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On April 3, I went on an adventure with six friends. It was a “girls’ day out” and after 12 hours of bonding, I have a whole different perspective about one of America’s most famous men, Jesse Woodson James.
Linda Brookshire, who works at the Jesse James Farm in Kearney, invited me to join her and James Farm historian Liz Murphy for the day. We were also joined by Linda B’s cousin, Verla Dickey, Liz Johnson, who works for the Excelsior Springs Standard and Pat Gradwohl from the Clay County Museum.
Our guest of honor was Michelle Pollard, who flew 4,000 miles to join us. Michelle lives outside London and has spent several vacations here researching Jesse James. The standing joke of the day was that Jesse’s wife Zee would have been jealous because Michelle knows everything about her husband.
Our mission for the day was to visit the house in St. Joseph,where Jesse James was shot on April 3, 1882. Since it was the 130th anniversary of Jesse’s passing, I knew that I had to be part of this historical day.
The day started when we met at the James Farm and a few minutes later we headed out to visit Jesse’s grave in Kearney. We took some group pictures, shared a few stories and then started on down the road to St. Joe.
Jesse’s house originally stood on a hill overlooking St. Joe, but it was moved years ago down the hill and placed next to the road so it would be easier for tourists to visit. It was later moved from there and placed next to the Patee House Museum. The Patee House was the hotel where Jesse’s family stayed after he was shot. If you get to St. Joseph, the Patee House Museum is well worth your time because it is one of the top 10 Western Museums in America.
While standing in Jesse’s home, it was easy to feel what it might have felt like when Ray County’s own Bob Ford shot Jesse James. I wonder what Jesse would have been like if he had lived to grew old like his brother Frank. I know Bob Ford’s life would have been different if he hadn’t shot Jesse because his life didn’t improve after he was labeled “that dirty little coward that Shot Mr. Howard.”
For me the most nostalgic moment of the day was when we stood on the hill where Jesse’s house was originally located. I’ve heard the story about everyone walking up the hill to see his house after he died and for a few brief moments in time, I was one of those curiosity- seeking people of 1882.
After Jesse died, his family had an auction and some personal items were sold. There is a copy of the auction bill on the wall at his house and one item caught my eye, the family dog. I thought it was terrible that Jesse Jr. lost his father and his dog at the same time. I wondered how he felt about it and then I found the answer in a book written in 1899 by Jesse James Jr. titled, “Jesse James, My Father: The First and Only True Story of His Adventures Ever Written.”
In Chapter 1, he talked about the auction. “At this same auction sale after my father’s death we sold a little cur dog for $15. I felt the loss of the dog very much. The dog was given to my father by his half-sister, Mrs. Nicholson, when my father last visited my grandmother’s home a short time before his death, and father brought the dog to St. Joseph with him. He rode in his arms on horseback.”
After reading this, I could see Jesse riding his horse down the road with a puppy in his arms. My trip to St. Joe helped me realize that we are all traveling down the road in the same direction and we need to appreciate the simple things like the love of a child and even the unconditional love of a good puppy now and then.
Have a story for Linda? You can e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.