Tag Archives: james gang

Clell Miller Gets No Respect

Clell Miller, aka Clelland B. Miller 1849-1876
Clell Miller, aka Clelland B. Miller 1849-1876

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.

Tombstone of Henry Logan, Thurmond & Mary Kenley, grandparents of James Gang member Clell Miller. Bellevue Cemetery, Danville, Kentucky.
Tombstone of Henry Logan, Thurmond & Mary Kenley, grandparents of James Gang member Clell Miller. Bellevue Cemetery, Danville, Kentucky.

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.

John Loyd Thurmond Jr. 1870-1946. First cousin of Clell Miller of the James Gang.
John Loyd Thurmond Jr. 1870-1946. First cousin of Clell
Miller of the James Gang.

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.

Earnest Clarence Thurmond 1873-1940. First cousin of Clell Miller of the James Gang.
Earnest Clarence Thurmond 1873-1940. First cousin of
Clell Miller of the James Gang.

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.

William Paschal Thurmond 1869-1952. First cousin of Clell Miller of the James Gang.
William Paschal Thurmond 1869-1952. First cousin of Clell
Miller of the James Gang.

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.

Tombstone of Cettie Miller 1848-1907, first cousin of Clell Miller of the James Gang. Bellvue Cemetery, Danville, Kentucky
Tombstone of Cettie Miller 1848-1907, first cousin of Clell
Miller of the James Gang. Bellvue Cemetery, Danville,

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.

Nora Ruth Miller 1900-1964 & Annie Harwood Miller 1895-1993, second and first cousins respectively of Clell Miller of the James Gang.
Nora Ruth Miller 1900-1964 & Annie Harwood Miller 1895-1993, second and first cousins
respectively of Clell Miller of the James Gang.

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.

Darrell Mansur, a first cousin, four generations removed of Clell Miller 1848- 1846, aka Clelland B. Miller, shot and killed in the failed Northfield Bank Robbery by the James Gang, September 7, 1876.
Darrell Mansur, a first cousin, four
generations removed of Clell Miller 1848-
1846, aka Clelland B. Miller, shot and
killed in the failed Northfield Bank
Robbery by the James Gang, September 7,

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.

Declare Liberty for All – Boycott Indiana

Thomas Edward "Bud" Pence
Thomas Edward “Bud” Pence 1842-1880

Bud & Donnie Pence were members of the Jesse James gang. The Pence brothers are ancestral cousins of Gov. Mike Pence in Indiana. Today Gov. Pence signed SB101, Indiana’s “right to discriminate” law. Old history has come around again. The solution is to declare liberty for all, and boycott Indiana.

Those Pence people have seemed somewhat flaky to me. When Bud and Donnie came riding through Kentucky with Quantrill, Jesse & Frank James, and the Younger brothers in 1865, Maj. James Bridgewater chased them into a deadly shootout on a bleak winter night outside Harrodsburg. Eight men were killed. Bridgewater’s wife was Bud and Donnie’s cousin! It appears that even among family, the Pence penchant for discrimination was OK.

Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana
Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana

Today, following the signing of the bill by Gov. Mike Pence, I have decided to boycott the 5th Annual Authors Fair in Indiana. I’ve submitted my resignation. Since SB101 is state law, I will boycott Indiana entirely. Ever since Arizona legalized bigotry with its notorious “papers please” law, I have boycotted Arizona.

Previously I wrote about what the Youngers would have to say about that nativist discrimination. I also wrote about Frank and Jesse’s cousin, Daniel Lewis James, and how he would deal with discrimination, too, after his own U.S. Government blacklisted him.  As other states legalize their blatant bigotry and hatred, I will boycott them, too.

The history and people I write about are devoted to social justice. As an author, so am I. If I disrespect my subjects and their beings, as Arizona and Indiana disrespects the people its laws target, I as a creative artist becomes a target also, as does the brand of my art. Bigotry, when supported, diminishes not one person or one class, but everyone.

Upon my liberty and for the liberty of others, I will stand up against such bigotry and put my art, my money, and my livelihood where my mouth is. I have never forgotten “with liberty and justice for all.” That spells equality.

In the words of Jesse & Frank’s cousin, Daniel Lewis James, who wrote The Great Dictator with Charlie Chaplin, “Speak. You must. It’s our only hope.”

EnGarde WhizzPast – Your Jesse James Gang Photo Is A Fake!

Around the historical figure of America’s icon Jesse James congregates a community of con artists, charlatans, liars, claimants, and fraudsters. The entry fee is nominal. All it takes is an intense desire TO BE NOTICED. It is the exit fee that is costly and dear. Once identified among this community, most all never recover integrity.

Fools like these feed off one another voraciously. They can command no significant following. Their only power comes from the power to infect the un-knowledgeable, and to lie.

So it occurred in January of 2015 when the editor Joel Willans of the blog WhizzPast elected to headline an article titled, “25 little-known facts about the outlaw Jesse James,” with a fake photo of the Jesse James gang. Willans is an ex-pat of the UK, and apparently a man without a country.

WhizzPast's fake Jesse James Gang photo
WhizzPast’s fake Jesse James Gang photo

The article was decent and fairly accurately written account with legitimate photos, almost a rarity these days, written by Kathleen Harris from the staff of WhizzPast. The “25 little-known facts” structure of the article is a favored darling of internet algorithms, intended to attract more clicks than relevant audience.

Editor Willans, I’d estimate, adores algorithms. He could not let the Harris article go unpublished without mucking up the writing integrity of Kathleen Harris with a fake photo of the James gang. Willans proudly explained in Comments to the article, the image was obtained from “an expert.”

The “expert” Willans cited is found on a website that is a well-known seedbed of fraudsters. It is no surprise to find Jesse James con artist Ron Pastore among them. Pastore’s activities are long known to Stray Leaves. Whenever Pastore speaks, the stats for pages on Leaves of Gas that relate to Pastore jump astronomically and the queries roll in. We’ve taken Pastore to the woodshed time and time again for his fraud. Now there’s Joel Willans to join with Pastore.

Ron Pastore's bazaar of fake photos
Ron Pastore’s bazaar of fake photos

Gratuitously, Willans invited me to provide him a bone fide image of the James gang. If I could not, he said, he’d would persist in publishing the photo that is fraudulent. This is a typical con man’s gambit. The fact is, no image of the James gang exists. None, whatsoever. The James, as fugitives of the law, were not dumb so to photograph themselves and distribute their images, either as a gang or individually, begging to be captured. Asking to provide something that doesn’t exist is the con man’s way of saying, “Gotcha.” The fact that the faces in the Willans image cannot be authenticates as the identified names attached to them is the James way of saying “Gotcha, con man.”

Joel Willans
Joel Willans

Mr. Willans believes his college degree in history should stand for something. Indeed, it should, but certainly not for the perpetration of fake history. Modestly, Mr. Willans does not mention, he also has a degree in journalism from the London School of Journalism. His brand of journalism differs little from the tabloid trash Britain wildly generates.

Commentator Willans bows before the Holy Grail of algorithms, amazon(dot)com. After all, Willians is no journalist at all. He’s an adman. He invokes the once beacon of hope turned rampant despoiler to render people disparagingly as does his Grail. Two book reviews of Jesse James Soul Liberty on amazon only can mean a worthless book to him.

Willans appears to have backslid on his journalism degree. He makes no mention of the book’s Milton F. Perry Award, or its nominations for Best Non-Fiction Biography of the Wild West History Association, or Spur Award nomination from The Western Writers of America. He mentions not at all that the Tony Award winning Steppenwolf Theater commissioned award winning playwright Carlos Murillo to write a play based on a James family member featured in the book’s chapter “All for the Underdog.” Nor does Willans acknowledge the book’s popularity among libraries across the nation and book collectors of original new history, not regurgitated. Willans’ idolatry can produce only cynicism, which he believes is amusing.

The “Incorrect Facts” review of Virginia Church, Willans boasts of, has been addressed here before. Never mind the oxymoron title that would cancel out any subsequent content, her complaint is a closed issue until she alone elects to correct whatever she deems untrue. As for amazon, if I was able, I’d delete amazon from my book’s distribution network. Not because of how my book appears there, or amazon’s feeble sales results due to its skewed algorithms, but more for the fact that I disagree with the company’s predatory and exploitative business practices, and its despoliation of the literary market  in favor of flooding the market with 99 cents pulp, most all lacking in any literary merit.

WhizzPast is a clever title for a blog. Its subtitle is “The fastest way to travel back in time.” Under the editorial hand of Joel Willans, with his history and journalism degrees, the Jesse James family is ridiculed and disparaged, and Jesse James history is steampunked, all for the sake of Willans’ algorithm success.  So much for the value of a college education, and two degrees utterly wasted.

In this tawdry episode, WhizzPast fails in its mission as “The fastest way to travel back in time.”  WhizzPast makes the issue entirely present, and not the truest. You see, Joel Willans is no more than an adman…whose art is deception, no different than the con men attracted to Jesse James throughout history, and who are much too prevalent today, preying upon the uneducated, the un-knowledgeable, and the ignorant.


UPDATE: Jan 25, 2015

While Joel Willians plays smackdown with his guest commentators, one commenter slipped in with a fact that once more puts the lie to Willians’ claim that his James gang photo is authentic. Judy posted:

“I don’t see how this could have been a picture of the James Gang. Just a quick google search tells me that according to the Minnesota Historical Society Mueller, the photographer, didn’t start his photo studio in Owatonna until 1884.

“I kept looking for more info about Mr. Mueller and found him in the Minnesota 1905 census and he had been a resident for 23 years, making his move to MN 1882.
By 1882-1884 the Youngers were in prison and Jesse was dead.”

Not to mention, Jesse James was dead in 1882.

Author’s Book Signing Uncovers a Librarian’s Family Lore of Jesse James

HORSEFLY HOLLAR…The name may fit what you imagine to be Kentucky, but the people of the Hollar may alter your imagination. Librarian Allison White was hostess for my book signing at the Bullitt County Public Library in Shepherdsville, Kentucky. Allison hails from Horsefly. There, the family lore  of her and her neighbors make for some very entertaining storytelling. But not the kind of Kentucky stories you might think.

Allison White
Librarian Allison White, Bullitt Couty Public Library

Like the story of the couple who moved to Horsefly from Chicago. They brought with them a city slickers’ fantasy of raising lamas in Kentucky. One of their lamas became real neighborly, coming up to Allison’s bedroom, tapping on her window, and waking her up, after snacking in her garden throughout the night and leaving it ruined.

Or the American husband who brought home a Chinese wife. No one ever has heard one of them talk to the other in the other’s language. Each of them fights in their own native language – never more fiercely than when they both are standing over their vegetable garden in full public view.

Then, there’s Jesse James. “We have a lot of people who come to the library,” Allison told me, as she sat down to order four of my books to stock her library’s bookshelves. “They’re very interested in Jesse James. A lot of them have stories about him and their own family lore.” From what Allison tells me, I think we’ll be looking at a presentation, or two, in the coming year. Wherever I speak, I always come away having learned something new. So I look forward to meeting more of her library’s patrons.

Allison’s family has their own lore about Jesse, too. Her family home once hosted John Hunt Morgan, when Morgan came through, trying to retake Kentucky for the Confederacy. Among them, would have been David Hunt James, one of Jesse James’ distant cousins. Three of Morgan’s Raiders died at that time and are buried in Allison’s family burial ground.

After the Russellville Bank robbery, Allison’s family claimed to have been visited by the James Gang. Her great-grandfather provisioned them with use of his barn, but disallowed their occupancy in the house, because of his three teenage daughters. The family fed the gang in the morning, and one of the gang laid a five dollar bill on the table when leaving. Left behind also was a pipe, which, according to Allison, the family believes may have belonged to one of the Younger brothers. The artifact remains in the family, but the initials on the pipe are as worn as the day when it was left behind.

Eric F. James, Jean Thompson Kinsey
Authors Eric F. James & Jean Thompson Kinsey

Jean Thompson Kinsey is a fiction writer from Logan County, Kentucky. She also was signing books with me, among the large group of authors at the Bullitt County Library Author Faire. Jean informed me that she writes a fictional account of Frank and Jesse James in her Logan County Trilogy, Secrets of Willow Shade.

I met many Kentucky authors I didn’t know before. I was most impressed, however, by these two young authors.

Rebekah McAuliffe interview
Author Rebekah McAuliffe reading & being interviewed.

Rebekah McAuliffe, I learned, started reading at age two. Her mother told me, one day Rebekah was sitting in her high chair. She pulled the newspaper off the table and began to read it. “Then she started to talk about what she had read,” her mother said. “It was then we knew, Rebekah could read.” Now Rebekah is a published author.

Rebecca presented her debut novel Gears of Golgotha. She’s already planning her next book. At her signing table, I viewed her book trailer. Rebekah also may have some filmmaking talent. She said, she was considering making book trailers for authors as a sideline.

Leah Pugh
Author Leah Pugh, reading her book in progress

Leah Pugh read from an upcoming novel she’s writing. I was impressed enough to ask if she also was planning an audio book. Her story telling ability is extraordinary. And when read aloud, her words jump right off the page. But I soon learned Leah is not my discovery alone. Leah Pugh is under contract to write twenty books!

Her initial mystery novel, The Diamond Caper, is doing well. Leah’s presently writing her third mystery novel, Houston, We Have a Problem. Look for Leah Pugh to become the next Agatha Christie.

I’ll have more about the other authors, to follow later.

Bullitt County Library
Librarian, author interviewer,& co-host Patrick. He greeted me at the door by my full author name, that included my middle initial F.