“If that was Jesse James…I’m the Queen of May.”

After browsing through some of the many files my family has accumulated over the years, I wanted to post somet notes from my late mother, author and great granddaughter of Jesse James, Betty Dorsett Duke.

On April 3, 1882 Zerelda was asked to identify the reported body of Jesse James and upon viewing it said, “Gentlemen, you have made a mistake; that is not my son.”(Crittenden, H. H., The Crittenden Memoirs, G. P. Putnam’s Sons, New York, 1936. page 368. )

Frank James told people that Jesse James was still alive after April 3, 1882 — the very date he was reportedly shot dead.In 1906 Frank James started the horse races at a Comanche Carnival in Comanche, Indian Territory (Oklahoma). Someone asked him about Jesse James and he said, “If I knew no one would molest him, I would introduce him. He is within shooting distance.”

“Prudence Samuel Burden, Jesse James’ aunt and half-sister to Dr. Reuben Samuel, Jesse’s step-father, told her family for years that she attended Jesse’s funeral at age 40. She noticed it was not the Jesse James she knew in the casket and asked Zerelda why she said that was her son. Zerelda answered ‘Oh, that’s a rabbit’s foot.’

In 1879 at Short Creek, Missouri, George Shepard, a member of Jesse’s gang, told authorities that he had killed Jesse James by shooting him in the back of the head, and then dumped his body in the creek. One article said, “The real Jesse James has been killed so often that the identification of the body by his mother is no positive assurance that Jesse has finally handed in his checks. Mrs. Samuels, Jesse’s maternal ancestor, his mother, is a smart old lady, and figuratively speaking, ‘up to snuff.’ There are many people living today, who are familiar with the career of Jesse James, who do not believe that James was killed by Bob Ford.” Jesse James’ death at Short Creek was ruled a hoax because his body was never found, and when the news hit the streets on April 3rd, 1882 that Jesse James had been killed it was like the story of the little boy crying wolf once to often. “Newspapers had to convince the public that Jesse James really died.”

In fact, one of Jesse James’ own physicians, Dr. J. S. Preston of Howard County, Missouri had examined Jesse James’ eyes for conjunctivitis. After looking at the alleged death photo of Jesse James, he stated, “If that was Jesse James…I’m the Queen of May.”

Alleged Jesse James death photo

Alleged Jesse James death photo

The following excerpt is from “The Truth About Jesse James” (Duke, 2007):

“Zerelda had prior experience with Jesse James faking his death. In 1879 at Short Creek, Missouri, George Shepard, a member of Jesse’s gang, told authorities that he had killed Jesse James by shooting him in the back of the head, and then dumped his body in the creek. One article said, “The real Jesse James has been killed so often that the identification of the body by his mother is no positive assurance that Jesse has finally handed in his checks. Mrs. Samuels, Jesse’s maternal ancestor, his mother, is a smart old lady, and figuratively speaking, ‘up to snuff.’ There are many people living today, who are familiar with the career of Jesse James, who do not believe that James was killed by Bob Ford.” Jesse James’ death at Short Creek was ruled a hoax because his body was never found, and when the news hit the streets on April 3rd, 1882 that Jesse James had been killed it was like the story of the little boy crying wolf once to often.

“Newspapers had to convince the public that Jesse James really died.”
“Prudence Samuel Burden, Jesse James’ aunt and half-sister to Dr. Reuben Samuel, Jesse’s step-father, told her family for years that she attended Jesse’s funeral at age 40. She noticed it was not the Jesse James she knew in the casket and asked Zerelda why she said that was her son. Zerelda answered ‘Oh, that’s a rabbit’s foot.’” Her son’s death a rabbit’s foot??? In American folklore a rabbit’s foot is carried for good luck. If Jesse James had really been killed Zerelda surely wouldn’t have said that.

Other 1882 reports of Jesse James’ reported death follow:

• On April 3, 1882, Zee Mimms told authorities that her deceased husband’s name was Thomas Howard, but a short time later changed her mind declaring that he was really Jesse James;

• After the coroner’s inquest was held to determine whether or not the corpse was really Jesse James, the body was reportedly placed in a $500 metal casket – expensive for those days – described as “elegant galvanized iron with a silver name plate bearing the words “Jesse James” in German text;”

Something happened to the official records of the inquest because they are not on file in the Buchanan County records. According to Buchanan County, Missouri County Clerk, Floyd Inman, “…there were no files on record of the inquest or the body of Jesse Woodson James during the tenure of my office from April 16, 1946 to February 20, 1950.”

A newspaper reported in 1902 that the State of Missouri paid for Jesse James’ funeral but someone ripped them off: “….someone was mulcted for about $475 or more for the casket was merely a sheet iron box riveted loosely together, and had rotted to pieces years ago. The body was supposed to be embalmed too, but again, someone was robbed, for, it had long since resolved into its elements, and no embalming elements had ever touched it, the body of Jesse James had really been dust so long it had disappeared.”

• “April 2, 1882 was J. W. Graham’s first day on the job as an operator for B. C. Smith, manager of the photo studio in St. Joseph, Missouri owned by James W. Porch. He said that early in the afternoon of April 3rd a man came in proclaiming that Jesse James had been killed. He told Smith that it was a good time to make some money selling pictures of the corpse and his boss agreed. He got an order from City Marshal Enos Craig for the exclusive rights and went to the studio. However, he had to wait until the coroner, young Dr. Heddens, finished the autopsy. Two days later he got permission from the sheriff of Buchanan County to photograph the Ford boys. He had a long interview with them, they were very friendly, and told him exactly all about the shooting. They explained that the capture of Jesse James, dead or alive, for which a $10, 000 reward was offered, was all fixed up with Missouri Gov. Crittenden. If they killed him they were to plead guilty and be pardoned by the governor. Bob said Jesse was lying on the bed, looking over the morning papers. He had taken off his coat and firearms, and they were laying on the bed beside him. Bob Ford was standing in the front doorway, his back against the west frame of the doorway. Charlie Ford was standing in the front yard, a few feet from the front door. Bob heard Jesse crossing the room, leaving his weapons on the bed. He tipped Charlie, “Now is the chance.” Jesse, so Bob said, stepped up onto a chair to adjust a picture frame that was hanging wrong. Jesse raised his hands to straighten the frame; Bob turned half way ‘round, pulling his gun at the same time, and fired from near the front door. Jesse had apparently heard the motion and started to turn around, but the ball got him in the back of the head, and Jesse was fatally shot. The negatives of the Ford boys were lost. The day J. W. Graham “shot” Jesse James was a day he would never forget. He said the photo he made of Jesse James just thirty minutes later his death and bloodstains can be seen on his shirt front. He sold thousands of small photos of the corpse fro twenty-five cents and larger ones for fifty cents.”

J. W. Graham said in the above article that he photographed Jesse James in the early afternoon, just thirty minutes after he was killed. Yet a special dispatch to the Kansas City Journal on April 3, 1882 reported that Jesse was killed between 8 and 9 o’clock in the morning. This same article also said that Jesse, Bob and Charlie had just returned from the stable and Jesse threw his coat and guns on the bed, then picked up a dusting brush, stepped onto a chair and began dusting a picture;

• A century-old story from the 1892 St. Joseph Herald claims the outlaw Jesse James was sent to his grave brainless in 1882. St. Joseph physicians clandestinely removed it for a medical school specimen during an autopsy:

“The often-rumored story recently came to light again when New York City collector Howard Caine came across a packet of letters and clippings from the late Dr. Charles D. Humberd, a physician from Barnard, MO. One of the notes dated July 26, 1935 said ‘Dr. Charles C. Geiger told me that he had once seen this brain, in its jar, in the office of Dr. Jacob Geiger, then at the northeast corner of Sixth and Francis Streets, in St. Joseph, MO.
The surgeon who had done the autopsy was Dr. Frank C. Hoyt, then city physician of St. Joseph. Humberd said his story was ‘perfectly true’ and that he first wrote it for the St. Joseph Herald and the St. Louis Globe-Democrat.”

“The brain was removed without a trace by cutting the scalp across the back of the head and drawing it forward over the brow, leaving the skull exposed to the actions of the saw. The top of the skull was carefully sawed and the brain was removed. The scalp was then drawn back into its place over the cap of the skull.”

The skull that Starrs retrieved from the Mt. Olivet site in 1995 had saw marks on the back section. This finding provides strong evidence that the body buried there in 1882 was the same body Starrs exhumed.

Jesse James’ funeral was held at the Mt. Olivet Baptist Church in old Centerville, now called Kearney, on April 6, 1882. “During the services, the women were all visibly affected. The mother moaned and groaned aloud.” After the services one of the neighboring ‘Courtney boys used his wagon to transport the body to the burial site.’

“From the church the procession, composed of fifty or sixty persons in buggies, wagons and horseback, moved out over the country to the James/Samuel farm, which lies about four miles nearly northeast of Kearney. It is a rough road, through vales, over hills and across streams, and, in the neighborhood of the family residence; the country is heavily timbered and covered with a thick growth of ‘brush’ Adjoining the James/Samuels farm is the farm owned by Askew, with whose untimely taking off the dead Jesse was charged. The ‘bush,’ as it is called, which consisted mostly of large growth trees, on the Kearney side of the farm, has within the past two years been mostly cut down. Arrived at the house, the coffin was taken into the room where the wounded son, John Samuels, lay in bed. It was turned on edge and he was raised up so that he could see the features of his dead brother. He wept bitterly and cried: ‘Oh, oh, God! Oh, Jesse, that ever I should see you brought home this way.’

The mother approached the bedside and assuming a dramatic position, raised her only hand aloft and said in a loud tone of voice said, ‘Johnny, my boy, look upon your sainted brother Jesse, your murdered brother Jesse! Look upon him and then look upon your poor, broken hearted, shattered mother. He is dead – they have killed him – your poor brother Jesse. He is in heaven. He has gone to God, and God will judge him. He is taken from me and I have no one now to lean upon. Johnny, live for your mother, your poor, heart broken mother.’ Johnny’s only response was a groan.

The coffin was placed upon chairs in the yard and the lid opened. Mrs. Samuels came out sobbing, ‘My heart is broke, my heart is broke; broke! broke! broke! Oh, my heart is broke. They have killed my sainted son.’ She was followed by Mrs. James, who amid her sobs and with tears streaming down her checks, called on God to avenge the death of her good, kind husband, who was slain by a cowardly murderer for money. She clung to the coffin, bowing her head upon the glass, declaring that she would not let him go. Like Mrs. Samuels, she repeated over and over the expressions, ‘He has gone to God. He is in heaven. God will condemn and punish all who had a hand in murdering him for money.’ Raising her voice and standing erect she exclaimed: ‘The governor offered $50,000 to have them killed. He was killed for money, and may God punish them for it.’ She asked, ‘Why did they kill him? Why did they take him from me and my children? He would not harm them.’ The climax was reached when Mrs. Samuels, standing at one end of the coffin, looked Sheriff Timberlake in the face, and pointing her finger at him, said, ‘Yes, they killed him for money – for gold and greenbacks; for money! for money! But let them take their money, their gold and their greenbacks. It will do them no good. The officers of the law have done this. They have hired murderers to do it. God will judge them for it. I have no money, I want no money. I shall not judge them. I will leave that to God. If he can forgive them, I can.’ Sheriff Timberlake although surrounded by men who were known to have been intimate friends of Jesse James, never flinched. ‘Last week,’ she continued, ‘he was at my house. He said to me when he was going away: ‘Mother, you may never see me again, but I am not as bad as they would make me out to be.’ This was said sobbingly. By this time several women were weeping over the coffin, and not a few male eyes were moist. Becoming calm, both Mrs. Samuels and Mrs. James wanted the glass lid removed.

At first Mrs. James pretended that she wanted a lock of Jesse’s hair, but it was finally developed that she had come to the conclusion that his arms and legs had been taken off and wax ones substituted for them. Sheriff Timberlake having no screw driver large enough to turn the screws, offered to go to a farm house and borrow one, but the women were finally satisfied, and the body was committed to the grave in the yard while they stood and watched the fresh earth thrown upon the board box, seemingly inconsolable.”

Jesse James was buried in a corner of the James farm yard under a giant coffee bean tree. The gravesite was chosen so that his mother could make sure it wasn’t stolen.
Zerelda’s dramatics didn’t, or rather couldn’t, go unnoticed: “Mrs. Samuels has been at home all day, evidently recuperating her exhausted energies after the tragic scenes of yesterday, in which she acted the star part.”

Sources:
-Crittenden, H. H., The Crittenden Memoirs, G. P. Putnam’s Sons, New York, 1936. Letter written by Frank Dalton, page 368.
-Love, Robertus, The Rise and Fall of Jesse James, 1925, 1926 copyrighted by Robertus Love; Bison Books, 1990.
-Crittenden, H. H., The Crittenden Memoirs. P. Putnam’s Sons, New York, 1936.
-Settle, William A.., Jesse James Was His Name, reprinted in 1977, Bison Book edition published by the University of Missouri Press.
-The Galveston (Texas) News, May 5, 1882. Frontier Times, Is Jesse James Still Among the Living?
-Discovery channel documentary, Seeking the Real Jesse James.
-Personal letter from Phillip W. Steele to Mrs. Jake Wilson (now Ms. Lou Kilgore), dated: 4/30/84. Courtesy of Lou Kilgore.
-Good Bye Jesse James, A compilation of six major news stories concerning the life, death and funeral of America’s greatest outlaw, first appearing in the Kansas City Journal, 1882.
-Good Bye Jesse James, A compilation of six major news stories concerning the life, death and funeral of America’s greatest outlaw, first appearing in the Kansas City Journal, 1882;
-Breihan, Carl W., Saga Of Jesse James, The Caxton Printers, Ltd., Caldwell, Idaho, 1991. -On page 133 Breihan displays a page from the ledger of Sidenfaden’s Funeral Home of St. Joseph, Missouri showing payment for “Jesse James’” casket and shroud.
-Official letter signed along with official seal by Floyd Inman 2-20-1950.
-Unidentified newspaper from Box L6. 2 “Letters/Clippings: Reburial of Jesse James, 1902.” Courtesy of Lou Kilgore.
-True West, April 1961 issue. Story as told to O. C. Sheley by J. W. Graham. Courtesy of Edward M. Konczak.
-Good Bye, Jesse James, A reprinting of six major best news stories first printed in the Kansas City Journal in 1882. The Jesse James Bank Museum, 1967.
-Chilcote, Gary, St. Joseph, (MO) News-Press, Oct. 12, 1992.
St. Joseph Herald, Jesse James’ Brains, 1892.
-“The Kansas City Daily Times” Friday, April 7, 1882 “SCENES AT THE GRAVE.”
-Family History.com, posted by Ruth, subject: James Courtney; Message 358, 9/11/99, 6:36.47 PM. James Clinton Courtney married Lurany Pence, sister of James Gang members, Bud and Donnie Pence. At least three families of Courtney’s lived near Jesse James’ family in Clay County, Missouri.
-“The Kansas City Daily Times” (Missouri) Friday, April 7, 1882 “SCENES AT THE GRAVE.”
-The Galveston (Texas) News, May 5, 1882. Frontier Times, Is Jesse James Still Among the Living?
-Personal letter from Phillip W. Steele to Mrs. Jake Wilson (now Ms. Lou Kilgore), dated: 4/30/84. Courtesy of Lou Kilgore.

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