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 AGAIN
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.
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.
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.
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.”