Tag Archives: murder

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

The Plot to Capture Jesse James

“The Plot to Capture Jesse James,” from Phil Stewart’s Archive, was first published on Stray Leaves in 1999. 

The Plot to Capture Jesse James

By Phil Stewart

Robert Ford, the "dirty little coward"
Robert Ford, the “dirty little coward”

Bob Ford killed Jesse James with the full knowledge and consent of Sheriff James H. Timberlake of Clay County, Police Commission Henry H. Craig of Kansas City, and the Governor of Missouri, Thomas T. Crittenden. While the James neighbors plotted to capture Jesse James, the government plotted to assassinate Jesse James.

By the fall of 1880, it was nearly impossible for Jesse and his family to justify robberies and murders on injustice and social conditions brought about by the Civil War. There was no place for roaming bands of old guerilla fighters and outlaws. Jesse was bad for business. Land prices in the outlaw’s home county were lower than in other parts of the state. Business and banking interests avoided the area, despite opportunities for growth. Jesse James was an economic liability.

John Watts Shouse, conspirator to capture Jesse James
John Watts Shouse, conspirator to capture Jesse James

A small group of Clay County citizen talked among themselves, although very quietly. Chief among them was John Watts Shouse, a veteran of the Mexican and Civil Wars, and a southerner by birth. Shouse was a no-nonsense man who had organized and commanded on of the first Confederate Home Guards. With him were other prominent citizens: John T. Pettigrew, William Dollis, William Dagley, Riley Henderson, William Wysong, and John Shouse’s younger brother James. Most of the lived in the Bethel community, which also was the home of the Ford and Cummins families, a few miles from James farm.

The neighbors made at least one attempt to convince Jesse’s mother, Zerelda, to speak to her son and convince him to surrender. The feisty, fiery, and protective Zerelda Samuel would not consider surrender. Not Jesse James! Having failed, the group shifted focus to capture Jesse and  turn him over to Sheriff Timberlake for prosecution.

Jim Cummins
Jim Cummins

During the fall of 1881, Jesse came searching for one of his old associates, Jim Cummins. Jesse believed Cummins was about to turn traitor. Jesse already had killed Ed Miller, one of his gang and a neighbor who Jesse no longer trusted.

Jesse arrived in the Bethel community during the first few days of October. Jesse soon learned that Cummins had been seen around the home of Cummins’ brother-in-law, William Ford. Bill For was also an uncle to Robert and Charles Ford. When Jesse arrived at Bill Ford’s home, he found Bill’s wife, and fifteen-year-old son, Samuel. In a scene reminiscent of the time young Jesse James himself was beaten by Union soldier in search of his brother Frank James, Jesse grabbed the teenager. He threated to kill him if he didn’t “fess up” where Jim Cummins could be found. When the boy would not, or could not, provide the information, Jesse lost his temper. Frustration got the best of him. He began slapping the boy. The slapping became a beating. When Jesse mounted to leave, young Samuel Ford was beaten and bloody.

New of the beating quickly made its way throughout the neighborhood. John Shouse and his group were fed up. Jesse once protected the farmers and resident of the area. Now he was the aggressor and torturer. Time had come to bring the others into the group to plot the outlaw’s capture. Not surprisingly, William Ford eagerly and enthusiastically joined.

Sheriff James H. Tiberlake
Sheriff James H. Tiberlake

Dick Liddil separated from Jesse following the beating. Liddil worried about being around Jesse. His boss was increasingly paranoid and irrational. Liddil believed it was only a matter of time before Jesse came after him. Although not quite ready to turn traitor against Jesse, it would not take much to push Dick Liddil to side with the neighbors.

The conspiring neighbors changed focus and makeup. Some now plotted the murder of Jesse James. Not wishing to become involved in planned murder, many of John Shouse’s group departed. Capturing Jesse was one thing, but planned assassination left their mouths bitter. John Shouse himself wanted nothing to do with it. The group was asking for war against the James gang. Shouse had a family to consider. Others soon took his place. A brother of William Ford, Elias Capline Ford known as “Cap,” quietly and cautiously joined the group. The group now comprised of a few silent citizen and several members of the Ford and Cummins families. The conspirators sought someone they could trust inside Jesse’s new gang.

In early November of 1881, William Ford contracted Sheriff James Timberlake. He informed Timberlake that a network was in place. They could inform Timberlake of the comings and goings of Jesse James. They could assist with his capture.

Timberlake was more than enthusiastic. He offered William Ford $1,000 for his assistance in capturing Jesse James. He further assured Ford no members of the group would be prosecuted if the plan resulted in the death of the outlaw.

But they needed the assistance of other agencies. Timberlake, along with Cap Ford, traveled to Kansas City and contacted Police Commissioner Henry Craig who was briefed. Commissioner Craig traveled to Jefferson City to enlist the cooperation of the Governor of Missouri, Thomas T. Crittenden. The Governor had made the subject of Missouri outlaws the main topic of his campaign. He would do whatever possible to fulfill his campaign promises. Rewards were guaranteed and pardons would be given. The plot to assassinate Jesse James was formed.


RELATED:   More from Phil Stewart’s 1999 Archive

The Plot to Assassinate Jesse James

The Gad’s Hill Train Robbery

Frank James – Scholar with a Gun

School Time for Jesse James – Part I

School Time for Jesse James – Part II

Jesse James & Half-Brother Perry Samuel

Jesse James Family – Slaves & Servants

Robert Sallee James – Father of Jesse James

Jesse James Myths & Facts

MURDER, and Betty Dorsett Duke


Betty Dorsett Duke thinks I’m out to kill her. She’s insane. Betty thinks others are out to murder her, too. Yes, she’s that insane.

Jesse James family claimant Betty Dorsett Duke
Betty Dorsett Duke

But why would anyone want to murder Betty Dorsett Duke? After all, she doesn’t exist.

In Betty’s imaginary world, she craves to own an existence. Betty craves an identity of her own. More than anything, Betty craves a famous identity.

You see, Betty has no identity. She’s murdered it. And she believes she’s gotten away with the crime.

Long ago, maybe as early as childhood, Betty did away with the family she was born into. She killed them off straightaway, in her mind. Betty killed her own family because she didn’t want to accept the birthright God gave her. No, God, Betty said, not your choice. My choice. I want to be the great-granddaughter of Jesse James.

Irrationality, like challenging Creation itself, Betty conveniently disregards. If indeed she was the outlaw’s great-granddaughter, Betty would be approaching 90 years old. Betty is a generation short.

Betty desperately craves the blood of Jesse James as her own. She once confronted a real great-grandson of the outlaw. As if performing a stick-up, Betty demanded. “Give me your blood! Right here and now!” Jesse’s great-grandson, who was a Superior Court Judge, laughed at her. He ruled his assailant was crazy.

Another time, Betty tricked an old woman in her nineties to give Betty a vial of her blood. She told the feeble woman, “so I can prove we’re kin.” The aged woman was a true cousin of Jesse James. Betty is not.

Assaulting people is something Betty likes to do. It’s fun for Betty. It’s her occupation and recreation. After all, in Betty’s world of imagination, there are no consequences. In Betty’s mind, she’s the daughter of an outlaw. Assaults are to be expected, imaginary or not. But then, Betty decided to turn her imagination into reality.

Betty formed a gang. They could do her dirty work for her, and Betty could fly free of any consequences.  Betty manipulated a con artist who peddled fake historical photographs to be her front man. The con thought he could become famous, too, if he could just hold on to Betty’s skirt. But the world fast recognized the fool was a con man, like Betty. Somewhat confounded about what to do with her ineffectual protégé, Betty easily bought into his world of daydreams and illusory nightmares, too. Fantasy birds of a feather.

Betty wasn’t above conscripting a puerile, little boy into her gang, either. As if he was born her own, Betty adored the babyish boy who loved nothing more than to make fun of grown-ups. Betty could offer the infantile ample targets of opportunity. Over the years, Betty conscripted others into her gang. But none could survive among the lies which populate Betty’s imaginary world.

Even within her world of outlaw spirits and phantasmagorical invention, Betty continues to fantasize. If someone were to murder her, Betty hallucinates, she then can become famous. Who would be the best person to murder her? Of course. The murderer must be someone Betty believes is from Jesse’s family. Betty picked me.

With the encouragement of the silly con man and the effete boy who likes to insult grown-ups, once more Betty devises another assault. Because Betty has conspirators, Betty believes I must have conspirators, too. She assigns me a batch and then fabricates a fiction of how we’ve banded together against her.

Betty imagines a confession of guilt is what’s needed to turn a convincing trick. She finds some hapless soul to play along in a charade he doesn’t believe himself. Betty calls the FBI. “They’re trying to murder me,” she cries. “I have evidence – a confession!” Once more, no one comes. Betty does not live in the world of facts and reality where real crimes need investigation. Betty lives in her imagination.

Frustrated, Betty appeals for recognition to the press, to TV reporters, and to the national news outlets. Betty desperately litters the internet, posting her accusation over and over. All to no avail. No one investigates her accusation. No one is interested in Betty’s concocted confession. Yet again, no one responds to Betty. Sadly and pathetically, she is not of their world.

Betty is a lonely person.  Like all who live in a world of self-made madness, Betty struggles every day with the identity she created for herself. But happiness never comes, because nobody believes Betty is a great granddaughter of Jesse James. Certainly not her own family. They ignore Betty. Certainly not the family of Jesse James. Few of them know who Betty Dorsett Duke might be. There is no one, no one to validate the existence of Betty Dorsett Duke. She doesn’t exist.

How can anyone want to murder someone who doesn’t exist? Who is there to murder? There is no one.


Danville, Ky. 2012

UPDATE: Betty Dorsett Duke died August 29, 2015. Her online obituary identified her as “Betty Gail Duke,” a name she never employed when making her claim against the James family. Her claim remained unproven unto her death. Her own family continues to discredit her claim (see link below). The Jesse James family denies Betty Dorsett Duke, aka Betty Gail Duke, is their kin.

Betty Gail Duke obituary
Online obituary for Betty Gail Duke


Betty demands blood from a great grandson of Jesse James

Betty’s true biological family refutes her claims

Betty claims Eric James & others are out to kill her

Stalkers of Famous & Infamous Families (posted July 28, 2010)

Betty Dorsett Duke Book All Smoke, No Gun