Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
“If all I did was to walk around saying that I’m a descendant of Daniel Boone and a descendant of Jesse James, I wouldn’t have a life of my own.”
– Donald James Baumel to Eric F. James, 2002
The ancestry which Donald James Baumel inherited from America’s iconic outlaw Jesse James and Kentucky’s iconic explorer Daniel Boone determined how Don lived and died. Central to his life was what Don valued most – his privacy.
Don Baumel died on April 27, 2011. Family members delayed announcement of his death, considering whether to announce it at all. If Don had his way, he would have probably preferred to slip away into history totally unnoticed, with no recognition either of his life or of his death by anyone.
Don was last seen among his family at the James Gang & Family Reunion, held in Paso Robles, California in 2002. Months of coaxing by Judge James Randall Ross, Don’s first cousin, finally got Don to show up. Among 200 family and friends attending the reunion, Don went virtually unnoticed among them as he circulated freely through all the events. No one had seen Don in years. He talked with few people.
At a break in the events, Judge Ross and I went to lunch with Don. He ordered a sandwich, but picked at it sparingly. We then went shopping for a western outfit, so Don could be dressed western style like the rest of us. But in every store, Don resisted. Nothing was purchased. That night at the banquet, however, Don appeared in a western outfit that had more worn authenticity than anyone else in the dining room. He looked like he just had stepped out of the California West when Frank and Jesse last visited Paso Robles. The clothes were Don’s own.
Touring historic sites the next afternoon, Don rode with me, my niece Kathryn Craft, and Steve Leonard of the James Preservation Trust. For once, Don was not silent at all. We showered him in questions. Don not only responded generously, he gave us an exclusive insight into his life, which no one ever had heard before.
Don was born a twin. His twin sister Diane survives him. In high school in Los Angeles, Don and Diane both were considered “joiners.” If a group existed, they joined. Years later in 2007, I met Barbara Clemens from their high school class. Barbara confirmed the fact. Diane and Don were elected by their classmates, together with three others, as “Ephebians,” the top graduation honor awarded to those who demonstrated the highest grade averages, and who were the most socially and politically active. Don was Vice-President of the student body.
About this time, Don learned he was a direct descendant of the notorious outlaw Jesse James. Like most others among the James family who stumbled upon the family secret, Don was advised not to advertise the fact, but not to deny it either, if questioned. Don chose to avoid the question altogether.
When he joined the U. S. Army, Don’s life began to change. He was assigned to a security group, and stationed at a radio squadron in Mobile, Alabama. Don learned tools of the secrecy trade. Exiting the Army, Don enrolled at UCLA in California. He no longer was the socially and politically active student that he once was in high school. Don had changed.
Don knew little of his family history, unlike his cousin Jim Ross, who had grown up in the household of Jesse James Jr. For himself, Don seemed to live in a growing fear of the past. As he did, Don’s life appeared to become directionless. When his father Mervyn Baumel died in 1964, Don was left a trust fund instead of an outright inheritance. Unlike his cousins descended from Thomas Martin James, the Kansas City millionaire merchant, Don didn’t need to worry about having money or a career, and the possible exposure that came with it
Most of his life, Don lived in San Francisco. Like a couple of his less recognized cousins, Rev. William Henry James who maintained a mission for the poor and homeless of Kansas City, and Luther Tillman James who founded the Kansas City Provident Association to financially support programs for the poor and homeless, Don developed an affinity for the disenfranchised of San Francisco. Among the faceless of Market Street, Don found he could live and work as he pleased, both comfortably and anonymously. Money meant little, if nothing, to Don. Anything he had, he was happy to share or give away. Like Rev. William Henry James, like his ancestral Mimms cousins, and like his third great grand Uncle Drury Woodson James, Don lived in a hotel.
A heart attack took the life of Donald James Baumel, as it did his cousin Jim Ross in March of 2007, and also Jim’s mother Jo Frances James in March of 1964.
September 28, 2011
DON’S DESCENT FROM JESSE WOODSON JAMES
Jesse Woodson James & Zerelda Amanda Mimms
. Jesse Edward James Jr. & Estella Frances McGowan
.. Mervyn Baumel & Jessie Estell James
… Donald James Baumel
DON’S DESCENT FROM DANIEL BOONE
Daniel Boone & Rebecca Ann Bryant
. Nathan Boone & Olive Van Biber
.. Alfred M. Hosman & Mary Boone
… Luther Alfred McGowan & Mary Frances Hosman
…. Alfred Monte McGowan & Martha Ann Wood
….. Jesse Edward James Jr. & Estella Frances McGowan
…… Mervyn Baumel & Jessie Estell James
…… Donald James Baumel