By Linda Emley
The Richmond Conservator, Jan. 6, 1882, “Call and Settle at Once. As I have need of the various accounts due me, I would hereby notify all such that their accounts are now made out and they are respectfully requested to call and settle. This is no idle call, but one that I mean, as I am in need of the money. Do not delay but call at once and thus save further trouble. – Miss Lou Ford.”
So was Lou Ford just getting her books in order for a new year, or was she really in need of cash? If I was one of the customers that owed Miss Lou money, I think I would have paid up and avoided “further trouble” because Lou was Bob and Charlie Ford’s aunt.
On Dec. 4, 1881, just one month prior, Bob Ford and Dick Liddil had shot Jesse James’s cousin, Wood Hite, in Ray County. It is said that he was buried behind the house where he was killed and in an unmarked grave. The death of Wood Hite was not common knowledge yet, so Lou might have been trying to get some money together for Bob, just in case he needed to get out of town in a hurry.
Everything changed a few months later when Robert Newton Ford became the “dirty little coward that shot Mr. Howard.” Since I was not in St. Joseph, Mo. April 3,1882, I can’t say what really happened, but it looks like Bob Ford shot Jesse James and started a chain of events that would keep story tellers busy for many years to come.
Some folks said that Missouri Gov. Thomas Crittenden and Bob Ford made a deal to clear his name for the murder of Wood Hite, but both men denied it. We will never know the real story, but Jesse James and Wood Hite were both shot dead, and Bob Ford got his pardon.
Bob and Charlie Ford toured the country reenacting the murder of Jesse on stage, but the show was not a big hit. The Ford boys soon learned they were not heroes like they hoped to be. Not long after Charlie Ford became ill and developed an addiction to morphine, one of his medications, he shot himself May 4, 1884 at a house that once stood two miles east of Richmond on Highway 10.
Bob Ford and Dick Liddil moved west and opened a saloon in Las Vegas. Bob moved on and ended up in Creede, Colo. The Jan. 2, 1892 Scientific American magazine had an article about, Creede, which it referred to as “The New Mining Town of Colorado: Creede, though only six months old, is today the banner mining town of Colorado. The railway reached there in October last, but passenger trains did not run until December. The camp is situated in a narrow gulch on Willow Creek, among the mountains, 9,500 feet above the sea level. The rugged mountains rear their summits 4,000 feet above the town. The new camp is without any definite government, for by a blunder of the state officials it is No Man’s Land, belonging to no county or town. Thus far fairly good order has been preserved in camp. Beyond the frequent killing of a stake jumper, and innumerable saloon brawls, the deeds of lawlessness have been comparatively few. It is highly improbable that this quiet state of things shall long continue. Bob Ford, the murderer of Jesse James, is here. He professes to have come to make money. But in a recent interview he was careful to let it be known that he is still able to take care of himself in any quarrel. Bat Masterson, a noted frontier marshal, is the manager of a gambling house. He is one of the nerviest men in the West, and it will go hard with any gambler who raises a row in his establishment. Masterson has already killed twenty men. Others equally well known are in town, and the future peace and order of the place does not look assuring.”
On March 3, 1892, the Richmond Conservator republished a very colorful account of Bob Ford’s life in Creede. “Bob Ford at Creede. Frontier characters of every type are flocking to Creede and a census of the inhabitants would show some notable and some notorious people. Bob Ford, the man who killed Jesse James, is running the most prominent sporting house in Creede. It is prominent in two ways. It is the only painted building in town on the outside, and figuratively, is the most vividly painted within. It is reported that last week Ford sold a prospect hole for $16,000. A recent visitor says one could not begin to count the gambling houses and other lively resorts. It is almost impossible to get into the gambling rooms and the players crowd the faro tables and other layouts six and eight deep. It is the same way in the saloons, where the rule is “Fire and fall back.” Drinks of all kinds are 15 cents each or two for 25 cents. Money seems to be very plentiful with everyone. –New York Sun.”
Bob Ford’s painted gambling house burned down and he opened up a new place in a tent.
What goes around comes around, and on June 8, 1892 Bob Ford was shot in his tent saloon by Edward O’Kelley. Some people thought he killed Bob Ford to revenge the death of Jesse James, while some others said he just wanted to be knows as the man that shot Ford.
Ford was buried in Creede, but was later moved to his final resting place at the Richmond City Cemetery. His tombstone reads, “The Man Who Shot Jesse James.”
Edward O’Kelley did some jail time for shooting Bob Ford, but was released in 1900. Four years later, O’Kelley himself was shot by a lawman in Oklahoma City. His tombstone reads, “The Man who killed the man who killed Jesse James.” It looks like O’Kelley got his wish and will always be remembered as the man who shot Bob Ford.
I know this sounds like a Wild West movie, but it really happened and Richmond was in the middle of it all. So who was the last man standing? Alexander Franklin James gets my vote. Frank James died on Feb 18, 1915 at the age of 72 . His death certificate lists his occupation as a farmer. Frank was cremated and his ashes were kept in a bank vault until his wife died in 1944.
The ashes of both were buried at the same time at the Hill Park Cemetery in Independence. You could walk right by his grave and never know who is buried there because his tombstone says Alexander F. James 1843-1915.
Wood Hite never got a tombstone or a proper burial. Jesse James and Bob Ford were both moved from their original gravesites. Charlie Ford’s grave has always been a hot topic because some say he was buried in an unmarked grave and others say he is buried next to Bob. Frank James was cremated and locked in a bank vault for 29 years because he was afraid of grave robbers.
Ed O’Kelley may have had a normal burial, but he was shot in a fight with a lawman, so we can’t say that it was really that normal. So the moral of this story could be to chose your friends wisely. But for now, I think we’ll just say, “If you are going to run with the big boys, you better have an good life insurance policy.”
You can write Linda at rayc...@aol.com.