Primary Source Archive I
Assorted Primary Sources
1) The "Robin Hood" letter (thought to be from Jesse James, Kansas City Times, October 15, 1872)
2) Captain William B. Kemper's report recommending the banishment of the Samuel Family during the Civil War
3) An excerpt from Cole Younger's first written account of the 1876 Northfield raid;
4) a letter from Sheriff John Groom to the governor of Missouri, 1875;
5) a written description of the 1866 robbery of the Clay County Savings Association, by cashier Greenup Bird.
6) Jesse James rescues a prisoner
7) Jesse James Dines Out
8) Adelbert Ames in the Northfield Raid
9) William Pinkerton Interview
10) The Death of Archie Clement
11) an essay by T.J. Stiles on new sources cited in Jesse James: Last Rebel of the Civil War.
The "Robin Hood" Letter
As a bandit, Jesse James won fame with his many letters to the press. Initially, all of these were to the newspapers of editor John Newman Edwards, a former Confederate cavalryman who was a leading figure in the Confederate wing of the Democratic Party in Missouri. Edwards wrote editorials that glorified the bandits as proud, unrepentant Confederates, and depicted Jesse as a martyr to vindictive Radical Unionists. The most famous letter linked to Jesse (often known as the "Robin Hood" letter) appeared amid a stream of Edwards's editorials along these lines, during the hard-fought 1872 presidential election between President Ulysses S. Grant, a Republican, and Horace Greeley.
On September 26, 1872, three bandits (thought to be Jesse James and Cole and John Younger) robbed a ticket booth of the Kansas City Exposition, a fair attended by tens of thousands of people. The ticket-seller, Ben Wallace, tried to retrieve the money, and one of the bandits fired a shot that wounded a little girl. Edwards glorified the robbery in an editorial titled, "The Chivalry of Crime." The outlaws were former Confederates, he wrote, "who might have sat with ARTHUR at the Round Table." On October 15, he published the famous, anonymous letter (signed with the names of three famous outlaws of European legend). The letter is generally thought to be from Jesse James. He was the only bandit to write to the press, and this letter appeared in the middle of several letters he wrote to Edwards's newspapers. It was probably cleaned up by Edwards, at the very least, but it is quite likely that Jesse did indeed write it. It rambles a bit, is both boastful and defensive, and generally resembles letters that most authorities believe were written by Jesse. What's interesting about it is less the generic claim, "We rob the rich and give to the poor," than the stark brutality of it, and its explicit anti-Republican politics. It ends with an appeal for Grant's defeat in the upcoming election.
"To the Kansas City Times:
As a great deal has been said in regard to the robbery which occurred at the Kansas City Exposition grounds, I will give a few lines to the public, as I am one of the party who perpetrated the deed. A great many say that we, the robbers, deserve hanging. What have we done to be hung for? It is true that I shot a little girl, though it was not intentional, and I am very sorry that the child was shot; and if the parents will give me their address through the columns of the Kansas City Weekly TIMES, I will send them money to pay her doctor's bill. And as to Mr. Wallace, I never tried to kill him. I only shot to make him let go my friend. If I had been so disposed, I could have shot him dead. Just let a party of men commit a bold robbery, and the cry is hang them, but Grant and his party can steal millions, and it is all right. It is true, we are robbers, but we always rob in the glare of the day and in the teeth of the multitude; and we never kill only in self defense, without men refuse to open their vaults and safes to us, and when they refuse to unlock to us we kill. But a man who is d--d enough fool to refuse to open a safe or a vault when he is covered with a pistol ought to die. There is no use for a man to try to do anything when an experienced robber gets the go on him. If he gives the alarm, or resists, or refuses to unlock, he gets killed, and if he obeys, he is not hurt in the flesh but he is in the purse.
Some editors call us thieves. We are not thieves--we are bold robbers. It hurts me very much to be called a thief. It makes me feel like they were trying to put me on a part with Grant and his party. We are bold robbers, and I am proud of the name, for Alexander the Great was a bold robber, and Julius Caesar, and Napoleon Bonaparte, and Sir William Wallace--not old Ben Wallace--and Robert Emmet. Please rank me with these, and not with the Grantites. Grant's party has no respect for anyone. They rob the poor and rich, and we rob the rich and give to the poor. As to the author of the letter, the public will never know. I will close by hoping that Horace Greeley will defeat Grant, and then I can make an honest living, and then I will not have to rob, as taxes will not be so heavy. Very respectfully,
P.S.— We expected the money would go from the gate to the Secretary's office at the Fair Grounds, and when Mr. Wallace started, we thought he had all the money. We expected to get about $15,000 when we robbed the till, or we would not have taken the chances. Our watch that we had set at the gate let the money go without seeing it pass,
Captain William B. Kemper's Report Recommending the Banishment of the Samuel Family
It has long been known that in January 1865 the Union military authorities exiled Jesse James's family (led by his mother Zerelda and his stepfather Reuben Samuel), forcing them to move to Nebraska from Missouri. What has not been known is that the plan originated months earlier. In August 1864, after Frank and Jesse James joined the guerrilla band of "Bloody Bill" Anderson, the Union commander in Clay County (Col. Edward C. Catherwood) drew up a plan to banish the leading secessionist families in the county. The plan was rejected by headquarters in St. Louis, however, because he offered no evidence to back up his recommendation. Not until December 2, 1864, did the Assistant Provost Marshal for Clay County, Captain William B. Kemper, submit a report that detailed the case against those families. This document (excerpted here, and preserved in the National Archives) testifies to Zerelda Samuel's ferocious personality and outspoken dedication to the Confederate cause, and provides contemporary evidence that both Frank and Jesse took part in one of the worst atrocities in American history.
"Of Reubin Samuel & family. Samuel lives in Clay County. I regard his wife as being one of the worst women in this State. She has two sons in the brush now & have been for 10 months. They have engaged in the murder of a number of citizens of this county. They were with Bill Anderson and assisted in the murdering of 22 unarmed federal soldiers at Centralia Mo some time in the month of Sept last. I heard her asked the question a few days since, if she was not ashamed of her sons--the way they were acting & she rejoined that she was not--that she was proud of them--that she prayed to God to protect them in their work.... It is not through anything personal that is existing between these parties & myself that I speak thus.... I feel today that I am almost as much in 'rebellion' here in this county as I would be in South Carolina."
Cole Younger's First Written Account of the Northfield Raid
In 1897, Cole Younger wrote an account of the Northfield raid for the warden of Stillwater Prison in Minnesota. The article was not intended for publication, though it was intended to further his efforts at getting parole. The Minnesota Historical Society has a copy, but the document was published by the Northfield News on November 26, 1915. The excerpt here provides only the first few paragraphs, which state the reasons for the raid. This account contradicts the standard accounts of the raid, which state that the gang seriously considered robbing a bank in Mankato; instead Cole backs up what Bob Younger had stated immediately after capture, that they went to Northfield with a purpose. The excerpt:
"Sir--for the first time, I will write out and give the facts of the raid made on Northfield Sept. 7, 1876.... We had been informed that ex-Governor Ames of Mississippi and General Benjamin Butler of Massachusetts had deposited $75,000 in the National bank of that place, and it was the above information that caused us to select the bank of Northfield. I have seen it stated several times in the newspapers that we were frightened away from Mankato owing to the recognition of one of our members of our party, but such was not the case.
That we talked about the banks of that part of the state, is true, but we came to the conclusion that they had enough to do to care for the farmers, who had already suffered too much from grasshoppers to be troubled by us; therefore, we went to Northfield in expectation of getting the $75,000 belonging to ex-Governor Ames and General Butler.
In going to our destination we went by different routes. Four, including Bob Younger, went the southern way. Jim Younger and the other two, by the northern route. On Sept. 6 we stayed at Janesville and on the following morning we went to Northfield, where we met the other half of our party. We got our dinner in different places. Some, including myself, at a restaurant on the west side of the river. Early in the afternoon we rode back on the Janesville road two or three miles to consult and arrange our plans. We agreed, by a majority vote, to rob the bank. Our plan, as agreed on by all the party, was to get into the bank and make our retreat before the alarm was given. What shooting was to be done should be for the purpose of frightening the people from the street, and in no case was there to be an attempt to kill.
In order to carry out the above agreement the following arrangement was made: Three were to ride ahead and enter the bank as soon as Clell Miller and myself had crossed the bridge leading into the square, provided too great a crowd was not on the streets. One-fourth of a mile behind the first were Clell Miller and myself, who were to take our position directly in front of the bank in order to call the three in the bank out in case the alarm was given.
Another quarter of a mile behind us the remaining three, including Jim Younger, were to take up their stand near the bridge, in case the alarm was given. When the three men in the bank came out, the men at the bridge were to mount their horses and we were all to retreat on the Janesville road, but if the alarm was given, I was to signal those at the bridge and they were to give the rebel yell and fire their pistols in the air to scare people off the street."
How to understand this passage? The account mixes an accurate account with repeated efforts to create a favorable impression, to help Younger secure parole. For example, the claim that the bandits were concerned about sparing the banks of grasshopper-impoverished farmers seems suspect: They never cared about the banks in their native Missouri, or in friendly Kentucky--why care about Minnesota? Further, the claim did not appear in any of the interviews with the Youngers immediately after their capture. Cole also goes to great lengths to state that the gang never intended to shoot anyone, something contradicted by their behavior during the gunfight that ensued. On the other hand, Cole's reference to Adelbert Ames, Reconstruction governor of Mississippi and son-in-law of Congressman Benjamin Butler (both were Radical Republicans) demonstrates that the gang researched their target, and planned to go to Northfield from the very beginning. Ames and his family were major stockholders in the bank--but he was not famous or notorious locally, and had only arrived in town a few months before. The outlaws are unlikely to have learned of Ames's presence after arriving in Minnesota, or from the Minnesota-born gang member William Stiles, who had not been back to the state for years. Further, Younger's account shows that the gang approached Northfield in separate groups; while he was in Mankato, another group was in Red Wing, on the Mississippi River, far to the east. In this, Cole agrees with the account given by his brother Bob immediately after capture (Minneapolis Tribune, September 25, 1876), which stated that the gang went to Northfield specifically to target Adelbert Ames.
Letter from Sheriff John Groom of Clay County to Governor Charles H. Hardin, April 16, 1875
In one of the most famous incidents in the life of Jesse James, the Pinkerton detective agency launched a disastrous raid on the home of Zerelda and Reuben Samuel (Jesse James's mother and stepfather) in January 1875. An incendiary device hurled into the house exploded, killing Jesse's half-brother Archie and maiming his mother, who had to have part of one arm amputated. In the days that followed, it came to light that a few local men had assisted the Pinkertons; each of these local men was an old Unionist, and had been a foe of the James family and other Confederates during the Civil War. The man who provided a base of operations for the Pinkertons was Daniel Askew--not only a Unionist, but a Radical and a former militiaman. Local citizens expected the James brothers to deal out retribution for the Pinkerton raid, and in April they did so. The following letter, from the Missouri State Archives, was sent to the governor by Sheriff Groom of Clay County immediately after the murder of Askew. There are multiple spelling and punctuation errors, which have been left uncorrected.
"Liberty, Mo., April 16th, 1875
We are again called apon to record as you have allready seen an other of those dark and damnable deeds that so often visit us the killing of Daniel Askew one of our best citazens. I went amediately to the home exspecting to get some trace of the perpetrators but failed. I found the man killed Mrs. Askew did not see any one. This man Sears who testafied befo. the inquest did not see or recognise he saw one man but did not no him. The citazens in that section are as greatly terror stricken as at any time during the wore. Now is it posible for you to suggest a plan by which the lives of the honest citazen can be protected. There are many good men here who expect to meet and share the same fate. There is no doubt about the threats against them by the James brothers and there associates.
Please your honor, permit me to suggest one idea. Issue a Proclimation calling apon them to serrender within a certain period of time that you will garantee them an impartial trial if they will not submit to these demands then come down with a reward apon there bodys dead or a live. They deny all charges if true they can go cleare and we can have peace once more.
If this does not meet your views if I had the monies to pay six men that are acquainted with them and the country I would select those that are forced to leave home by there threats. I request that this be strictly private. You will please let me heare from you.
Yours in haste,
John S. Groom
Greenup Bird's Description of the Robbery of the Clay County Savings Association on February 13, 1866
The first armed, daylight, peacetime bank robbery in American history occurred in Liberty, Missouri, on February 13, 1866. The bandits appear to have been members of Bloody Bill Anderson's guerrilla organization, most likely led by his main successor, Archie Clement. Jesse James was a member of this organization, and had close ties to Clement and others, but there is no direct evidence that he took part in this raid. It is noteworthy, however, that the robbery began a year-long confrontation between Clement and his men and the Radical state government. The owners and officers of the Clay County Savings Association were the Radical officials who had been appointed by the governor to rule Clay County. The robbery took place barely two weeks after the first Radical mass meeting in Clay County's history, a rally led (of course) by the officers of this bank. The cashier was a man named Greenup Bird, a longtime civil official in Clay County. He gave the following written account, which is part of the collection of the State Historical Society of Missouri in Columbia. The account has numerous punctuation errors, which have been left uncorrected.
"At about 2 o'clock of the afternoon of the Tuesday 13th instant, whilst I was writing at this desk and William Bird my son was writing at the desk on my left, two men entered the Bank dressed in Soldier's blue Over Coats. They both came up to the Stove, one of them turned and went up to the place at which we receive and pay out money, and said he wanted a bill changed. William Bird left his desk and went to the counter to change it, on his arrival at the counter the man on the opposite side drew a revolver and presented at Wm Bird and demanded the money of the Bank. Wm Bird backed toward his desk, the man with the revolver in hand jumped on & over the counter, as also the other man drawing his revolver followed over the counter, One presenting his revolver at Wm Bird & the other man presenting his revolver at me, told us if we made any noise they would shoot us down, demanding all the money in the Bank and that they wanted it quick. Wm Bird not moving, one of the Robbers struck him on the back with his pistol and said to him, damn you be quick & shoved him toward the open vault door and followed him in, drew out a cotton sack and made Wm Bird put the coin on the lower shelf into the sack. (this coin was special deposits of Gold & Silver in rolls, bundles & bags) The Other Robber had me in tow outside of vault and demanded the Greenbacks. I pointed to a tin box on the table and told him they were in that box, he hoisted the lid of the box, took out Greenbacks 7/30 & U M Bonds, and told the Robber in the vault to put them in the sack, and to be in a hurry. The Robber in the vault told Wm Bird to remain in there, the Robber at my side then told me to go in also, I hestitated and began to parley, he told me if I did not go in instantly he would shoot me down. I went in, they asked for the keys of the vault door, we told them they were in the door, They shut the door on us. This is the last We saw of them until we got out of the vault. After they left the vault door I found it was not locked. I opened the door a short distance to see if the Robbers were out of the house found they were out; we then opened the door, rushed to the front window hoisted it and gave the alarm. As we were going from the vault door to the window I saw several men on horse back, pass the window, going east shooting off pistols."
Bird's account details precisely what was stolen, and what was left. A summary:
Special Deposits (coin): $5,008.46
Clay County Savings Association Funds:
Greenbacks & National Banknotes: $8,668.18
Union Military Bonds: $3,096.00
U.S. 7.30 Bonds: $40,000.00
Farmers Bank of Missouri branch funds (ancestor institution of the Clay County Savings Association):
Farmers Banknotes & Union Military Bonds: "near" $300.00
Total Amount stolen, by Bird's account, taking bonds and banknotes at face value: $57,072.64
A brief note about money: Before the Civil War, the only legal tender was gold and silver coin; the value of the money came from its intrinsic value. Banks took deposits in gold and silver (mainly gold), and issued paper notes, which supposedly could be redeemed at the issuing bank for gold (and thus were used as money, even though they represented precious metals). During the war, the Federal government issued greenbacks, a national paper currency that was legal tender, even though it could not be redeemed for gold or silver. National banks were allowed to issue their own banknotes, but these could only be redeemed in greenbacks. Gold and silver coin still existed, but a gold dollar now had a higher value than a greenback dollar, so bank patrons would put them on special deposit (much like a safety deposit box), rather than deposit them in savings accounts, where they would be recorded simply as equal to the less valuable greenbacks. It was, needless to say, a confusing system.
New York Herald, February 18, 1875
"THE JAMES BOYS AGAIN
KANSAS CITY, Mo., Feb. 17, 1875
Public interest in the James boys sensation has been aroused again by an arrest made yesterday near Independence, Mo., of one Hines, supposed to be concerned in the robbery of the Wells-Fargo Express car, where $30,000 was secured. Deputy Marshal Hampton went to Mrs. Burns' house, and, arresting Hines, was returning to Independence, when he was suddenly confronted by three armed horsemen, the notorious Jesse James leading them. In consequence of superior force and levelled revolvers, Hampton was forced to deliver up his prisoner. All disappeared, leaving Hampton unharmed, but without his prisoner."
Atlanta Constitution, February 12, 1875
[Reprinted from the Kansas City News]
How He Dined with Forty-Six Missiles of Death About His Person
At this time anything connected with the James boys is of interest to the people of this section [western Missouri] especially, and we give the following account of how Jesse James appeared at a house about the 18th of last month, only a few days prior to the affair near Kearney. He rode up in front of the house about noon, and asked the proprietor, whom he knew, if he could get dinner. Being replied in the affirmative, he asked if there were any dangerous people around, and the answer being satisfactory, he looked carefully in all directions and then dismounted. He entered the house, and walking to a back door, opened it, and looked around, quietly remarking that he wanted to know a way to retreat if it became necessary. He carried a fine Henry rifle with him, and after removing his great coat, the butts of five large, six-shooting Remington revolvers were disclosed, showing that with the rifle, he had forty-six missiles of death ready for anyone coming to interfere with his liberty. When his dinner was announced, he again looked out at the doors, and seating then himself at the table, with his rifle across his lap, dispatched his meal with a hearty relish and in the most unconcerned manner possible, save with an occasional glance through the windows, keeping up, meanwhile, a pleasant conversation with his host. What two or three or four men would have relished the task of appearing in the doorway and interrupting that outlaw's dinner with a demand to surrender? Their only hope to save their lives, or at least the life of one or more of them, would be to get the first shot, and that an unerring and fatal one.
Adelbert Ames in the Northfield Raid
One of the contributions of Jesse James: Last Rebel of the Civil War is the way it illuminates the role of Adelbert Ames in Jesse James's motivation for the Northfield bank robbery of 1876, and Ames's role in the fighting that ensued. The most important source for understanding what Ames did that day is the published collection of his letters to his wife, but there is another interesting source that follows below.
Northfield News, August 2, 1929
GENERAL AMES TOO MODEST TO TELL PART IN NORTHFIELD RAID
An unusual hero of the famous Northfield bank raid of September 7, 1876, when the James-Younger gang of robbers met defeat at the hands of citizens of Northfield, has been discovered. While volumes have been written about the historic event and columns of newspaper space have been devoted to it, fifty-three years have gone by and General Adelbert Ames has not been included among the heroes and near-heroes of that exciting day in Northfield history.
As for this hero of many a Civil War battle, who received the Congressional Medal of Honor "for remaining upon the field at Bull Run after being severely wounded,"—he is now willing to admit his part in the Northfield episode but only to keep the record of history straight.
The story of September 7, 1876, has become legendary. In a battle that lasted but seven minutes, a small group of citizens of the town, poorly armed as compared to the foe, put an end to the activities of a notorious band of outlaws. Their courage and the heroic death of Joseph Lee Heywood, acting cashier of the bank, who refused to turn over the bank's money to the robbers, are the elements of lasting interest in the episode.
TWO LEAD ATTACK
It was early in the afternoon that the eight heavily-armed Missouri bandits rode in from the recesses of the Big Woods, and while five remained upon the streets and opened a lively fusillade to frighten the citizens, three entered the First National Bank, then located in the south part of the Scriver block. One of these latter covered A.E. Bunker, the teller, and F.J. Wilcox, the bookkeeper. The other set upon Mr. Heywood, with threats and curses ordering him to open the vault and, when he refused, knocking him down. Later, after the battle turned against them in the street, one of the bandits fatally shot Heywood.
It was while this was going on in the bank that the late A.R. Manning, one of Northfield's best known pioneer merchants, and Dr. H.M. Wheeler, who is still living, took leading roles in the battle of the outraged citizens against the robber gang. So deadly was their aim that within a few minutes two of the would-be robbers lay lifeless on the streets, a third was badly wounded, and the survivors were thinking only of escape. Dr. Wheeler "did his bit" from a vantage point in the second story of the Dampier House which stood on the corner across the street, while Mr. Manning stood in the street below where bullets whistled all about him. Each had a bandit to his credit, and Manning had shot Bob Younger's horse. Just before the battle ended, Wheeler wounded Younger as he crouched beneath the outside stairway of the bank building carrying on duel at close rang with Manning.
AMES AIDS MANNING
It was in assisting Manning that Adelbert Ames stepped into the picture. It happens that he was in Northfield at the time of the raid, in which he was doubly interested inasmuch as he and his brother were owners of the Ames Mill and stockholders of the bank. General Ames was both a witness and a participant in the memorable street battle. Common report at the time, now recalled after a lapse of more than half a century, recites that he stood at Manning's back during the gun duel, sharing the danger and advising Manning, until the raiders, minus two men and a horse, fled, ignominiously defeated.
From his home at "The Hill," Tewksbury, Mass., General Ames with characteristic modesty admits the truth of the rumor. He writes, "Yes, it is true. I was with Manning while he, with his gun, was shooting at the murdering robbers who became, apparently, heroes. I was going over the bridge to the mill and met the James crowd going in the opposite direction. Shortly after reaching the mill, I heard someone shout, "They are robbing the bank." Returning I saw Manning with his gun and joined him."
So much for his own part in the battle, and then the general adds this sidelight on Mr. Manning's deadly aim: "Manning had a trembling hand but took deliberate aim and shot the moving horseman, nearly a block away, through the heart and dropped him dead to the street.
G.M. Phillips, cashier of the bank at the time of the raid, altho absent at the Centennial exposition in Philadelphia, was responsible for calling attention to the rumor of General Ames's part in the repulse of the robbers.
ONLY SURVIVING GENERAL
General Ames is now a man of ninety-four years. He was born at Rockland, Me., October 31, 1835, the son of the late Captain Jesse Ames. With two sons, John T. and Adelbert, Captain Ames purchased the flour mill in Northfield in 1868, and developed it into one of the leading mills in the Northwest. The property is often referred to, even now, as the "Ames Mill." General Ames, who lived in New York after his Civil War service and his distinguished career as governor of Mississippi and United States Senator from that state, represented the company in the East.
The general is now the oldest living graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point from which he was graduated in 1861, and the only surviving general of either side in the Civil War. His was a distinguished career in the Rebellion, and he was repeatedly cited for "gallant and meritorious" services at such historic battles as Bull Run, Gettysburg, and Ft. Fisher. At the close of the War he had been breveted a major general of volunteers for his services, and later received the Congressional Medal of Honor.
President Grant appointed him provisional governor of Mississippi in 1869; he was United States Senator from that state from 1870 to 1873, and governor from 1873 to 1876. In the latter year he resigned and came to Northfield to be associated with his brother in the operation of the mill, later moving to New York. He was married to Blanche Butler, the daughter of General B.F. Butler of Lowell, Mass., and they had one son, Butler.
General Ames' home is at "The Hill," Tewksbury, Mass., but he spends the winters at Ormund, Fla., where he often plays golf with his friend, John D. Rockefeller.
The William Pinkerton Interview
One of the most important episodes in the life of Jesse James was his battle with Pinkerton's National Detective Agency, led by Allan Pinkerton. Remarkably, Pinkerton's son William (known as Billy), gave an interview to the Chicago Times in 1881, soon after the Winston train robbery, in which conductor William Westfall was killed. That interview, reproduced below, provides an inside account of the Pinkertons' war with the James-Younger gang. In addition, the reporter's comments that precede Pinkerton's words offer useful insights into Jesse and Frank James.
Billy Pinkerton's account is generally quite accurate, and is particularly valuable as it was delivered while Jesse James was still alive. Some small errors do appear, however. Also, note how he dances around the issue of whether the Pinkertons were involved in the infamous attack on the Samuel farm in 1875. He denies it, then slips up when discussing conductor Westfall later on.
The interview has been altered here in two ways. First, new paragraph breaks have been introduced, to make the interview more readable on a Web page. Second, some of Pinkerton's descriptions of the gang's activities have been cut, as his account tends to be inaccurate, reflecting perhaps the fact that his agency was not hired to investigate them for those specific cases.
Kansas City Evening Star, July 21, 1881
[Reprinted from the Chicago Times]
The robbery of the Rock Island & Pacific train at Winston on Friday night was, it is now very generally believed, done under the leadership of the notorious desperado Jesse James. Jesse and Frank James are now the only ones left of the old band of desperadoes whose name was a terror throughout the Missouri valley for years. . . . Frank James, it is understood, is living on his cattle ranch in the pan handle of Texas, and trying to behave himself, or at least, to restrain his brutal passions to a certain degree; but his brother Jesse is too restless and improvident a man ever to be anything else than an outlaw. He has been bred to the business of crime, and it is second nature to him to murder and rob. Although he has made a large sum of money by his famous robberies, he has not been able to retain any of it, and parties who have seen him in and about Kansas City during the past few months say he was "down at the heel," and in bad shape financially. He is an inveterate and a hard gambler, and diligent pursuit of that line of business has reduced him to penury almost. . . .
The police here, however, are firmly convinced that Jesse James set up the job [at Winston] and carried it through, and at Pinkerton’s detective agency the same theory is held. Francis Warner, the superintendent, and W. A. (Billy) Pinkerton, who know a great deal about these Missouri desperadoes, say there is very little doubt that Jesse James was the leading spirit of the outrage. "It is just like the jobs in which he has taken part before," said Mr. Warner. "It bears too many of his marks to be mistaken for the work of somebody else. He is known to have been in that part of the country for several weeks, hard up and wolfish. . . . The people among whom he lived for so long are friendly to him. Many is the time they have secreted and protected him and his brother marauders when the officers were after them, and he can always rely on them when he has work to do."
"Jesse James," said Mr. Pinkerton, "is a blood-thirsty devil, and the murder of Conductor Westfall is just like one of his acts. On several occasions he has shot down men wantonly, and without the shadow of an excuse. The Northfield bank cashier was murdered in cold blood, and without cause. There are other instances of the same kind, showing what kind of a man he is. Then the description of the ‘tall man’ who led the Winston train-robbers answers to that of Jesse James. In short, there is every reason to suppose that he did the business."
The Pinkertons have had a varied experience in running down the Younger and James freebooters and they are thoroughly acquainted with their career of crime and bloodshed. In a chat with The [Chicago] Times man on yesterday, Mr. "Billy" Pinkerton related many passages in their history, which will be read with interest at this time. Much of it has been given to the public at different times, but now that the land-pirates have again made their appearance, it becomes new. The facts given are presented below:
"The gang was made up originally," began Mr. Pinkerton, "of Jesse James, Frank James, Cole, John, and Jim Younger, Tompkins, McDaniels, Clel Miller, and Arthur McCoy. They had acquired an appetite for plunder and crimes during the war, when they served under Quantrell, Mundy, Anderson, the Swamp Fox, and other noted guerrilla leaders of the Missouri valley. After the war they kept on with their lawless work. . . .
"The first connection we had with the gang was after the Corydon, Ia., bank robbery, which followed upon the heels of the St. Genevieve [Gallatin] episode. There was a political gathering of some kind at Corydon, when the gang rode into town, captured the bank and about $10,000 in currency, and took their departure with the utmost coolness, cursing the ‘d—d Yanks’ for cowards as they left. Robert A. Pinkerton was dispatched to the scene, and together with a number of citizens, followed the raiders to the Missouri line. The Iowans abandoned the search at this point, and Robert went on alone. [He actually was accompanied by the sheriff, and had a brief gunfight with the gang at Civil Bend, in Daviess County.] He traced them to Blue Mill ferry over the Missouri, on the border of Clay County, and spent several days in the vicinity, acquainting himself with the history of the men who were engaged in the expedition.
"During the progress of his investigation he visited the house of Mrs. Samuels, the mother of the James brothers, and called on several persons who were more or less intimately connected with the gang. He failed to get hold of much information of value. While looking about he ran across an old woman who warned him that he was being shadowed by a tall, powerful man with red whiskers, who intended to kill him if he got troublesome. Robert was a young fellow then and quite boyish in appearance, a fact which warmed the old woman to him. The tall man turned out to be Arthur McCoy, one of the most ferocious of the James gang. Soon afterward the bank determined to give up the hunt and Robert returned home.
"This was in 1871, I believe. The plunderers soon after the Corydon exploit turned road agents, and a series of stage robberies in southern Missouri and Arkansas were laid to their credit. They did quite a business in the neighborhood of Hot Springs, and after one of their boldest operations in this line they jumped across the country to Gad’s Hill, a station on the Iron Mountain railroad. Here they stopped a train, robbed all the passengers, and carried away the contents of the safe in the express car. The Gad’s Hill case was put into our hands.
"I was in Europe at the time, but the case was in progress on my return. The gang was traced to St. Clair county by the man who was sent on to make a preliminary report, and there the members scattered, the Youngers remaining in that county and the Jameses proceeding to Clay County, where they lived.
"Operatives were detailed to go into the respective vicinities to obtain evidence of the guilt or innocence of the parties charged with the robbery. Capt. Louis J. Lull and John Boyle were sent to St. Clair County, and J. W. Witcher was dispatched to Clay County. Lull assumed the name of W. J. Allen, and Boyle that of J. W. Wright. The detectives were not expected to make arrests, their duty merely being to look over the ground and report what they could learn.
"Witcher went to Kansas City, where he changed his clothes and appearance and assumed the disguise of a farmer, having previously hardened his hands in order to better personate the character. [In truth, Whicher failed to do this, and worried openly about that his soft hands would give him away.] On his arrival at Liberty, a village near the home of the James boys, he made some inquiries which must have attracted the attention of some of the friends of the outlaws. This was a fatal error, and was contrary to specific instructions, which were to make no inquiries.
"From Liberty, Witcher started out ostensibly to find employment. He proceeded to Kearney, from which point he made his last report, detailing what he had done, and stating that he was on the point of starting on foot to the James farm nearby. As we learned subsequently, he reached the house shortly after dark, rapped at the door, and was invited in by Mrs. Samuels. He had scarcely begun to state his errand when he was pounced upon by Frank James and Clel Miller, overpowered and bound. An attempt was made to extort a confession from him that he was a detective, but this he refused to do and adhered to his original story. They were unable to get anything from him, but being convinced that he was an enemy, they determined to put him out of the way.
"Not wishing to commit a murder in their own house, which would enlist the authorities of their own county in an effort to capture them, they bound the operative upon a horse, and took him to Blue Mills ferry. Arousing the ferryman, they informed him they were deputy sheriffs and that their prisoner was a horse-thief. He accordingly consented to take the party across the river and did so. In relating the story afterward, the ferryman said that the prisoner was mounted on a gray horse and that he did not say a word.
"If the ferryman told the truth Witcher must have been gagged as well as bound, or he would have disclosed his identity. Nobody can ever know whether he told the truth or not. The next morning, Witcher’s body was found on the main road three miles from Independence, Jackson County, with two bullet holes in his head [actually three]. The first we knew of his death was a telegram in The [Chicago] Times telling of a mysterious murder that had occurred near Independence. An operative who was sent brought the body home, and it was buried in Allan Pinkerton’s lot in Graceland.
"Word was immediately sent to Capt. Lull to be on his guard, but before he received it he had fallen in with McDaniels, a deputy sheriff, to whom he had intrusted the secret of his name and business. McDaniels was a trusty fellow and a brave fellow and a brave man. The three, McDaniels, Boyle, and Lull, determined to work together. They made up their mind to visit the Youngers, near Monegaw Springs, and the better to carry out their purpose and avoid suspicion, Boyle and Lull adopted the guise of land-buyers. Arrived in the Younger neighborhood, the party stopped at the place of Owen Sneiffer [Theodrick Snuffer], a former friend of the outlaws. They made some inquiries related to the purchase of land, and seeing nobody around left. When they had gone about a half mile they heard the sound of horses’ hoofs on the road behind them, and looking around they beheld two mounted horsemen approaching rapidly.
"‘My God!’ exclaimed McDaniels, "it is John and Jim Younger.’ They were armed with double-barreled shotguns. Not expecting an attack the detectives let them ride alongside, when the Youngers commanded them to stop and throw up their hands. Boyle put spurs to his horse and fled, Jim Younger pursuing him a short distance and firing at him, but without effect. John Younger kept Lull and McDaniels covered with his gun, and ordered them to drop their belts, which they did. He then shot and killed the deputy sheriff, when Capt. Lull drew a small Smith & Wesson revolver from his bosom and fired at the murderer, the bullet striking him in the neck and cutting his jugular. Before falling from his horse John Younger discharged the remaining barrel of his gun, shattering Lull’s bridle arm with buckshot. Jim Younger returned when he heard the shooting, and shot at Lull who returned the fire, wounding the desperado in the side. At this point, his horse became unmanageable, and before he could get control of the animal the remaining Younger shot him through the back. [Actually, Lull fired first, though he was mortally wounded by John Younger’s dying shot; Jim Younger, already returned, then killed McDaniels and shot Lull again. Then Lull’s horse carried him off, until he hit a tree branch and fell to the ground.]
"This was at the close of the battle. Lull was carried to Chalk Level by some colored people, who found him a few hours after the fight. [Actually, one black man witnessed the fight and helped Lull immediately.] Allan Pinkerton sent R. J. Linden, now superintendent of the Philadelphia agency, on to take care of Lull, and Linden changed the doctor and brought an old army surgeon from a point twenty miles distant to attend him. The wounded man got along nicely, and was on the road to recovery, when he caught cold and died from congestion in a few hours. We were getting ready to bring him home when the change in his condition occurred. The living Younger swore the captain should never leave the county alive. The body lies in the masonic burying-ground near this city.
"Soon after this, the express companies, concluding that the robbers had been frightened enough to make them behave, withdrew from the prosecution of the case. Allan Pinkerton then took up the matter and expended $10,000 of his own money trying to bring the marauders to justice."
[Pinkerton then describes, with uneven accuracy, several robberies in which the gang members were suspects.]
"Some time subsequent to the Gad’s Hill robbery an effort was made to arrest the James brothers at their home near Kearney. Their house was surrounded by a party of men said to have been Pinkerton’s detectives. A ball of fire was thrown into the house to light it up. The premises were searched, and when the party left Dr. Samuels threw the ball of fire into the fireplace, where it exploded, injuring a son of Mrs. Samuels by the doctor so that he died, and tearing one of Mrs. Samuels' hands off. It has been charged that I led this expedition. This is not true. The court records establish the fact that I was in Chicago at the time as a witness in an important case. I will say right here, too, that none of Pinkerton’s men were there. The men who did take part in it would be in danger of their lives if their identity were known, and to protect themselves they gave the credit of the act to Pinkerton’s agency.
"The Jameses were led to suspect that Daniel Askew, who lived in an adjoining farm, had furnished the invading party information, and soon after the attack was shot down while going from his house to a spring for a pail of water. It has been said that Conductor Westfall, who was killed on Friday night, was the man who ran the train for the accommodation of the raiders on that occasion. We know nothing of Westfall, and never heard of him."
Askew did indeed provide a base for the Pinkertons, and Westfall did have the management of the special train that transported the party that attacked the Samuel farm. Also, note that the detective agency was hired after Gads Hill by the Adams Express Company, not the Iron Mountain Railroad, and (as the interview states) carried on even after the Adams withdrew from the case. Pinkerton concluded the interview with brief, somewhat inaccurate descriptions of other robberies, saying of the outlaws, "Mr. Warner and myself might work in enough details to fill a volume about them."
The Death of Archie Clement
No doubt the most underestimated figure in Jesse James’s life was a short, incredibly brutal Confederate guerrilla named Archie Clement. During the Civil War, he never rose to the prominence of William Quantrill or “Bloody Bill” Anderson, under whom he fought, but he won particular infamy for his cold-blooded murders and savage dismembering of his victims. As one wartime report said, he was Anderson’s “chief scalper and head devil.” In Jesse’s first days as a bushwhacker, it seems he rode with Clement, and followed him into Anderson’s group. After Anderson was killed in late 1864, Jesse followed Clement to Texas, and returned to Missouri with him as the Confederacy crumbled. He was probably riding alongside Clement when Union cavalrymen shot him through the lungs outside of the town of Lexington a month after General Lee’s surrender.
In 1876, Jesse James wrote a letter to the press that described Clement as “one of the noblest boys, and the most promising military boy of this age.” He admired the little killer so deeply that he insisted that his mother name her youngest child after Clement (a child who died in the Pinkerton raid of 1875). Jesse wrote that 1876 letter because he had learned the name of a man who had led a posse on the hunt after himself: A Union army major named Bacon Montgomery. Montgomery was the man who had Archie Clement killed ten years earlier, in 1866—“murdered,” Jesse claimed, “in cold blood.”
The violent death of Archie Clement, in turn, was the most underrated moment in Jesse’s life. For a year and a half after the end of the war, Clement had kept the old bushwhackers together, robbing institutions and individuals associated with Unionism, including the Clay County Savings Association, a Radical Republican-run bank in Liberty, held up on February 13, 1866, in the first daylight peacetime armed robbery of a bank in American history. The year that followed was one of violence and political turbulence, as the Radical Republicans battled unrepentant bushwhackers, who had waged a guerrilla war for the Confederacy, and conservative Unionists, who would soon emerge as the Democratic Party. The Radicals viewed both groups as disloyal, though the bushwhackers often saw all Unionists as their enemies. And Clement made everyone suffer.
In the important Missouri River town of Lexington, the election in November 1866 descended into anarchy, as Radical officials enforced stringent voting laws, and Confederate bushwhackers under Clement (probably including one or both of the James brothers) terrorized the county, particularly freed slaves and Republicans. By the end of the year, Archie Clement would be dead, and Jesse James would have another lifelong grievance against the Republican authorities.
The sources below are not cited in Jesse James: Last Rebel of the Civil War. They were discovered in my research for my next book, as I read through the New York Herald. They consist of two pieces of overlapping, on-the-spot reporting, which I have spliced together for a more readable narrative (though some repetition still occurs.) The Herald was a Democratic newspaper, harshly critical of the Radicals, and the bias distorts the picture painted here. For example, the writer dismisses the bushwhackers as mere criminals during the war, when in fact they were dedicated Confederates. They simply were not in favor with many of the respectable Confederate veterans who served as sources for these articles. However, these pieces remain important, and compelling, contemporary accounts of this dramatic incident, with a useful (if somewhat biased) account of the general background of political and social turmoil.
New York Herald, January 21, 1867
THE MISSOURI TROUBLES
OUR LEXINGTON CORRESPONDENT
In most parts of the South, the people were united for the war against the Union, and each vied with the other in doing the most in support of their cause, and when the war was over they laid down their arms, satisfied that they had done all in their power and content to turn their attention to improving their condition in the peaceful pursuits of life. In Missouri and some of the other border States the case was different. Many of the young men joined the rebel armies, while others took up arms for the Union, and those who remained at home, either from old age or disinclination to go into the armies, entertained the most bitter hatred towards their former friends and neighbors who differed with them in opinion, not a few shouldering their guns and going into the bushes to lie in wait to shoot down their unsuspecting foes. When the war ceased and the young men who had fought against the Union came home they were, as a general thing, well received, kindly treated, and expressed themselves as willing to abide the result and take the oath of loyalty.
For a time all went well. Improvements were rapidly made, business revived, and the city commenced to assume its old appearances. This continued until the summer of 1865, when the political excitement ran high and the desire to obtain and hold office seized upon the adherents of all parties, and caused the bitterness of feeling formerly existing to be revived.
The parties divided into radicals, conservatives, and original rebels. Among the conservatives were men who had fought in the Union army, in the State militia, and others who had during the war styled themselves Union men, but did not much care which side whipped. Many of the radical party were men who had stood out for the Union from the commencement from pure and patriotic motives, who had suffered in person, property and in indignities, and believed they and they only were entitled either by right or justice to hold any office or have any voice in the legislation of the State. Others of the radical party were original secessionists and turned radicals when they saw which way the war was going to jump, in order to have a finger, if not a whole hand, in the spoils of office.
The General Assembly of the State was composed largely of the radical element in the years 1865 and 1866, and on the 26th of February, 1865, under a joint resolution of the legislature, a committee of three was appointed to revise the constitution of the State and report to that body. This committee reported a constitution totally at variance with the former one in many respects, and is the foundation of all the disturbances which have occurred since.
The effect of the constitution is to disfranchise more than half the State. It throws all the offices, emoluments, &c., into the hands of the radical party, and practically give them control of the State forever. As a large proportion of the disfranchised class belong to the wealthy and tax paying people, it is not surprising that bitterness and hatred should exist which may result in a resort to arms. . . .
New York Herald, January 13, 1867
The counties of Lafayette and Jackson, where the recent difficulties have occurred, are situated in the southwestern portion of the State, near the Kansas line, and are composed of some of the richest lands in Missouri, and before the war were reputed to be the largest and most wealthy counties in the State. A large proportion of the inhabitants were farmers and slave owners, and consequently tinctured with all the prejudices and opinions peculiar to that class of people prior to the war.
The sons of slaveholders were early taught to look down upon and despise the sons of their less fortunate neighbors, in consequence of which a feeling of bitterness between the two classes has long existed. In addition to this they were located so near the Kansas difficulties which occurred a few years since, that the people were bound to espouse one side or the other, and this feeling continued and increased until the breaking out of the war, when a diversion took place, most of the wealthy and slaveholding classes either openly taking up arms against the government or secretly sympathizing with and aiding her enemies, while the poorer classes were mostly enrolled in the Union army.
[The division the reporter spoke of was less one of wealth, than of slaveholding. Many prosperous residents of these counties were Unionists.]
In addition to these two parties was a third class, who neither joined one side or the other, but were an organized band of outlaws, bushwhackers, and robbers, and made war indiscriminately upon all who they supposed could furnish plunder. This was the state of affairs at the close of the war. . . .
THE REGISTRATION LAW
We come now down to the immediate cause of the recent difficulties in Lafayette county, and the reasons assigned by Governor Fletcher and friends for calling upon the militia to preserve the peace and enforce the laws of the state. As is well known, the radical party (so called) has had political control of the State for the past four years. One of the laws passed by them was what is known as the Registration law, which compelled all persons desirous of exercising the right of suffrage to take an oath that they had given neither aid, comfort, or sympathy to the rebellion, &c. In addition to this were many other provisions which had the practical effect of disfranchising a large proportion of the citizens of the state. . . . At the spring election of municipal officers for the city of Lexington the conservative ticket received the largest number of votes, but the radical Mayor and other city officers were declared elected. . . . This increased the bitterness existing between the two parties.
ARCH CLEMMENS’ [Clement’s] OPERATIONS
During the summer and fall of last year the band of outlaws mentioned above, which had committed so many and flagrant outrages during the war, reorganized under the leadership of one Arch. Clemmens, a notoriously bad and desperate character, and committed all kinds of robbery, murder, and other offences; and so numerous were his gang, and so terrorized were the people, that they dared neither resist the outrages or attempt to execute civil law. As far as I can learn, they made no discrimination between radicals and conservatives, robbing all with impartial justice and occasionally varying the programme by shooting a negro for the fun of it.
The facts above are admitted by all, but the conservatives claim that no effort was made by the radical officials to execute the civil law; that no indictments were made by the Grand Juries and no writs issued by the courts.
The fault is all with the incompetent radicals, who are supposed to execute the law, and that they (the conservatives) stood ready at all times to turn out and assist in enforcing them. Another fact admitted on all sides is that the returned Confederate soldiers are in no way mixed up with or responsible for the trouble. . . .
New York Herald, January 21, 1867
At all events, from that time to the present the laws have not been executed, and crime has run riot. A band of desperadoes have roamed at large through this and adjoining counties stealing horses, shooting negroes, and robbing the people generally, without distinction of party, and very little effort has been made to bring them to justice. They would travel in squads, armed to the teeth, ride into and through the city, firing their pistols in all directions, and to such an extent did they terrorize the people that no one dared to interfere with them or to make a complaint to the civil authorities.
The deputy sheriff at the time (Mr. Adamson) did make an effort to put a stop to these proceedings, and organized a posse of seventeen men, mounted and armed them at his own expense, but without much effect. The county refused to remunerate him fort he expense incurred, and, disgusted with the treatment and the want of assistance rendered by the citizens generally, he gave the matter up and allowed things to go on as they would. What is a remarkable fact connected with this whole matter is that not a single complaint was made to any civil officer, an indictment found by any Grand Jury, or, as I am informed by the Circuit Judge of this district, a single writ returned to him as being unable to be executed. This, too, when each member of the gang was known either personally or by name to half the people in the county. The fact was, to make a complaint was equivalent to being shot as soon as the opportunity offered, and no one cared to take the chances.
To illustrate the extent to which crime was carried on, I will give a single instance that occurred in Lexington not many weeks ago. One morning Archie Clemmens, since killed, who was the leader of the band, together with seventeen of his men, marched into town, and dismounting from their horses, hitched them opposite the principal banking house [of Alexander Mitchell]. At one o’clock three men, apparently strangers, entered the bank, presented their pistols, and quietly robbed the bank. They then mounted their horses and rode swiftly out of town. Clemmens at once ordered his men to mount and pursue them, but although splendidly mounted they failed to overtake the parties (as they claimed) and in the course of two hours returned to the city. Although everyone was morally certain that Clemmens and his gang were connected with the robbers, no one dared breathe it. They pretended, however, to have heard that such a remark had been made, and searched the city to shoot the men who had dared offer such an insult.
Numberless instances could be related of a similar or worse nature; but this will suffice to show to what an extent and with what impunity crimes have been committed. The radicals claim that certain of the leading conservative politicians encouraged these bad men to their crimes, in order to deter the radical voters from attending the polls at the November election. The conservatives, who have suffered equally, if not more, from their depredations, aver that they stood ready at all times to assist the radical officers in executing the laws, whenever and wherever called upon. These statements are made by leading men of both parties, and, as they do not agree, I give them without comment.
Early in November an election was held for county and State officers; and the excitement and anxiety of both sides were very great. The parties who were entitled to vote were nearly equal, although nearly two thousand persons were disfranchised in the county of Lafayette under the new constitution. . . .
The bitterness occasioned by this, together with the presence of about a dozen or so Clemmens men in the city on the day of election [the sheriff wrote that about 100 bushwackers terrorized the town on election day], induced the radicals to apply to Governor Fletcher for military aid, notwithstanding a company of United States troops were encamped on the outskirts of the city to preserve order. The Governor complied with the request, and ordered one company of cavalry and one of infantry there, to be under the command of Major Montgomery. Major Montgomery is a young man of some thirty-two or three years. He served with distinction in the Union army, was located with Sherman, and was frequently called upon to undertake daring missions. He is a man of unquestioned bravery; but when excited is impetuous and rash. The men under him, particularly the infantry company from St. Louis, were collected from the floating population of the city and were of the worst character. According to the testimony of respectable gentlemen of all parties the outrages committed by certain of the militia were of a character to equal if not surpass in enormity the crimes committed by the men they were sent there to put down. Not a night passed without citizens being stopped upon the streets, robbed and beaten, and, in some instances, killed. People pointed out as conservatives or rebels were insulted, and in two or three instances compelled to leave town to preserve their lives. Major Montgomery was unable, if desirous, to control his men, and applied to the Governor to be relieved of the St. Louis company.
New York Herald, January 13, 1867
Immediately after election . . . Clemmens and his band renewed operations, directing most of their attention to the radical element, and, as the radicals claim, were secretly encouraged by prominent conservatives of Lexington.
GOVERNOR FLETCHER INTERVENES
Representations were now made to Governor Fletcher by citizens of Lafayette and Jackson that civil law was inoperative, and that the lives and property of the inhabitants were at the mercy of a band of outlaws and robbers, who were committing all manner of depredations, and praying to him to send them assistance. . . . He did order two companies of militia here—one from St. Louis and the other, I think, from Pettis County, and placed the whole under the command of Major Montgomery, who served with distinction during the war and has a decided antipathy to rebels and copperheads.
CONDUCT OF THE MILITIA
The conservatives now claim that the State troops under the command of Major Montgomery are a worse set of men if possible than Clemmens’ band, and that more robberies have been committed since their arrival than there were before; that it is only necessary for some one to point out a person as a rebel, when he is at once arrested and his money and other valuables taken from him. So great was the indignation of certain of the prominent citizens at the action of the militia that they waited upon General Grant at St. Louis, accompanied by General Frank P. Blair, General Brown, Mr. Glover, and other influential citizens of St. Louis, and persuaded him to order a company of United States troops to Lexington; but, upon the return of General Grant to Washington, the order was, for some reason, countermanded, and the State troops left in full control and possession of affairs in Lexington.
General Vaughn, who served in the Union army; Mr. Alexander Mitchell, a wealthy and prominent banker of Lexington; and others who had waited upon General Grant for assistance, found, upon the departure of the United States troops, that they were obnoxious to the militia for the part they had taken, and were advised by their friends to leave. Mr. Mitchell was robbed upon the street of seventy-five dollars in money and his life threatened. He finally succeeded in getting safely away, and is now a refugee in St. Louis.
THE KILLING OF CLEMMENS
One good, and perhaps the only one, which has resulted from the presence of the militia, has been the killing of Arch Clemmens, the leader of the outlaws and bushwhackers.
Probably no man that ever lived in the border states has committed more wanton and cruel murders than he. He was one of the principal men engaged in the Lawrence massacre, and most of his victims were found with a scrap of paper pinned to their breasts, with the inscription, “Scalped by Arch Clemmens.”
According to the laws of Missouri every resident of the state between certain ages were obliged to enrol themselves in the militia.
Clemmens and some eighteen more of his gang sent word to Major Montgomery that if he would promise not to molest them they would come into town and enrol themselves. The Major gave the required promise, and Clemmens and his party, mounted and armed to the teeth, marched in two abreast.
They repaired immediately to a groggery, and sent for Major Montgomery. He joined them for a while, and after taking a drink or two left. In the meantime Clemmens and his men became somewhat boisterous under the influence of liquor, and, after committing some outrages, started out of the town. Upon reaching the outskirts Clemmens and one or two others declared their intention to return, and did so, against the remonstrance of their companions.
Major Montgomery, finding Clemmens return, and feeling that he had kept his faith with the outlaw in allowing him to leave town once, resolved to arrest him.
Rewards had frequently been offered for his body dead or alive, and no one had dared to attempt it. Major Montgomery found Clemmens alone in a saloon, and told him he was going to arrest him. Clemmens at once started for the door, and said he would not be taken alive. [Accounts by two of the men sent to arrest Clement say that Montgomery himself was not present.]
Firing at once commenced between the parties; but Clemmens succeeded in mounting his horse and getting some three hundred yards, when he fell, pierced with six bullets.
[Montgomery had sent three men to capture Clement, who escaped from the City Hotel bar to his horse, revolvers blazing. Montgomery waited at the courthouse where his militia force was garrisoned; when Clement came riding past, shooting over his shoulder at his pursuers, Montgomery ordered a volley from his waiting men. Montgomery later wrote, "I've never met better 'grit' on the face of the earth."]
New York Herald, January 21, 1867
But few complaints are made against the personal behavior of Major Montgomery. There are two or three instances where he carried matters with rather a high hand. One of them was in crossing the river into the town of Richmond . . . and destroying a printing office, because the editor made some remarks personally offensive. He also arrested the editor, brought him to his office on this side of the river, and compelled him to make a written retraction of his published statement. In another case, on the night he attempted to arrest Clemmens, and killed him while resisting—an account of which was given in a former letter—and having reason to expect an attack from the associates of Clemmens, he arrested eight of the most prominent citizens of the city and held them as hostages. Some of the parties arrested and held were Union men and had fought in the Union army. The two acts mentioned above are disapproved of by many of the most ultra radicals.
Newly Discovered Primary Sources
An Essay by T.J. Stiles
One of the most enjoyable aspects of historical research is the discovery of new primary sources (original documents, as opposed to secondary sources, or what other historians have written). It is not necessarily the most significant part: Two people can look at the same evidence and come to different conclusions. But the finding of new sources is both important and exciting.
In researching Jesse James, I found a number of new sources, and also made more extensive use of known sources.
• The Watkins Mill Letter Collection
A mile or so from the James-Samuel farm is the Watkins Woolen Mill State Historic Site and Park. It occupies the farm and woolen mill that once belonged to Waltus Watkins, a neighbor to the James-Samuel family. The park is not an archival facility, but it has amassed a collection of nineteenth-century letters (typescript copies, typed out by volunteers) written by the various families that comprised the Watkins clan. These letters shed fascinating light on Robert James, his widow Zerelda and her family after Robert's death, daily life during the Civil War, and the hunt for the James brothers. Some of the letters were written by George Patton, a sheriff of Clay County during Frank and Jesse's outlaw years, and by his wife, Bettie Scruggs Patton.
A couple of important notes: First, I did not exactly discover these letters. I found a reference to them in an article by Louis Potts on Baptist revivalism in Clay County, in the Missouri Historical Review. He cited the letters by Robert James's church members, which drew my attention. Second, the letters, while fascinating, did not alter the picture I would otherwise have developed of Jesse and Frank James. Indeed, apart from adding interesting details, and throwing fresh light on the family's antebellum history, they do nothing to undermine any of the better-researched accounts of the brothers (such as the books by Settle and Yeatman). Third, I did not see originals, only typescript copies. The state park rangers in charge of the collection told me that volunteers had transcribed from the originals. However, I find it impossible to believe that they are fraudulent. They contained numerous obscure details that have been confirmed by other sources (one letter refers, for example, to Zerelda James's friendship with a Mrs. West; county records revealed that Tilman West served as legal guardian to Zerelda's children after Robert's death). Who would go to so much trouble to create extremely accurate fraudulent letters, with no earthshaking revelations that overturn what we already know, and then bury them in an obscure state park office? I am convinced they are genuine, though errors from transcription no doubt exist.
• The Missouri State Legislature's Militia Report
In 1864, the Missouri State Legislature conducted an extensive study of the conduct of the various forces of Union militia active during the Civil War. The results were then published, including lengthy testimony from local citizens, officials, and militia officers. In 1999, the State Historical Society of Missouri republished the report. It is difficult to overstate the importance of this document to the study of the Civil War in Missouri. In focusing on Clay County, I was able to better see the emergence of a militiant secessionist movement out of the border-ruffian mobilization (and suppression of dissent within Missouri) of the late 1850s; the efforts by secessionists to purge Clay County of Unionists in the summer of 1861, before the arrival of Union troops; the critical differentation between the different militia organizations, and the political significance of each; the exact extent and nature of the Paw Paw militia; and the emergence of the Radical Party in this conservative county. I also learned important new details about individuals wrapped up with the lives of Jesse James, from John S. Thomason to O.P. Moss to E. M. Samuel.
• Provost-Marshal Papers in the National Archives
Two Civil War historians, Michael Fellman and Mark E. Neely, Jr., broke new ground in the use of the papers of the Union provost marshals, kept by the National Archives in Washington, D.C. In terms of Jesse James, writer Ted Yeatman is the first, I believe, to make extensive use of these papers. I had completed most of my own work in the National Archives when Yeatman's book appeared, and found that I had come across some reports that he did not cite (though I had to go back to look at the National Archives's "Bulky Package File" that he cited, which includes detailed accounts of the Muscle Shoals robbery).
For almost the entire Civil War, Missouri was under martial law; the provost marshals were the military policemen in charge of control of the civilian population. The reports are collected on two sets of microfilm documents: One-Name Files, and Two-or-More-Name Files. To find a report in the Two-or-More-Name Files, one must first search the alphabetical One-Name Files, then find the report numbers and go back to the numerically arranged Two-or-More-Name Files.
The files I found that are of greatest interest are the reports of Colonel Catherwood and Captain William B. Kemper, Missouri State Militia. Captain Kemper first came to Clay County in May 1864 to hunt for the guerrillas led by Fletch Taylor (including the newly recruited Jesse James). After being wounded in an ambush, Kemper returned to serve as the provost marshal for most of Clay County, replacing Colonel Catherwood. I found two items of note. First, the 1865 order to exile Zerelda and Reuben Samuel (along with Susie James) from Missouri originated with a plan by Colonel Catherwood in the summer of 1864. Union headquarters in St. Louis found his plan insufficiently documented, however, and sent it back to him. Captain Kemper continued where Catherwood left off, and sent in a detailed eight-page report on the various families that he wanted banished for their support of the Confederate guerrillas. That report is the second interesting thing. Kemper, who had come to know the county well, wrote that he was certain that both Frank and Jesse were present at Centralia, and took part in the infamous massacre of Union troops there by Bill Anderson's men. He also called Zerelda Samuel "one of the worst women in this state."
In addition, I followed in Fellman's footsteps in examining army reports on the turmoil in Missouri in 1866. These reports have a conservative bias, in keeping with the postwar army's political leanings (in particular, the conservative leanings of General Winfield Scott Hancock and General William T. Sherman). However, they shed important light on the often intense political violence of that critical election year, and the chaos that gripped Clay County and the town of Lexington in November and December.
• Governors' Papers in the Missouri State Archives
The various governors' papers in the Missouri State Archives, Jefferson City, Missouri, are an absolutely essential source on the postwar guerrillas and James-Younger bandits. Governors Fletcher, Woodson, and Hardin personally directed operations against them, even to the extent of coordinating the movements of militia detachments and special agents. Letters from public officials and local citizens show the depth of the terror and despair created by the outlaws' seeming invicibility; many of their local, grassroots opponents (most of them former Unionists) received death threats from the bandits or their supporters. Furthermore, the governors' correspondence with railroad and express company officials shows that the railroad corporations took little interest in the bandits (until Crittenden called them together to ask for their help, late in Jesse James's life). The express companies, not the railroad corporations, drove the pursuit for the outlaws, along with the governors, who correctly saw Jesse James as a political problem as much as a threat to public safety.
• Newspaper Editorials
Most books about Jesse James have paid at least some attention to John N. Edwards's newspaper editorials in support of the bandits. I have thrown a wider net to include the larger context of both the outlaws' support and opposition. For example, I found that Edwards tied his economic complaints (about railroads, national banks) to his hatred of the Republicans, based on his Civil War loyalties and opposition to Reconstruction. He made no effort to cast the bandits as economic avengers of the small farmers, but depicted them as Confederate avengers against the Radical Republicans. I found a wide fault between Unionist and Confederate Democrats, as Unionist-Democratic newspapers denounced the Confederate Democrats' support for the bandits. Republican newspapers (especially Robert T. Van Horn's Kansas City Journal of Commerce) often provided perceptive commentary on the political role of the bandits, and on the shifting balance between the two wings of the Democratic party. I found extensive, vituperative denunciations of Reconstruction civil-rights measures in the Democratic press, especially the Confederate-Democratic press; indeed, Reconstruction overwhelmingly dominated the political debate from 1865 through the election of 1876.
• Railroad and Express Industry Press
I made a point of examining surviving corporate reports and periodicals of the railroad and express corporations. I found that the railroad press (and company reports) paid virtually no attention to the famous bandits. On the other hand, the express industry press went on at some length about train robberies, describing the raids, discussing measures to thwart them, exhorting messengers to be ready to resist. Again, this fits in with my overall findings: Jesse James did not rob railroads, but rather express companies, which were not the target of agrarian economic discontent. Railroad corporations did not fund, or even take an interest in, the pursuit of the James-Younger bandits.
• Post Office and Secret Service Records in the National Archives
These records proved most interesting for what they did not contain: Any reference to the James-Younger bandits, or their robberies. In copies of official correspondence, logs of letters sent and received, and case files of investigations, the records strongly suggest that the federal government took no interest in capturing the outlaws. This is all the more striking for the close relationship that the Pinkertons maintained with federal agencies, particularly with the Secret Service. The Secret Service (which investigated many mail robberies in this period) often hired the Pinkertons. Allan Pinkerton recommended that the Service hire Louis J. Lull (a Pinkerton operative killed by the Youngers), and the Service employed William Pinkerton to investigate a theft in its Washington offices in 1875. But nothing in the Secret Service or Post Office records relates to the James-Younger robberies. This shows that the Post Office did not hire the Pinkertons, as Ted Yeatman concluded after reviewing Allan Pinkerton's letters to the postmaster and Post Office's chief of investigations. As Pinkerton's language in those letters show, he approached the Post Office off the record to ask for favors, not as a hired gun reporting in.
• The Letters of Sarah Harlan of Haynesville, Clinton County
These letters (a part of the Bond-Fentriss Family Papers collection at the Southern History Collection, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill) were written by a young woman who lived just across the county line from the Samuel family. Her letters illuminate the Civil War and its aftermath in the immediate vicinity of the Samuel household (with a Unionist perspective), offering details on the actions of specific bushwhackers, the atmosphere at the end of the war, and the building of the railroad that ran through what became Kearney, Missouri. She specifically cited Jesse and Frank James as members of a crew led by Ol Shepherd, part of Bill Anderson's gang, as they murdered Unionists in late 1864. Michael Fellman first cited this letter in his book Inside War; however, Fellman mistakenly placed Harlan (and these events) in Chariton county.
• Robert James's Probate Records
This is far from a new source (it is cited in Settle's landmark work, for example), but I made new use of it to better explain the James-Samuel family's existence. These records demonstrate that Robert James was a commercial hemp farmer, illustrate the suffering the family endured after his death, and shed light on the lives of the slaves the family owned (strongly suggesting that Robert James and his widow Zerelda bought and sold children, for example). All of this contributes to our understanding of Jesse James, by showing that he was not from a poor, self-sufficient farm family, but a prosperous, commercially oriented part of the community, heavily dependent on slave labor for its livelihood.