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For better or worse, the Ford brothers were sons of Ray County

The Fords, Robert and  Charlie

The Fords, Robert and Charlie

By Linda Emley

The Richmond Conservator, Jan. 6, 1882, had the following advertisement: “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 were one of the customers whoowed Lou Ford money, I think I would have paid up and avoided “further trouble,” because she was related to Bob and Charlie Ford. At this point in time, they were running with a rough crowd, the James Gang.

Just one month earlier, on  Dec. 4, 1881,  Bob Ford and “Dick” Liddil  reportedly shot and killed Jesse James’s cousin Wood Hite in Ray County and buried him in an unmarked grave behind the  house where he was killed. The death of Wood Hite was not common knowledge yet, so Lou might have been trying to get some money together for her brother Bob, just in case he needed to get out of town for awhile.

All this would change in a few short weeks, when April rolled around and Robert Newton Ford would  change the pages of history and become “the dirty little coward that shot Mr. Howard.” Since I was not in St. Joseph April 3, 1882, I can’t say what really happened, but it sure looks like Bob Ford shot Jesse James and started a chain of events that would keep storytellers busy for many years to come.

Bob Ford may have worked out a deal with Missouri Governor Thomas Crittenden to clear his name by helping the governor get Jesse James.

Jesse James and Wood Hite were both dead and Bob Ford got his pardon, but he was far from being a free man. Bob and his brother, Charlie Ford, toured the country reenacting the murder of Jesse on stage, but the show was not a big hit and the Ford boys soon learned they were not big heroes as they’d hoped.

Charlie Ford, ill and addicted to morphine, killed himself at a house that once stood one mile north of Richmond May 4,1884.

There are lots of stories about the rest of Bob Ford’s days, but once again I was not there so I will only report on what I do know about him. Bob Ford and Dick Liddil moved west and it is said they opened up a saloon in Las Vegas. Bob Ford covered a lot of ground and ended up in Creede, Colo. in 1892.

Scientific American, Vol. LXVI, for the week ending Jan. 2, 1892, Page 196, had this: “Creede, the New Mining Town of Colorado.

“Creede, though only six months old, is to-day 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.”

The March 3, 1892 Richmond Conservator gave a very colorful account of Bob Ford’s life in Creede, Colo.

“Bob Ford at Creede. Frank James, after his acquittal, he shunned offers to capitalize on his outlaw fame turning down many offers. Instead, he took menial jobs: shoe salesman, farmer and with the Standard Theater saloon in St. Louis as an usher, doorman and bouncer. In his declining years he did join Cole Younger in a traveling wild west show using their outlaw fame to draw spectators. With creeping old age, he returned to the James Farm giving tours for the price of twenty-five cents. Here he died at age 72. Frank was cremated as he feared grave robbers. His ashes were kept in a bank vault until his wife’s death at age 91 in 1944. She was cremated and the couple was interred in Hill Park Cemetery which is located in the upper part of Hill Park, Independence and consists of a small stone wall enclosure of graves. The jail in Independence where Frank was held for six months and treated more like a celebrity guest than an outlaw still stands and the cell has been restored to the condition it was when occupied. The rundown James farm was owned by descendants of Frank James. In 1978, Clay County purchased the home and restoration work was started. Alexander Franklin James died on Feb 18,1915 at the age of 72. His death certificate lists his occupation as a farmer. His tombstone says Alexander F. James 1843-1915. You could walk right by his grave and never know whose ashes are buried there.”

Today, Sally Gooch walked into the museum and handed me some old newspapers that added a few more details to this story. Well they weren’t really old newspapers, but they were really cool.

The Daily News, on Nov. 14, 1986, published a story about “The Dirty Little Coward Who Shot Mr. Howard Was Really Bob Ford, a Ray Countian.” It’s a rather long story with lots of interesting facts, but the one that caught my eye was as follows. “The Fords were Ray County natives. And when Bob Ford was indicted for the murder of Jesse James, he gave his address in a deposition as two miles north of Richmond.

“The house was purchased by a Clay County man in 1898 and exhibited at the St. Louis World’s Fair of 1904 as the home of the man who killed Jesse James.

“But the Ford home place was located about a mile east of Richmond on the north side of highway 10. The old house was dismantled in 1955 to make way for construction of the Matt Waller residence.

“It was in a second floor bedroom of the Ford home that Charley Ford, ridden with remorse about his role in Jesse’s death and also hooked on opium and morphine, shot himself fatally on May 6, 1884.

“John Crouch’s great-grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. A. Y. Davis, purchased the Ford house from the Ford heirs before the turn of the century. Mr. Crouch’s mother, Rebecca, was born in the house.

“Mr. Crouch, a Richmond historian, remembers visiting the house as a child. ‘There was a definite dark stain, which I took to be a bloodstain, in the east bedroom upstairs near the window. Mr. Crouch said it appeared to me that he (CharlieFord) may have been looking out the window taking his last look.’ ”

I really enjoyed this story about the house that went to St.Louis because we just finished decorating our showcase at the Ray County Courthouse with items from the world’s fair. I’m working on a story about the 1904 Fair and now I have to find out the rest of the story about this house that traveled to St. Louis and where it really came from.

And the moral of this story could be choose your friends wisely, but I think we will just say, “If you are going to get off the porch and run with the big dogs, you better keep running and not look back because your past just might catch up with you.”

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