By Linda Emley
We’ve always heard the story about how the James boys robbed the banking house of Hughes and Wasson at half past three Thursday, May 23, 1867. After researching this story, the one thing I know for sure is, no one really knows what happened.
The facts are that $3,500 was taken from the bank, three people were shot dead and the bandits rode rapidly out of town.
The 1881 Ray County History book has a two-page story and there is no mention of Frank or Jesse James. This was written only 14 years after the bank robbery, so it might be considered a first-hand account.
Some highlights recounted in the 1881 History book follow: “…. Four of the party entered the bank … the other six remained outside, in front of the bank building, and kept up a continual fire upon citizens who dared to show themselves in the streets.
“The robber who remained on his horse took a stand in the middle of the street. He was mounted on a very fine and well-trained horse. Having wound the bridle reins around the bow of his saddle in such a manner as to give greater tension to one rein than to the other, the horse continued to move round in a circle thus enabling his rider to see about him in every direction. With a navy pistol in each hand, the horseman fired up and down the street, while the robbery was going on in the bank.
“Frank Griffin, from his position behind a tree in the courthouse yard, was discharging his gun at the man on the horse without effect; when the latter discovered Griffin’s head from behind the tree he fired at it, with unerring aim. The ball penetrated the brain, and Griffin instantly expired.
“Frank’s father, William Griffin, was the town jailer. He ran up to the bank and got shot through his heart by someone in the bank. The mayor, John B. Shaw, was shot in the abdomen and lived for only a few hours.”
The history book says the man on the horse was the man that shot the mayor and Frank Griffin on the courthouse lawn.
I was amazed when I searched Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, and found mention of the Richmond bank robbery on the page about Jesse James. It says, “On May 23, 1867 … they robbed a bank in Richmond, Missouri, in which they killed the Mayor and two others. It remains uncertain whether either of the James brothers took part, although an eyewitness who knew the brothers told a newspaper seven years later “positively and emphatically that he recognized Jesse and Frank James among the robbers.”
Were the James boys really in Richmond May 23, 1867? Judge James Ross, great-grandson of Jesse James and author of the book “I, Jesse James,” said in his book that Jesse James shot one person and Frank James shot the other two. Judge Ross was the closest living relative of Frank and Jesse James when he died at the age of 80 in 2007. His mother was Josephine Frances James, granddaughter of Jesse James. So the judge thinks they were here.
There is a different story that comes to us by word of mouth from our own Richmond citizens of 1867. I had always heard stories of Bob Ford and Bud Jacobs from a dear-old lady named Nellie Bly Thompson Walker. She was the storyteller of the Thompson and Emley clan.
Aunt Nell told a great story about when she was a little girl, the black widow came to town and she and her sister had to share their bed with this old lady. The black widow had some connection to the Fords and the James boys. Aunt Nell was so scared she slept with her clothes in case she had to flee in the middle of the night.
I was excited to find out that Milford Wyss knew Bud Jacobs and had his stories to tell.
Since Bud is a major player in this story, I started a background check on him. Then it hit me, who was Bud Jacobs? I’m sure his mother did not name him Bud. I got Milford on the phone, while I scrolled down the page of all the Jacobses who died in Ray Country between 1910–1959. We found Oswald Martin Jacobs who died Oct. 26, 1949.
He was 77 years old. His birth date is listed as February 1872, the actual date of his birth is not known. His mother was Elizabeth Ford, so now we have the James Gang connection
Bud would have been around 10 when Jesse died, so he would have remembered the boys. When Frank and Jesse came to town to visit the Fords, Bud would get 25 cents to take their horses quietly up the back alley to the stable. When you saw some fine unfamiliar horses at the stable, you new the James boys were in town.
Some of the local Richmond folks said that Frank James stayed on his horse outside the bank and Jesse went inside. Some people said that Frank James shot Frank Griffin; others said there was no way he could have shot someone on the courthouse lawn with a pistol while sitting on a dancing horse. And we all know per the 1881 history book, he was spinning around on his dancing horse while shooting two guns. Well Bud was not there, but he said if anyone could, it would be Frank James. Bud told a story about Frank James who, while riding a horse on his way to Henrietta, shot a bird out of the sky with his pistol.
We have one more word-of-mouth story. There were some folks on a balcony across the street from the courthouse who were shooting at the robbers. Some people said one of them may have shot one of the three people who died. We all know that “friendly fire” does not make for a good story, so this account did not make it into the history books.
William McGuire was later captured in St. Louis and brought back to Richmond to stand trial. A few months after that, John W. Francis, then sheriff of Ray County, apprehended a guy named Devers in Kentucky. He was accused of being the man on the horse.
While awaiting their court date, both were taken from the jail by a vigilance committee and hanged. And so the story goes as told in our history book.
The banking house of Hughes and Wasson was destroyed by a fire March 11, 2008. The building, then housing a dry cleaners, was located on West Main Street across the street from the old J.C. Penney store. The former bank lot is now the lawn separating the Methodist church and a red-brick law office.
The next time you drive by our courthouse, think about Frank Griffin. He was the young man who died on the courthouse lawn while trying to stop the James boys from taking our money.
The 1867 bank robbery will be reenacted twice, at 10:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m., during Outlaw Days Sept. 21. The robbery’ is also commemorated in “Robber’s Cave,” a song inspired by historical accounts and a Linda Emley column on a cave in Haller, a Ray County enclave near Rayville.
It was written by David Knopf of the Richmond News, and will be performed before the Sept. 21 re-enactments.
Have a story for Linda? You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.