Missouri and Ozarks History

Information and comments about historical people and events of Missouri, the Ozarks region, and surrounding area.

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Location: Missouri

I'm a freelance writer specializing in the history of the Ozarks and surrounding region. I've written seventeen nonfiction books, two historical novels, and numerous articles. My latest books are Yanked Into Eternity: Lynchings and Hangings in Missouri, Show-Me Atrocities: Infamous Incidents in Missouri History, and Murder and Mayhem in Southeast Kansas.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Jesse James Was My Great Uncle

Yesterday, I was looking through some books in the local history room of the Joplin Public Library about Joplin's early history. Some of the stories chronicled in a couple of the books appear to be based mainly on oral legend and after-the-fact exaggeration rather than contemporaneous evidence. One such story that caught my eye was the oft-repeated assertion that the infamous outlaw Jesse James spent considerable time in and around Joplin. For instance, Jesse, using an assumed name, was supposedly introduced to a Joplin banker during the 1870s, and when the banker found out Jesse''s real name, he worried that the James gang would rob his bank. Jesse, though, upon learning of the man's concern, assured the banker that he would never rob a bank around Joplin because he considered it his hometown.
From what I've been able to discern from first-hand sources, this story and those like it are, at best, exaggeration. It's true that Jesse James was known to have passed through the Joplin area at least a time or two, but there's no documentation that he ever spent any considerable amount of time here. Same goes for the Younger brothers, who, like Jesse, are sometimes reported to have been denizens of Joplin. The Youngers' half-uncle Bruce Younger did frequent the town during its early days, and Fletch Taylor (Quantrill lieutenant and the James boys' immediate commander during the Civil War) did move to Joplin during the early lead-mining days and became a leading citizen of the town. Jesse's sister was even reported in a local newspaper as having visited Taylor in Joplin. But the Younger gang and the James boys mainly spent their time (when they weren't actively on the run) farther north around Jackson County, St. Clair County, and so forth, or else in Texas.
The exaggerated stories about Jesse James's exploits in and around Joplin, though, are hardly unique. Nearly every county in the Ozarks (or the Midwest for that matter), it seems, lays claim to some connection to the notorious outlaw. And if you get to talking about family history with the people you meet, it seems that about half of them claim kinship to Jesse, as though it were some badge of honor.

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Blogger Deb said...

I want you to know how much I enjoy reading your blog from time to time. I keep it bookmarked actually. Yes, the Ozarks were also my proverbial stomping ground too and blogs such as yours keep the hills and history a bit more fresh in my mind. Although I now live in Kansas City, I simply have not been able to visit the Joplin area as much as I want or should. Time and obligations! I have parents there though who I owe a great deal to concerning my knowledge of 'the old days' and ways. Your blog fits right in with tales I've heard, etc. I am a retired teacher and float between a love for books and one of doing artwork. This time of year I seem to garden myself to death almost! Long story long is that I wish I could focus more such as you have done in developing your interests with writing. Anyway, just wanted to pop in here and say 'well done' and let you know how much I enjoy your blog.

Sunshine to ya!

Deb Rowe

May 11, 2010 at 8:10 AM  
Blogger Larry Wood said...

Thanks, Deb. I'm glad you enjoy the blog, and it's good to hear you say so. Sometimes I wonder whether anybody out there is reading my posts, although my hit counter tells me that at least a few people are. It's nice when someone actually confirms it, though.

May 14, 2010 at 1:39 PM  

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