Clay County, Missouri
Part of the American History and Genealogy Project

 The James Boys

 

No attempt will be made in this history to give a detailed history of the noted bandit brothers known familiarly, not only throughout the United States, but in Europe, as the James boys. It is only from the fact that they were natives of the county and for a time resided here that they are mentioned at all. Other publications profess to narrate their exploits and their career correctly, but whether they do so or not is no affair of the publisher hereof, and perhaps of but little consequence to anyone. What is set down here may be relied on as accurate, however, and is given with the partial knowledge of its truth on the part of a large majority of the readers.

Alexander Franklin .James was born in this county, January 10, 1843. Jesse Woodson James was born in the' house where his mother now lives, in Kearney township, September 5, 1847. Both boys were raised on their mother's farm in this county, to their early manhood, except for a time during and immediately subsequent to the Civil War. What little education they possessed was obtained at the common county schools of their neighborhood. Neither of them ever attended any other sort of school.

In 1850, their father, Rev. Robert James, as mentioned elsewhere, went to California and there died soon after his arrival. He was a Baptist minister, a man of good education, and universally respected.

In 1851, the widow James, whose maiden name was Zerelda Cole was again married to a Mr. Simms, also of this county, a widower with children. At the time of her second marriage she was twenty-six years of age and her husband was fifty-two. The union proved unhappy and in less than a year was terminated by a separation. The lady alleges that the chief trouble arose from the fact that her three little children, Frank, Jesse and Susie, whom she had always humored and indulged, gave their old step-father no end of annoyance. He insisted that she should send them away and to this she once agreed, but her near relatives informed her that if she did so they would never more recognize her and so she separated from Mr. Simms, who, she yet alleges, always treated her with kindness and for whose memory she still has great respect. He died not long after the separation and sometime afterwards Mrs. Simms was married to Dr. Reuben Samuel.

In the fall of 1861, when eighteen years of age, Frank James volunteered in the Confederate service, becoming a member of Captain Minter's company, Hughes' regiment, Stein's division. He was present at the capture of Lexington and marched with Price's army into southwest Missouri. At Springfield he was taken with measles and on the retreat of Price's army before General Curtis, in February, 1862, he was left behind in the hospital. The Federals, when they captured Springfield, took him prisoner, paroled him, and he returned home to his mother's farm in Kearney township. He was arrested by Colonel Penick in the following early summer and released on a $2,000 bond. He returned to his home and went to work.

From time to time Frank James was accused of having aided and abetted the Confederate cause in violation of his parole. The accusations may or may not be true, but in the early spring of 1863 he was again arrested, taken to Liberty and cast into jail. From here lie contrived to make his escape and soon afterwards, while a fugitive he determined "to go to the brush", as the phrase then was and accordingly joined a small band of bushwhackers under the leadership of Fernando Scott. This was in May, 1863, and a few days later he took part in the raid on Missouri City, when Captain Sessions and Lieutenant Grafenstein were killed.

Thereafter he was a bushwhacker until the close of the war, winding up his career with Quantrell in Kentucky. During his career as a guerrilla Frank James participated in three or four skirmishes with the Federals in this county.

In May, 1863, soon after Frank James had gone to the brush, a detachment of Capt. J. W. Turney's company of Clinton County militia, under Lieut. H. C. Culver, accompanied by Lieut. J. W. Younger, with a few Clay County militia, visited the Samuels homestead in search of James and his companions. Failing to find them, they sought by threats and violence to force the members of the family to give them certain information they desired. Doctor Samuel was taken out and hung by the neck until nearly exhausted and the boy Jesse, then not quite sixteen years old, who was plowing in the field, was whipped very severely.

A few weeks later, Doctor and Mrs. Samuel were arrested by the Federals and taken to St. Joseph, accused of "feeding and harboring bushwhackers". This was the charge preferred against Mrs. Samuel, but no charge whatever was ever filed against Doctor Samuel. Miss Susie James was not arrested. Mrs. Samuel had her two small children with her at the St. Joseph prison and three months later another child was born. She was released by Col. Chester Harding after two weeks' imprisonment and sent home on taking the oath. Doctor Samuel was released about the same time. While Doctor and Mrs. Samuel was absent in St. Joe their household was in charge of Mrs. West, a sister of Mrs. Samuel.

Jesse James remained at home during the year 1863, and with the assistance of a Negro man raised a considerable crop of tobacco. The next summer, in June, 1864, a year after he had been cruelly whipped by 'the militia, he too "went to the brush", joining Fletch. Taylor's band of bushwhackers, of which his brother Frank was a member. He was present when the Bigelow brothers were killed and took part in the capture of Platte City, where he and other bushwhackers had their ambrotype pictures taken. The original picture of Jesse James is yet in possession of his family, but copies have recently been made and sold throughout the country. While with Bill Anderson's company on the way to Howard County, in August, 1864, Jesse was badly wounded by an old German Unionist named Heisinger, who lived in the southern part of Ray County, at Heisinger's Lake. Three or four bushwhackers went to Heisinger's, got something to eat and were looking about the premises when the old man tired upon them from a sorghum patch, put a bullet through Jesse James' right lung and routed the party. This practically ended his career as a bushwhacker. His companions hid him away and one Nat. Tigue nursed him for a considerable time.

It was a long time until Jesse was able to be in the saddle again. In February, 1865, in the rear of Lexington, when coming in with some others to surrender, he was fired on by a detachment of Federals belonging to the Second Wisconsin Cavalry and again shot through the right lung. From this wound he did not recover for many months. He was nursed by his comrades, then by his aunt, Mrs. West, in Kansas City, and at last taken by his sister, Miss Susie, to Rulo, Nebraska, where the Samuel family had been banished the previous summer by order of the Federal military' commanders in this quarter. At Rulo, Doctor Samuels was making a precarious living in the practice of his profession, medicine and here the young guerrilla lay until in August, 1865, when the family returned to their Clay County farm. Jesse united with the Baptist Church sometime in 1868.

When, as is alleged, the James brothers entered upon their life of brigandage and robbery, their associates were those of the old guerrilla days and it is but true to say that this life succeeded to or was born of the old bushwhacking career. Not every old Confederate bushwhacker became a bandit, for many of the most desperate of Quantrill's, Todd's and Anderson's men became quiet, reputable citizens, but at the first every bandit in western Missouri was an ex-guerrilla.

After the Gallatin bank robbery the civil authorities of this county began the chase after the now noted brothers and kept it up for years, or until Jesse was killed in April, 1882, and Frank surrendered. The pursuit was considered by each Clay County sheriff as a part of his regular duties and transmitted the same as the books and papers of his office to his successor.

Lack of space forbids an enumeration of the many adventures of the officers of this county in their efforts to capture the James boys and their partners. One fact must be borne in mind. Every sheriff worked faithfully and bravely to discharge his duties. The heroic and desperate fight near the Samuel residence between the intrepid Capt. John S. Thomason and his brave young son, Oscar, and the two brothers, when the Captain's horse was killed; the night fight made by Capt. John S. Grooms; the many expeditions by night and day in season and out of season, by Thomason, Grooms, Patton and Timberlake cannot here be detailed, interesting as the incidents there of may be.

Connected with the career of the bandit brothers, may be briefly mentioned the attempt of Pinkerton's detectives to affect their capture an attempt blunderingly and brutally made and ignominiously failing, resulting in the killing of little Archie Peyton Samuel, the tearing off of Mrs. Samuel's right arm, the wounding of other members of the family, and the complete discomfiture of the attacking party of detectives. Whether or not, either or both of the James boys and another member of the band participated in this melee and whether or not one of the detectives was killed, cannot here be stated.

The murder of Daniel Askew, the nearest neighbor of Doctor Samuel, which occurred a few weeks after Pinkerton's raid, has always been attributed to one or both of the James brothers, though the charge is stoutly denied by their friends. Askew was called out one night and shot dead on his doorstep. A detective named J. W. Whicher, who, as he: himself avowed, came to this county to plan in some way the capture of the brothers, was taken across the Missouri River into Jackson County and killed by somebody in Jackson County, March 10, 1874.

That any considerable portion of the people of the county ever gave aid or comfort or countenance to the bandits who infested Missouri, whether the James boys, or whoever they were, is so preposterously untrue that there is no real necessity for its denial. Not one person in one hundred of the people of the county knew either of the James boys by sight and but few more had ever seen them. After they entered upon their career of brigandage their visits to the county were so infrequent and unseasonable and so brief that only the very fewest saw them, and it was not long ere those who once knew them intimately would not have known them had they met them face to face in open day; for from smooth faced boys they were growing to bearded men and no change is more complete than that from adolescence to manhood.

Moreover, it is most absurd and most unjust, too, that any considerable number such as lived in the county of Clay should be supposed to have any sympathy with villainy and villains of any sort. The county is and has now been for years full of school houses and churches and abounding with Christian men and women who fear God and keep His commandments, and keep themselves aloof from evil associations. Morality and love of the right are the rule among our people; immorality and viciousness the exception.

That the James boys had a few confederates in Clay County is barely possible. Who they were, however, can now never be known. It is probable that if they existed at all they were few in number and their services and the character of their connection unimportant and inconspicuous. 

Clay County| AHGP Missouri

Source: History of Clay County, Missouri, by W. H. Woodson, Historical Publishing Company, Topeka, 1920.

 

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