Tag Archives: mythology

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.

More Lookalike Photos From the Gene Pool

Photos appearing in lookalike galleries from the Jesse James family have proved a big success, ever since they first appeared on Stray Leaves in the late 1990’s. Whether it is comparison images of Jesse Woodson James, Jesse James Jr., Frank James, Susan Lavenia James, Rev. Robert Sallee James, the childhood photos of Mary Susan James, or Jesse’s great grandson Judge James Randall Ross, all of the lookalike photo galleries prove popular with Stray Leaves’ family,  guests, and visitors. The time has come for more.

Jesse James Jr Jesse James lookalike Ribert Salle James

With rapid changes in internet technology, and the pressing need to expand publishing to platforms that are more mobile friendly, now seems a good time to update the availability of those preciously endearing lookalike photos. We’d like to ensure they can be enjoyed everywhere.

The thought also has occurred; why not expand the   lookalike galleries, to better show the unique characteristics that are common, not only within the gene pool of the James family, but also among those who are key relevant figures to the James family  saga?

In my recent articles, here about Henrietta Younger and about Clell Miller in the James-Younger Gang Journal, the physical characteristics that appear in their family photos as genetic, are very evident. They recur generation after generation. In fact, they are so arresting that they remind us something additional should be done to mine this overlooked category of interest.

In Jesse James Soul Liberty, I advocate the recurrence of genetic personality, behavior, and character that permeates the James family, through each and every generation. That identity is the James family’s very soul of personhood, their  quintessential identity that has eluded Jesse James historians from the start. The genes that form this very soul of behavior, character, and personality, are the same genes that form the family’s physical features. The continual evolution of that physicality compels the same attention as does the family’s personhood. This is true now more than ever, as our study of the James family turns increasingly more toward DNA, family genetics common heritage, and their underlying implications for heredity and health.

Zee Mimms James ear

My article “Hey, James Family, Send Me Your Ears” is an excellent example of reader interest in this subject of lookalike photos and family genetics. This story shows up in the daily statistics as a web page of continual interest bearing a very high visitor count. The stats indicate Stray Leaves may be overlooking a key parameter for assessing the identity of the James family.

History books often rely upon illustration for telling stories. Illustrators lean heavily toward attention grabbing techniques that insert invented details. Those details may appear dramatic in rendering and succeed in securing a reader’s focus,  but seldom are they historically accurate. Such illustrations skewer historical fact. Nowhere is this more evident than in every reality TV program ever produced. Note: I said reality TV program, not documentary history or documentary film.

However, an historic photo that is reliable and true does not distort history, unless, of course, the photo is fraudulent. In fact, when relevant and factual images appear together to tell a story, the image enhances history and the understanding of it. The history is rendered better. An illustration may enhance a reader’s imagination, but the use of a photographic image does the same with accuracy and reliability. Of course, this does not pertain to photoshopped images.

An underlying goal of Stray Leaves and of Jesse James Soul Liberty is to dispel mythologies. A primary objective is to wipe out the chronic myth-making or fictionalization and revisionism that plagues the history of Jesse James and stalks his family. Here, we identify and call out the fraudsters and con artists who lie. We put media on the chopping block, when media feeds the public pabulum instead of the nutritious sustenance of truth and facts. In every effort, we intend and strive to be historically accurate and correct, whether it be in the hundreds of thousands of genealogical details appearing in the SURNAMES database, the history featured in our stories or in blog posts or commentary.

A decision has been made. As our SURNAMES genealogy research formerly expanded beyond the core of the James family alone to include research into their in-law families, and by a third-level extension to include research into those individuals who form the social communities of the James, the James family lookalike galleries now will be expanded to include those additional levels, too.

Watch for the upcoming post “Cole Younger’s Lookalike Gene Pool.”

Which Makes a Better Genealogy TV Program?

What makes one genealogy TV program better than another? The top two genealogy programs are Who Do You Think You Are and Finding Your Roots. One is better than the other because one more accurately reflects the real genealogy experience.

Who Do you Think You Are TV ProgramFinding Your Roots TV Program

Both programs, however, misrepresent genealogy for what it is. That’s because both programs are constructed as entertainments. A television program, devised from the need to attract a defined audience demographic, cannot ever be true to its subject, because the program will be skewed towards the demographic. In essence, the only general audience appeals the program may have in the end is an appeal to entertain.

In the Finding Your Roots TV program, Henry Louis Gates presents himself as an authoritarian who will show to a subject’s surprise unknown facts about the subject’s past. His narrative discoveries appear, as if by magic. There’s no insight for the audience into the magician’s bag of tricks. Nothing is required of the focal subject, or of the audience for that matter, other than to sit back and be entertained by Mr. Gates’ wizardry.

On the other hand, the TV program Who Do You Think You Are actually displays a journey of personal discovery. The subject must travel from place to place, from one institution to another, often seeking help, to find the desired evidence of fact, often coming up short. The journey may produce yet another clue for yet another segment of discovery, leading in the end to a satisfactory conclusion though trial and error to accomplishment and fulfillment, regardless of one’s originally desired expectation. This more closely represents the real genealogy experience.

Ironically, Who Do You Think You Are displays the warrior experience of mythology. The program shows an individual can arise from the unknown to go forward. That person can be tested and tried, over and over, and ultimately return home to one’s family, or tribe, as a hero, who now is the enlightened one. This in fact is how genealogists become heroes among their families. Genealogists are the heroes families turn to. They are ones who hold the tested knowledge, the truth, and the history. Genealogists become family leaders.

Mr. Gates, though, would prefer to be every family’s leader and hero. That’s as much an unrealistic expectation as the leaf in the ancestry.com television commercial, which promises if you simply click on it, all your family ancestry will magically be provided.

It is not surprising if viewers might not identify with the genealogy experience presented to them in these television programs. Viewers are passive receptors, nothing more than observers. Few among them have been warrior tested. But, if they were, they soon would recognize the weaknesses in these entertainments. In fact, they would probably come to prefer sifting through old records in the basement of a dingy courthouse basement, to sitting comfortably in their lounge chair, awaiting the big reveal. If they’d just go and be tested, they would return with stories as magical, entertaining, informative, and enlightening.

Who Loves Ya, Jesse James?

 

Bill Penn
Bill Penn, proprietor of the Historic Midway Museum Store, sports a new tee-shirt I gave him.

I’ve begun to wonder. Who loves ya, Jesse James?

At book signings of Jesse James Soul Liberty, more women buy my book than men. This was confirmed again last Sunday, as I signed books for the Historic Midway Museum Store at the Midway Fall Festival. My book was purchased only by women. This was the first time, too, that the new JJSL tee-shirt was introduced. And who were the tee-shirt buyers? Women, not men.

A couple of women did say they were buying the book for their husband. Curiously, though, two other women did not buy the book for their husbands after I pointed out that the book is about the Jesse James family principally, and about Jesse James only indirectly through his family.

During the course of the day with hundreds of people walking by my booth, four young men popped out from the crowd on separate occasions to ask, “Did Jesse James really die?” My reply to their question all began with, “That’s the mythology, not the fact.” All of them abruptly walked away. Not one engaged in further discussion, picked up the book, look inside it, or buy it.

I’ve come to view young men like these as the core demographic that the history and biography reality shows target as their viewers. Their productions all are based on the mythology surrounding Jesse James, and rarely upon facts. As a result, young men like these learn nothing about factual history or about Jesse James. They walk on in a cloud of mythology. They read little, and know even less.

By contrast, women attracted to Jesse James engage in discussion about my book first. They pick up the book, leaf through it, and ask questions about what they see. I don’t have to sell the book to women at all. I only have to point out that the book is about Jesse James’ family, and the information comes from primary family sources never published before. When women buy, it is clear they are curious to know more, but they want what they learn to be authentic and true.

One young school girl, who ran over to my table, surprised and delighted me. “Are you related to Jesse James,” she asked. I replied, “That’s what I write about.” She ran back to her parents, shouting, “That’s so cool!” She was not the first girl to ask.

It’s a scientific fact that within the female DNA resides some gene which is attracted to the genes of the bad boy. But I don’t think that’s what attracts women to buy my book. I believe they’re attracted by the idea of finding the factual history of the bad boy inside the context of family. Family is their emotional connection with my book. After they read my book, some have informed me the book did not disappoint them. They were enlightened.

So, who loves ya, Jesse James?

My survey says, young men, ages 18-45, mostly loners lacking connections with a family of their own, who watch way too much TV, and only absorb the mythology dispensed to them in that medium as fact. In short, guys who aren’t too smart.

But intelligent women absolutely adore Jesse and his family.