Jesse James

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by Dan Reddell

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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.

1. Why 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 evidence hearing?”
2. Why was Ms. Duke given a deadline of August 24 to file her brief, when the respondent did not file a brief for Ms. Duke’s review until three days before the hearing?
3. Why was evidence, which was not part of the opposing brief, allowed as testimony?
4. How were verified photographs of the Courtney’s both from family and non-direct family sources, which match Jesse James family photos, treated as obscure evidence?
5. Why was Max Courtney, who was the challenging respondent, allowed to have the status of an unbiased “expert witness” in presenting testimony on photo comparisons, especially when he presented no material credentials to prove his qualifications?
6. Why was testimony from Max Courtney not challenged when he alleged that the supervisor of the Austin Police Department’s Forensic Multi-Media Lab was not qualified in the analysis of Ms. Duke’s photographs?
7. Why was the opinion of Visionics Corporation, a world leader in face recognition technology, given little or no consideration in their analysis that “ concluded with reasonable confidence that the faces in question matched each other and belonged to the same person?”
8. Why didn’t Max Courtney, who was supposedly an expert in the field of photo comparisons, mention that tintypes were normally reversed, rather than testifying that Ms. Duke’s pictures were inaccurate because of reverse images?
9. Why was a certified genealogist from Kansas City, MO hired to do research and flown down to Texas to testify as an expert witness? Couldn’t a nearby Waco certified genealogist have done the same work for less pay?
10. Why didn’t Ms. Duke’s attorney challenge the genealogist who quoted about 10 sources all of which she claimed to have uncovered in a span of 4 hours? Since this level of work in the given time is highly unusual even for one professional, wouldn’t it be of interest for a prudent attorney to ask more about where and how she obtained her data and/or leads to where the information was located?
11. Why did Ms. Duke’s attorney not present her documented genealogical data, which showed linkage between the Courtney and James families, as she requested?
12. Where and why did Max Courtney and family get the funds to hire three attorneys over the last six months along with an out of state genealogist to contest the exhumation of a relative who has been dead for 56 years? Wouldn’t the bill for such legal firepower be well in excess of $20,000? Is the emotion of the issue really worth that amount to Max Courtney and family?
13. Was there an outside interest that helped fund the opposing side? If so, why? Why was the question never explored?
14. Is there a direct or indirect connection in any way to the certified genealogist from Kansas City, MO and the nearby James Farm?
15. If any outside interest has in fact supported Max Courtney in any way, then why would they do so if they are certain that the real Jesse James has been properly identified and was actually buried in Kearney, MO? Wouldn’t a confident opposing outside interest be more than happy for Ms. Duke to proven herself wrong in the most convincing way? Wouldn’t this way be through the DNA testing as she has requested? Wouldn’t then they surely be anxious to support her quest?
16. Why wouldn’t the opposing sides address key points that Ms. Duke had made, such as where the gold came from that James L. Courtney reportedly brought to Texas?
17. Why were concluding summary statements first promised by Judge Meyers but later ignored or not allowed?
18. Wouldn’t the exhumation of James L. Courtney not only clear up the family questions but also have a potential of benefiting both local and world history interests?

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:


by L.A.Sherman

From the WPA Files of the Library of Congress

"I was eating an an eatin' house in Quincy, Ill., when I had stuffed my fill and light my pipe, I found out that one of the men eatin' there was Jesse James . Was I scared? I wouldn't of eatin' a bite had I known Jesse was there. He carried two big revolvers on his hips. His brother Frank was there too. They often came to Quincy. They always came with horses. They were good judges. The horses weighed about 1100 lbs. They were built for racing. They had the prettiest saddles. Silver all over. Both of the men had whiskers. Jesse had a full beard. Frank had a mustache. They were well dressed. Had big cowboy hats on. I seen them lots of times. The Ford boys were there too. They were just as bad as the James boys. This was in the 60's after the Civil War, and in the 70's.

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."

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