Tag Archives: Nancy B. Samuelson

Chasing Frank and Jesse James: The Bungled Northfield Bank Robbery and the Long Manhunt

BOOK REVIEW: Fanebust, Wayne; Chasing Frank and Jesse James: The Bungled Northfield Bank Robbery and the Long Manhunt

(Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2018) pp.v-238, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index, ISBN 978-1-4766-7067-6, paperback, $35.00

By Nancy B. Samuelson

This is another rehash of the Northfield Bank Robbery and the escape of Frank and Jesse James. The author used several creditable sources for the book, but he also used a lot of newspaper articles as sources. The newspapers are often from areas far removed both geographically and in time from the crimes which they described. It stretches the imagination to believe newspapers from Vermont or Florida forty years after the incident would be considered as accurate sources.

The author repeats many of the more garish tales about the James and Younger gang members and often says that what he repeats is probably just a story. For example the tale of Cole Younger checking out his new Enfield rifle. Cole supposedly lined up fifteen Kansas Jayhawkers and kept shooting until he killed them all. Competent historians have long dismissed this story as a complete myth.

Author Wayne Fanebust

The author repeatedly proves that his knowledge about the state of Missouri is not very comprehensive. He makes the statement that Missouri was a slave state with most slaves in the southern part of the state. In fact, most of the slaves in Missouri were along the Missouri River in the area often referred to as “Little Dixie.” When Jesse James is living in St. Joseph, Missouri, the author states he was living there in the “Cracker Neck District”. The Cracker Neck area was located in Jackson County, near Independence, Missouri, not in St. Joseph.

Jesse James is made out to be a most brutal man. He reportedly shot and killed a “St. Louis drummer” who was just walking down the street out of pure wantonness.  Jesse was also a real ladies man and had liaisons with hundreds of women. He supposedly had a daughter living in Howard County, Missouri at the time of his death. And Jesse also killed Ed Miller because Miller caught Jesse fooling around with his girlfriend. Ed Miller was a married man, but I guess he might have had a girlfriend too.

Bill Anderson’s men always rode under the Black Flag. And when Anderson’s men killed Major Johnson and his troops during the Centralia raid, they shot Johnson and all 148 men in the head.

Two new members of the James gang are revealed in this book, Sam Kaufman, and Sam Hill. None of the most reliable books about the James gang every mentions these two names. This author also claims the notorious liar, Kit Dalton, is a friend of Jesse James. This is very unlikely although Kit Dalton did know Frank James in later years.

This book has little to recommend it. The book is full of inaccuracies, has misspelled words (deputy marshal is consistently deputy Marshall) and contains some dubious photos. It is very disappointing to see McFarland & Company publishing such a poor quality book at such an outrageous price.

RELATED

The following two books by John J. Koblas, Faithful Until Death and The Jesse James Northfield Raid,  remain the most authoritative accounts of the James-Younger Gang’s robbery of the Northfield Bank.


 

The Troubled Life of Peter Burnett

At the Jesse James family reunion in 2002, living descendants in the family of Peter Burnett appeared. They were seeking knowledge of the Burnett family’s connections to the Jesse James family. Stories of a connection had come down in their family lore.

To date, no specific connection with the James family, or with Drury Woodson James, Jesse’ s uncle and founder of Paso Robles, California, has been found. Given D.W. James social and political connections, it remains highly likely some connection existed. Is also is highly certain that Peter Burnett would have known Rep. Coleman Purcell Younger of Santa Cruz, California, the husband of Burnett’s niece, Rebecca J. Smith, among other Burnett-Younger kinships.

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“Ancestry & Kinship of Peter Hardeman Burnett”

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BOOK REVIEW: Nokes, R. Gregory, The Troubled Life of Peter Burnett: Oregon Pioneer and First Governor of California

(Corvallis: Oregon State University Press, 2018) pp.ix-270, several photos and maps, appendix A-D, notes, bibliography, index, ISBN 978-0-87071-923-5, paperback, $19,95.

By Nancy B. Samuelson

Peter Burnett may not be a name that is familiar to many people these days. It seems a pity that he has been largely forgotten. He was a man of some rather significant achievements in the states of Missouri, Oregon and California. I have been interested in him for some time and was pleased to see that someone had finally written a book about him. However, I found that the author chose to judge Burnett by today’s standards of political correctness and ignore or belittle his many real accomplishments.

R. Gregory Nokes
R. Gregory Nokes, author of The Troubles Life of Peter Burnett

R. Gregory Nokes is a journalist and is a competent writer but the book will appeal more to a general audience than to historians or scholars. He did do a fair amount of research and has discovered a number of Burnett’s letters that have never been made public before.  He has also thoroughly researched Burnett’s other writings, and there is a considerable amount of this material.  There is no evidence, however, that he consulted any contemporary newspapers reports of the actions and events in Burnett’s life.  Nor did he dig very deeply into family connections and the accomplishments of many other members of this talented Burnett family and their near kinfolks.

The author makes much ado about Burnett’s contributions to the deplorable “Lash Law” in Oregon that Burnett helped put on the books. But little is said about the almost immediate revision of the law and the fact that the law was never once enforced. Many, in fact, most other states and territories had similar or worse laws on the books concerning African Americans and other minorities. Nokes is highly critical of Burnett in many ways and this detracts from the contributions Peter Burnett did make.

Peter Burnett was almost completely a self-educated man. He was born into a poor family in Tennessee but the family soon moved to Missouri to better themselves. Burnett was able to become an attorney and established a good law practice and engaged in several business enterprises. He was one of the men responsible for getting the U. S. Congress to approve the Platte Purchase that added a considerable amount of territory to the northwestern section of Missouri. Some of Burnett’s business enterprises were not successful and he soon turned his eyes to the Oregon Territory. He “boomed” Oregon and organized the first major wagon train to travel to Oregon in 1843. He was active in the organization of the Oregon Territorial Government and was Oregon’s first Supreme Court judge.

When word came of the discovery of gold in California, Burnett once more decided he could improve his fortunes by going to California. He took the first wagon train from Oregon to California and achieved a fair amount of success in mining for gold in California. He then moved to Sacrament and went back into the legal business. He took over some of the real estate sales for John Sutter and was well on the way to repairing Sutter’s finances until Sutter, Sr. fired him in a huff. Burnett did bolster his own finances as well from his sales of Sacramento real estate.

Burnett then turned his hand to helping get a state government organized in California and was overwhelmingly elected as the first Governor of California. He later resigned from this office to pursue his business interests. He later went into the banking business in San Francisco and was president of one of the most successful banks in California. Peter Burnett died a wealthy and highly esteemed man.

Burnett was completely honest, a rare quality in the hectic days of Gold Rush California, a deeply religious man, and a devoted husband and father. All of his children that survived were successful and talented people. His sons-in-law were attorneys and served in state government as did some of his grandchildren.

An item of interest to Wild West buffs was completely missed by the author. Burnett had close connections to the Younger and Dalton families. His brother, George William Burnett, was married to Sydney Ann Younger, an aunt of the Younger boys of James-Younger gang fame. Sydney Ann’s half-sister, Adeline, was the mother of the Dalton brothers of Dalton gang fame.  George William Burnett served in the Oregon legislature for some time and his son George Henry Burnett served on the Oregon Supreme Court from 1911 to 1927, twice serving as the Chief Justice of the court. Peter Burnett also maintained close social relations with Coleman Younger, the uncle of the outlaw Younger brothers, in Santa Clara County. California for a number of years.

This book is certainly worth reading and it inspired me to dig even deeper and to see what else I could learn about this fascinating man. Peter Burnett is worthy of more study so we can fully appreciate his contributions to our history.

Confederates in Montana Territory

BOOK REVIEW: Robison, Ken, Confederates in Montana Territory: In The Shadow of Price’s Army, (South Carolina: The History Press, 2014.) 190 pp., photos, illustrations, bibliography/notes, index. ISBN 978-1-62619-603-2, paperback, $19.99

By Nancy B. Samuelson

Confederates in Montana Terrirtory-Ken Robison
Confederates in Montana Territory: In the Shadow of Price’s Army by Ken Robison

I was eager to dig into this book as I am a long time student of Missourians in the Civil War. However, I was very disappointed in the book. It is an attractive book with a lot of good photos and illustrations, but the research is only skin deep.  The title of the book is misleading as only about four of the men discussed in the book served in Price’s Army. The author does not have a very good grasp on the history of Price’s Army and the guerrilla units associated with Price. The book contains several errors. In the forward to the book, 1859 is given as the year California entered the Union. The correct year is 1850. Colonel Thoroughman was said to have been taken to a prison in Quincy, Illinois after he was captured. There was no Union prison at Quincy, he most likely was taken to the prison at Alton, Illinois. The Moore brothers were said to have gone south into Kentucky and spend a night with John M. James, the grandfather of Jesse James. A good trick indeed, as John M. James died in 1827.

Confederates in Montana
An early tintype, owned by Ken Robison, showing unidentified Confederate soldiers in Montana Territory.

There are two stories in the book concerning supposed Quantrill men. The first story is about James Berry. This chapter is reasonably close to the facts; Berry did serve with Quantrill for a short time. He also did participate in a robbery with the Sam Bass gang and was killed when there was an attempt to apprehend him. The author states that Berry’s family survived to become prominent in Montana history, but leaves the reader completely in the dark about the family’s contribution to the state’s history.

Ken Robison, author
Author Ken Robison

The chapter about Langford “Farmer” Peel, is titled “When Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction”. A good title, since this tale is almost entirely fiction. Langford Peel never served with Quantrill or anybody else during the Civil War. He hung out in mining camps in California, Utah, Nevada and Montana during the time of the Civil War. He was a rough customer and was accused of several murders. He was finally shot and killed in Montana. The tale about some of Quantrill’s men hijacking a steamboat to come after Peel is from a newspaper article from the Great Falls Tribune of April 30, 1922. The story is complete fiction.

There were a number of men from Price’s Army who did go to Montana and who became prominent men. John C. C. “Coon” Thornton and Thomas L. Napton immediately come to mind, but the author ignored these men. Several Quantrill men are known to have gone to Montana too, one served as the Sheriff of Lewis and Clark County. These folks are also ignored. The book is an easy read but it is history light-weight.

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This book review is co-published with the James-Younger Gang Journal.

The Lost Cause: The Trials of Frank and Jesse James

BOOK REVIEW: Muehlberger, James P. The Lost Cause: The Trials of Frank and Jesse James (Westholme Publishing, LLC, 2013) 255 pp. index, timeline, bibliography, end notes, some photos, illustrations, and maps, hardcover $18.96.

By Nancy B. Samuelson

The author begins the book with a Prolog where he expounds on the “myth of The Lost Cause.” He seems to believe that the only cause of the Civil War was slavery. There were a number of other causes and many of them had to do with economics.

The Lost Cause, the Trials of Frank and Jesse James

One of the main themes of the book is the Gallatin, Missouri bank robbery. He makes a fair case that this may have been a planned assassination and not a bank robbery at all. Jesse James and maybe Jim Anderson set out to kill Major Samuel Cox who killed Bloody Bill Anderson during the war. However, Captain John Sheets, who looked much like Cox, was killed instead. The author does not believe Frank was involved in this event at all.

The author makes much of the suit that was filed against the James boys after the Gallatin affair. The attorney who filed the suit was Henry Clay McDougal. He represented Daniel Smoote, whose horse had been taken by the fleeing gunmen. Smoote won the suit and as settlement was awarded the horse that had been left behind the by the supposed Frank and Jesse James. The author relies on McDougal’s book, Recollections: 1844-1909, for much of what he says about the suit and the aftermath. Throughout the book McDougal is on a real ego trip and much of what he says is open to question. McDougal says he was working with Samuel Hardwicke, a Clay County attorney, and the Pinkerton Detective Agency as early as 1869. However, all the evidence that this reviewer has been able to locate shows that the Pinkertons did not become involved in trying to catch the James boys until after the Corydon, Iowa bank robbery in 1871. Further, Samuel Hardwicke did not begin to work with the Pinkertons until the spring of 1874. McDougal claimed that Jesse James tried to kill him twice because of his involvement in the law suit. This claim is not supported by any other evidence that this reviewer has been able to find. We have only McDougal’s word for this.

James P. Muehlberger

There are any number of inaccuracies in the book. Several names are incorrect. Union General James Blunt is identified as Jones Blunt. Sheriff James Timberlake is identified as Henry Timberlake. One of Frank James’ key attorneys during his trial at Gallatin in 1883 is first identified as John F. Philips then suddenly he becomes Thomas Philips. The author says Susan James and Allen Parmer married in Kentucky instead of in Clay County, Missouri. Archie Samuel’s age is given as thirteen when the Pinkertons bombed the James-Samuel home in 1875. He was actually not yet nine years old when he was killed. Zerelda Samuel’s age is given as fifty-five at the time of Frank’s trial when she was really fifty-eight. The date of Frank James’ surrender to Missouri Governor Crittenden is stated as October 5th 1881 instead of 1882.

There are also a number of omissions that seem odd. For example, the hanging of Dr. Samuel by Union troops is discussed but the severe beating the same troops gave Jesse James is not mentioned. One of the key attorneys in Frank James’ trial in Alabama is never mentioned either. He was Robert W. Walker, a graduate of Princeton and Columbia University Law School and a former member of the Alabama Supreme Court.

In summary, this book adds little to the knowledge of the James-Younger gang and it contains a lot of misinformation.