Estimated reading time: 12 minutes
Nothing shows a story more poignantly than the photo of an abandoned family.
Mack Henry James 1878-1945 ran out on his family. He left his wife and his children with no support. Suffering from stigma, and with few resources left to them, Mack’s family reorganized themselves successfully into extended family.
The Man Who Left Stigma & Abandoned Family Behind
Mack Henry James died terribly. He was a junkyard man woefully ridden by Buerger’s disease. His two legs were amputated. Mac was left entirely to the care of one of the women for whom he abandoned his family. Following Mac’s death, his third wife Flora Audra Spencer, after caring for Mac and watching him die, would enter her own descent into the cruel underworld of Alzheimer’s disease.
Mac’s abandoned family whom he left behind progressed forward painfully. They were more successful than Mac. Generations of them, demonstrating high respect for family, have followed.
Mac only survives as a lost memory now, and a sad story. The legacy of Mac’s family lives in his children and in theirs.
The Abandoned Family in the Picture
Canzada Frances Gregory-Watkins: From her apron, it is evident Canzada Watkins is the hostess of this group on the day the photo was taken. Born in 1872, she is the mother of Leonard Watkins, a twin born in 1905.
Leonard Watkins : Leonard is a son of Canzada Watkins. Leonard also is a 6th great-grandson of Samuel Sallee of Culpeper County, Virginia. Just how Samuel is related to Guillaume “William” Sallee, the associate of Frank and Jesse James’ grandfather John M. James, remains undefined.
Ada James-Watkins : Ada James, one of the daughters abandoned by Mack Henry James, stands to her husband Leonard’s right. All the descendants of Leonard and Ada James Watkins share a unique combination of James and Sallee kinship.
Delma “Del” Watkins: The child standing far right is the daughter of Leonard Watkins & Ada James.
Dorinda “Dora” Phelps-James: Standing to the right of Canzada Watkins, Dora is the first wife of Mack Henry James. She is the mother of his children. All were left to be Mac’s abandoned family shortly after the birth of their 5th child, Ivadean James in 1915. The 1920 census lists Dora at age 37 as head of household with four children between the ages of twelve and four and a half years. She had been head of household for almost four years.
Ivadean James-Elliott: Standing front and center is the youngest child of Mack Henry James. Ivadean James inherited the genetic tall gene that is occasional among James siblings. Over the years, the unhappiness of her expression in the photo would turn into resignation and peaceful acceptance.
Stigma of The Bastard Bunch
When Mack Henry James abandoned Ivadean James and her siblings, it was not the first time this James family line suffered a stigma. There always was a the stigma of kinship to Frank and Jesse James. But there was more stigma that was closer to home.
When interviewed in 1999, Ivadean James-Elliott misidentified her paternal great-grandfather. She knew her grandfather Judge John Thomas James, who tragically was dragged under an automobile and killed when Ivadean was 8 years old. But she knew nothing about her actual paternal great- grandfather, the “talented, but erratic” Rev. Joseph Martin James.
Defrocked due to his alcoholism, outrageous misbehavior, and bigamy, Rev. Joe left the embarrassment he made of his family. Joe married Permelia Estepp bigamously, while he still was married to his second wife Rhoda May. In years to come, Rev. Joe continued to father children as he lived with his two wives in their separate homes, each in alternate years.
The community of Flat Lick Baptist Church and Pulaski County branded the offspring of Rev. Joe and Permelia Estepp as “the bastard bunch.” They were socially ostracized by a communal silence and social ostracism.
Children and grandchildren of this line, like Ivadean James, her siblings, and children, did not know or recognize one another from other James family or among their community. Nor were they regarded as family. Today, that has changed.
More Abandoned Family
Ronald “Ron,” Patricia Ann, & Gerald Elliott: The three children Ivadean James bore to Gid Chester Elliott, who also abandoned Ivadean as her father did. When Ivadean died in 2000, ironically Gid Elliott also passed 12 hours later.
Zena James-Randall: Another child in the abandoned family of Mack Henry James, Zena married Rev. Clifford Randall Sr. They had 6 children. Zena operated a mercantile store in Science Hill in Pulaski County, Kentucky. She was known to often forgive unpaid due balances. Her kindness and consideration, together with her children and their progeny, salvaged their lost ancestry. She restored dignity and respect.
Geneva “Ginny” James: Geneva married Rev. William Lesbert Randall, known casually as Willie. Their 7 children moved in a world beyond Pulaski County. Five years after they married, Rev. Randall in 1928 began to conduct missionary work in China. For a year following September, 1936, he furloughed in Victoria of Vancouver, Canada. He returned to China until 1940, when Ginny and he finally returned home to Pulaski County. He continues to conduct Baptist evangelism.
Other Outlaw Kin
Through their ancestry in the Randall family, the descendants of Zena & Geneva James also are 3rd cousins, twice removed of Western outlaw & lawman Wyatt Berry Stapp Earp 1848-1929. The common ancestors they share are William H. Earp 1720-1778 & Priscilla Nichols.
Laurene “Lareen” Randall-Phelps: The daughter of Zena James & Rev. Clifford Randall Sr., she married Boyd Bertram Phelps. The couple produced 4 children.
Boyd Bertram Phelps, possibly: Zena’s husband.
Omer James: Omer does not appear in this photo above. He is the sole male sibling of Zena, Ada, Geneva, and Ivadean James. Omer was known to visit his father Mack Henry James in Bloomington, Illinois on several occasions. He appears here with a friend identified as Clettie.
Contributors to This Story
William Hurt: The abandoned family photograph above was brought to the attention of Stray Leaves by William Hurt. He is the husband of Mitzi Elaine Watkins, a daughter of Leland Elaine Watkins and a granddaughter of Leonard and Ada James Watkins.
Dean Watkins Conley: Dean provided William Hurt with the abandoned family photo initially. Furthermore, she provided identification for the individuals in the picture. Dean Watkins Conley is a daughter of Leonard and Ada James Watkins.
Lore about Frank & Jesse James by Ada James Watkins’
Contributor William Hurt provided Stray Leaves with this following family lore back in 2010.
“Hi. My name is William Hurt (not the actor). I was at my wife’s family reunion sitting with her grandmother Ada James Watkins. We were all sitting around talking and she was sitting quietly enjoying the presence of all the young people around her when a popular cousin arrived and caused a big stir of people wanting to see him.
“Well, out of the blue she [Ada] started telling a story. I was totally amazed. She said, ‘I can remember when I was a young’un at our reunions when Frank would show up he would cause an even bigger commotion.’
She went on to explain that she was talking about Frank James. I knew that she was somehow related to Frank and Jesse James, but I didn’t know that she actually knew one of them, let alone that Frank would come to Pulaski County to a James family reunion. Unfortunately, she stopped talking and a few months later suffered a stroke and forgot everything and everybody.
“I grew up in Campground close to where The James Gang hid out after an aborted attempt at robbing The Bank of Somerset, according to stories. It seems they rode into town and saw some young men with shotguns and thought someone had tipped them off. In all reality, the boys [with the shotguns] were going rabbit hunting and never even noticed the James gang. The gang returned to Campground and hid out a few days then rode on to rob the bank in Jamestown so the story was told to me. The cabin they hid out in burned when I was very young but the chimneys are still standing.
“My wife has been wanting to find out exactly what her relation to Frank and Jesse really is. Lots of people around here claim relation but most I do not believe. I didn’t really think my wife was related until her grandmother told that story and one of her cousins tried to explain the blood tie. Thank you for your time. I no longer live in Campground I now live in what locals call the Halloween house in Stanford.”
The Facts about Ada James Watkins Lore
Alexander Franklin “Frank” James died February 15, 1915, when Ada James was still only 4 years old. Other James family relate stories of the James brothers visiting Rev. Joseph Martin James’ stone house in Shopville, but none of the stories are substantiated. If Ada recalled a Frank James, it probably was another Frank James among the family and not the notorious Civil War partisan who had surrendered.
The attempted robbery of the First National Bank of Somerset, KY occurred in either 1876 or 1877 as reported in Alma Tibbal’s book The History of Pulaski County. As is widely known and documented, Jesse James lived in Nashville and secondly in Waverly, Tennessee. Frank also lived in Nashville. Both were pursuing the turf trade and racing. Frank was pursuing a lucrative career as a race starter. They had little need for robbing banks.
Lastly, the Campground site mentioned has been researched and documented HERE on Stray Leaves.