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Literally…The Latest James Family Dirt

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“You want to see our new tombstone?” Barbara Lemaster James proudly invited me. The question echoed like a question from long ago, “You want to watch our home movies?” Back then, no one ever wanted to watch anyone’s home movies or learn about the family dirt, let alone inspect their pre-bought tombstone before they died.

Already I was biting my tongue, thinking of a million jokes. I restrained myself, though, severely reminding myself that I am the genealogist and historian in the family. There might be implications here I may need to know. Get serious, Eric. “Of course,” I replied. “Let’s go.”

Raymond Edward James displays his family story in Jesse James Soul Liberty, Vol. I, Behind the Family Wall of Stigma & Silence

Barbara’s husband, Raymond Edward James, had a rough time this past year.

Cousin, Mark New, who’s a funeral director, suggested they select a plot among their James cousins, now buried at Mt. Zion Cemetery in Science Hill, Kentucky. Mark also maintains the expanding cemetery that once was part of his Grandmother Adams’ family farm.

When we all gathered at our annual family outing over the weekend, Barbara issued me her invitation.

I could have guessed some irrepressible James family dark humor would cut loose.

Raymond & Barbara LeMaster James

With Mark’s guidance, Raymond and Barbara had put some considerable thought into their selection. Unlike the plentiful black tombstones, which I found among numerous James all across the country, Raymond and Barbara selected a Confederate gray with dignified black engraving. Around two wedding rings linking their separate burial locations, they engraved their wedding date.

Each side was flanked by a receptacle. “What goes in there,” I asked.

“Yellow roses in mine,” Barbara quickly replied.

“And in Raymond’s?”

“Ice cream,” Raymond interjected. Ice cream, it is, I noted.

On the backside of their tombstone, Barbara and Raymond thoughtfully had engraved the names of their children, even those of Barbara’s by her earlier marriage.

“See,” Raymond pointed. “There’s the genealogy. Right there.” Raymond looked for my reaction. “Well, Eric, you’re not going to be around here forever!” he added.

Any sense of decorum, if any existed at all, now was broken. “Have you both lied down here before,” I asked. “There doesn’t seem to be enough length.”

Barbara snapped, “Oh yeah. We fit.”

Then came Barbara’s zinger. “And look, Eric. You can have this space, right next door.” I was stunned. Literally, stunned. To urge me further, Barbara tried closing the deal. “And there’s room further down the row, for all your Facebook friends.”

We paraded around the tombstones of the other James family buried there. Ivadean James caught my eye. The one and only time I met and talked with her was about a year before she died.

Ivadean never knew what happened to her father, Mack Henry James. He abandoned her family when she was a child. But Ivadean did get to know what happened to Mack before I did. My research found him about a year after Ivadean died, too late to tell her myself, except to share our mutual discovery in prayer.

For the first time, I noted, too, that Ivadean’s estranged husband, Gid Elliott, had died the day after she died, but in a different hospital. Things like that leave you wanting to know a story never told.

Tombstone of Gid & Ivadean James Elliott

“Tombstones are important,” I said. They are good places to visit, and the best places to tell stories. No one seems to hold back when standing before a tombstone.

“What do you want on your tombstone,” Raymond’s daughter asked me.

“Easy,” I answered. “I want an electronic chip embedded in my stone. You dial a radio frequency and you can hear me personally greet you. “Hi, how are you? Nice of you to drop by. Did I ever tell you the story about…?”

“Yeah,” Raymond’s daughter shouted enthusiastically. “Let’s party!” I was assured I’d have my chip, on the condition I signed up for a party plot.

When we returned to the farmhouse, Mark had the tractor fired up with the hay wagon hitched behind. Every year, Mark drives a hayride full of kids up to the cemetery hill. They visit with their dead relatives, and tell stories.

Back at our table, I asked, “Is this one of those things where, if you get two others to sign up for a plot, you get your plot for free?” With that, we were off and running.

“Look at Mark,” someone said. “Come on, kids. Sign up now. Those old folks back there got theirs. You saw them come back. They’re trying to get others into yours.” From there, the jokes ran on and on.

I still expect to see Raymond and Barbara at next year’s annual gathering. And God forbid, if not…we’ll bring yellow roses, or ice cream, and plenty of stories.

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Tuesday October 19th, 2021
Stray Leaves Daily

☞Today in Old-West History — On today’s date 119 years ago, Sunday, October 19, 1902, notorious Old-West outlaw & fiddle player James Hardin “Uncle Jim” Younger (1848-1902) met his earthly demise at the age of 54 when he committed suicide by gunshot whilst on parole at Saint Paul, Minnesota.

☞Requiéscant In Pace, Jim Younger.

☞Jim Younger was one of the central figures of a band of the most desperate outlaws the Old West ever knew — the infamous James-Younger Gang, which was formed by Jim’s brother Cole Younger along with Frank & Jesse James.

☞Jim Younger joined the Confederate Army during the War Between the States (1861-1865) & served with Quantrill’s Raiders. In 1864, he was captured by Union troops & was imprisoned until the end of the War.

☞After the War, Younger worked on various ranches until he joined the James-Younger Gang in 1873. When his brother John was killed at Roscoe, Missouri in 1874, Jim left the gang & went out west where he worked on a ranch in San Luis Obispo, California.

☞In 1876, Jim returned to the gang, & on September 7 he participated in a bank robbery that became known as the Great Northfield Minnesota Raid. During that robbery he was shot & captured. The James brothers escaped, but Cole, Jim, & Bob Younger were shot up by a posse, arrested, & sentenced to long terms in the state penitentiary at Stillwater, Minnesota, where they were afforded celebrity status.

☞Jim Younger’s fiddle was one of the few possessions that he was allowed to have with him in prison, & he played it often. As time passed, Jim noticed that a little bird would appear most every day in the window of his jail cell. It seemed as though the bird came to listen whenever Jim played his fiddle. Jim was lonely & he befriended the bird which he named “Swipsy.” The bird would fly into the prison cell & Jim would always try to have crumbs to feed Swipsy. One day, a fellow prisoner killed the little bird just for spite. Jim then painted a picture of Swipsy on the back of his violin to remember his little feathered friend.

☞In 1898, the prison warden allowed the prisoners to throw a Christmas party at his own home, with Cole Younger portraying Santa Claus & Jim Younger playing his fiddle.

☞Paroled in 1901, Jim became engaged to his long-time lover Alix Mueller; however, because of the terms of his parole he couldn’t marry her.

☞On October 19, 1902, after a failed attempt to sell tombstones & then insurance, Jim Younger locked himself in his room, wrote a suicide note to Alix, picked up his revolver, & blew his brains out.

☞In 2013, Jim Younger’s fiddle, which was played by him at the famous 1898 Christmas party at Stillwater Prison, was sold at a Dallas, Texas auction for over $11,000.

☞The left-hand photograph depicts the image of Swipsy the Bird that Jim Younger painted on the back of his fiddle. The right-hand photograph depicts an undated studio portrait of Jim Younger.
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Tuesday October 5th, 2021
Stray Leaves Daily

For Drury Woodson James, founder of Paso Robles, CA., and all his descendants, PASO ROBLES FOUNDERS’ DAY 2021. See MoreSee Less

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