Friend or family?
by Dan Reddell
Our connection to Jesse James goes like this: Our grandfather, James Bowman James was the son of Jonathan J. James, son of Pleasant James, son of Laban James. Laban and Pleasant were personally visited by Jesse James in two different states.
Their descendants, including James Bowman James, all told their children they were related to Jesse James. David Hedgpeth, a descendent of Pleasant James has tried unsuccessfully to establish a solid genealogical link between our families and Jesse James' family. He also became embroiled in a controversy between the Jesse James descendants and the descendants of James L. Courtney.
The Courtney descendants claim that Jesse James was never killed. Instead, he moved to another area, changed his identity to James L. Courtney and lived into the 1950s.
Bottom line: the Jesse James descendants have refused to allow DNA testing to prove the issue one way or another. Apparently that means no DNA testing to prove or disprove our family connection. Below the photos is the actual text by David Hedgpeth.
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The Jesse James Connection by David Hedgpeth
Laban James was the father of Pleasant, Isaac, and Newberry. They were in Grainger Co. in the early 1800's and settled in Lincoln Co., TN in the 1830's. From there they went to Alabama. Pleasant was in Lawrence Co. in 1870 and it is said that Jesse visited his son Charles who lived next door to Pleasant. I am trying to link Pleasant to the Frank James of Lawrence Co. I am not sure where Pleasant was in 1860 but he and a Lewis Cason did join the Confederate Army which unit took in Maury Co. men (I think).
(Note from Dan: Betty Duke has written a book which states that her great-grandfather, James L. Courtney, was really Jesse James. She believes that the James family concocted Jesse's death to protect him and that he lived into the 1950s. Many descendants of Jesse James believe the traditional historical record about Jesse James and find Duke's theory insulting. David Hedgpeth has tried to persuade both sides to be calm and to strive to learn the historical truth. )
I tried in years past to link my grandfather Pleasant James, who was supposedly a Jesse James relative, into the commonly accepted Missouri James lineage but I had no success. When I became aware of Betty Duke’s book, Jesse James Lived and Died in Texas, I was of course interested because of my family history and the fact that Pleasant’s home of Evant was about 75 miles from Blevins. This information provided a possible link to my family mystery. I contacted Ms. Duke and have worked with her since that time. So far I have not proven a direct line connection between my James family line and James L. Courtney, but there are many curious indications.
I have reviewed my notes from the September 17, 1999 exhumation hearing in Marlin, Falls County, TX of Jesse James and wish to share my detailed observations. First though I want to summarize why I am particularly interested in Ms. Duke getting the most reliable and substantial proof to show if James L. Courtney was or was not Jesse W. James.
According to my family lore, the outlaw Jesse James had stayed with the Pleasant James family members from time to time. According to the Lawrence Co., TN, Historical Records, "It was reported that Jesse James, the outlaw, stayed with C.C. James for a time." In 1870, Pleasant, Census # 97 lived next door to his son, C.C. James, Census # 98. Pleasant and family left Lawrence Co., TN in about 1878, and settled for a short time in Eastland Co., TX. Soon he moved on to Evant near the line between Hamilton Co., TX and Mills Co., TX where he lived until his death in 1893.
Another family story says that the James gang visited the Pleasant James family while they lived in Texas. Also Caraway brothers married Pleasant’s daughter and stepdaughter. The father of those brothers lived in Falls County, TX and is buried in the same cemetery in Blevins, as is James L. Courtney.
Aren’t family stories commonly found to have at least a tread of truth in them?
At the September 17 exhumation hearing, a pro bono attorney represented Ms. Duke and on the other side three attorneys represented Max Courtney and the opposing part of the family. Quite frankly I was left with more questions than answers during the five-hour hearing. I am not an attorney and my observations, questions and language are from a lay person’s perspective. I hope someone with more qualification or insight can help shed some light and answers on what I considered to be a most peculiar proceeding. If these questions are not answered then I, along with many others, will always wonder if there were more to the story.
did Ms. Duke’s attorney not object to new evidence being introduced when
it had been previously agreed that this proceeding would be a “no new
I asked Ms. Duke if she could clear up the confusion. She was unable to. At this time she is exploring alternatives and seeking help to find funding sources and legal representation to continue her effort.
In conclusion, I am most interested in gathering the best possible information to show that James L. Courtney is or is not Jesse James. I support exhumation for DNA testing for this is the surest way to the truth. It seems to me that only someone afraid of the truth would not want it found.
Your comments, information and support would be greatly appreciated.
David Hedgpeth- E-mail: email@example.com
Jesse Woodson James--Thomas Howard: Jesse James was born 1847 in Missouri, the son of a Baptist minister. They always considered themselves Missouri-Indian Territory folks, though they had major ties to Fort Scott. Jesse James was a "Robin Hood" type outlaw. Jesse James was spawned of the Civil War as a Quantrill Raider. Joined Anderson's gang in 1864 at age 17. 1873 Held up first train, the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific, near Adair, Iowa. Held up first bank at Liberty, Missouri. Jesse James was an early citizen of Council Grove. Shot and killed by Robert Ford in St. Joseph, Missouri, 3 April 1882. Jesse James was buried at his childhood farm home near Kearney, MO.
Alexander Franklin (Frank) James: 10 Jan 1843 Frank James was born at Kearney, Clay, MO. Midsummer 1862 Joined Anderson's gang at age 19. On parole as member of Confederate Home Guard unit that fought at Wilson's Creek. He deserted or left because of illness. Jun 1874 married Anna Ralston. The trial of Frank James took place at Huntsville, Alabama. Before 1900 Frank James was working at the Standard Theatre saloon in St. Louis as an usher, doorman and bouncer. 30 Mar 1900 Frank James gave a testimonial performance at the Standard Theatre. Frank James ran a museum out of the James place in his old age. 15 Feb 1915 Frank James died in Kearney, Clay, MO. Tried to hide or disguise his grave because he feared that his body would be dug up and experiments run on his brain. He had heard that this had happened to his brother Jesse.
They were all good sized. Strong. Frank had black hair. Black beard, that is a goatee. Jesse had full beard, five inches long. They all had big guns. They wouldn't hurt anybody. They'd ask, "How is it." And if you tell them you had tough sailing, they would reach in their pockets and give $40 or $50.
All these buys were a gang. By God, these times were hard. When these guys wanted money, they went in broad daylight to get their money. No one would dare shoot when they robbed a bank. Quincy was a great town for them to hang out. The James boys nearly always done the bold robbing. The Ford boys done the protecting.
The James boys were liked by the poor and God knows there was plenty of us and the law made no serious effort to get them.
Ford was bribed and given a big chunk of money to get Jesse. He shot him the back while he was shaving thru the door."