Tag Archives: John James of Alvarado

About My Second Great-Grandpa Nick Dawson

By Stephanie Dawson Morris

The story of the murder of Nick Dawson is told in the book Jesse James Soul Liberty, Vol I. In the chapter “An Independent Free Man,” John James “of Alvarado” recounts his early days on the Texas prairie when Nick Dawson and his family, from Woodford County in Kentucky, were his neighbors.

Nicholas Henry “Nick” Dawson, born February 3, 1838, in Woodford County, Kentucky; murdered July 12, 1870, in Wise County, Texas.

In this multi-part series, Stephanie Dawson Morris updates the Dawson family history, revealing the undaunted character that defines  Dawson men from John Singleton Mosby to the Dawson Massacre and beyond.


One story I remember is that great grandpa Nick Dawson was shot 29 times with arrows before he died.  I have never been able to substantiate that, except for the story in the paper when they found the old pioneer cemetery. The story said he was “mutilated” when they found him.

I also remember hearing there was a saddle that was covered in silver conchos. The saddle was on the horse he was riding.  It was a gift from the townspeople for his services. I don’t know what kind of “services.”  Anyway, I asked what happened to the saddle. I heard it was cut up and divided among the Comanche who killed him.

Supposedly, that was how they found which of the Comanche were guilty. They still had the pieces of silver on their person.  Of course, I cannot verify this either.

Samuel “Sam” Houston Jr. 1793-1863. His father, Sam Huston Sr. 1745-1807, fought with Daniel Morgan’s Rifles in the American Revolution, besides the numerous rebel Baptists preachers who were supported by Frank & Jesse James father, John M. James. In Texas, Sam Huston Jr. commanded Jackson Bunyan Bradley, the father-in-law of John James “of Alvarado” who was Nick Dawson’s neighbor.
Sam Houston’s son, Samuel Houston III 1843-1894. It is unlikely Sam Houston attended the funeral of Nick Dawson since Sam Houston pre-deceased Nick. However, it is possible that Sam Houston III may have attended. During the Civil War, Sam Houston III was incarcerated in Camp Douglas Union Prison in Chicago together with David Hunt James and Richard Skinner James who were captured with John Junt Morgan.,


It was said that Sam Huston was greatly saddened by Grandpa’s death and attended the funeral…again, I don’t know if this is true.

Another story was that he and Great Grandma Mary had several children, as you know. They also had taken in an Indian child by the name of Blueberry.  Well, the story has it that while Grandpa Nick was away from home Blueberry had come flying through the door of the cabin and told Grandma that Indians had surrounded the cabin and were going to attack and raid.

Mary Elizabeth Morton Dawson 1833-1915, wife of Nick Dawson

Grandma had the lanterns all lit inside the cabin. She had all the children put on hats and jackets. They held sticks as if they were guns. Then they walked back and forth in front of the windows.  Grandma then would have them exchange clothing and walk in front of the windows of another room. So, on it went, to trick the Indians into thinking there were a lot of people in the house guarding it with weapons.  Apparently, the ruse worked because the next morning the Indians were gone. There was a sign of them having been there.

I do know that great-grandmother Mary filed for a government stipend to recover the value of the horses, saddle, and money of about a hundred dollars, or so.  It was some kind of recovery act. I did find the application.

She also applied for a Confederate Widows Pension which was signed with an X as Mary could not read or write.

Mary Dawson pension application
Pension application of Mary Dawson
Mary Dawson pension affidavit
Information affidavit of Mary Dawson’s pension application
Witness affidavit in Mary Dawson’s pension application. As the spouse of Frances Elizabeth “Fanny” Dawson, signatory Judge Griffin Ford was a son-in-law Nick and Mary Dawson. His son William Walter “Willie” Ford is a grandson of Nick and Mary.

None of us, still living, know what happened to the 1200 acres, or so, that were awarded to Grandpa Nick for enlisting in the Texas Rangers/Militia.  We assume it was sold to provide for the children.

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Belle Star’s visit to John James “of Alvarado” shortly after the murder of Nick Dawson.

Dawson DNA Project

FREE eBook: The Ancestry, Descendants, & Kinship of Nicholas Henry “Nick” Dawson

John James of Alvarado & Mysteries from His Newspaper Office

This rare image of John James of Alvarado surfaced recently. John sits in the office of his newspaper, the Alvarado Daily Bulletin, among the mysteries of John’s past. The Bulletin published John’s news columns. The stories in John’s columns later were compiled and published shortly before John died on October 4, 1927. The book is, My Experience with Indians. Today John’s book is a prized collector’s item. John’s story appears in the chapter “An Independent Free Man” in my book Jesse James Soul Liberty.

Alvarado Daily Bulletin office of John James
John James of Alvarado in his newspaper office at the Alvarado Daily Bulletin

This image now resides in the photographic collections of the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth, Texas. Thanks to the museum photo curator, John Rohrbach, I learned the provenance of the picture. The image originated in the collection of Fred M. Mazzulla, an eccentric, colorful attorney who roamed the Old West, collecting memorabilia. He especially treasured images of prostitutes, lynchings, and the KKK.

Rohrbach further stated, “The print arrived as part of a sub-group of that massive collection, that includes perhaps 100 similar gelatin silver prints of older buildings and store interiors, generally shot in IL, NB, and CO. This image is the only Texas photograph in the group.”

Quantrill gift sword
The Quantrill Sword?

Of particular interest to me, I pointed out to Rohrbach, was the sword hanging in the corner of John’s office. My chapter “An Independent Free Man” tells the story of John receiving a sword as a gift from William Wythe James, who claimed not only to be related to John, he also publicly claimed his kinship with Jesse James and his association with the Civil War guerrillas of William Clarke Quantrill. Among John’s family, the sword became known as ‘the Quantrill sword.” I mailed Rohrbach a copy of the chapter, which now is included in the image’s file at the Museum. I won’t spoil here the delight readers of my book will enjoy when they read about the disappearance of the Quantrill sword in my book and what they read here.

There’s no way the sword in this image be cane identified as “the Quantrill Sword,” but one has to ask, how would such a sword come to occupy and hold this place of display in John’s newspaper office? In the early 1920s, John would have no need of such a sword as a weapon. By that time, the sword clearly had become an historic artifact.

Old West artifact collector Fred M. Mazzulla
Fred M. Mazzulla Esq.

Fred M. Mazzulla would not have known John James of Alvarado personally. Mazzulla was born in Trinidad in 1903. He grew up in Salida, Colorado and died in 1981. He is buried in Wheat Ridge, Colorado. In a 1962 newspaper article, Mazzulla told the reporter, “I’m no stickler for historical accuracy. Sometimes it takes showmanship to make history interesting.”

Mazzulla often was accused of appropriating family photos. At a Denver bank, he once conducted an Old West photo contest, offering a $500 savings bond for the best image of the Old West. Families complained afterward they had problems getting their images returned. Some said when they eventually received their images, their treasured family photos were stamped “Mazzphoto,” indicating Mazzulla retained the original image and returned only a copy.

Walls of Fred M. Masszulla home
Home of Fred M. Mazzulla

In 1972, the Denver Post stated Mazzulla confessed to being a packrat. He stated he used to “pick up anything not nailed down.” He continued the practice even after he became a lawyer in 1930.

Those who’ve read about the disappearance of “the Quantrill sword” in Jesse James Soul Liberty will be better informed to speculate on how this image of John James of Alvarado made its way into the collections of Fred M. Mazzula, Esq.

Image claimed to be Frank and Jesse james
Claimed image of Frank & Jesse James

Formerly in the Amon Carter collection, identified together with this office image of John James of Alvarado, was an image claimed to be that of Frank and Jesse James. Ironically, this image has crossed my desk a number of times, delivered by various claimants. I informed John Rorhbach of the Amon Carter Museum, as I’ve informed the claimants, that the image most definitely is not of Frank & Jesse James. The distinction is as clear and definitive as not to need any authentication process. The museum has noted its file accordingly.

Image of two sons of John James of Alacardo
Or Sons of John James of Alvarado?

However, given the fact the image was conjoined in the Museum’s collection with the image of John James of Alvarado, this claimed image raises an interesting question. Might the two young men in the accompanying image be sons or family relations of John James of Alvarado?

Over the years, I’ve collected numerous images of the children and grandchildren of John James of Alvarado. I’ve included some of them in John’s chapter in my book. While I find no match among the photos in my possession, perhaps there are matching photos in the possession of John’s descendants. If so, I wish those descendants come forward and make it known.

The mysteries surrounding these images do not end here. Curator David Rohrbach further informed me of the provenance of the image of the two young men. He stated the image came from the collection of the noted, award winning photographer David R. Phillips of Chicago.

I know David and have communicated with him over the years. Among his photo archives are original images of Charlie Chaplin, Essanay Film Studios in Chicago, and James’ family shirttail cousins Wallace Beery and Gloria Swanson. David had informed me he also possessed some unpublished images of Frank & Jesse James, as well as their mother Zerelda. When I write my show business memoir, I’ve expected to visit David and access some of his photos for my book. David assured me he’d hold those images for my exclusive view. With my long delay, he donated the images to the Amon Carter Museum, but disappointingly they are the faces of Frank and Jesse James.

New Found Line of John Bunyan James 1914-2006


A picture like this is irresistable.

Moreso, when you learn these are long lost James family cousins.

Well, maybe with the exception of the giant with the long ears in the middle.

Then again, who knows?

This is Jennifer Lee James-Sepaniak and her lovely family. Jennifer’s grandfather is John Bunyan James, himself a grandson of John James of Alvarado, Texas, through John’s son George DeHoney James and his wife, Annie Mae Howeth, shown here. Family photos have changed a little since three generations ago.


Jennifer has been generous in providing her line’s history and historic photos. Look for more of that to come.

Meanwhile, here’s the update on her line’s genealogy.

Descendants of John Bunyan James

1 John Bunyan James b: May 17, 1914 in Alvarado, Johnson Co TX d: Aug 03, 2006 in Knoxville, Knox Co TN + Vivian Virginia “Jennie” Roy b: Dec 09, 1911 in Tallulah, Madison Co MS d: Nov 27, 2000 in Ferriday, Concodia Co LA
….2 John Gregory “Greg” James b: Jun 30, 1952 in Houston, Harris Co TX, or Pasadena, TX + Beverly Ann Brown b: Sep 20, 1953
……..3 Jennifer Ann James b: Feb 10, 1974 in Knoxville, Knox Co TN + Matthew Wayne “Matt” Sepaniak
…………4 Elena Kate (Twin) Sepaniak b: Jun 08, 2004 in Knoxville, Knox Co TN
…………4 Rachel Ann (Twin) Sepaniak b: Jun 08, 2004 in Knoxville, Knox Co TN
…………4 Kara Blake Sepaniak b: May 13, 2008 in Knoxville, Knox Co TN
……..3 John Christopher “Chris” James b: Aug 13, 1979 in Knoxville, Knox Co TN + Sarah Ann Ezell
…………4 Ethan Christopher James b: Aug 03, 2006 in Knoxville, Knox Co TN