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The Exhumation of Jesse James Twin Children

The promise of Jesse Edwards James Jr. to his mother Zee Mimms James, to reunite her twin children whom Jesse buried after their birth in Tennessee with Jesse and her in Missouri, went unfulfilled for three generations. Before he died in 1951, Jesse Jr. bestowed the task upon his grandson, Judge James R. Ross. Three years before Judge Ross died in 2007, the task was bestowed upon me to execute the exhumation of Jesse James twin children for reinternment with their parents in Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Kearney, Missouri.

Title slide from the Reunion of Gould & Montgomery James slide presentation
Title slide from the Reunion of Gould & Montgomery James slide presentation

The moving confluence of legalities, family permissions, socio-political objections, and conflict resolutions seemed always directed at times by an unnoticed, unseen spiritual hand, ever watching from the past and always guiding the exhumation of Jesse’s twins to final resolution and peace in ways surprising to us living participants.

An exhumation might appear as a clinical exercise, executed coldly by professional technicians, paid to do a job. The cost was not a problem to exhume and re-inter the twin children of Jesse and Zee Mimms James. In the end, though, no cost was necessary. The spiritual hand brought forth descendants of former generations and social relations of the James family generations long past to accomplish the task.

Ann Yager Hamlin-McCroskey with her sister Sarah Hamlin-Kuchenbrod
Third generation funeral director Ann Yager Hamlin-McCroskey who assisted in the exhumation of Jesse James twin children, shown here with her sister Sarah Hamlin-Kuchenbrod.

Assisting me was Ann Yeager Hamlin of the Stith Funeral Home in Danville, Ky. Not only was Ann my next door neighbor, she also is a 6th great-granddaughter of Reuben Giles Samuel, who is the great-grandfather of Dr. Reuben Samuel, Jesse’s stepfather. Among Ann’s ancestors are also found some Woodsons and one of the Younger brothers’ uncles. I asked Ann if it was necessary to purchase a casket. She advised, “For exhumed remains, plastic containers that can be bought at any Wal-Mart work best.” I then acquired two plastic containers from Sam Walton’s local store in Danville. Sam Walton is a 4th great-grandson of Jesse’s grandfather, John M. James.

B. Steven Spann of the Spann Funeral Home, formerly the Wheeler Funeral Home, Dickson, Tennessee
B. Steven Spann of the Spann Funeral Home, formerly the Wheeler Funeral Homes, Dickson, Tennessee

Representing the Humphreys County Court, to ensure all was done properly according to Tennessee statutes, was Anne’s funeral school classmate, B. Steven Spann of the Spann Funeral Home, formerly the Wheeler Funeral Home.

One of the gravediggers hired by Steve was Robert Shadowen, a 5th grand-nephew of Rev. Lewis Weaver Chaudoin and Katurah Mimms. Rev. Chaudoin married John M. James to Mary “Polly” Poor, Jesse’s grandparents.

Beleaguering Judge Ross and myself with multiple difficulties to overcome was Darrell L. Cave. The church sexton of Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Kearney, Missouri. Darrell then was in his mid-eighties. He was the fourth generation of his family to oversee the cemetery. Among Darrell’s ancestry, Darrell’s great-grandfather, William R. Cave founded Mt. Olivet Church and Cemetery. He was baptized by Jesse’s grandfather, Rev. Robert Sallee James. Darrell’s 4th great-grandfather, Rev. William Cave known as Uncle Billy, entered Kentucky with Jesse’s grandfather John M. James, in the self-exile of rebel Baptist preachers from colonial Virginia into the western wilderness.

Regardless of lost time and a promise too long deferred, Gould and Montgomery James, now are reunited with their parents in Missouri, never to be forgotten, just as Zee wanted

VIEW THE SLIDESHOW IN THE ARCHIVES

  • The exhumation of Jesse James twin children - slide show
    The Reunion of Gould & Montgomery James

 

 

The Man Who Dug the Grave for Jesse James’ Twins

At 94, Darrell L. Cave is still connected to the family of Frank and Jesse James. As was his 4th great grandfather, Rev. William Cave, back in the 18th Century.

Uncle Billy Cave, as he was called then, was exiled from Colonial Virginia as a rebel preacher. Among other rebel preachers who were known to “shove a text of scripture down your throat,” Uncle Billy entered Kentucky in a Traveling Church, together with Jesse and Frank’s grandfather, John M. James. When the Cave and James families moved on to Missouri, Uncle Billy’s grandson Uriah Cave donated land in Kearney to establish the Mt. Olivet Church.

In 2004, Darrell Cave personally dug the final resting place in Mt. Olivet’s cemetery for Jesse’s twin children, Gould and Montgomery James. Laying the twins to rest beside their parents was Jesse’s great grandson, Judge James R. Ross. Assisting the Judge was Eric James of the James Preservation Trust, who had exhumed the twins’ remains in Waverly, Tennessee, and brought them to Missouri.

In his eulogy over the twins’ grave, Judge Ross recognized the fulfillment of a promise he had made to Jesse’s son. “Today, we reunite Gould and Montgomery James with their parents. We know they are with their parents in heaven. In bringing them here, I am fulfilling a promise I made 50 years ago to their son, Jesse Jr. I am glad to have fulfilled this promise. May God grant them eternal rest.”

From the start, the re-internment of Jesse’s twins had been fraught with numerous difficulties. Darrell Cave, who had been a long time sextant of Mt. Olivet Cemetery, had his own issues about the event. Darrell was mindful of the circus atmosphere that previously surrounded the exhumation of Jesse James in his cemetery in 1995. He was not about to let another circus happen again. The hurdles Darrell Cave set up required persuasion.

As cemetery sextant, Darrell first denied the re-internment altogether. Following numerous conversations with Judge Ross, Darrell was persuaded to finally allow the wishes of Jesse’s wife Zee for reunion with her children to be fulfilled.

But Darrell had his caveats. No press would be permitted. Agreement came readily. Then Darrell insisted no cameras be present. Eric James laughed, reminding Darrell of the famous picture of Frank James standing before the gates of James Farm where a posted sign read, “No Kodaks!” Eric argued there had to be a documentary record, since historical personages were involved and the event itself was historic by nature. Darrell relented. Then Darrell insisted only one person could be in attendance. Eric and the Judge rebutted, stating the event required at least one principal and one witness. Before they provided the legal argument for why, Darrell agreed. Darrell only would allow Judge Ross and Eric James to attend.

On the day of re-internment, Eric James met Darrell Cave in person for the first time. Eric was struck by something he could only define as spiritual.

Recalling his arrival for the dis-internment of Jesse’s twins in Tennessee, Eric met the grave diggers in Waverly for the first time. One introduced himself as Robert Shadowen. Immediately Eric asked Robert for the name of his grandfather. When Robert told him, Eric said, “You’re kin to the James.” Robert denied it. Using his laptop, Eric showed Robert how Robert’s ancestral French Chaudoin family, sometimes pronounced Shadowen in America, was linked to the Mimms family, and through the Mimms to their James cousins.

In Kearney, when Darrell Cave introduced himself, his Cave surname struck a similar chord with Eric. Then Eric inquired of Darrell, “Cave family of colonial Virginia?”

Darrell responded, “Yep.”

Eric pressed, “Came into Kentucky with the Traveling Church?”

Again, Darrell responded “Yep.”

Eric pressed further, “Are you descended from Uriah Cave?”

Darrel answered, “He’s my second great grandfather.”

Eric explained his excitement to Darrel Cave. Eric pointed additionally to the fact that the dis-internment in Tennessee was assisted by Ann Yager Hamlin, a descendant in the Samuels family who also are related to the James through the outlaws’ stepfather Reuben Samuels. Hamlin represented Humphreys County as its official court witness to the exhumation. Ann Yeager Hamlin, Robert Shadowen, and now Darrell Cave had not been assembled through any conscious preplanning. Such an outcome could only be defined in the context of a  spiritual event. Clearly, hands from on high were also assisting.

Back in Kentucky, Eric went to the files of The James Preservation Trust. Eric had been working on a donated archive from Mike Albright, a James relative of the Cole family from Nebraska. Eric sent a picture from the file to Darrell Cave of some Cole family children in Nebraska. A boy at the left the end of the picture was identified as “Darrell Cave.” Eric inquired of Darrell if he knew the identity of the boy Darrell Cave in the photo. Darrell responded, saying “That’s me.” Darrell then explained that, following harvest time, the Cave family usually traveled and visited with cousins. In this case, Darrell was visiting his Cole family cousins in Nebraska, who also are cousins of the James.

In 2010, the Kearney Chamber of Commerce recognized Darrel Cave and his family for their contributions to the City of Kearney.

Photo by Matt Frye, Kearney Courier

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The Reunion of Gould & Montgomery James, a slide show.