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The Plot to Capture Jesse James

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“The Plot to Capture Jesse James,” from Phil Stewart’s Archive, was first published on Stray Leaves in 1999. 

The Plot to Capture Jesse James

By Phil Stewart

Robert Ford, the "dirty little coward"
Robert Ford, the “dirty little coward”

Bob Ford killed Jesse James with the full knowledge and consent of Sheriff James H. Timberlake of Clay County, Police Commission Henry H. Craig of Kansas City, and the Governor of Missouri, Thomas T. Crittenden. While the James neighbors plotted to capture Jesse James, the government plotted to assassinate Jesse James.

By the fall of 1880, it was nearly impossible for Jesse and his family to justify robberies and murders on injustice and social conditions brought about by the Civil War. There was no place for roaming bands of old guerilla fighters and outlaws. Jesse was bad for business. Land prices in the outlaw’s home county were lower than in other parts of the state. Business and banking interests avoided the area, despite opportunities for growth. Jesse James was an economic liability.

John Watts Shouse, conspirator to capture Jesse James
John Watts Shouse, conspirator to capture Jesse James

A small group of Clay County citizen talked among themselves, although very quietly. Chief among them was John Watts Shouse, a veteran of the Mexican and Civil Wars, and a southerner by birth. Shouse was a no-nonsense man who had organized and commanded on of the first Confederate Home Guards. With him were other prominent citizens: John T. Pettigrew, William Dollis, William Dagley, Riley Henderson, William Wysong, and John Shouse’s younger brother James. Most of the lived in the Bethel community, which also was the home of the Ford and Cummins families, a few miles from James farm.

The neighbors made at least one attempt to convince Jesse’s mother, Zerelda, to speak to her son and convince him to surrender. The feisty, fiery, and protective Zerelda Samuel would not consider surrender. Not Jesse James! Having failed, the group shifted focus to capture Jesse and  turn him over to Sheriff Timberlake for prosecution.

Jim Cummins
Jim Cummins

During the fall of 1881, Jesse came searching for one of his old associates, Jim Cummins. Jesse believed Cummins was about to turn traitor. Jesse already had killed Ed Miller, one of his gang and a neighbor who Jesse no longer trusted.

Jesse arrived in the Bethel community during the first few days of October. Jesse soon learned that Cummins had been seen around the home of Cummins’ brother-in-law, William Ford. Bill For was also an uncle to Robert and Charles Ford. When Jesse arrived at Bill Ford’s home, he found Bill’s wife, and fifteen-year-old son, Samuel. In a scene reminiscent of the time young Jesse James himself was beaten by Union soldier in search of his brother Frank James, Jesse grabbed the teenager. He threatened to kill him if he didn’t “fess up” where Jim Cummins could be found. When the boy would not, or could not, provide the information, Jesse lost his temper. Frustration got the best of him. He began slapping the boy. The slapping became a beating. When Jesse mounted to leave, young Samuel Ford was beaten and bloody.

New of the beating quickly made its way throughout the neighborhood. John Shouse and his group were fed up. Jesse once protected the farmers and resident of the area. Now he was the aggressor and torturer. Time had come to bring the others into the group to plot the outlaw’s capture. Not surprisingly, William Ford eagerly and enthusiastically joined.

Sheriff James H. Tiberlake
Sheriff James H. Timberlake

Dick Liddil separated from Jesse following the beating. Liddil worried about being around Jesse. His boss was increasingly paranoid and irrational. Liddil believed it was only a matter of time before Jesse came after him. Although not quite ready to turn traitor against Jesse, it would not take much to push Dick Liddil to side with the neighbors.

The conspiring neighbors changed focus and makeup. Some now plotted the murder of Jesse James. Not wishing to become involved in planned murder, many of John Shouse’s group departed. Capturing Jesse was one thing, but planned assassination left their mouths bitter. John Shouse himself wanted nothing to do with it. The group was asking for war against the James gang. Shouse had a family to consider. Others soon took his place. A brother of William Ford, Elias Capline Ford known as “Cap,” quietly and cautiously joined the group. The group now comprised of a few silent citizen and several members of the Ford and Cummins families. The conspirators sought someone they could trust inside Jesse’s new gang.

In early November of 1881, William Ford contracted Sheriff James Timberlake. He informed Timberlake that a network was in place. They could inform Timberlake of the comings and goings of Jesse James. They could assist with his capture.

Timberlake was more than enthusiastic. He offered William Ford $1,000 for his assistance in capturing Jesse James. He further assured Ford no members of the group would be prosecuted if the plan resulted in the death of the outlaw.

But they needed the assistance of other agencies. Timberlake, along with Cap Ford, traveled to Kansas City and contacted Police Commissioner Henry Craig who was briefed. Commissioner Craig traveled to Jefferson City to enlist the cooperation of the Governor of Missouri, Thomas T. Crittenden. The Governor had made the subject of Missouri outlaws the main topic of his campaign. He would do whatever possible to fulfill his campaign promises. Rewards were guaranteed and pardons would be given. The plot to assassinate Jesse James was formed.

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RELATED:   More from Phil Stewart’s 1999 Archive

The Plot to Assassinate Jesse James

The Gad’s Hill Train Robbery

Frank James – Scholar with a Gun

School Time for Jesse James – Part I

School Time for Jesse James – Part II

Jesse James & Half-Brother Perry Samuel

Jesse James Family – Slaves & Servants

Robert Sallee James – Father of Jesse James

Jesse James Myths & Facts

 

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Wednesday September 15th, 2021
Stray Leaves

Have you considered it? See MoreSee Less

Have you considered it?
Tuesday September 7th, 2021
Stray Leaves

COVID HAS STRUCK THE JAMES FAMILY AGAIN . . . "My foundation and the love of my life. R.I.P 9/5/2021" – Judy Rae Davis-Gibson, spouse of Robert Melvin Gibson Sr. and 3rd great-granddaughter of John J. James & Mary Jane "Polly" Carrell. See MoreSee Less

COVID HAS STRUCK THE JAMES FAMILY AGAIN . . . My foundation and the love of my life. R.I.P 9/5/2021 - Judy Rae Davis-Gibson, spouse of Robert Melvin Gibson Sr. and 3rd great-granddaughter of John J. James & Mary Jane Polly Carrell.
Wednesday September 1st, 2021
Stray Leaves

Greg James posted the following to his immediate family a few hours ago:
"I’m currently dealing with a heavy heart and confusion. My wife Judy suddenly passed away today and I’m asking for prayers and good thoughts. Thank you!"
Judy is the second wife of John Gregory "Greg" James. Greg’s first wife, Beverly Ann Brown, is the mother of Greg’s James descendants. Regardless, we send Greg our sympathies and condolences.
See MoreSee Less

Greg James posted the following to his immediate family a few hours ago: 
Im currently dealing with a heavy heart and confusion. My wife Judy suddenly passed away today and Im asking for prayers and good thoughts. Thank you!
Judy is the second wife of John Gregory Greg James. Gregs first wife, Beverly Ann Brown, is the mother of Gregs James descendants. Regardless, we send Greg our sympathies and condolences.

Comment on Facebook

So sorry to hear about your wife Judy`s passing! Our prayers are with you!🙏

Deepest condolences. 🙏

Tuesday August 31st, 2021
Stray Leaves

Very sad news. Frank Younger has died. Details of his memorial service appear in the Comments below. See MoreSee Less

Very sad news. Frank Younger has died. Details of his memorial service appear in the Comments below.

Comment on Facebook

FRANK YOUNGER'S MEMORIAL SERVICE . . . November 18, 1940 – August 28, 2021. Frank Younger sadly passed away suddenly at age 80 as a result of an accident in his home. Frank was predeceased by his parents, Paul and Margaret (and stepmother Irene). He is survived by his wife, Sharon, and their three children, Pauline (Mike), Matt (Zoe), and Tom (Tamara), and grandson, Paul. Frank loved his family and always enjoyed sharing his encouragement, wisdom, and inimitable sense of humor with them. His contributions to the lives of many include his commitment to his career as an Astronomer at the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory (Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics), his ongoing participation in local classical orchestras (including the odd instrument repair), and mentoring of many friends in any way he could. Frank’s recent endeavors included attending and helping run the James Younger Gang club as well as writing and reading his poetry. Frank has often enjoyed and been seen as having contrasting traits including riding his Harley motorcycle to a string quartet practice or cleaning his antique gun collection prior to reading his latest poetry writings to gangster club members. His unique character and compassion for all of his friends and family will be missed. You are invited to Frank Younger’s online Memorial Service. Please feel free to share the meeting link below as you see fit. You can join from any web browser using a computer, tablet, or smartphone. This will be a short memorial (20 – 30 minutes). We will not be able to provide any technical support on the day of the memorial. If you have any questions about how to join us using Zoom, please contact Zoë Younger at 778-828-9971 before Friday. We will be recording the memorial, so if you have difficulty logging in, or if you miss it, you will be able to view it at a different time. There will not be an opportunity to speak to all attendees during the service, however, if you wish to share a story with the family via email, we will be assembling a collection before the weekend. Please click the link below to join us. Topic: Frank Younger’s Memorial Service Time: Sep 3, 2021 03:00 PM Vancouver Join Zoom Meeting us02web.zoom.us/j/89203244337?pwd=QkU5b01uNzdZMWZNWmIwTUVPYllVUT09 Meeting ID: 892 0324 4337 Passcode: Frank Thank you, Join our Cloud HD Video Meeting us02web.zoom.us

I was devastated when I received the email. I spoke to Frank and Sharon a month or so ago. We had a nice talk. I will miss him dearly.

I was fortunate enough to have met and talked with Frank. He impressed me as a nice and knowledgeable man.

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