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Jesse James By Another Name – The Bastard Bunch

Whose Side Are You On?

Being named Jesse James is a stigma bad enough. Having your line of the James family branded as “the bastard bunch” is worse. Among the James, redemption is hard-won. Branding bastards begs the question, “Whose side are you on?”

Jesse James 1901-1980, one of the bastard bunch who carried a gun.

This is Jesse James, born in 1901, died in 1980. His name comes from his third cousin, America’s historic folklore icon Jesse Woodson James. Jesse believed, “being Jesse James was a pain in the neck.” He thought that no one should be named Jesse James ever again. Jesse received weird telephone calls, especially when he lived in Chattanooga. He carried a gun to protect himself.

Much of what is known about Jesse James comes from Jesse’s grandson, the literary publisher Charles Michael James. According to Mike, Jesse was just an average fellow. He loved hunting with a bow and arrow. He rode motorcycles and raced go-karts. Once he raced down the Mississippi River in a houseboat.

In a Chattanooga roundhouse, Jesse was a foreman in a repair shop of the Southern Railway. He chose his employer deliberately. The James family largely remained supporters of the Southern Cause. Jesse’s line of the James, however, elected to side with the Union. The Southern Railway that Jesse worked for was formed by northern interests to reconstruct southern railroad lines decimated by the Civil War. For Jesse, his employment with the Southern Railway represented a form of family reconciliation.

If Jesse’s notorious name was not stigma enough, he and his family line bore a more embittering millstone. The heavy burden disjointed Jesse and his James family as much as the nefarious Jesse James did with the entire James family, or as the James family generally did by choosing their sides in the Civil War. The question has always been present, “Whose side are you on?”

Responding to the question, the James family at large divorced Jesse and his James family line completely. The family church founded by his James family expelled them, too. In fact, the entire community of Pulaski County, Kentucky where Jesse was born, ostracized Jesse and his family. Jesse’s line became known as “the bastard bunch.”

Bigamy Branded The Bastard Bunch

The root of the malevolence directed against Jesse and his family stems from Jesse’s great-grandparents.

When Rev. Joseph Martin James and Permelia Estepp were married, their marriage was bigamous. Brother Joe married his second wife Rhoda May lawfully. For fourteen years Joe and Rhoda remained married. They were the parents of eight children. Joe also had nine other children by his first lawful marriage with Martha Betsy “Patsy” McAlister. Patsy died giving birth to Joe’s ninth child. While Joe was married to Rhoda May, though, Joe married for a third time. This third time, Joe married Permelia Estepp in adjacent Laurel County. There, Joe thought, his wedding to Permelia was hidden from view. Rev. Joe’s third marriage was unlawful and bigamous.

Rev. Joseph Martin James commissioned this stone house to be built circa 1843 for his wife Rhoda May. The home was constructed by Rev. Joe’s slaves under the supervision of David Carson before the Civil War at Flat Lick Creek in Shopville in Pulaski County, Kentucky. The red brick porch is a 20th-century addition. Downslope and within sight of Rhoda’s home, Rev. Joe lived with his bigamous wife Permelia Estepp in a log cabin across Flat Lick Creek. The Bastard Bunch was born there.

Steeped in the rampant alcoholism that drove him to bigamy, Brother Joe produced three additional children with Permelia Estepp. The children were named Lucy, John Thomas, and Joseph Martin James Jr., quickly nicknamed Joel.

In between each year that Joe spent with Permelia, Joe returned to live again with Rhoda for a year at a time. In those interval years, Rhoda tried to get Joe sober in their new stone house. In each interval year Joe spent with Rhoda, Joe impregnated Rhoda with an annual child, adding three more children to Rhoda’s brood.

Whose Side Are You On?

Joe’s aberrant lifestyle was too visible and distressing for his church and community to ignore. The Flat Lick Baptist Church sided with the Lord, not with the man of God. They defrocked Pastor Joe. They cited that Pastor Joseph Martin James was “talented, but erratic.”

The James family at large made a cruel choice, too. The James family with its in-law families and their community were not in the least forgiving of the bigamous marriage of Joe and Permelia. More so, they disapproved of the couple’s issue. After Joe was stripped of his church, everyone in Pulaski County branded all descendants of Rev. Joseph Martin James and Permelia Estepp as “the bastard bunch,” as if they were responsible for the ignominy brought down upon their community.

Ostracized and banished, Jesse James’ line of descendants from Joe and Permelia was forced to forge whatever redemption it could, wherever it could, for the most part elsewhere.

Tragedy Stalks Joe & Permelia’s Bastards

In Pulaski County, the eldest child of Rev. Joe and Permelia Estepp, John Thomas James drew scant attention as he rose from obscurity to become a county judge. The community blindly tolerated the bastard judge, because his two younger bastard siblings, Lucy and Joel James, were gone from Pulaski County. Lucy and Joel left Kentucky and moved to Missouri.

The opportunity for Lucy and Joel to depart arose when the father of Alexander M. Barclay moved to Kansas territory in 1867. Alexander married Lucy James and took her to Missouri with the Barclay family. Brother Joel James went with his sister Lucy.

Many among the James family at large thought Alexander M. Barclay generally made bad choices. Barclay made a bad choice when he married the bastard, Lucy. The James family estimated that Barclay also made a wrong choice when he enlisted at age 15 in the Union’s First Kentucky Cavalry. For the next 31 months, Alexander served the duration of the war. But then, at Buffington Station in Ohio, Confederate John Hunt Morgan was captured. David Hunt James and his brother Richard Skinner James who served under Morgan also were captured. The James cousins were sent to Camp Douglas, the Unions’s POW camp in Chicago. Richard died there. David did not return until the war ended. The James family did not forget that Alexander M. Barclay was part of the Union Army and that Barclay was present to capture their James cousins.

Unlike the other James who served the Confederacy in the Civil War, Judge John Thomas James made his choice to serve the Union also, in Company B of the 12th Kentucky Volunteers. A year after the war’s end, he married Patience Jenkins. They had nine children. Several married. Progressively, the Judge’s children exiled themselves from Kentucky, too, moving to Illinois and Tennessee.

Left alone in Kentucky, tragic destiny erased whatever atonement or redemption Judge James might have achieved for the Bastard Bunch in his 79 years. Among the judge’s siblings, Joel disappeared and Lucy died abruptly from unknown causes. When crank-starting his car in Somerset in 1923, Judge John Thomas James was run over by his own vehicle and dragged down the street to his death.

“Mrs. Alexander Barclay dropped dead at her home, five miles southeast of Adrian, Thursday evening, March 25, 1915. She had been in her usual health and was doing her evening work when death came without a moments warning. The husband left the house to do some chores at the barn. He was gone but a few minutes. When he returned he found Mrs. Barclay lying on the floor dead.”

Adrian Journal, April 1, 1915, Page 1 column 3

Lynchings Summon Bastard Nobility

The outsider status of the Bastard Bunch gave John Perry James a hard-headed belligerence that was spiteful of consequences.

Judge John Thomas James did what he could to restore legitimacy and justice to his bastard line of the James family. He maintained a distance from the notoriety of their criminal cousins Frank and Jesse James, too, as did the James generally. His eldest son John Perry James was not of a like mind, however. John Perry James and wife Lydia Crowe spitefully gave Jesse James his regrettable name.

A story about the antagonism of John Perry James that transformed into admirable nobility surfaced during the late 1940s to early 1950s. The crushing disrepute that dishonored the Bastard Bunch kept his story of singular bravery hidden more than half a century.

Raymond James uncovered the story about Jesse’s father. Raymond, also of the Bastard Bunch, went by the intractable nickname of Big Burr. He learned that John Perry James was the only person to cut down and retrieve the bodies of the brothers James Harvey and Josiah Gilliland. A mob hanged the brothers in 1891 without trial for the assassination of Pulaski County Sheriff John H. McHargue.

In all of Pulaski County, not one other person would cut down the dead bodies of the Gilliland brothers. The boys generally were unrecognizable ninth cousins of John Perry James. Regardless, he considered the boys kinfolk. Only the sympathetic humanity of John Perry James of the Bastard Bunch responded to the necessity for removing the gruesome spectacle.

Raymond stated this story was not learned from any of the James family. Instead, Raymond heard the story from Joe Lewis who worked at the quarry in Somerset. Raymond suspected Joe Lewis may have been part of the mob that did the lynching. Lewis seemed to indicate that some of the mob may have been vigilantes in the Ku Klux Klan. To the present day, the Klan still targets Somerset, Kentucky for recruitment.

After taking down the bodies of the Gilliland boys, John Perry James removed them to Dabney where he lived. The brothers were interred in the family cemetery of their father Galen Gilliland. The Gilliland home was not too far from Rev. Joe’s stone house in Shopville. The controversy over what prompted the questionable lynchings continues unresolved to the present day.

Married to a Misbegotten

Jesse James married Mary Margaret Crockett. Like the Bastard Bunch, she, too, was born illegitimately.

Bessie, as she was called, was born to Todd and Anna Crockett. The family secret of Bessie’s birth was long held. The Crockett family finally revealed the truth late in the 20th century, after Bessie died.

Mary Margaret Crockett James 1905-1965, called Bessie. The first wife of Jesse James, and mother to Charles Robert James and John William James.

Everyone knew Bessie had a bad temper. Mike James recalls she was openly mean to her brother and sister. The cause of her distemper finally was diagnosed when Bessie suffered a stroke. Bessie suffered from a brain tumor.

Not surprisingly, Jesse’s marriage with Bessie was volatile at times. While Jesse worked in Chattanooga, Bessie remained in Somerset, left to the care of Joe Hill until Bessie died.

Later, Jesse married Alma Mounce, the daughter of James Washington Mounce and Lona “Icey” Farmer. When Jesse married Alma, a third cousin of outlaw Jesse Woodson James married a third cousin of Sheriff Wyatt Earp.

Sometime after World War II, Jesse owned a gas station. When he moved to Warren, Ohio, Jesse advanced into the newspaper business. He became a typeset and Linotype operator. This occupation set the origin for the future literary career of Jesse’s grandson Mike James.

Mike states that Jesse was “totally Baptist” like many of the James family since the American Revolution. However, when Jesse experienced his first heart attack, he was discovered in a whore house. When Jesse woke up in a hospital, he furtively escaped. Like his great grandfather, the Baptist preacher Rev. Joseph Martin James, the embarrassment did not go unnoticed.

Bastard Bootlegging – Siding with The Bigamist

Two children were born to Jesse and Bessie Crockett James. For one of them, the genetic undertow of the “talented, but erratic” Rev. Joe proved all too compelling and powerful.

The wedding party of Charles Robert James and Theresa Unknown, June 20, 1948. L-R: Mary Margaret “Bessie” Crockett-James, Marjorie Elnoa Jones-James, groom Charles Robert James, Jesse James, bride Theresa Unknown, and John William James.

The youngest, Charles Robert James, served in the U.S. Navy during World War II. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Charlie’s ship was out to sea. He was safe. Later in the war, a kamikaze attacked his ship. Charlie was not saved. He sustained a serious shrapnel injury that affected his kidneys permanently. Due to his injuries, Charlie received a disability pension from the government.

Returning home from war, Charlie worked as a welder in the roundhouse of the Southern Railway with his father Jesse. In his off-hours, Charlie took to making moonshine, just like his second great-grandfather. At Shopville, the “talented, but erratic” Rev. Joe operated a still in the knobs behind his storehouse on Flat Lick Creek. Rev. Joe also sold the spirits he made to some of the same congregants to whom he preached. Charles Robert James embraced his great-grandfather’s practice. Charlie’s behavior turned erratic, too. For amusement, Charlie would go into a Chattanooga hotel and set off a flash bomb. He thought that was great fun.

Sadly, the malfunction of Charlie’s kidneys overtook whatever redemptive credit his military service might have earned him. When Charlie attended his mother Bessie’s funeral, he showed up drunk. Drinking himself to death became Charlie’s occupation – as if doing so would wash away his bastard line stigma. Charles Robert James lived only to age 42.

Bastard Duty Holds Down Bloody Harlan

Unlike his brother, Jesse and Bessie’s eldest son, John William James, lived a long and adventurous life until age 71. John William James never talked about family history or the Civil War, topics popular among the James family. Saddled with the stigma of the Bastard Bunch, John William James wanted to get as far away from Somerset, from Pulaski County, and from his family as he could. He was not close to Jesse, Bessie, or any of his family. He was never affectionate. When visiting home, he always was considerate. Taking sides, however, as the James do, proved the bane of his existence, but also his triumph.

Running away from home at age 16, John William James enlisted in the Kentucky National Guard at Bowling Green. He was sent to Harlan County to quell the coal wars in bloody Harlan County.

May 19, 1939. Striking union members are guarded by National Guardsmen at the entrance of Harlan-Wallins Coal Corp. at Verda in Harlan County. Kentucky coal miners bled and died to unionize. Their workplace became a war zone. Gun battles punctuated union protests.

He was positioned with a machine gun, facing the coal strikers. When ordered to fire under cover of night, John William James believed he had killed some of the rioters. The guilt of killing fellow countrymen weighed heavy on his mind.

Fearing retribution in Kentucky, John William James fled to Canada. He became a Canadian Ranger in 1939. During World War II, his Canadian forces joined the British Army. He disliked this for good reason. In the disastrous raid of Dieppe, 907 Canadian soldiers were killed, 2,460 were wounded, and 1,946 were taken prisoner. The Kentuckian, John William James, was fated to become one of the few survivors of the Dieppe raid.

Bastard Commitment Returns Victory

After the raid at Dieppe, less than half of all Canadian forces sent to Dieppe returned to England. Months later, John William James returned again with British forces to the theater of war. This time for the secretive Operation Torch and the invasion of Northern Africa.

Fusilier’s patch from the uniform of John William James

John William James then joined the colorful and historical Royal Scots Fusiliers who had fought much earlier in the American Revolution in the 1770s. Beginning as a quartermaster, his service with the Fusiliers took him to a prison camp in North Africa, then on to service in Algeria, Tunisia, and Italy.

In return for his service, Great Britain invested in John William James. They sent him to Oxford University. As World War II came to an end, the British government also educated him in preparation for the formation of a Reciprocal Trade Agreement between the allies Great Britain and the United States of America.

10 Reasons to Join the British Army

Medals & Accolades for the Scorned

During eleven years in the U.S. Army Air Force, plus two years more in the U.S. Air Force Reserves, John William James of the Bastard Bunch distinguished himself, building an impressive record of service. When John retired, the U.S. military was sorry to see him go.

The U.S. Military awards of John William James

Aside from being a flight engineer, the U.S. military also educated John William James in business skills which would benefit him well when he transitioned into civilian life. At the University of Virginia, he studied business administration. He also took government courses in cost accounting and personnel management. At Trinity University, courses in time motion, job evaluation, and quality control followed, initiating the course his private life would take.

Military photo of John William James

Letter of Appreciation, 29 November, 1951

To: T/Sgt John W. James

1. Your return to civilian status affords me the rare opportunity to deviate from the usual military channels and address you as a personal friend. The ability and conscientiousness you displayed in supervising the establishing procedures for the processing of Foreign Nationals resulted in a commendation for this section by Air Materiel Command, and is most sincerely appreciated by all concerned.

2. It was through your personal effort and supervision that this was accomplished, and you may feel proud that the procedures you established have been incorporated as a Base Regulation.

3. It is with considerable regret that I see you leave the military service, but I realize that your chances of financial success will be much greater in civilian life.

Thomas B. Carver, Capt., USAF, Foreign Liaison Section

The Irregular is Lauded as “Honorable”

These documents of discharge offer indisputable evidence of the service John William James provided his country. His perception of disgrace and failure at Bloody Harlan required no other atonement. Always lingering at home, though, no redemption was conferred by the James family for the blunder of his ancestral birth and being.

Family Life Settled

On November 10, 1945, John William James married Marjorie Elnoa Jones. Her nickname was Girt. Before the marriage, Girt had a previous sweetheart, but her sweetheart did not return home from World War II.

Girt fascinated a number of men. She was flirty. She loved to party and was good at drinking, too. Mike James said of his colorful mother Girt, “she lived like she was in Gone with the Wind. She hired a black woman to do her laundry, and a nanny for her children.”

Marjorie Elnoa Jones James 1923-2011, called Girt

When Mike James entered his sophomore year of college, Girt and John William James divorced. Girt had been a secretary to the mayor of Somerset in Pulaski County. Now she required permanent employment again. Girt entered the Turnbull Memorial School of Nursing and stayed for the next 17 years. People appreciated her directness. Her genuine warmth put people at ease. Under the most trying or difficult circumstances, Girt could always make people laugh.

At home, Girt delighted in the visits of her children, grandchildren, and a great-grandchild. She cooked wonderful dinners for them. As an accomplished seamstress, Girt also provided them with custom clothes she made by hand.

Girt passed on March 21, 2011, long after her husband John William James set his path to redeeming the Bastard Bunch line of the James family.

Invention of Bastard Redemption

John William James 1923-1994, redeemer of the Bastard Bunch

Returning to civilian life from the military service, John William James was armed with ample skills to create a new life for himself. He pursued an occupation in the newspaper business in Knoxville, New York, Washington D.C. and Ohio. Inside the newspaper industry, he placed himself in the avant-garde of a technology that would revolutionize the publishing of newspapers in America.

At the Knoxville News Sentinel, he established one of the first phototypesetting systems used to print newspapers. The machinery necessary was not yet invented. Nor was it available in the commercial marketplace. He designed and constructed the new equipment himself.

MJ12-Close Encounters of the Ridiculed Kind

Media swarmed over reports of an unidentified flying object (UFO) that crashed in Roswell, New Mexico. Public interest flared to a fever pitch.

Briefing papers suddenly appeared in May of 1987 describing “Operation Majestic 12.” John William James acquired copies of the papers. The FBI declared the documents to be “completely bogus.”

John William James displayed these twelve pages to his three children. Then, he asked his sons Mike and Steve James and his daughter Patricia Suzanne James the question.

Whose side are you on?

“My father told me the majestic story when we were young kids. Michael said it was bogus, my late sister did not care. I did not know enough to make an informed decision.

“After serving in 2nd Force Recon in the Marines I now know the U.S. Government strategically misrepresents stories. Dad once said, ‘Yes, this is a true story. But no one will every believe it. And the feds will bury it.’ He kept the paperwork all these years…He claimed it’s true. I don’t know. I do know there are operations I was involved with that the government denies to this day that I can not prove…So I guess everyone has to decide what they believe is true. I now think Majestic was used to cover early stealth and Harrier research… – Thanks, Steve “

The Tug and Tow of Bastard Redemption

Eventually, John William James settled in Knoxville, Tennessee. At Christmas, however, he always returned home to Kentucky. When he arrived, the family noticed how he had become so noticeably different from them. He was liberal. He had many homosexual and lesbian friends.

The family also noted how alike he was to some of them. He was “constantly in this mist,” meaning he was a functioning alcoholic like so many others among the James family. The blot within the James family reached well beyond the “talented, but erratic” Rev. Joseph Martin James to an ancestral cousin Phillip Henry James in the Revolutionary War.

John William James died on June 19, 1994. In a Christian imitation, he surrendered his body for his fellow man. He donated his remains to science. Dr. Leonard P. Blass of the Department of Anatomy at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio received his donation. Nothing more is known of his body’s disposition or what value came from it.

Bastard Bunch Prejudice – Nevermore

Prejudice requires a conflict. Prejudice also requires a fire, burning to survive. For the Bastard Bunch, time has evaporated the conflict among the James family. Many descendants today do not know of these ancestral events. Most James living today do not burn with the flames of contempt and hatred that once afflicted their ancestors.

As the facts of history endure, all may never be forgotten. A bastard birth can never be reborn. A bastard birth can never be corrected. What can be corrected is derision and exclusion. Inclusion and acceptance can be reawakened.

From their experience with Frank and Jesse James, the James family is too familiar with stigma. The outlaw brothers stripped away dignity, respect, and family identity itself. The James family are victims, suffering a never-ending tide of erosion and destruction. As long as the legend of Jesse James endures, so will endure a measure of public prejudice against the James family as tides of family and public disapproval recede only to advance again.

For the Bastard Bunch, however, time has erased shame, dishonor, and disgrace of their misborn stigma. Bastardy no longer creates social pariahs. Bastardy is the inheritance of the legends of history. For that alone, Jesse James was right. No one ever should be named Jesse James again.

Whose side are you on?

More about The Bastard Bunch

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Tuesday January 12th, 2021

Stray Leaves

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Tuesday December 29th, 2020

Stray Leaves

If you want a seat at the table for 2021, be sure to visit our Stray Leaves website at ericjames.org and SUBSCRIBE. ... See MoreSee Less

If you want a seat at the table for 2021, be sure to visit our Stray Leaves website at ericjames.org and SUBSCRIBE.