Tag Archives: Elizabeth Lee James

Our American-Aboriginal Family – The Love Story of Robert Lee James & Susan Anne Syron

PREFACE: Who would believe that the family of Frank & Jesse James had cousins with origins in the Aboriginal outback of Austrailia? The idea is unimaginable, despite the fact that the brothers’ uncle, Drury Woodson James, married a woman who came to California from Austrailia. Uncle Drury’s wife, Maria Louisa Dunn, however, was of Irish ancestry.  Today, new research documents that our American-Aboriginal family is not just a fanciful imagining. It is fact. The love story of Robert Lee James & Susan Anne Syron extends the diversity of the Jesse James family further than known while continuing to offer unique insights into our James family character and persona.

Our American-Aboriginal Family

The Love Story of

Robert Lee James  & Susan Anne Syron

By Elizabeth Lee James-Brown, their daughter

 

Robert Lee James-Susan Anne Syron
Bob & Sue, Robert Lee James & Susan Anne Syron

Sometime in 1969, my parents Robert Lee James and Susan Anne Syron met in Sydney, Australia. Like other military in the Vietnam War, the U.S. Army sent Robert to Sydney for R&R – rest and relaxation. He was twenty-four. At twenty-six, Susan was older than Robert. They were just two young people about in the city to have a good time.

When Robert was a teenager, his grandfather, John Oliver James, called Jack, adopted him and his younger brother George. Jack’s daughter Virginia abandoned her two sons. The brothers lived in Midland, Texas with Jack and his second wife, Goldie White. Jack’s first wife, Dimples Hite, was Virginia’s mother.  Although they were not affectionate people, Jack and Goldie provided well for Robert and George.  Interaction with extended family was limited to holidays and special occasions.

Robert joined the army straight from college, intending to make military service his career. During his second tour of Vietnam and his visit to Sydney, he was considerably older than many of the other servicemen at the time. He served with the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment -“Blackhorse Regiment”.

Jack Oliver James visits his boyhood home at age 86.
Commonwealth Journal, Somerset, Kentucky, 1983. At age 86, Bob’s grandfather John Oliver James 1897-1987 visited his boyhood home in Shopville east of Somerset. The home was built by his own grandfather, and Bob’s 2nd great-grandfather, the “talented, but erratic” Rev. Joseph Martin James 1791-1848. Read the entire text of  “On the road again”  HERE.

Susan was the youngest of eight children in her family. She grew up in the inner city suburbs of Sydney. Houses were close together and so were the people. Her godmother lived next door. The extended family visited often. Susan spent time daily with her mother and siblings, even as an adult. Susan’s mother was an English migrant. When she came to Australia, Australians called them £10 POM’s, slang for English people who paid £10 for boat fare from England to Australia.

Flag of the Biripi Nation
Biripi Nation Flag

Susan’s father was an Aboriginal man from the Biripi Nation. According to a Biripi historian, before Anglo contact, Biripi women kept the history of their lives. Today, many still do. Healing sick children were the job of Biripi women. Aboriginal women took their children into the bush to teach them about medicine. They taught children to observe and mimic rather than to question. Kin relationships among Biripi were complex. Every known and unknown Aboriginal person had a relationship with everyone else. Biripi women kept alive their bitter history of dispossession and oppression by their colonizers.

When Susan met Robert, Susan was working in customer service at the David Jones Department Store. She also was an usherette part time at Hoyts Town Theater.

Susan Comes to The U.S.

Robert and Susan were married on September 20, 1969, in Kings Cross, Australia. In 1970 when Robert returned from Vietnam, Susan met him in San Francisco. They drove to Kentucky where Robert was based at Fort Knox, as a drill sergeant. Robert and Susan bought a house trailer and lived off base in a trailer park in Radcliff. Later, they bought five acres of land and moved there.  Soon after, Robert’s brother George was sent to live with Robert and Susan. George then was about age fourteen.

Betty Syron Alchin-Pauline Waddington- Susan Syron James
Betty Suron-Alchin (L), Pauline Waddington (C), Susan Syron James (R)

Susan soon was pregnant. She gave birth to a healthy girl, me. I was born in February of 1971 in Ireland Army Hospital on Fort Knox army base. I was named Elizabeth after my Aboriginal grandmother, Susan’s mother Lizzie. My middle name of Lee comes from my father, Robert.

While Susan was extremely homesick for her Aboriginal family and Australian homeland, all other things seemed well and good. Living in America was a very different lifestyle for Susan. Not only was it the other side of the world in another country, there were multiple cultural differences, too. Army culture for one. White versus black culture in America for another. The only family that Robert had in Kentucky was his Aunty Catherine, who we called ‘Annie’ as that was how the children pronounced aunty and her brother Uncle Lee. Robert and Susan regularly had Sunday lunch with Annie and Lee.

In early 1974, Robert was posted to Germany for peacekeeping duty. He refused to take Susan and me. Robert believed that women and children had no place in another country in such times, and said so strongly. Susan felt very alone and isolated. The way she put it was, “I was alone with two kids, miles from the nearest neighbor, in a house trailer, on the top of a hill in tornado season.” Late one night, Susan called her mother and burst into tears. Her mother asked each of Susan’s brothers and sisters to contribute what they could to pay for airfare for Susan and me to come to Australia. When Robert would return from Germany, Susan planned she and I would go back to the States

My Big Trip andAboriginal Family

Now it was September of 1974. I remember much of the travel from America to Australia, although I was only three years old. I remember feeling very sad. Mum agreed that I did cry quite a lot. I cried for “my Annie” and told everyone who spoke to me that my daddy is in “Germawee.” I had a deep southern American accent and my family back in Australia laughed when I spoke.

Libby James-Brown
Elizabeth Lee James-Brown, daughter of Bob & Sue Syron James

My Australian grandmother Lizzie wrote to Annie in Elizabethtown, Kentucky at some stage. I think Lizzie must have appreciated that Annie and Lee accepted Susan and me as their family. Annie and Lee were simple and kind people. Susan loved Annie and Lee very much. Susan spoke of a conversation where Robert said that Jack had not realized that Susan was Aboriginal and he didn’t think that Jack would be happy if he knew. Lee said, “Robert did you marry who you wanted to?” Robert said, “Yes, sir!” And Lee said, “Well I reckon that’s all that matters, then.”

Susan and I arrived in Australia with a suitcase of clothes between us. We had nowhere to live, and we owed our airfare to Susan’s family. We stayed with Grandmother Lizzie for some time, until one of Susan’s brothers told Susan, “Mamma’s too old to live with a small child.” We then lived with Susan’s sister, my Aunt Betty, for a while until our welcome was worn out there too. Susan and I moved on to another sister, my Aunt June and our welcome was soon worn out again. The problem was simple. Susan needed to pay back the cost of our airfare before we could afford to pay rent. Susan’s minimal wages as a barmaid were just not enough.

Sue Syron Jasmes with grandchildren Desmyn, Leeroy, Marlyn, and Adina Brown

Until I was about ten, I had thought George was my brother. No one told me otherwise. I just assumed this because he was there when I was born and he was there when we left Kentucky. My mother was horrified to think I believed she had left her child behind. I think I thought that he stayed with our father. She later told me that she spoke to Jack and asked permission to bring George to Australia with us. Jack refused and George stayed with Annie and Lee in Kentucky. I guess when Susan did not return to the U.S., George eventually was sent back to Jack and Goldie in Texas.

In 1977, doctors diagnosed Grandmother Lizzie with terminal cancer. Susan wanted to be with her family until Lizzie died. Robert was not pleased about this.  In 1978 before Lizzie died, Robert and Susan divorced. Afterward, Robert married twice more. Susan never remarried. She bought a house; and, in female Aboriginal tradition, she fostered over 100 Aboriginal children, for thirty-five years until she passed away in 2015.

I believe that the only real issue within the relationship between Robert and Susan was one of cultural difference.

My Life Moves On

My father’s contact with me was intermittent and very much influenced by his second and third wives. He also focused obviously on his lost relationship with Susan. Robert had long conversations with Susan, but short conversations with me. Our conversation often went like, “Daddy loves you pumpkin, now put mommy on.”

Elizabeth Lee James-Brown with children Marlyn, Desmyn, Leeroy and Adina Brown
Author Libby James Brown with her children Marlyn Bruce Ronald, Desmyn Francis Gregory, Leeroy James Peter, and Adina Sussanne Vite Brown. Patronymic James family names were applied. Sue Syron is honored particularly by the double “ss: in Adina’s name.

I did not see my father again until I was 30 years old. Contact between Susan and Robert was lost during Robert’s divorce from his third wife Geraldine, particularly after an incident where Gerri called Susan accusing her of being the reason that her marriage to Robert was failing. Susan called Robert, saying please keep your drunken wife off my phone. An argument ensued. Then, contact ceased for the next 10 years. About a week before I was to be married, Susan called local police in Texas asking that a message is delivered to Robert to urgently contact Susan. However, this message was never received by Robert.

I had finished high school at a local public school and in 1991 started as an administration trainee at a government television station, the Special Broadcasting Service. By 1994, I had bought a house and attended university part-time in 1995. At university, I met Craig Brown, an Aboriginal man from the Gumbainggir tribe. We were married in 1997.

Craig "Cbt" Brown
Craig “Cbt” Brown , Libby’s husband, with daughter Adina and friends

Although a doctor diagnosed me with cervical cancer, I was concerned that treatment might affect my ability to have children. However, we had four children in quick succession. Marlyn Bruce Ronald Brown was born in October 1996, Desmyn Francis Gregory Brown was born March 1998, Leeroy James Peter Brown was born January 1999 and Adina Sussanne Vite Marie Brown was born February 2000.

After the birth of Adina, I searched for Robert again. In all the years since Robert and Susan separated, Susan never spoke badly to me about my father. I asked Susan where she thought Robert might be. Susan foreshadowed, “He won’t be well. Vietnam will have impacted his health. Look near army hospitals.” Susan knew Robert first had tested positive and subsequently inconclusive for Agent Orange maybe around 1987 to 1989.

Susan Syron James with grandchildren-2013
Sue Syron James in 2013 at age 70 with her grandchildren.

In 2000, the internet was primitive but helpful. I so recall the dial up sound. With four children under age four, it was often very late at night when I sat down to search for my father Robert. What I found was the old address: 1200 Alpine Way in Midland and a phone number. Could it really be this easy? This was the address were Robert and George grew up. it was the home of John Oliver James, where Jack died. Jack built this house. He lost in a bankruptcy. He bought it back. Robert inherited this house. Robert fought Gerri for this house during their divorce.

I called the phone number. To my surprise, it rang; but it rang out. Again the following night, I stayed up due to the time difference. Into the wee hours, I called and called again. Finally, I told Susan that I had been calling for a week. Susan said, “Why don’t you let me call? You don’t need to be awake all night.”  Two weeks later, Susan called me and said, “Sit down…I spoke to your father.”

Robert “On the road again”

Funeral of Susan Syron James. Sue passed away March 15, 2015. Elizabeth James Brown with her husband Craig Onan “Cbt” Brown, and their children, the grandchildren of Sue and Bob James.

Through tears of joy, I asked question after question. Susan laughed as she told me how Robert proposed to her on her call, and quite seriously too. The big news was that Robert was terminally ill. He had lung cancer. The reason there was no answer for three weeks was, Robert was driving trucks for the

The big news was that Robert was terminally ill. He had lung cancer. The reason there was no answer for three weeks was, Robert was driving trucks for the Landspan trucking company. He was on the road for twenty-eight days. He was back in Midland for only four days, then back out again. When in Midland, Robert would see his oncologist on Monday morning, do chemotherapy treatment on Tuesday, and go back on the road on Thursday evening. Robert had been doing this for two to three years. Now, Robert owned his home. He had no debt, expect a store account for his furniture.

I called Robert. He agreed to send me money to come to Midland. After a conversation with my husband Craig, we agreed I also would take Robert’s first-born grandchild, our son Marlyn who was age four.

Robert Lee James-Susan Anne Syron wedding photo
Wedding photo of Bob and Susan Syron James, November 9, 1969, King’s Cross, Sydney, Australia

I and Marlyn visited Robert in late July of 2001. The following Christmas, Susan also visited with Robert. Susan was concerned that Robert would not be alone for Christmas. She thought correctly. It may be his last Christmas. Robert was very honest about his intentions in paying for Susan to come visit. Susan had said it was obvious that Robert was still trying to win her back.

On the 14th of December 2002, Robert passed away after a long and brave fight. He is buried in the Resthaven Memorial Park cemetery in Midland Texas where his father Jack is buried. In Robert’s dying days he proposed to Susan again, which she refused with a laugh, saying, “I did that once before and it didn’t work”. My father once told me that divorcing my mother was the greatest mistake he ever made.

 

  • Leeroy James Brown
    Leeroy James Peter Brown - Heart Throb
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Tuesday March 2nd, 2021
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Photos from Jesse James Soul Liberty, Behind the Family Wall of Stigma & Silence's post ... See MoreSee Less

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Tuesday February 9th, 2021
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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
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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?
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