Tag Archives: book review

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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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.