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Book Review – Son of a Bandit: Jesse James & The Leeds Gang, by Ralph A. Monaco II

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Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

BOOK REVIEW: Son of a Bandit: Jesse James & The Leeds Gang, by Ralph A. Monaco II, (Monaco Publishing, LLC, 2012), 268 pp, soft cover, $20.95.

 By Nancy B. Samuelson

The author is a practicing attorney in Kansas City, Missouri, a former member of the Missouri House of Representatives. He also has a passion for living history and historical presentations. He is well grounded in the history and political scene of 19th century Missouri and Kansas City. He has produced a thoughtful and insightful book about Jesse James Jr. that is a welcome addition to James gang literature.

The early part of the book recounts the early life of Jesse Jr., the death of Jesse James and the trials and tribulations of Zee James and her children after the Jesse’s death. Jesse Jr. became the provider for his family and had held a number of jobs and was at the time of the Leeds robbery, the owner of a Cigar Store in the Jackson County, Missouri court house. Jesse Jr. was well liked and respected and the Kansas City community was very shocked when he was accused of involvement in the Leeds train robbery. There is also a chapter, “K.C. at the Twilight of the 19th Century” that gives the reader a good feel for the political and social conditions that prevailed at this time.

The book continues with a chapter on the Leeds robbery and moves on to the investigation of that robbery. Jesse Jr. was soon accused as leader of the Leeds gang. Several chapters are devoted to all aspects of the trial and the acquittal. There are extensive footnotes throughout the book and these are used to provide good information about the political background, the motivation, and the methods of operation that are used by the key players throughout the legal process. It becomes very clear that the treatment of suspects, approaches to jury members by railroad detectives and other similar questionable practices would not be permitted in today’s legal environment. Times were different then!

Ralph A. Monoco II

Jesse Jr. is acquitted at the trial and the charges against all other suspects were dropped. The Prosecuting Attorney felt his strongest case was against James. When he lost that battle he dropped all other charges. Toward the end of the book it is also brought out that W. W. Lowe who had been the man who most strongly accused Jesse Jr. some years later recanted his story. Lowe claimed he had been pressured by railroad detectives to accuse Jesse Jr. of the Leeds robbery.

The final section of the book is an epilogue titled, “What Happened Next?” This part of the book summarizes the remaining years of the life of Jesse Jr. and several other members of the family. The final comment in the book is, “THE END? THE STORY OF JESSE JAMES AND HIS FAMILY WILL NEVER END.”

The book is well written and thought provoking. There are extensive footnotes, a bibliography, and index and a list of illustrations. There are a number of good photos throughout the book. There are a lot of typos in the book; someone relied on spell check a little too much. Highly recommended.

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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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