Tag Archives: book review

Jesse James, Prince of Robbers!

BOOK REVIEW: Wybrow, Robert J. Jesse James, Prince of Robbers! A Collection of Essays on the Noted Missouri Outlaw and His Times. (London: The English Westerners’ Society, 2015) 485 pp., illustrations, notes, index. Paperback, $32.00.

By  Nancy B. Samuelson

This is a valuable collection of James gang literature. One trademark of Mr. Wybrow’s work is his in-depth research. Even though he lives in England, he knows how to find things in U.S. archives and newspapers.  The number of resources he has consulted is truly impressive.

Jesse James Prince of Robbers-book cover
Jesse James, Price of Robbers by Robert J. Wybrow

This collection includes articles about some more obscure robberies and raises questions about the participation of the James boys in the Columbia, Ste. Genevieve and Concordia bank robberies.  There is one article about the Youngers in the state of Texas, and this article contains some intriguing information about an illegitimate son of Cole Younger in Louisiana. One article is devoted to Dick Liddil’s supposed wife, Mattie Collins. Mattie has always been a rather mysterious lady and this article explores her many escapades in depth. Another article deals with the 1875 raid on the James/Samuel farm that killed young Archie Samuel and caused the amputation of Zerelda James Samuel’s arm. This raid produced a great deal of sympathy for the James boys throughout the state of Missouri.

This book presents information from many obscure sources and at times disagrees with material that has been presented by other well-known authors. Everything in the book is informative and often thought-provoking.  I highly recommend this book; this should be in the library of everyone with more than just a passing interest in the James-Younger gang. This book will serve as an outstanding resource for anyone that is interested in doing further research on the James-Younger gang and their associates.

Robert J. Wybrow is a graduate of the University of London and has worked for the British Gallup Poll for over forty years. He is a long time member of The English Westerners’ Society and began to write and publish articles about the James gang in 1969. Most of his work has appeared in the publications of The English Westerners’ Society. A lot of his articles and booklets are now rare collector’s items and are very difficult to find. He has selected the best of his works about the James gang and related subjects and published updated versions in this book. Some 15 of his articles are included in this collection, and there are also four appendixes. The appendixes are: “From the Pen of a ‘Noble Robber’—The Letters of Jesse Woodson James”, “Dick Liddil’s Confession”, “Clarence Hite’s Confession” and “List of Original Articles”. This final appendix is a complete list of all of the articles about the James gang written by Wybrow.

TO PURCHASE: e-mail Ray Cox, secretary of English Westerner’s Society: rymd.cox@gmail.com. Domestic postage rates in the UK or USA may apply.

Confederates in Montana Territory

BOOK REVIEW: Robison, Ken, Confederates in Montana Territory: In The Shadow of Price’s Army, (South Carolina: The History Press, 2014.) 190 pp., photos, illustrations, bibliography/notes, index. ISBN 978-1-62619-603-2, paperback, $19.99

By Nancy B. Samuelson

Confederates in Montana Terrirtory-Ken Robison
Confederates in Montana Territory: In the Shadow of Price’s Army by Ken Robison

I was eager to dig into this book as I am a long time student of Missourians in the Civil War. However, I was very disappointed in the book. It is an attractive book with a lot of good photos and illustrations, but the research is only skin deep.  The title of the book is misleading as only about four of the men discussed in the book served in Price’s Army. The author does not have a very good grasp on the history of Price’s Army and the guerrilla units associated with Price. The book contains several errors. In the forward to the book, 1859 is given as the year California entered the Union. The correct year is 1850. Colonel Thoroughman was said to have been taken to a prison in Quincy, Illinois after he was captured. There was no Union prison at Quincy, he most likely was taken to the prison at Alton, Illinois. The Moore brothers were said to have gone south into Kentucky and spend a night with John M. James, the grandfather of Jesse James. A good trick indeed, as John M. James died in 1827.

Confederates in Montana
An early tintype, owned by Ken Robison, showing unidentified Confederate soldiers in Montana Territory.

There are two stories in the book concerning supposed Quantrill men. The first story is about James Berry. This chapter is reasonably close to the facts; Berry did serve with Quantrill for a short time. He also did participate in a robbery with the Sam Bass gang and was killed when there was an attempt to apprehend him. The author states that Berry’s family survived to become prominent in Montana history, but leaves the reader completely in the dark about the family’s contribution to the state’s history.

Ken Robison, author
Author Ken Robison

The chapter about Langford “Farmer” Peel, is titled “When Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction”. A good title, since this tale is almost entirely fiction. Langford Peel never served with Quantrill or anybody else during the Civil War. He hung out in mining camps in California, Utah, Nevada and Montana during the time of the Civil War. He was a rough customer and was accused of several murders. He was finally shot and killed in Montana. The tale about some of Quantrill’s men hijacking a steamboat to come after Peel is from a newspaper article from the Great Falls Tribune of April 30, 1922. The story is complete fiction.

There were a number of men from Price’s Army who did go to Montana and who became prominent men. John C. C. “Coon” Thornton and Thomas L. Napton immediately come to mind, but the author ignored these men. Several Quantrill men are known to have gone to Montana too, one served as the Sheriff of Lewis and Clark County. These folks are also ignored. The book is an easy read but it is history light-weight.

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This book review is co-published with the James-Younger Gang Journal.

Book Review – Jesse James Soul Liberty, Vol.I

BOOK REVIEW:  Jesse James, Soul Liberty. Volume I. By Eric F. James. Published by Cashel Cadence House, Danville KY. 2012. 411 pages, $36.95, reviewed by Bobbi King of Eastman’s Online Genealogy Newsletter, June 23, 2013. Reprinted here by permission.

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Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter-Dick Eastman

             “Mr. James has conquered the Everest                             of writing a family history genealogy book                                         that is interesting enough                                 for the rest of us to want to read.”

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Eric F. James was asked to take on the task of researching and writing the story of the James family, specifically the many members of the family who merited fair consideration distinct from the myth and legend of the notorious outlaw brothers Frank and Jesse.

Mr. James succeeds in acquainting us with a family of characters who do deserve to be featured apart from the tarnished brothers. The book’s subtitle, “Behind the Family Wall of Stigma & Silence” offers a not-so-subtle hint on the family’s take on their historical connection. Apparently, the more well-informed members of the family vigorously sought to put the kibosh on any kinship to Frank and Jesse James when naïve queries arose.

Mr. James introduces the family:

“In the emerging democracy of colonial Virginia, the early Kentucky frontier, and throughout the American heartland, the James were renowned as community builders, public office holders, ministers of faith, financiers, educators, writers, and poets. From these roots shot Frank and Jesse James.

“Following the Civil War, Frank and Jesse James eclipsed the family’s destiny. War may have splintered the family ideologically, but Frank and Jesse James disjoined the family’s compass and direction, casting a longer and darker shadow on the James family, like no other.

“Like their royal ancestors of old when beset by crisis, the James family turned suspicious and distrustful of its own. The larger James family kept apart from one another, holding in muted reverence what relic of itself that it could. The line of Frank and Jesse James was left isolated, unsupported and abandoned.”

Goaded by family in-laws, the Jesse James family withdrew into a citadel of its own. Their ostracism was enforced by every other family line of the James.

Bobbi king
Bobbi King

Mr. James’ book locates the various families’ residences, describes their personal occupations, details relationships and kinship to one another (a six-generation descendant chart is included), chronicles their military service, catalogs their movements about the regions, and quotes a good deal of material from their letters and journals, which always evokes a personality, a spirit, a temperament.

Mr. James’ research appears to be extensive across a wide variety of sources, with references at the end of the book that contain explanatory tidbits adding even more to the story. The photographs and illustrations, even those blurred by age and decomposition, are vivid and well produced, summoning up their subjects and places.

Jesse James Soul Liberty, Vol. I
Jesse James Soul Liberty, Vol. I, Behind the Family Wall of Stigma & Silence, by Eric F. James

Mr. James, along with Judge James R. Ross, a great-grandson of Jesse James, is a co-founder of the James Preservation Trust. He writes and publishes on the official website of the James family, and is without a doubt the family cheerleader.

His writing is strong, perhaps a bit hyperbolic for my taste, but this is a good book for fans of Western history who want to know the real story. His research supports a claim to authenticity, and his writing keeps us reading.

Mr. James has conquered the Everest of writing a family history genealogy book that is interesting enough for the rest of us to want to read.

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.

Why the Silence, Eric F. James ?

Regarding Mark Gardner’s new Jesse James book, Shot All to Hell, the discussion group Books, Books, and More Books on the blog for True West Historical Society, tweaked me about my noticeable silence on Garner’s book. The following is my reply – more an explanation, though, than the expected book review.

Shot All To Hell

I’ve purposely sidestepped commenting on Mark Garner’s book, Shot All to Hell: Jesse James, the Northfield Raid, and the Wild West’s Greatest Escape. Reading the book made clear to me that Gardner’s focus on Jesse James’ history and the focus of the James family differs meaningfully.

Normally, any book related to Jesse James would merit a book review on the James family’s blog Leaves of Gas. I elected not to publish a review of Gardner’s book because he and the James family cater fundamentally to two different audiences.

The difference in audience appeal is perceptible. Where Gardner promotes his work on Book.TV, giving good banjo plucking. I promote my book before specific historical interest groups, giving good lecture and PowerPoint. Where Gardner appeals to Second Amendment, pistol packing, Lutherans, I engage with subterranean, anarchist Christians who still believe personal, activist morality trumps both the gun and organized religion.

Showmanship is Gardner’s forte. His book is colorfully written and generously promoted to guarantee sales success, in the fashion of news reporters of the past who promoted Jesse James into legend with their stirring storytelling. Gardner, no doubt, will find his way into cable TV’s history or biography programming, which prefer a smartly crafted expression by an author, that’s a fast-grab to entertainment, over any desert-dry new fact an historian may utter, that will lead to discernment, thoughtfulness, and perception.

Jesse James Was His NameThe James family historically has gravitated towards fail-safe informational history that will withstand time as authoritative reference resources. Their first favorite was Jesse James Was His Name by William A. Settle Jr. published by the University of Missouri in 1966. References to the James family’s fondness for Settle are sprinkled among the family’s letters.

The James family initially bucked and obstructed the research of Joan Beamis, one of their own kin, as I show in my book citing the family’s own correspondence. But, when Joan’s book Background of a Bandit was published by the Kentucky Historical Society in 1970,  the family rallied in support, yet still with reservations, as Joan’s subject matter became widely disseminated and imitated by others since.

Frank and Jesse JamesNot until 2000, when Ted P. Yeatman published Frank & Jesse James, The Story Behind the Legend, did a book exist that was an exact encyclopedic accounting of the partisan and criminal exploits of America’s favorite outlaws. I doubt if Yeatman ever will be topped. With all of T. J. Stiles’ expertise, knowledge, and connections in the book publishing business, even Stiles’ book Jesse James, Last Rebel of the Civil War could not beat Ted P. Yeatman. Yeatman proved that commercial publishers can produce a literary history that enjoys broad audience appeal, and still will have long shelf life as a reference work. Yeatman still holds the James family’s unqualified imprimatur.

The Jesse James Northfield RaidFaithful Until DeathMark Gardner’s book has introduced little that is new. The books authored by the late John J. Koblas – principally The Jesse James Northfield Raid and Faithful Unto Death – will remain for some time as the go-to history of the James Gang and the Northfield bank robbery, and their aftermath.

Cathy Jackson
Dr. Cathy Jackson

While Gardner justifiably prides himself on his newspaper references, the seminal story of Jesse James in the press still belongs to Cathy Jackson PhD. of Norfolk University. Her treatise, Jesse James and Late Nineteenth-Century Missouri Newspapers: They Never Did His Legend Wrong, won the Milton F. Perry Award seven years ago, after first becoming a convention highlight in 2004 at the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication.

Despite grabbing the Milton F. Perry Award myself last year, it is not surprising to me that my recent book Jesse James Soul Liberty Vol. I has not been reviewed on this Books, Books, & More Books True West forum, but that I am asked to comment on a Jesse James book written by another author. My own True West blog has taught me much about the audience appeal of Jesse James. The audience for entertainment stories of the shoot ‘m up variety is far larger here than the audience for literary, historical narrative that remains indisputable reference history.

Mark Gardner’s book is superb entertainment, superbly written to grab and satisfy an audience craving entertainment. Like the books of Jackie Collins, though, that also enjoy broad appeal, Gardner’s book is fun to read, but I am not looking forward to more. Besides, Gardner is already off, writing on a different historical figure. ‘Til death do us part, I’m stuck with the ones I’ve got. Knowledge and so much new research of them will keep me busy, writing four more volumes.

James-Younger Gang Journal Raves About the Book, Jesse James Soul Liberty

I got a sneak preview of the book review for Jesse James Soul Liberty back on January 7, but had to wait patiently until the rave was published in the James-Younger Gang Journal. Now that it’s been published in the Journal, as our James cousin Jacqueline Simmonds, who is also an author & publisher, would say…  SQUEEE!

James-Younger Gang Journal masthead

Jesse James Soul Liberty Vol. 1: Behind the Family Wall of Stigma & Silence By Eric F. James (Cashel Cadence House 2012) 411 pp. hardcover, $36.95

By Nancy B. Samuelson

Most longtime outlaw-lawman aficionados have probably read a number of books about Jesse and Frank James. Those books probably included Background of a Bandit by Joan M. Beamis and William E. Pullen and Jesse and Frank James: The Family History by Phillip W. Steele. Chances are you think you know a lot about the family of America’s most famous bandits. However, if you think this– think again– you have seen only the tip of the iceberg. Jesse James fanatics are going to be delighted with all the new material and serious historians are going to wonder how they have missed so much for so long.

The author points out that there is a paradox for the family of Jesse James. America celebrates the outlaws yet has stigmatized the outlaw’s family. This has led to a wall of silence within the family. The author goes on to say that the James family lived lives that are ordinary and the abundance of their accomplishments is more than enough to mitigate any stigma. In fact, the accomplishments of this James family are very impressive. Members of this family have built churches, schools, businesses and communities. They have achieved high professional standards and they have often taken a stand for religious, social and personal tolerance.

Early members of the James Family in America left Virginia to avoid religious persecution. In Kentucky they founded churches and helped build communities. Members of the family moved on to Missouri, California, Texas and a number of other states.

Drury Woodson James went to California. He was active in local civic activities and in California politics. Among his descendants were Joan Beamis who battled deafness and helped improve education for the deaf. She also researched family history and compiled extensive family archives. Another descendant of Drury Woodson James was Rev. James Burns Malley. He graduated from Dartmouth, served in the U. S. Navy then graduated from Harvard Law School. Later he became a Jesuit Priest and worked among the poor in Brazil for six years.

Thomas Martin James settled in the Kansas City, Missouri area and he became a very wealthy business man. He assisted in founding a number of churches in the area. His descendants continued to contribute to the educational and business life of the Kansas City community. Vassie James was named for Vassar College. Her mother graduated from the first class of that school. Vassie also attended Vassar. She went on to found two schools in Kansas City. She also managed extensive financial holdings and was an early supporter of what became Planned Parenthood. Her second husband served as the President of the University of Missouri. Another descendant of Thomas Martin James was Daniel Lewis James Jr. He graduated from Yale University, helped organize labor unions in Oklahoma then went to California and became a well-known writer. He worked with Charlie Chaplin on the script of The Great Dictator. He wrote the plays Bloomer Girl and Winter Soldiers. Bloomer Girl played on Broadway for eighteen months. Daniel Lewis James ran afoul of the House of Un-American Activities Committee. He was blacklisted and suffered a severe professional set back as a result of this.

There is considerable material in this book about Jesse Edward James, the son of Jesse James, and his family. There is also a chapter devoted to Judge James R. Ross. Many of us in the outlaw-lawmen community were acquainted with Judge Ross. However, few of us have known about his stand for civil rights for gays. Judge Ross made the ruling that Disneyland was violating the civil rights of a gay couple when they were expelled from the park for dancing together.

There are a few tidbits of new information in the book about Frank James. There is some mention of the Dalton gang. One member of the James family settled in Coffeyville, Kansas and his son was in one of the banks when the Daltons attempted their dual bank robbery. There is a family story or two about Belle Starr. There is Burton Allen James the Indian Agent and Missouri legislator. There is also John James of Alvarado, Texas who ran a school for Choctaw Indians and numerous other interesting members of the extended James family.

In addition to the individual stories of a number of the James family the book is liberally illustrated with family photos, pictures of family homes and buildings, copies of book jackets, playbills and items from family art collections. There is an appendix which contains a detailed genealogy chart. There are extensive notes and a bibliography. The book is very well written, has an outstanding dust jacket and is very pleasing in overall presentation.

There are a few editorial glitches such as, the mix up of a couple of names and confusion of relation ships between some of the family members. These are very minor and do not detract from the overall con tent of the book.

In summary, this is one of the best books I have read in a long time. I did not want to put the book down. It reads a lot like the family sagas written by Howard Fast and John Jakes. However, this is all fact, not fiction. If you have any interest in the James gang and their history this book is a “must read”. And do not skip the notes; there is a wealth of material to be found in the notes and the bibliography is a gold mine. Four more volumes of James family history are to follow this book. I eagerly anticipate all of them.