Tag Archives: kentucky

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,
Kentucky

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,
1876.

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 Smack & Zing of This Bloody Ground

This Bloody Ground, Volume II of the Jesse James Soul Liberty quintet
Jesse James Soul Liberty, Vol. II, This Bloody Ground

Daniel Boone and John M. James are ancestors of today’s descendants of Jesse James. In the present film documentary Daniel Boone & the Opening of the American West, Boone once more cuts a path and trail for Jesse’s grandfather John M. James, again today as Boone did in the past. The film is worth viewing as a preview of the smack and zing of John’s own history, soon to come in my book This Bloody Ground.

In recent years, as I sat in Danville, Kentucky, writing the story of Frank & Jesse James’ grandfather as the second book of my Jesse James Soul Liberty quintet, Kent Masterson Brown was in Lexington, Kentucky, beginning his journey of three years to bring Boone to film.

Both my book and Brown’s film cover the same period, the same territory, many of the same people, and a lot of the same history. However, each of us delivers a different view. Much of Boone’s story, as Brown tells it, is located north of the Kentucky River. The story of John M. James in This Bloody Ground, as might be expected, resides south of the Kentucky River.

Brown credits Boone in part with opening the Northwest Territory that became everything from Ohio west to Minnesota. John M. James and his band of rebel Baptist preachers, not only opened the West from colonial Virginia to Missouri Territory, but also way beyond into the Far West, to the Rockies and California.

Daniel Boone is a star in history’s firmament, replete with legend and misleading mythology, which Brown goes to great length to extinguish in a shower of facts. John M. James, for the most part, is unknown to legend, mythology, or fact. Equally, unknown is the origination in John’s Kentucky of many of those families affiliated with John who later spawned their own history of the American West.

Kent Masterson Brown
Kent Masterson Brown

I have enjoyed the former historical work of Kent Masterson Brown. Brown resembles for me the often fabled Kentucky lawyer whose telling of a good history lesson, more than a trial, vindicates justice. His voice that speaks through grit is invaluable. Brown and I are in the same business. Maybe that explains our mutual fondness for a neat and tidy bow tie.

Scitt New as Daniel Boone
Scott New portrays Daniel Boone

As a boy, John M. James tried to join Daniel Boone, when Boone stood beside his wagon in Stevensburg, Virginia, seeking recruits to enter the dark and unknown wilderness. Though John was too young for Boone to accept, each man became a pioneer. Each did so in his own way. Each has had a lasting effect on American history.

In This Bloody Ground, I will argue, however, that John M. James was more an average person’s pioneer. John M. James, not Daniel Boone, produced a more lasting effect relative to the common person. The legacy of John M. James endures in the social, religious, and political culture of America.

The marriage of Jesse’s son Jesse Edwards James Jr. to Estella Frances “Stella” McGowan might have appeared surprising at the time. It should not. He is a great-grandson of John M. James. She is a third great granddaughter of Daniel Boone. Their marriage represents the reunion of Daniel Boone and John M. James. For today and all tomorrows, the descendants of Jesse James will be the progeny of a star pioneer and a pioneer of the common man.

To view the entire program of Daniel Boone and the Opening of the West, and to savor the smack and zing of This Bloody Ground coming this year, CLICK HERE. The program may not be available for very long.

Retta Younger and A. B. Rawlins – Destiny by Marriage

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.

Henrietta Younger-Rawlins with brothers Jim, Bob, & Cole Younger
Henrietta Younger-Rawlins with brothers Jim, Bob, & Cole Younger

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.

Charles Lee Younger, Wilbur Zink Collection
Col. Charles Lee Younger, Wilbur Zink Collection

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.

The Olde Fort of Harrod's Town 1775-1776
The Olde Fort of Harrod’s Town 1775-1776

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.

Col. William Whitley
Col. William Whitley

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.

Rev. Jeremiah Vardeman, son of Johannes Vardeman. As a teenage miscreant, Jerry 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 fund to buy James Gilmore’s farm and found William Jewell College in Clay County, Missouri.
Rev. Jeremiah Vardeman, son of Johannes Vardeman.

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.

Abram Bledsoe
Abram Bledsoe, aka A. Bledsoe
Capt. Alexander Roderick Rawlins
Capt. Alexander Roderick Rawlins

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.

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.