Ted Yeatman
Ted Yeatman
Frank and Jesse James:  The Story Behind the Legend
ISBN: 1581820801
Frank and Jesse James: The Story Behind the Legend
To some he was a Robin Hood, a mythic figure of righteous retribution. To others he was the devil incarnate, a bloodthirsty hooligan and cold-blooded killer. The disparity between these views of the outlaw Jesse James is often attributed to an almost invisible link between marauding Missouri guerrilla bands of the Civil War and the general lawlessness that plagued the Old West.
The beginning of the legend of the James brothers, which began in 1866—the first successful peacetime daylight bank robbery—is somewhat murky. But once their careers in crime commenced, the James brothers eluded capture for sixteen years, until Jesse was killed in 1882 by Bob and Charlie Ford while the three of them planned the robbery of the Platte City Bank. Frank was never apprehended but surrendered voluntarily to the governor of Missouri. Since then the exploits of the James gang have become legendary.

Ted Yeatman began researching this book twenty-five years ago, reviewing materials in Missouri, Tennessee, Maryland, Kentucky, Virginia, West Virginia, Minnesota, Illinois, and the District of Columbia. He discovered items that had never been published, particularly a cache of Pinkerton letters concerning the firebombing of the James farm in 1875 (somewhat analogous to the FBI's role in the Branch Davidian crisis near Waco, Texas, in 1993) and heretofore overlooked papers in the National Archives regarding the Civil war activities and later banditry of the James brothers. Yeatman also assisted in the 1995 exhumation and forensic examination of the remains of Jesse.

The result is a complete recount of the James brothers during the Civil War, the following sixteen years of notoriety, and the lives of those who outlived Jesse. Yeatman has created a thoroughly documented popular narrative that will be satisfying both to readers who know little or nothing about the James brothers and those who have read everything. Also included are dozens of heretofore unpublished illustrations and photographs of the people, places, and artifacts associated with the notorious brothers.
—from the publisher's website
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TRANSCRIPT
Frank and Jesse James: The Story Behind the Legend
Program Air Date: October 28, 2001

BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Ted P. Yeatman, author of "Frank and Jesse James: The Story Behind the Legend," where did you get an idea for this kind of a book?
Mr. TED YEATMAN (Author, "Frank and Jesse James: The Story Behind the Legend"): Oh, gosh. That came about while I was living in Nashville, Tennessee, back in the mid-1970s. And back about 1975, I decided for just the heck of it, I was going to, for a year, try to track down everything I could on the James brothers when they were living in Tennessee. They lived there for about four years from 1877 to 1881. And I kept finding more and more new material, and I just couldn't quite put the subject down. And about 20 years later, I picked up and got a book contract and started work on the book. And the end product is what you've got there.
LAMB: In 1995, you say Jesse James was exhumed.
Mr. YEATMAN: Yes.
LAMB: Why?
Mr. YEATMAN: They wanted to do some forensic testing, DNA testing. Professor James Stars and other forensic scientists--they got an exhumation order from the Clay County court because there was no--no record of an autopsy having been performed. And the only way they could do this was if there was no autopsy of record, and the person had met their end through means that was somewhat violent, you might say. And this was approached more or less as a regular forensic crime examination, just like you would have in--in a modern instance.
LAMB: Where's Clay County?
Mr. YEATMAN: Clay County is right on the edge of Kansas City. As a matter of fact, I think part of Kansas City is in Clay County.
LAMB: Where is Jesse James buried?
Mr. YEATMAN: Jesse is buried up at Kearney, Missouri, in Mt. Olivet Cemetary in Kearney, Missouri, which is just, oh, maybe about I'd say maybe 15, 20 miles outside of Kansas City.
LAMB: Were you around the cemetery when the exhumation was conducted?
Mr. YEATMAN: No, I wasn't able to make it over there, but I did a good bit of the re--research--the historical research that they used for finding out certain things. In other words, they were trying to see if there were any wounds that Jesse had had earlier in his life that might be visible, say, on the bones or something like that. Or in--in one case, there actually was an autopsy, and they cut the top of the skull off, and there were newspaper accounts of it. But again, there were no official records of this, so they were...
LAMB: When did he die?
Mr. YEATMAN: 1882--April 3rd, 1882.
LAMB: How old was he?
Mr. YEATMAN: Gosh, he was born in 1830--1847--1832, he was...
LAMB: Thirty-five, 36?
Mr. YEATMAN: Yeah, something around that.
LAMB: What did they find in the autopsy, or when they--when they dug him up?
Mr. YEATMAN: Dug him up--they weren't even sure that they were going to get him up. The remains had decomposed in certain areas there. And what they were looking for specifically was DNA evidence, but they were also trying to look for evidence of the--the bullet hole in the skull and things of that nature, so maybe they could tell something about the caliber of the weapon that was used to kill him.
LAMB: Who killed him?
Mr. YEATMAN: Bob Ford.
LAMB: Under what circumstances?
Mr. YEATMAN: Oh, gosh. That one is--is--is a hard one. Bob had ingratiated himself more or less into the gang in the latter part of 1881, early 1882. But he was acting more or less for the--the law enforcement people in the Kansas City area and had met with Governor Crittenden. And he was providing information about Jesse's whereabouts, and they were possibly going to either bring him in somewhere or other or--or as what happened in this case, Jesse was straightening a picture or dusting a picture by various accounts. It's--it's not really sure what...
LAMB: Wait, wait. Which one is Jesse James?
Mr. YEATMAN: Jesse is the fellow that's standing on the--on the cover there in the suit. And Frank is the one in the uniform.
LAMB: Who's older?
Mr. YEATMAN: Frank was older. He was born 1843.
LAMB: And was Frank there when Jesse James was killed?
Mr. YEATMAN: No. Frank was, in fact, over in Lynchburg, Virginia, at the time.
LAMB: So you were starting to say that Bob Ford was there and he was hanging a picture and...
Mr. YEATMAN: And pulled a pistol on Jesse, who had laid his guns down on the bed and fired a shot and that was it. And they put the body up for public viewing after they had taken it to the funeral home. They had a number of photographs that they took of the body. I have at least one of them, in fact, in the book. And--but there was this constant thing that would happen every few years where somebody would come forward, say, about after the turn of the century and claim that he was the secretly surviving Jess--Jesse James. And there would be some kind of a big furor in the press over this. And it went on really until the last claimant--well, even beyond the last claimant. Actually, there are people that--that are--are claiming now that their ancestor in Texas, who died sometime I guess back in the '40s, was--was Jesse. But there was--the--the last living claimant there that actually claimed to be Jesse died in 1951.
LAMB: Well, you know, if you ask most people, I think--I'm guessing--who Frank James is, they'd look at you with a blank stare.
Mr. YEATMAN: Yeah.
LAMB: And if you ask them who Jesse James is, they'd all say `Oh, the famous outlaw.'
Mr. YEATMAN: Right.
LAMB: But Frank James lived a much longer life. When did he die?
Mr. YEATMAN: Frank died in February of 1915. And actually, and--my own personal impression is that Frank had a much more interesting life than--than Jesse did.
LAMB: Why is the Je--Jesse James legend so much more known?
Mr. YEATMAN: Well, it--it goes back to a lot of folklore motifs that you've got there. Of course, Jesse has the alliterative name which sounds good in print. And in songs like "The Ballad of Jesse James"--that sort of thing, and the other thing is they--you'll notice this with--with all legendary outlaws that achieve immortality, be it Robin Hood, Billy the Kid--whatever--they're all killed by someone they trust. In the Robin Hood legend, it's Prioresse that Robin Hood trusts. Billy the Kid, it's Pat Garrett, one of his former buddies. In this case, it's Bob Ford, one of the members of the gang. So it's all treachery.
LAMB: Why was the governor interested in killing him?
Mr. YEATMAN: Well, the--as a matter of fact, that's--that's a side point there. I'm not sure that he was interested in killing him. The reward actually was for bringing him in. But in this case, Bob just went ahead and pulled the trigger there. I--I think he figured that `If I don't shoot him now, that's one opportunity blown, and I--that we won't be able to get him in, and this fellow will probably come back and shoot me.'

So at any rate, why did Governor Crittenden want--want to get Jesse? Jesse had been on a train robbing spree and Crittenden had campaigned for governor of Missouri on a--a campaign platform that included eliminating all of this outlawry that was going on in the state. And it was getting big news headlines all across the country. You could see it in The New York Times, the Chicago papers. It had become a big political football in both Missouri and on a national level, and Crittenden was a Democratic governor who was--and the Democratic Party was sometimes being accused of--of taking a lenient attitude towards this. And so one of his platforms was `OK, we're going to eliminate the outlawry.' And he managed to get funding from some of the railroads to put up a huge reward. And this, I think, was the big factor of--whereas, these folks might have figured, `Well, you know, I'm not sure about doing it,' when in point of fact, they wo--we could make, in--in one shot possibly, the amount of money that they would pull off of a major robbery in reward. And you have to figure that, I think--What was it?--it was something like $5,000 or $10,000 they were offering for Jesse. You have to figure that that's several times that in current dollars.

LAMB: You point out in your book that they had si--si--the brothers had 16 years of outlawry.
Mr. YEATMAN: Right.
LAMB: You worked on this book for 25 years.
Mr. YEATMAN: Right.
LAMB: Why?
Mr. YEATMAN: It's fascinating story.
LAMB: Where were you--where are you from originally?
Mr. YEATMAN: From Nashville, Tennessee. And this was how I got into it. There was a lot of material in and around Nashville--oral history, stories that had been taken down and newspaper accounts, starting right after Jesse was killed, in fact. And the whole four-year period that they were there had--had really been unexplored. Everybody that had written on the James story up to about that time was--well, as a matter of fact, I think most of the authors were from Missouri. And they had explored all of the sources that were in--west of the Mississippi, but they never had come and done much in the eastern area. So I figured, well, this is something that really needs to be explored because they spent a significant period of time in the--in the eastern United States.

Frank, like I said, was in Lynchburg at the time that Jesse was killed and probably spent at least six months there.

LAMB: What were you doing when you first started looking at all this? What was your profession?
Mr. YEATMAN: I was at that time still in college. I was a library student.
LAMB: Where?
Mr. YEATMAN: George Peabody College in Nashville, Tennessee. It's now part of Vanderbilt University.
LAMB: Why did you want to be a librarian?
Mr. YEATMAN: I like to do research. And I--I found that I was rather good at it. And, well, here's the book. But I later ended up getting a job over in Missouri. This was another thing that put me closer to some of the source materials that were over there, and I kept looking into this. As a matter of fact, we had one woman that worked in the library system that I was in who was--was--I think her--her grandfather had been in Gads Hill, Missouri, at the time that the train was held up there and...
LAMB: You start your book with Gads Hill.
Mr. YEATMAN: Right. Right.
LAMB: Why?
Mr. YEATMAN: This was the first train robbery that Jesse pulled in Missouri. And it is kind of illustrative of the typical train robbery that they would have. It was--it was one that was rather colorful because Jesse, at the end of the robbery, left a press release to be telegraphed into the St. Louis newspapers.
LAMB: What year was this?
Mr. YEATMAN: 1874. January of 1874.
LAMB: You have a picture in your book of Jesse James and--I have to find it first--in 1874. What--by the way, there are many photos in here that have--have not been seen before?
Mr. YEATMAN: Quite a few, actually. Yeah, there are a number of photos that have--that are being re--reproduced there for the first time. That one is one, though, that has been shot a number of times. That's--that's a rather common one. The one on the other page, though, that shows Frank James' wife--both of those pictures are--are published there for the first time.
LAMB: The picture we're looking at with Fra--which one is Frank James' wife? The one on the far left?
Mr. YEATMAN: This one there.
LAMB: And who are the other three people in the picture?
Mr. YEATMAN: Oh, those are her brothers and sisters. This was kind of like a family photo that was taken in the 1890s after Frank had surrendered.
LAMB: Which one of the two brothers was the oldest?
Mr. YEATMAN: Frank James.
LAMB: By how much?
Mr. YEATMAN: Mmm, I'd say--What was it?--it was about four or five years.
LAMB: Let's see, Jesse James was born in 1847 and his brother was born in 1843, according to your book.
Mr. YEATMAN: Right.
LAMB: So there's four years' difference.
Mr. YEATMAN: Right.
LAMB: And where were they born?
Mr. YEATMAN: They were born in the Kearney, Missouri, area. I think Frank was not born at the actual farm, but Frank--Jesse was born at the--what's now the James Farm, which is a historic site out at Kearney. It's owned by the county.
LAMB: What were their parents doing?
Mr. YEATMAN: Frank and Jesse's father was a Baptist minister. As a matter of fact, he was one of the founders of William Jewell College in liberty, Missouri. It's not the type of family background that you would normally figure for a--an outlaw, or...
LAMB: This is the father here?
Mr. YEATMAN: Yes. And he was--had quite a reputation as an evangelist in Missouri. He went out to California during the gold rush and was in one of the mining camps there just a few weeks and came down ill and died. And that was pretty much it as far as--as--as a matter of fact, a number of people speculated what would have happened if he had possibly lived.
LAMB: What happened after he died?
Mr. YEATMAN: The widow James, Zerelda Cole-James, remarried a fellow named Benjamin Simms. And Simms wa--and--and the boys apparently didn't get along too well. And they ended up being divorced which was something that was rather unusual for that day and age. She later remarried Dr. Rubin Samuels. And the relationship with--with Samuels continued on until his death. He died about--I guess, it was about 1908, and she died about 1910.
LAMB: You've got a picture of her in here.
Mr. YEATMAN: Yes, that's her giving a spiel for some tourists by Jesse's old grave. She would sell pebbles off of the grave to tourists for a quarter apiece. And the story goes that when she ran a little low on pebbles, she'd send a boy down to the creek bed and get a bucket full and bring them back up there and replenish the stock, so to speak.
LAMB: When I read your book, I found that--you said that other than George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, more has been written about the James brothers?
Mr. YEATMAN: What--what that is about the Jameses is historic sites that have been saved as a result of--of connection with historic figures. There have probably been more sites for a connection with Jesse James than for any other person, behind George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.
LAMB: Have you been to them all?
Mr. YEATMAN: No.
LAMB: How many have you been to?
Mr. YEATMAN: Oh, gosh. I've been to probably, oh, maybe about a dozen or more.
LAMB: What's some of the most memorable ones?
Mr. YEATMAN: The James farm at Kearney, Missouri, and the house where Jesse was killed. But there's some--some that I found around Nashville that were rather memorable, also. As a matter of fact, I managed to get to those, in a couple of cases, before the wrecking ball got there. And in one case, we ended up saving one house before it was demolished. It was actually a demolition order that had been given out for--for the house, but it was in a historic neighborhood, and it had to go through a zoning appeals process there. And in the meantime, the people in the neighborhood got behind it, and they were able to find a buyer who was willing to put up the money and restore the house. And it's there today. As a matter of fact, it won a restoration award by the Metro Historical Society for the work done.
LAMB: How many movies have been made about Jesse James?
Mr. YEATMAN: Probably about 32, 33--something in that area. As a matter of fact, there's one that's supposed to be coming out in August. So I'm bracing myself for another onslaught there, I guess.
LAMB: Why so many?
Mr. YEATMAN: Beats me, actually. None of them have actually been too historical. I guess it--it gives a chance for the script writers to kind of play with the story there a little bit. And there has been some kind of popularity to it. It's--Jesse is sometimes called America's Robin Hood. So you have these plots that involve Jesse and the railroad and robbing the rich banker to pay the widow's mortgage--that kind of thing.
LAMB: Was he a Robin Hood?
Mr. YEATMAN: It's kind of hard to say. I think he was probably about as--as generous as--as--as anybody. As a matter of fact, there's--there's a fellow that's doing some research on this right now into the widow story. And it's very possible that there was at least, in one case, a widow who may have had something contributed to by Jesse. But we're still in--in the process of doing some research on that.
LAMB: Where does the legend come from?
Mr. YEATMAN: The legend? Which legend?
LAMB: Yeah. You say the story behind the legend.
Mr. YEATMAN: The legend comes from the media. A lot of it comes from the early histories. There were histories of the gang that were being published even while they were robbing trains. There were--in fact, there was--there was one I wish they'd use this as an illustration in the book. There was an ad in one of the St. Louis newspapers for--What was it?--the Border Outlaws or "The Border Bandits" or something like that--by Clarence Buel. And one of the hooks for the sale of the book was this new train robbery that had occurred outside of Kansas City. So they were hooking into that and they would publish this at different editions. And as each new robbery occurred, they would publish an update to it.

And afterwards, you had a slew of dime novels that were these cheap pap--they were about the size of, say, Time or Newsweek magazine. But they would have the content of a--kind of like a mod--modern paperbook western, although they were even a little less than that. And the--I'd say the--the ancestor of the dime novel would be some 1950's television series, as on the Old West, where they'd have one--one stock character in there that would go through a series of adventures. Buffalo Bill, Jr., is one that pops to mind--where they would have this one--one character there and he would be dealing with these other famous people in the Old West that maybe have a Wild Bill Hickock or Jesse James, or whatever. And they--they'd go through, you know, however many adventures they could dream up, basically. And the name was alliterative. And the--the--the Robin Hood image was--was brought out very often. So you had this myth and this mystique that developed over the years.

LAMB: How did you talk a publisher into this book?
Mr. YEATMAN: That came right a little bit after I had discovered the Pinkerton Letters. Alan Pinkerton was a detective in charge of the Pinkerton Detective Agency. And he kept a book that had copies of--they called them press books. They were blotted off copies of all of his old letters. And one of the key ingredients of the James story is the raid on the James farm in 1875--January of 1875, where the detectives came in and tried to catch Jesse and supposedly threw this bombshell into the house there. And there was a debate going on for over a century as to what the story was there. And lo and behold, I turned up a cache of these letters. If Pinkerton had been thinking clearly, I think he probably would have put these through a shredder. But the...

LAMB: There's a picture here of...
Mr. YEATMAN: Yeah. That's Alan Pinkerton as a younger man. And the picture beside it is of the grave of one of his detectives who was killed by the Jameses right after the Gads Hill robbery. And this put him in a very vengeful mood, and one of the other detectives had been was killed while trying to apprehend the Younger brothers. And so according to some of the letters that I turned up, it appears that Pinkerton intended to burn the house down there and had gotten certain flammable liquids or solids or whatever--some kind of an exp--pyrotechnic device that he was going to throw into the house there. And I remember one of the--the quotes in--in one of the letters was "above all else, burn the house down."
LAMB: Now which house is this?
Mr. YEATMAN: This was the James farm--the old cabin out in--in Kearney. It's just about three miles outside of Kearney, Missouri. And it appears--this--this--this scene appears in a number of movies where they--they actually throw a bomb, as it was, and it blows up and Ma Samuels, the--the--the mother of the James boys--ends up being killed decades before she actually was killed. And it--it's an ingredient of the legend, but this actually showed that the Pinkertons were--this was a little bit more than accident, I guess you could say.
LAMB: Is this the same Pinkerton name that we see today?--the agency...
Mr. YEATMAN: Yes.
LAMB: ...that does security?
Mr. YEATMAN: Yeah.
LAMB: And you say in your book that he did some work for Abraham Lincoln?
Mr. YEATMAN: Yeah, yeah. He did some work as a counterespionage agent in the Washington and Virginia area during the early part of the war when McClellan was in charge. I don't know how well he did the work; that's sometimes hotly debated there. But...
LAMB: This is the same General McClellan that ran against Abe Lincoln in 1864?
Mr. YEATMAN: Yes.
LAMB: Was--was Pinkerton political?
Mr. YEATMAN: Probably was to have gotten away with some of things that he did. As a matter of fact, one of the letters that I have in the book is where he is--is pleading with the governor of Illinois not to allow the extradition of any of his men to Missouri because there were murder indictments that were issued out of the Clay County court for the raid. One of the half brothers of the James boys, Archie Payton Samuels, was killed in the raid when this device that they had was pushed into the--the fireplace there and blew up. And...
LAMB: In those 16 years, did the--Frank and Jesse James ride together all the time?
Mr. YEATMAN: Oh, for a good portion of it. After Frank James settled in Nashville and Jesse settled in Nashville, they came to kind of a parting of the ways. Frank was starting to settle down and he had found employment with a lumber company in Nashville. And I think he was trying to get out of the business there, and...
LAMB: How many--did they kill people?
Mr. YEATMAN: Oh, yeah.
LAMB: How many, do you know? From what your research...
Mr. YEATMAN: Jesse may have killed as many as six or eight, and that's just kind of a guess. The bulk of the killing that was done was probably during the Civil War period. And we'll never know how many of those there were. But I think there may have been something like six or eight that Jesse's credited with.
LAMB: So what was their first year that they got involved in any kind of activity? Did they fight in the Civil War?
Mr. YEATMAN: Yes. They were out in Missouri with the guerrilla groups that were under Quantrill and Bloody Bill Anderson.
LAMB: Who was Quantrill?
Mr. YEATMAN: Quantrill was a guerrilla leader out in the Kansas City-Independence area, and the fellow underneath there is...
LAMB: Is this Quantrill right here?
Mr. YEATMAN: Quantrill's there, and then they've got another picture of Anderson later, in death.
LAMB: Is he dead here?
Mr. YEATMAN: Yeah. They had him posed for that just to be sure that there weren't any legends that sprung up around him, although I think there were some people that later claimed to be Anderson. But the--the guerrillas were operating along the Kansas-Missouri border, and then later in central Missouri, and then over in Kentucky. They later--some of them ended up under Quantrill in the area around Bardstown, Kentucky.
LAMB: So they fl--16 years marauding, stealing, killing.
Mr. YEATMAN: Oh, let's see. The--the a--the first actual robbery that was pinned on the James brothers was the Gallatin, Missouri, robbery. They robbed a bank in December of 1869. This is the first one that they actually have some reason to feel that--that they were in, although there--there is some evidence that Frank James may have been involved in another bank robbery in 1866 outside of Li--well, in Liberty, Missouri. As a matter of fact, they call it the Jesse James Bank Museum. It's still there today and you could go in, see the bank vault and the counter and everything pretty much as it was back at the time of the robbery, and...
LAMB: Did they do it--rob a special way?
Mr. YEATMAN: They just more or less came in, rode into town. I think there were about a dozen or so people. Some of them went into the bank. Some of them more or less hung around out in the streets to keep an eye on things, and the folks in the bank--one of them hopped over the--the counter there, had a--a flour sack and more or less said, `Fill 'er up,' and they took, I think--What was it? It was something like about $60,000 worth of money and negotiable securities, and maybe even some non-negotiable securities in there, also. They were fencing these--they--they found some of the bonds as far away as Cincinnati, at least.
LAMB: How much of this was going on back then? How many other gangs were there besides these two?
Mr. YEATMAN: At that time, there was probably--I don't know. The one that pops in--into mind is the Reno gang out of Indiana, around Seymour, Indiana, and they were more or less wiped out in--I guess it was about 1868, or '69 there. They were actually the--the--the first people that are credited with having pulled a--a tr--train robbery.
LAMB: Is this your first book?
Mr. YEATMAN: Yes.
LAMB: And it's published by Cumberland House.
Mr. YEATMAN: Yes.
LAMB: Where are they?
Mr. YEATMAN: They're in Nashville.
LAMB: And you say the Pinkerton letters would--really got their attention.
Mr. YEATMAN: Yes.
LAMB: What else got their attention? And was it hard to sell them on doing this book?
Mr. YEATMAN: Actually, it was not going through Cumberland House at the time. The--as a matter of fact, thi--thi--this thing had quite an odyssey there. It was originally contracted to Rutledge Hill Press, and Rutledge was, little did I know--well, they--they had published a number of other books--What was it? I can't think of them right offhand. But it was wa--one of these gift books. They had a number of cookbooks and historical books. They did the thing for the--What was it?--the History Channel series on--"Civil War Journal" and some other things. But in this case, they were interested in doing this, and I turned in the manuscript about five years later and got a telephone call one day and they said they couldn't pay me the second half of my advance. Turned out they had run into his--financial reef. They ended up ultimately being absorbed by Thomas Nelson Publishers.

And as part of a deal with one of the--one of the people that had been a partner in Rutledge at the time that the contract went through had left the company and set up another company, and in connection with--with some debts that were owed there, I was kind of traded like a football or a baseball player, and so were a few of the other authors there and this ended up being published by Cumberland House.

LAMB: Now how does your book fit into all the books that have been written? What's so special about this that you couldn't get in any other book?
Mr. YEATMAN: Oh, basically what I do is take all of the new research that's come in from about 1966, right on up until, well, just about the beginning of 2000. I--I turned in the--the chapter, the--the final revisions there in January of--of last year, and prior to that, the best book was probably--and actually it still is a very good book. I--I--I'd say my book is actually supplemental to Dr. William Settle's book, "Jesse James Was His Name," which was published by the University of Missouri and the University of Nebraska Press.
LAMB: Th--are there a lot of James followers out there?
Mr. YEATMAN: Yeah, a surprising number. Surprising number.
LAMB: Do they meet every year? Is there a club?
Mr. YEATMAN: Yeah, yeah. They have Friends of the James Farm and another group, the James-Younger Gang, and they meet out in the Kansas City area. And there's--the--the James-Younger group is supposed to be meeting in San Angelo, Texas, sometime this fall, I think.
LAMB: Who's--who are the Youngers, and how many of them were there?
Mr. YEATMAN: Oh, let's see. There was Bob, Jim, John, Cole--there were about four.
LAMB: Cole.
Mr. YEATMAN: Yeah, the--Cole, yeah.
LAMB: And where were they in this whole business?
Mr. YEATMAN: They were over in the--Oh, where would it be? They were from, originally, another county over, Cass County orig...
LAMB: Son of a--sons of a judge.
Mr. YEATMAN: Right. Henry Washington Younger was a county judge over in Cass County, and he was a Unionist, and oddly enough, he ended up being murdered by Union militia during the war. It--it got incredibly complex, incredibly bloody. It was more or less like Bosnia over there, and Cole was--had joined up with--with Quantrill and served with him for a while, and then later got in and got a regular commission in the Confederate army as a captain.

But he came back and they had--a number of these folks had problems settling down. They--there were--Cole claimed that he was having problems with--with Union sympathizers that were persecuting him and so forth. Whether that's the case is--is somewhat debatable, but robbing banks was a very quick way of getting cash in those days, and the Confederate veterans of the guerrillas very often were a little bit shy of that right after the war.

LAMB: So you say that there were six, eight murders by the James brothers over that time. How about Frank James, did he kill anybody that you know of?
Mr. YEATMAN: Oh, yes, a number of them. As a matter of fact, he probably killed the bank teller at Northfield, although that was kind of hushed up for--I don't know, several decades, right up--up until after his death.
LAMB: Northfield, what state?
Mr. YEATMAN: Northfield, Minnesota.
LAMB: How important was that robbery?
Mr. YEATMAN: That pretty much spelled the end of the James-Younger gang. The Youngers were captured right after the robbery at Northfield. It was a badly bungled robbery. They tried to get in the vault. The teller claimed that there was a time lock on there, and there's some question whether he was bluffing them there, but they didn't bother to check. And they assumed, I guess, that--that it was locked. And then in the meantime, the townspeople heard that the bank was being robbed and were out in the streets with shotguns and old Civil War carbines and anything that would shoot, basically, and they just barely managed to get out of town alive. And right after that, they had several thousand folks after them combing the state in posses. It was one of the biggest manhunts, I think, Minnesota's ever had, before or since. And the Youngers were captured, I guess it was about two or three weeks after the robbery, and the Jameses somehow managed to give the posses the slip, get on across to just about where the Dakota line is and then slip down into South Dakota and Iowa, and then somewhere down in that area they--they managed to get back to Missouri, apparently.
LAMB: As an aside, you say that Frank James was a Democrat but changed to be a Republican?
Mr. YEATMAN: Right.
LAMB: Why? And what...
Mr. YEATMAN: He adm--he admired Teddy Roosevelt.
LAMB: This was in his late years.
Mr. YEATMAN: Yeah. He--he--he thought Teddy Roosevelt was a man of action and he personally admired Roosevelt.
LAMB: The legendary 1912 story of the shooting of Roosevelt in Milwaukee is in your book.
Mr. YEATMAN: Right.
LAMB: Why?
Mr. YEATMAN: Because Frank offered to raise a bodyguard of 100 men to protect Roosevelt, and he sent a telegram off to Roosevelt's aide offering this, and the fellow--this was his secretary, the fellow that had--had tackled the would-be assassin there, and I think he was probably thinking, `Oh, my gosh, how are we going to deal with this?' Because in one way, it was kind of a--it was a possible plus, but at the same hand, it was also a possible minus that you've got this fellow that is noted as--as a--a bandit and an outlaw thre--saying that he's going to raise a--a group of bodyguards here. So he kind of sidestepped it and said, `Well, Mr. Roosevelt is--is not planning on doing any campaigning further here, but we want to thank you, and he wants to say that he's feeling as hearty as a bull moose.' And Frank was such a supporter of the Bull Moose Party there, in fact, that he used to call the livestock in at his farm by yelling as loud as he could--`Bull moose!' And that's...
LAMB: Did Je--did Jesse James ever go to jail?
Mr. YEATMAN: There is a possibility that he may have been, just for maybe a few--about an hour or so, maybe, held in jail at Liberty, Missouri.
LAMB: Was he ever tried?
Mr. YEATMAN: No.
LAMB: And he died at age 35, 36.
Mr. YEATMAN: Right.
LAMB: But Frank James, about--was he ever tried?
Mr. YEATMAN: Oh, yes. As a matter of fact, he went through several trials, at least two full trials that I know of.
LAMB: What happened to him?
Mr. YEATMAN: He was a--acquitted in both cases. One of them was for the Winston bank robbery, and--not the bank robbery. It was a--it was a train robbery, Winston train robbery, which was one of the last things that the gang did. And they--it was kind of vague as to whether Frank had--had been there, at least they were able to prove that he might not have been. I think it was--it was basically a matter of reasonable doubt. Whether he actually was or not, that may be another story, but he was able to beat the rap there.

And in the case of the Muscle Shoals, Alabama, payroll robbery, I think he was actually in Nashville at the time the robbery occurred, and there was some pretty good evidence to indicate that. I went over the depositions, and it looked like they had a rather weak case there.

LAMB: During this time that you did this book, over 25 years, how did you support yourself?
Mr. YEATMAN: Worked as a librarian at first, and then for a number of years I was looking after two elderly parents. And I--literally, I was absorbed with dealing with that, but whenever I had some free time, I'd go out and do some research on this. Then I've done historical research on the side for a number of other people that are--that are authors.
LAMB: Where do you live today?
Mr. YEATMAN: College Park, Maryland.
LAMB: And where have you lived--how long have you lived there?
Mr. YEATMAN: Oh, I've lived there for about a couple of years.
LAMB: And before that did you move out of Nashville, go anywhere else in your whole career?
Mr. YEATMAN: I lived in Hagerstown, Maryland, for a few years.
LAMB: And what was your reason for moving to the East Coast af--out of Nashville?
Mr. YEATMAN: I had relatives over here and it put me in close proximity to the National Archives and the Library of Congress. I just wanted to move over here.
LAMB: Now this book, in your own life, how important is it?
Mr. YEATMAN: It's--it's a major milestone, I'd say. Yeah. It's--it's something I really wanted to do, and I feel that it was worth it. It ended up as runner-up for the best Western biography in the Western Writers of America Spur Award. It may not have taken the top prize, but I feel that it--it's something, and I feel that I've also managed to shed a little bit more light on this particular subject here.
LAMB: What can we learn from this story?
Mr. YEATMAN: Oh, well, there are a lot of things, as a matter of fact. It--it shows the effect of media on celebrity, for one thing. I think in the current day and age, if you had something like this, the--the media slant would definitely be very different than it was back then. But it also shows the--the influence of politics on what was going on at that point in time out in Missouri.
LAMB: In what way?
Mr. YEATMAN: Out in Missouri. It became a very politically charged case, and rather intricate. The Democrats were accused of not taking sufficient action in the matter of--of the James brothers running around Missouri, and trying to apprehend them and so forth. And this ultimately came down to Governor Crittenden and--and the--the reward and so forth, there.

But they did a rather ineffective job of--of hunting them down for the first, oh, decade or so, at least, and it was only after Crittenden got in and--and posted the--the rewards and some of the--Jesse, at this point in time, was--he had made some--some very bad blunders. He had apparently killed one of the members of the gang, and this didn't go down too well with some of the other people, although he didn't come out and--and apparently advertise this. As a matter of fact, I think that gang killing had something to do with Bob Ford plugging Jesse there.

There's a fellow that--named Ed Miller that had taken part in one of the holdups outside of Kansas City. It was a--the--the fabled Glendale train and the ballad which was--`Friday night, the moon was bright when they robbed the Glendale train. And the conductor on his knees delivered up the keys to the outlaws Frank and Jesse James.' And this was celebrated in the--in the ballad. And--but it did--it didn't go down too well with some of the people, as it started to--to leak out, and I think this was at least in the back of Bob Ford's mind when he pulled the trigger.

LAMB: Did--was he ever convicted of anything?
Mr. YEATMAN: Bob Ford actually, believe it or not, after he shot Jesse, was tried for murder and was convicted and sentenced to hang, and Governor Crittenden telegraphed a pardon in just like that. So this shows kind of how things were going there. Jesse had not actually been brought in formally and charged. They'd never served the papers or anything on him. There was a--a large percentage of the population that thought maybe he was not guilty of any of this, that he was being persecuted by the Republicans who were using this for political gain. This is what I mean by--by how this became politicized over there.
LAMB: So in the late years--and there's this chapter you have, Outlaws of the Sawdust Trail.
Mr. YEATMAN: Yes.
LAMB: What's that chapter about?
Mr. YEATMAN: That's about Frank's career in show business, and that started--I guess it was about 1901. Frank had tried running for the--What was it?--the door-keeper of the Missouri Legislature, and he had been thwarted in this.
LAMB: And they were--Democrats were in control.
Mr. YEATMAN: Yes.
LAMB: And he was a Republican?
Mr. YEATMAN: Well, he wasn't a Republican at this point. He was a Democrat. As a matter of fact, that had something to do with why he--he switched parties. But he felt that he had--had lived an exemplary life and so forth after all of this business and that he was entitled to be shown some--something for--for all of this. So when he was passed over for this position, he decided to go and join a--a traveling theatrical troupe and was in a--a number of melodramas that were put on in the Midwest, and even--well, at least as far east as Pennsylvania, as--as far as I know, and then as far west as maybe Montana or Idaho.
LAMB: Who is John Newman Edwards?
Mr. YEATMAN: John Newman Edwards is the fellow who is often credited with being the creator of the James legend, and he was a newspaper editor. He was editor of the Sedalia Democrat and the St. Louis Dispatch and several other newspapers. But he is the one that issued a number of florid editorials defending Jesse James and saying that he was being persecuted and all of these robberies, however, he--he was careful to delineate, were--were being pulled by someone who was very clever and very theatrical and so forth. So he--he would--he tended to--to kind of blink at--at what was going on there. And he later had a good bit to do with Frank James. When he later came in and surrendered, he was brought in by Edwards, who had a lot to do with the negotiation there between the Missouri authorities and--and Frank. And he also apparently had a lot to do with some of the wire-pulling in the--the trials there at le...
LAMB: Where--where did Frank live out his life? And he died when he was like 72?
Mr. YEATMAN: Yeah. He died at the James farm, but he--he lived several other places. He lived in Nevada, Missouri, for about a year or two, I guess. Sold shoes over there.
LAMB: This is after he'd had this history of crime?
Mr. YEATMAN: Yeah. And then he went down to work as a salesman in a--a department store in Dallas, Texas.
LAMB: Did people know who he was?
Mr. YEATMAN: Oh, yeah. They were using him as a draw. This was--this was one of the things, the--the--the--the fact that you had Frank James working in your store there would bring in just crowds of people there. So he ends up, I think--What was it?--he was working as a race starter for a number of years. As a matter of fact, I think he--he did that right on up until close to the time of his death, and was--as a--a doorman in a St. Louis burlesque house for many years. And then...
LAMB: Did he have any money when he died?
Mr. YEATMAN: Apparently he did. He was apparently making some big money there for a while when he was going on stage.
LAMB: Who is your favorite character in all of these?
Mr. YEATMAN: I'm trying to think. I'd guess that it would be--it would probably be Frank James. He--he was the most interesting one to--to do the research on, because I never could figure what I was going to turn up next on him.
LAMB: Here's a picture of him near the end of his life.
Mr. YEATMAN: Yeah. That's with the fabled `Kodaks Bared' sign, and that has an interesting story to it. The--the thing was, he was--he was running the James Farm as a tourist attraction then. And the sign as it was painted said `Kodaks Bared.'
LAMB: Be up there in the--in the left-hand corner.
Mr. YEATMAN: Yeah. And what would happen was tourists would come in there and say, `Hey, you've got your--your sign painted wrong there.' And he said, `I bet you $5 I've got it right.' And the people would--would figure `Well, I've got an easy five bucks coming to me here.' So they would say, `You're on.' And he said, `Let's go on out there and look at it.' Frank had penciled in the other `R' in `bared.' You couldn't see it if you weren't looking real closely, and he'd win the bet invariably. And some people said that he was kind of carrying on the hold-up business in another--'nother guise with the--with the tourist trap there that he ran. But that's the story behind that picture.
LAMB: Who was Jesse James married to? Did he have children?
Mr. YEATMAN: Yes. Jesse was married to Zee Mimms, who was actually his first cousin, and they had--What was it?--several children. Those are the two that survived.
LAMB: Jesse and Susan?
Mr. YEATMAN: No, this--yeah, Jesse Jr. and--and Susan. And Jesse Jr.--both the--the Barr and the James family, the--they have descendants to this day that are living--the--the Barr--the descendants of Susan, there's at least one that I know of that lives out in the Kansas City area.
LAMB: What impact did the name Jesse James have on Junior?
Mr. YEATMAN: Oh, he lived the rest of his life more or less in the shadow of his father. He was accused of having taken part in a train robbery when he was in his teens, and it looks like there was some pretty flimsy evidence there, but they figured well, they were going to pin it on him. And he ended up going to law school and was actually an attorney for a number of years. And I think he was more or less trying to live all of this down, but at the same time, he couldn't quite get to the point where he accepted that his father was really the outlaw that he was.

And he invested very heavily in a set of movies, "Jesse James Under the Black Flag" and "Jesse James the Outlaw," and they didn't do too well financially. And he went over the edge afterwards and had a nervous breakdown as a result of this, and he never did get quite over it there. It was a--a major disaster in his life.

LAMB: Who was Frank married to?
Mr. YEATMAN: Frank--you showed the picture there at one point. This was Annie Ralston. Now that's--that's an interesting story. She was a--a s--schoolteacher in one of these little one-room schoolhouses in a place called Little Santa Fe, Missouri, which was just south of present-day Kansas City. Matter of fact, it may even be in the city limits of Kansas City at this time. That picture at the bottom is of her when she was about 16. And she was married to--I--I mean, she was the daughter of a fairly well-to-do farmer outside of Independence, Missouri, Sam Ralston, who's actually Irish, and had come over from Ireland. And she eloped with Frank and her parents didn't realize--all they knew is that she had eloped with someone and they couldn't figure out who it was.

And one day about a year later--I guess this was about 1875 or thereabouts, the--one of--one of Jesse's relatives in Kansas City came up and said, `Oh, by the way, your--your son--your--your--your daughter just married my--my cousin here, Frank.' And it just kind of put these people through the floor, and particularly so when the sheriff's posse started making regular appearances at the house there. Whenever there'd be a--a holdup, they'd be--the members of the posse looking out as to the premises there, and this just infuriated the father-in-law. And the--the story goes that Frank wouldn't get down off of his horse when he first met his father-in-law after they had--had gotten married. He came back to the Independence area. But he--he would--supposedly wouldn't get down off of his horse. I think he was afraid the old man was going to beat him up or something there.

LAMB: We're out of time. I need to ask you, are you going to write another book?
Mr. YEATMAN: Probably.
LAMB: About?
Mr. YEATMAN: Well, it might have something to do with the Jameses, but I'm--I'm looking at something else, maybe, possibly having to do with the Old West.
LAMB: We're out of time. Our guest has been Ted P. Yeatman, and this is what the book looks like. "Frank and Jesse James: The Story Behind the Legend." Thank you very much.
Mr. YEATMAN: Thank you.


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