John Oliver James Visits His Childhood Home

Shortly before he died in June of 1987, John Oliver James, called Jack, returned to his boyhood home in Shopville, east of Somerset, Kentucky in Pulaski County for a final visit and remembrance.  He was interviewed by Bill Mardid, an assistant editor of Somerset’s Commonwealth Journal newspaper. The following is the text from Mardid’s article, published in 1986. Editor inserts, including photos, are not part of Mardid’s story. Editor notes are made for the purposes of further family identification in Stray Leaves’ genealogy database.

On the Road
On the Road Again, Commonwealth Journal, Somerset, Kentucky, 1986



86-year-old takes a different route than his legendary ancestors

by Bill Mardid
C-J Assistant Managing Editor

John James [ed. John Oliver “Jack” James] is a quiet, deeply religious man. One would never guess that lineage, according to the family tree, puts his line in descent directly from the infamous James brothers – Jesse and Frank.

James is also a Texan by residence. That should make him talk a lot and brag considerably.

But he doesn’t. Matter of fact, it took a little encouragement to get him to admit that the legendary bank robbers might be among his kinfolk.

But other members of the James family, still liberally sprinkled throughout the eastern Pulaski County, take pride in their blood relationship to the intriguing James boys. Several of them assisted a reporter in getting information out of the James from Texas, also a Pulaski Countian by birth.

Flat Lick Baptist Church, founded by John M. James, grandfather of John Oliver James
Flat Lick Baptist Church, built 1799 on land donated by John M. James

History indicates the Jameses always were solid citizens, many of them ministers of the Gospel, Joseph Martin James, John James paternal grandfather, was the builder and pastor of Flat Lick Baptist Church. the oldest existing church structure in Pulaski County.

The reason Frank and Jesse made their living with smoking guns probably always will be (illegible).

But history has been kind to the rowdy James boys. Their approach to crime carved for them a niche in folklore on the level of Robin Hood.

Robert Sallee James, cousin of John Oliver James
Rev. Robert Sallee James, father of Frank & Jesse James

John James’ great grandfather’s brother was Robert James [ed. Rev. Robert Sallee James], the father of Frank and Jesse, according to two different family records in possession of the Pulaski County Jameses.

John, who is here this week visiting friends and relatives, insists that he is not convinced of his kinship with Frank and Jesse James. As an active member of the First Baptist Church of Midland, Texas (illegible) matter.

But according to family history, John James’ father was Perry James [ed. Edward Perry James], the youngest of 16 grandchildren of Joseph Martin James, the preacher who led the way in constructing Flat Lick Church.

Joseph Martin James’ father was John James [ed. John M. James], indicative of the popularity of John as a name in the James family.

John James, great-grandfather of the John James now visiting in Pulaski County, was a brother of Robert James, father of Frank and Jesse James, the famous outlaws.

According to the living (illegible) two of the boys came to Kentucky from Culpeper County, Va., and settled in the Shopville area of eastern Pulaski County. One was happy and stayed. The other left, taking his family to Missouri. The James brothers – Frank and Jesse – apparently of the Missouri clan.

A reporter and photographer caught up with Texas John James yesterday afternoon at the Shopville home of Mr. and Mrs. Chester Noe [ed, Chester Noe & Beryl Leola “Berry” Herrin-Noe]. Thelma Herrin [ed. Thelma Jane Hayes-Herrin] and her husband, Lem [ed. Lem Garland Herrin], were there as well as a neighbor and friend, Lum Whitaker, a Shopville native who now lives at 143 Ashurst Street in Somerset.

The newsmen didn’t necessarily choose John as a story subject because he is kin to Frank and Jesse; several Pulaski Countians, including Mrs. (Berry) Noe and Mrs. Herrin also are related to the historical pair. John, who no doubt has drunk freely from the elusive Fountain of Youth, has written many pages of a very positive life story and the last chapter is not complete.

Stone House, Shopville, Ky. Boyhood home of John Oliver James
Stone House built by Rev. Joseph Martin James, 1854

He was born May 27, 1897, in a still-habitable fieldstone house across old KY 80 from the Shopville school complex. The house was built by his father, Joseph Martin James, about 150 years ago. This was the same James who built and pastored the Flat Lick Baptist Church.

The James house is currently occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Alfred Winkler [ed. Alford Million Winkler]. Mrs. Winkler said yesterday that they recently sold the property to Charles Hansford, a former owner.

John James was born in the house and lived there until he was 10 years old. At that time, his father, Perry, bought a farm in Madison County and the family moved there.

At age 24, John James left the Madison County farm and moved to Louisville where he would stay 27 years and learn the bricklaying trade. It was here that he met his wife, the former Goldie White of Ashland. She died two years ago.

Their daughter, Mrs. Virginia Worrell [ed. Virginia James-Worrell], now lives with her father in Midland.

John was a masonry contractor for another 27 years in Midland before retiring and getting into the oil leasing business. Midland is an “oil town” with some 95,000 residents and 2,500 millionaires.

John makes no claims that he is a millionaire, but an oil well currently is being drilled on one of his leases. Several years ago, he spent two years in Arabia representing an oil company.

So what, you say. What is so unusual about John James.

Remeber? He was born in 1897. That makes him 86 years old.

Again, so what?

Most 86-year-olds slow down, but not John.

Take this past summer, for example. He went with a Church group to Europe and spent three weeks. Upon returning, he drove 3,500 miles round trip from his home in Midland to California.

Then, it was back on the road again to Kansas City, Mo., and back, another 1,800 miles on his 1977 Cadillac.

Back on the way, he was off to Ridgecrest, N.C., with a church group for a retreat, and five days after getting back home he was behind the wheel of his Cadillac for the trip to Pulaski County.

He plans to stay with friend and relatives in the Shopville area for a day or so and the off to Richmond, Ashland, and Lewisville. His current schedule will put him in Midland about November 5, but another planned trip will take him to the western part of North Dakota near the Montana border in January.

Asked if his age has slowed him down any, John grinned: “Not much.” He works in his church at Midland and also belongs to the Downtown Lions Club in the Texas city.

“I’ve drunk coffee with the same bunch for 16 years (at a Midland restaurant). We meet about 10 o’clock…and that gets me started every day,” said John “We’re all in construction…engineers, architects, contractors…we talk the same language.”

To what does he credit his long-lived youthfulness and vitality?

“I never used tobacco…never in my life. I do plenty of hard work and exercise. I don’t think hard work ever hurt anybody.”

Then, with another grin, he added: “I feel good.”

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Tuesday February 9th, 2021
Stray Leaves

Theater advertisements for plays appeared like this in newspapers. This ad for Bloomer Girl appeared in August of 1845. Bloomer Girl was the product of Daniel Lewis James Jr. and principally his wife Lilith Stanward. The following excerpt about them appears in JJSL:

Written against the backdrop of World War II, when blacks were moving out of the South into an industrial workforce, and women also were moving out of the home into the workplace, Bloomer Girl is set in the pre-Civil War era, interweaving themes of black and female equality, war and peace, and politics. The play’s principal character, Dolly, is based upon the inventor of the bloomer, Amelia Bloomer, a contemporary of an acquaintance of Vassie James and Susan B. Anthony. As a fighter in the suffragette movement for women’s rights, Bloomer advocated, “Get rid of those heavy hoop skirts; wear bloomers like men; let’s get pants; let’s be their equal.” In the play, Dolly politicks for gender equality, as her rebellious niece Evelina politicks her suitor, a Southern slaveholding aristocrat, for racial equality. As the play’s librettist, Yip Harburg, stated,
Bloomer Girl was about “the indivisibility of human freedom.”

Bloomer Girl opened on Broadway on October 5, 1944. Dan (Daniel Lewis James) insisted Lilith’s (Dan’s wife) name come first in the show’s credits. The play was an instant hit, lasting 654 performances. Dan remained modest about the show’s success, considering his contribution a failure. “...I seem not to have given full credit to my collaborators on the 1944 musical comedy Bloomer Girl...The facts, in brief, are as follows: the originator of the story idea from which the musical grew was my wife, Lilith James, who charmingly chose the perversities of Fashion to dramatize the early struggles of the Women's Rights movement. She also developed the principal characters. I joined her in writing a first draft of the libretto. It failed to satisfy our lyricist, E. Y. Harburg, and Harold Arlen, the composer. It also failed to satisfy us. An impasse developed at which point all agreed to call in the team of Sig Herzig and Fred Saidy who were experienced writers in the field of musical comedy. They reworked the material to the satisfaction of everyone but Lilith and myself, who had hoped to invade Gilbert & Sullivan territory, with what we thought was a light-hearted paradoxical look at history. What I took for a personal artistic failure for which I blamed, first of all, myself, went on to become a lavish entertainment which played on Broadway for eighteen months and has since often been revived in summer theater. If I was not delighted, audiences certainly were and full credit for this should be given to Sig Herzig and Fred Saidy (now deceased) without whom the production would never have taken place...”
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Wednesday February 3rd, 2021
Stray Leaves

YOU CAN'T HELP BUT WONDER...What might have happened if Alan Pinkerton assigned Kate Warne to track and capture Jesse James?In 1856, twenty-three-year-old widow Kate Warne walked into the office of the Pinkerton Detective Agency in Chicago, announcing that she had seen the company’s ad and wanted to apply for the job. “Sorry,” Alan Pinkerton told her, “but we don’t have any clerical staff openings. We’re looking to hire a new detective.” Pinkerton would later describe Warne as having a “commanding” presence that morning. “I’m here to apply for the detective position,” she replied. Taken aback, Pinkerton explained to Kate that women aren’t suited to be detectives, and then Kate forcefully and eloquently made her case. Women have access to places male detectives can’t go, she noted, and women can befriend the wives and girlfriends of suspects and gain information from them. Finally, she observed, men tend to become braggards around women who encourage boasting, and women have keen eyes for detail. Pinkerton was convinced. He hired her.

Shortly after Warne was hired, she proved her value as a detective by befriending the wife of a suspect in a major embezzlement case. Warne not only gained the information necessary to arrest and convict the thief, but she discovered where the embezzled funds were hidden and was able to recover nearly all of them. On another case she extracted a confession from a suspect while posing as a fortune teller. Pinkerton was so impressed that he created a Women’s Detective Bureau within his agency and made Kate Warne the leader of it.

In her most famous case, Kate Warne may have changed the history of the world. In February 1861 the president of the Wilmington and Baltimore railroad hired Pinkerton to investigate rumors of threats against the railroad. Looking into it, Pinkerton soon found evidence of something much more dangerous—a plot to assassinate Abraham Lincoln before his inauguration. Pinkerton assigned Kate Warne to the case. Taking the persona of “Mrs. Cherry,” a Southern woman visiting Baltimore, she managed to infiltrate the secessionist movement there and learn the specific details of the scheme—a plan to kill the president-elect as he passed through Baltimore on the way to Washington.

Pinkerton relayed the threat to Lincoln and urged him to travel to Washington from a different direction. But Lincoln was unwilling to cancel the speaking engagements he had agreed to along the way, so Pinkerton resorted to a Plan B. For the trip through Baltimore Lincoln was secretly transferred to a different train and disguised as an invalid. Posing as his caregiver was Kate Warne. When she afterwards described her sleepless night with the President, Pinkerton was inspired to adopt the motto that became famously associated with his agency: “We never sleep.” The details Kate Warne had uncovered had enabled the “Baltimore Plot” to be thwarted.

During the Civil War, Warne and the female detectives under her supervision conducted numerous risky espionage missions, with Warne’s charm and her skill at impersonating a Confederate sympathizer giving her access to valuable intelligence. After the war she continued to handle dangerous undercover assignments on high-profile cases, while at the same time overseeing the agency’s growing staff of female detectives.

Kate Warne, America’s first female detective, died of pneumonia at age 34, on January 28, 1868, one hundred fifty-three years ago today. “She never let me down,” Pinkerton said of one of his most trusted and valuable agents. She was buried in the Pinkerton family plot in Chicago.
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YOU CANT HELP BUT WONDER...What might have happened if Alan Pinkerton assigned Kate Warne to track and capture Jesse James?
Monday January 18th, 2021
Stray Leaves

None of this surprises Stray Leaves. We exist for stories like this.
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Official website for the family of Frank & Jesse James