerly the Wheeler Funeral Home.
Beleaguering Judge Ross and myself with multiple difficulties to overcome was Darrell L. Cave. The church sexton of Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Kearney, Missouri. Darrell then was in his mid-eighties. He was the fourth generation of his family to oversee the cemetery. Among Darrell’s ancestry, Darrell’s great-grandfather, William R. Cave founded Mt. Olivet Church and Cemetery. He was baptized by Jesse’s grandfather, Rev. Robert Sallee James. Darrell’s 4th great-grandfather, Rev. William Cave known as Uncle Billy, entered Kentucky with Jesse’s grandfather John M. James, in the self-exile of rebel Baptist preachers from colonial Virginia into the western wilderness.
Regardless of lost time and a promise too long deferred, Gould and Montgomery James, now are reunited with their parents in Missouri, never to be forgotten, just as Zee wanted
Maligned and also misunderstood. Misquoted and also misinterpreted. Except for the deadly hit Clell Miller took in Northfield, Minnesota; Clell’s life always ran amiss. Clell Miller gets no respect. Even in death, Clell’s bones are missing. How did the James gang ever wind up with the likes of hapless Clell Miller?
Imagine my surprise, to learn that I live just two blocks from Clell Miller’s grandparents. Since Henry Logan and Mary Kenley Thurmond died together back in 1866, Clell’s grandparents have not gone missing at all. For almost 150 years, they have been right here in Danville, Kentucky, in plain sight. And, like poor Clell, no one has cared.
Moving here to Danville, Kentucky twelve years ago to write my five-volume history of the James family, Jesse James Soul Liberty, I made Danville my home base, principally because Danville is the geographic center of the James family’s history in Kentucky, ever since 1782 when Jesse’s grandfather, John M. James, arrived with his Traveling Church. The Youngers, Pence, Scholls, Chinns, Hites, Vardemans, etc. – and now
Clell Miller’s family – lived among one another first around Danville, before moving to Clay County in Missouri. These families left an abundance of history in plain sight, still waiting today for the arrival of serious historians.
Often I take a refreshing walk over to Bellevue Cemetery after long hours of writing. Bellevue is an historic, tree-filled place, where Victorians went for Sunday picnics, courting, and family recreational diversions. Since Danville is where Kentucky separated from Virginia in 1792, Bellevue is populated also by countless blue blood figures of the Commonwealth’s frontier. I commune with them, just as I do with those in Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Kearney, Missouri.
Clell’s grandparents were not Kentucky blue blood. Henry Logan Thurmond and Nancy Kenley were just average, simple folk.
Henry’s father, Absalom Thurmond, first lived on Pistol Creek in Bedford County, Virginia, but he died in Wilkes County, Georgia. Two of orphaned sisters of Henry won land lotteries there. When Henry’s brother, John Thurmond, returned to Georgia from the Cain-tuc, people called him “Rich John.” His cousin Fielding Thurmond became captain of a Kentucky militia, during separation from Virginia, protecting the incoming flood of migrants, as did Jesse’s grandfather, John M. James. Fielding returned to Georgia, too. The orphaned Henry Miller, though, arrived in Kentucky sometime before 1808 to stay. Near Abraham Lincoln’s boyhood home in Washington County, Henry married Mary Kenley. The couple spent some time in Logan County, at the time called “Rogue’s Harbor,” a place for killers, thieves, and con artists to flee Kentucky’s emerging new laws and local governments. By 1828, the couple settled more safely in the established, cultured, and Presbyterian community of Danville.
Henry and Mary Thurmond were in the mid-70s in April of 1866 when they both died. The couple had nine children, most of them from home, or dead. Henry and Mary recently suffered through the aftermath from the bloody battle at Perryville. Scores of wounded, maimed, and dying were treated in every quarter Danville could offer. Henry and Mary were here on the day when Frank James, Bud and
Donnie Pence and the Youngers rode into town with Quantrill, severing telegraph lines, isolating the train depot, and pillaging food and supplies while Frank casually stole some books from a store.
The gang rode off to Harrodsburg where Frank’s cohort Col. Jack Chinn lived. But the Pence brother’s in-law on the Union side, Maj. James Bridgewater, rode up from Stanford in hot pursuit, cornered the gang at Sally Van Arsdale’s house, and killed off a good number of them in the bloody shootout of a snowy winter’s night. Weeks later, Henry read in the news that Quantrill had died in Louisville’s Catholic hospital, and Frank James turned in his guns.
Soldiers were returning to Danville from Charleston, New Orleans, and Mississippi. They brought diseases with them. About half of the population in Danville was black, Most blacks had been freed long before the war. Those newly emancipated were joining the Union Army at nearby Fort Nelson just to be employed, leaving the town without much help. In sunny April of 1866, old and feeble Henry Thurmond died within weeks of his wife Mary, as hapless as did Clell. Their brains exploded unexpectedly with the excruciatingly painful disease of cerebral spinal meningitis.
By then, Clell’s parents, Emaline Thurmond and Moses W. Miller, were in Kearney, Missouri. Most of Clell’s uncles and aunts had settled in Ash Grove. Only Uncle Fielding and Aunt Cettie Thurmond stayed behind to bury Clell’s grandparents. Fielding, who died in 1896 and Cettie in 1909, now rest next to Henry and Mary.
Exactly when Clell’s parents left Kentucky for Missouri is unknown. An early exodus of Baptist missions had begun in the 1830s. The same rebel preachers of Virginia who took Jesse’s grandfather, John M. James, into Kentucky now were sending missions into Missouri. John’s son, Rev. Robert Sallee James, was part of that effort in 1843. Brother William R. Cave laid out his half of Kearney in 1856, using the settlement land of his father, Uriel Cave. William’s great grandson, the late Darrell Cave, was sextant of Mt. Olivet Cemetery almost all his life. He assisted Judge James R. Ross, Jesse’s great grandson, and me when we reinterred Jesse’s twin children at Mt. Olivet Cemetery, following the twins’ exhumation in Tennessee. The James association with the Cave family reaches back to the American Revolution.
The cholera outbreak of the 1830s in Kentucky also sent other families westward. Alice Lindsay-Cole, Frank, and Jesse’s grandmother, married a second time to Robert Thomason. In 1836, the entire Thomason family was uprooting itself from Kentucky and going to Clay County, triggered in no small part by their neighbor Richard Mentor Johnson, who had just married his second slave woman. Johnson claimed he had killed Chief Tecumseh in the War of 1812. Now he was bent upon being elected president of the United States. He also had set up his Choctaw Academy and was bringing Indians back into the Commonwealth to be educated. Among some, that did not sit too well. They fought Indians and spilled blood to settle the land.
When Clell was born on December 15, 1849, Moses W. and Emaline Thurmond Miller were well-established residents of Clay County. Clell never knew his grandfather, Jacob Miller, on the side of his father. He also did not know his Thurmond grandparents. But Clell probably learned that his papaw
Jacob Miller was one of those tough-minded Germans, like the Hite family. The Hites/Heydts all came from Germany, then to Pennsylvania, then into Kentucky, all ending up in Missouri. Despite what trouble Clell and his brother Ed Miller found their selves in, people around Kearney regarded their father Moses W. Miller well. Moses was a far more respectable citizen than his two sons, as shown by the expensive obelisk that graces his grave.
Since the Civil War ended, and especially after, Jesse was presumed to have killed Clell’s brother Ed, what Clell shared with the James brothers no doubt was a sense of family disaffection. Like the
James family with the James boys, Miller family cousins had little, if nothing at all, to do with Clell. Most had moved away, gone to Texas or Oregon. Isolated, Clell Miller never knew his Miller or his Thurmond cousins at all. Like the James family, too, Clell’s family spent their days building honest and respectable lives for themselves, for the most part ignoring Clell, or his brother Ed.
Recently when I met Clell’s first cousin from his Miller side, now four generations removed, I asked Darrell Mansur about his family and about Clell. Having respect for Clell Miller was not at the forefront of Darrell’s mind. In fact, Darrel knew nothing at all about Clell Miller or Ed. I provided Darrell his genealogy of his Miller- Thurmond family and explained the murderous history it contained. Darrell then replied, “This is all new and a bit of a shock to me. It probably explains why I wasn’t told anything about that part of the family when I was growing up…”
Gee, Clell Miller, we hardly knew ya. Seems like your own family did not, either. Cell Miller gets no respect.
This article first appeared in the James-Younger Gang Journal in 2014.
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.
Sue (anonymous last name) has posted a fraudulent memorial on findagrave.com. Sue will not respond to a legitimate request to remove the fraud. Her non-reaction calls into question the validity of any posting on findagrave.com, or the intention of its owner ancestry.com to give accurate information. One must question, out of the almost 1,800 memorials Sue has posted and manages, how many more memorials on Find a Grave contain fraudulent information that can’t be trusted?
Sue describes herself so: “I’m a Mother of 4 adult children, (is that an oxymoron?-lol) 2 sons, 2 daughters. I have 11 marvelous grandchildren, a fantastic, loving husband whom I’ve been married to for 40 yrs. on Sept. 21, 2014. And now our first Great Grandchild, Gysele Mei has arrived at 28 wks. She’s doing well so far. I’m the oldest of my 2 sisters & one brother. I’ve been a laryngectomee since Nov. 1999. Oh ya, I’m a redheaded Indian gal.
“Some of my ancestors are Chase, Campbell, Wabasha, Morelock, Moman, & Cress. My husband’s family names are Bryan, Bowen, Goodman & Goodpasture and O’Dell.”
The issue of Sue’s fraud is clear. Sue’s memorial of Joseph Jesse Chase claims Chase is a son of America’s iconic outlaw Jesse Woodson James. This claim has been known to the Jesse James family for years. The claim always has been denied. No one among Chase’s descendants has ever provided any credible evidence to substantiate the Chase claim.
After a dozen years of genealogical research, and the expenditure of a quarter million dollars, the Jesse James family has gone out of its way to identify who actually is related to Jesse Woodson James. Extraordinary findings were made by documenting the Jesse James family, followed by genealogical research into the in-law families of the James, and then into others related by extension from those in-law families. Research went so far to study the genealogy of most anyone who was known to have contact with the James.
Historically, there have been literally thousands of claims of kinship to Jesse Woodson James, and to his brother Frank James. Not one ever has been proved. Even today, Stray Leaves receives two or three claims per month on average. Like Sue, few claimants reply to a request for evidence.
A reasonable assumption implies that Sue Anonymous likely is a relation, if not an actual descendant, of Joseph Jesse Chase. Sue assumed management of this Find a Grave memorial following its abandonment by Kent D. Myrick. Complaints to Myrick from members of the Cole and Graves families, who are legitimate relations of Jesse W. James, resulted in Myrick’s desertion and the subsequent assumption by Sue Anonymous.
The email request sent to Sue, pictured here, also met with no response. Sue’s lack of courtesy in not providing any kind of response whatsoever is evidence enough of her non-responsibility. Former requests made to findagrave and ancestry.com by a complainant from the Graves family also met with a lack of responsible action.
Without evidence, the memorial posting by Sue, that is supported by findagrave.com and ancestry.com amounts to fraud.
It shouldn’t be expected that Sue would permit this message on her findagrave pubic profile. However, with regard to Jesse Woodson James and the James family, Stray Leaves will continue to publish the identity of con artists, bogus history, fake genealogy, inaccurately identified images or artifacts, false claims, inaccurate information, and fraud when it is encountered.
This memorial to Joseph Jesse Chase is a fraud.
UPDATE: March 19, 2016
After almost two years, the Find a Grave memorial above has been corrected. The present memorial removes the names of Jesse Woodson James as a parent of Joe Jesse Chase.