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John James of Alvarado & Mysteries from His Newspaper Office

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Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

This rare image of John James of Alvarado surfaced recently. John sits in the office of his newspaper, the Alvarado Daily Bulletin, among the mysteries of John’s past. The Bulletin published John’s news columns. The stories in John’s columns later were compiled and published shortly before John died on October 4, 1927. The book is, My Experience with Indians. Today John’s book is a prized collector’s item. John’s story appears in the chapter “An Independent Free Man” in my book Jesse James Soul Liberty.

Alvarado Daily Bulletin office of John James
John James of Alvarado in his newspaper office at the Alvarado Daily Bulletin

This image now resides in the photographic collections of the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth, Texas. Thanks to the museum photo curator, John Rohrbach, I learned the provenance of the picture. The image originated in the collection of Fred M. Mazzulla, an eccentric, colorful attorney who roamed the Old West, collecting memorabilia. He especially treasured images of prostitutes, lynchings, and the KKK.

Rohrbach further stated, “The print arrived as part of a sub-group of that massive collection, that includes perhaps 100 similar gelatin silver prints of older buildings and store interiors, generally shot in IL, NB, and CO. This image is the only Texas photograph in the group.”

Quantrill gift sword
The Quantrill Sword?

Of particular interest to me, I pointed out to Rohrbach, was the sword hanging in the corner of John’s office. My chapter “An Independent Free Man” tells the story of John receiving a sword as a gift from William Wythe James, who claimed not only to be related to John, he also publicly claimed his kinship with Jesse James and his association with the Civil War guerrillas of William Clarke Quantrill. Among John’s family, the sword became known as ‘the Quantrill sword.” I mailed Rohrbach a copy of the chapter, which now is included in the image’s file at the Museum. I won’t spoil here the delight readers of my book will enjoy when they read about the disappearance of the Quantrill sword in my book and what they read here.

There’s no way the sword in this image be cane identified as “the Quantrill Sword,” but one has to ask, how would such a sword come to occupy and hold this place of display in John’s newspaper office? In the early 1920s, John would have no need of such a sword as a weapon. By that time, the sword clearly had become an historic artifact.

Old West artifact collector Fred M. Mazzulla
Fred M. Mazzulla Esq.

Fred M. Mazzulla would not have known John James of Alvarado personally. Mazzulla was born in Trinidad in 1903. He grew up in Salida, Colorado and died in 1981. He is buried in Wheat Ridge, Colorado. In a 1962 newspaper article, Mazzulla told the reporter, “I’m no stickler for historical accuracy. Sometimes it takes showmanship to make history interesting.”

Mazzulla often was accused of appropriating family photos. At a Denver bank, he once conducted an Old West photo contest, offering a $500 savings bond for the best image of the Old West. Families complained afterward they had problems getting their images returned. Some said when they eventually received their images, their treasured family photos were stamped “Mazzphoto,” indicating Mazzulla retained the original image and returned only a copy.

Walls of Fred M. Masszulla home
Home of Fred M. Mazzulla

In 1972, the Denver Post stated Mazzulla confessed to being a packrat. He stated he used to “pick up anything not nailed down.” He continued the practice even after he became a lawyer in 1930.

Those who’ve read about the disappearance of “the Quantrill sword” in Jesse James Soul Liberty will be better informed to speculate on how this image of John James of Alvarado made its way into the collections of Fred M. Mazzula, Esq.

Image claimed to be Frank and Jesse james
Claimed image of Frank & Jesse James

Formerly in the Amon Carter collection, identified together with this office image of John James of Alvarado, was an image claimed to be that of Frank and Jesse James. Ironically, this image has crossed my desk a number of times, delivered by various claimants. I informed John Rorhbach of the Amon Carter Museum, as I’ve informed the claimants, that the image most definitely is not of Frank & Jesse James. The distinction is as clear and definitive as not to need any authentication process. The museum has noted its file accordingly.

Image of two sons of John James of Alacardo
Or Sons of John James of Alvarado?

However, given the fact the image was conjoined in the Museum’s collection with the image of John James of Alvarado, this claimed image raises an interesting question. Might the two young men in the accompanying image be sons or family relations of John James of Alvarado?

Over the years, I’ve collected numerous images of the children and grandchildren of John James of Alvarado. I’ve included some of them in John’s chapter in my book. While I find no match among the photos in my possession, perhaps there are matching photos in the possession of John’s descendants. If so, I wish those descendants come forward and make it known.

The mysteries surrounding these images do not end here. Curator David Rohrbach further informed me of the provenance of the image of the two young men. He stated the image came from the collection of the noted, award winning photographer David R. Phillips of Chicago.

I know David and have communicated with him over the years. Among his photo archives are original images of Charlie Chaplin, Essanay Film Studios in Chicago, and James’ family shirttail cousins Wallace Beery and Gloria Swanson. David had informed me he also possessed some unpublished images of Frank & Jesse James, as well as their mother Zerelda. When I write my show business memoir, I’ve expected to visit David and access some of his photos for my book. David assured me he’d hold those images for my exclusive view. With my long delay, he donated the images to the Amon Carter Museum, but disappointingly they are the faces of Frank and Jesse James.

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Tuesday October 19th, 2021
Stray Leaves Daily

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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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