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The Jesse James Scrapbook
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Summary

Jesse James is, all these years later, one of the most famous American characters who has ever lived. Not only an American paradox, James is a symbol of "the haunted stillness" of a post Civil War America, scarred for life by "that terrible conflict," the bloodiest battle ever experienced on American soil. Jansen's novel examines the James legend through the firsthand historical voice of the press and people of America, fictionally recreated by Jansen, based, however, on "actual" historical documents. George Jansen has successfully written a provocative and entertaining work of fiction worthy of the true legend of Jesse James.
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ISBN: 9781945232015
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The Jesse James Scrapbook

A Historical Novel By

George Jansen

Fool Church Media

Published by

Fool Church Media

Eugene, Oregon

This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locals is entirely coincidental.

The Jesse James Scrapbook

Copyright © 2003 by George Jansen

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and related system, without the written permission of the Author, except as permitted by law.

First Edition 2003, Hilliard & Harris

Second Edition 2016, Fool Church Media

Paperback ISBN: 978-1-945232-00-8

Epub ISBN: 978-1-945232-01-5

PDF ISBN: 978-1-945232-02-2

Mobi ISBN: 978-1-945232-03-9

Audio Book ISBN: 978-1-945232-04-6

Hardback ISBN: 978-1-945232-05-3

Manufactured/Printed in the United States of America

Printed 2016, Fool Church Media

Cover

Designed by Bryan Costales

Cover by Bryan Costales

Cover Copyright © 2016 Bryan Costales

Cover photo of Jesse James from a reversed-image ambrotype shot July 10, 1864 taken in Platte City, Missouri by an unknown photographer. This image is in the public domain because its copyright has expired. Wikimedia has identified this image as being free of known restrictions under copyright law, including all related and neighboring rights.

for the dear departed

Acknowledgments

I would like to thank Lora Fountain, Bryan Costales, Dave Singleton, and Sue Clark for their work as critics and editors. Lora helped me discover the book I really wanted to write. Bryan made it faster and shorter.Dave refused to let me take the easy way out. Sue understood what the book really was and got me over the hump.

Thanks also to Kathy Ronay Birdsong, Jeanne McKay, Helen Scharmer, Rick Shubb, Jane Strong, Cathy Trinidad, and Mitty Varadan for their help and encouragement. And last, but hardly least, a special thanks to Marcia Savin, whose most excellent teachings caused me to embark on this perilous quest that brought me here.

PROLOGUE

Summer 1906

Tom Gardner, age twelve, hoisted himself to the top of Old Man Ginty’s fence and eyeballed his chances. Neither Ginty, his dogs, nor his ferocious rooster were in evidence. All that stood between Tom and triumph, were the beehives, the goldfish pond, and a picket fence so low it filled him with contempt.

Afternoon, Tom.

From out of nowhere Old Man Ginty appeared, a hatchet in his hand.

Tom leaped into the yard, sucked down a healthy dose of air, and churned his legs like the great drivers of a steam locomotive. He accelerated past the beehives, leaped the fish pond, and scrambled over the picket fence. He flew across the trolley tracks and almost collided with the Long Island City electric. He took the stairs of his house by threes, threw open the front door, and launched himself into a belly-slide down the polished, hardwood floor.

Safe, he cried.

But just as he crashed into the umbrella stand, the joyous, summer air was rent by a voice as furious and frightful as a rolling clap of thunder.

Thompson Grant Gardner!

In a flash, Tom took it all in. His mother’s arms were folded across her chest. Her features were contorted in a hideous sneer. Pressed to her bosom was an item that had heretofore been buried in his bureau under a pile of brownish baseballs and old, smelly socks — The Jesse James Scrapbook.

What’s the meaning of this, Tom? his mother said, her hand upon the book.

I just pitched a shutout, he replied, in a desperate bid for time. Had my in-shoot, had my out-shoot, had my false-rise, and those Maspeth boys didn’t have a prayer.

There’s no dodging it, Tom.

Trapped, he hung his head. Your things are still in there, Ma. I just pasted over ’em.

You pasted your Jesse James over my Tour of the Continent?

Tom got to his feet.

It was a long time ago, he lied. We were just kids playing games. We were detectives, you see, even had our own detective agency. We swore a blood oath to capture Robert Ford, the coward who assassinated Jesse James, and we had to have evidence so we could get a warrant. . . .

Come to the point, Tom.

I am. I am.

Though the role of traitor and informer fit the infamous Ford better than he, was it not written that the strong would survive and the weak would perish?

It was Jumbo that did it. Jumbo went to the library, and. . .

Don’t try to blame it on poor Jumbo.

I ain’t, Ma. I ain’t.

Jumbo was a fat, dyspeptic boy, and, as such, Tom realized, he was the recipient of unwarranted sympathy from little old ladies and mothers alike.

It was George that was at the bottom of it, Tom declared, altering course just enough to launch an all out attack on his older brother.

George made himself a colonel. I only made myself a captain even though the Wide Awakes were all my idea. Poor Jumbo went to the library because George said to. He cut things out of newspapers and books because George said to.

You know. . . His mother paged through the book. Some of the parts you wrote yourself are really quite good.

Thanks, Ma. I thought so, too.

’After the Civil War,’ she read, ’Jesse James surrendered his arms and attempted to return to the pursuits of peace. But his old enemies and the Yankee militia still had it in for him. They hounded Jesse and persecuted him till all he had left was the outlaw life. So he took to the woods with his merry men, and there they lived a carefree existence —hunting, fishing, and engaging in target practice. . . .’

She looked at him. Why don’t you write this well on your compositions?

I do, but the teachers are prejudiced against me. Mr. Checkered a Dutchman, you know.

The word is German. Not Dutchman.

Mr. Checkered a German, and German’s are all prejudiced against Americans.

Why, that’s nonsense, Tom. Who ever told you that?

Pa did.

His mother fell into a confused silence, and Tom, knowing he had struck a telling blow, sent a regiment of cavalry through the breach in her lines.

’All Germans are good for,’ quoth Tom, ’is drinking beer and preaching anarchy. If it weren’t for the Germans. . . .’

That’s not true, Tom, and you know it. Sometimes your father gets angry when he reads the papers and says things he doesn’t mean.

Jesse James never touched off any anarchist bomb. Jesse James robbed from the rich and gave to the poor. He fought on the side of justice and right.

Jesse James, his mother said, was a killer and thief. I’ve stopped readin’ it, too, Ma, and I’m a better boy for it, I’ll say."

His mother sighed a deep, tormented sigh. You know you’ll have to be punished for this, and I’ll have to let Jumbo’s mother know too.

But it wasn’t Jumbo Brown, Ma, Tom said, with noble purpose. It was some other fellow named Jumbo. He never told us his last name. All we ever knew him by was Jumbo.

You boys, his mother continued, have stolen books and newspapers from the library.

We took ’em back.

After you’d cut pages out.

Yes, ma’m.

You took my scrapbook without permission, young man, and when your father gets home, there will be hell to pay.

She laid The Jesse James Scrapbook on the hall table, righted the fallen umbrella stand and pointed a trembling forefinger at the stairs.

To your room.

Tom slunk toward the stairs, and, as he did, the staircase seemed to take on the aspect of a gallows. When he reached the first step, he turned and faced the woman who had appointed herself judge and jury.

Ma? What are you planning to do with the book? I know I did wrong, but I worked real hard on it. I never did finish it, but someday I’m going to, even if it takes a hundred years. I’m going to go out west and interview farmers and outlaws and trainmen and wild Indians, everyone who ever knew or saw or was robbed by Jesse. You wouldn’t burn a fellow’s life’s work, would you?

You should have thought of that before you borrowed my scrapbook. And if you’ve started contemplating your life’s work, young man, I suggest you begin by ruling out both Jesse James and baseball.

He looked towards the top of the stairs and imagined his father standing there —an executioner’s mask covered his face, a razor strop was in his hands. A cold drizzle was falling.

Jesse James, Tom knew, wouldn’t have quailed. Jesse James would have met his fate with a stout heart and an enigmatic smile.

Young Tom Gardner threw back his shoulders and climbed.

WAR

Spring 1850

Billy Drury, Farmer

Clay County, Missouri

Up in Liberty, just north of my place, the citizens employed a bugler who blew taps at sunset to let the slaves know it was time to get off the street. Ever since I could remember, that bugler had spouted off — taps at sunset, reveille at sunrise— and an awful thing it was. I heard that bugle but turned a deaf ear —sold my corn, sold my hemp, took the money and was glad of it.

Yes, I knew Jesse’s pa.

The Reverend Robert James, that would be. He lived about fifteen miles from here, up near Kearney. Had a decent sized place. Grew corn and hemp like most of us. Kept a half-dozen slaves, but I can’t tell you how he reconciled such a practice with Christian charity. He did ride circuit around here, founded a church or two and was forever holding revivals.

My little farm was down by the river —by crossroads, near the ferry— so it was natural enough for him to stop by every now and again.

Ain’t seen you up to New Hope Baptist since your wife died, Mr. Drury.

No, guess you ain’t.

Big fellow, he was. Tall like Frank. Handsome like Jesse. Every time I turned around back then, seemed like, there was the Reverend James, sitting atop his black mare, looking down his nose at me.

How’s Tom Jeff comin’ along? he’d ask. I owned a thoroughbred horse named Thomas Jefferson, in those days.

Tom Jeff’s comin’ along fine, I’d say. How’s the wife and children?

My wife is always well, and Frank is a quick learner. Care to sell him, Mr. Drury? Tom Jeff, I mean.

Most fearsome thing about the Reverend was his eyes —like iron, they were— and a somber sight, he could be —in his black suit, on his black horse— with those eyes fixed dead on you.

No’ hoppers this year, praise God, he’d say.

Yes sir, no ’hoppers, I’d reply. Praise God, I might add, just to cover my tracks.

One fine day in the spring of eighteen and fifty, I was out cultivating my little vegetable garden —beans, carrots, cabbage— you know. The sparrows were a-twitterin’ and the bees were a-buzzin’. It was one of those glorious days of days when you knew old man winter was done for at last and you just felt like singing out loud.

Then, somehow, the Reverend James, on that big black mare of his, managed to sneak up behind me.

Afternoon, Mr. Drury.

My heart jumped about a foot. It was all very strange. The dogs hadn’t even barked.

How’s Tom Jeff doin’? he asked.

Tom Jeff’s doin’ fine, I said, my heart pounding a tattoo.

Still ain’t seen you up to New Hope Baptist.

No, you still ain’t.

He shifted around in his saddle and made himself comfortable.

I been considerin’ going out to California, he said, staring at me all hard-eyed. Save a few souls, maybe. Pan a little gold, maybe. What do you think? The adventure of a lifetime, I’d say.

Ain’t a bad idea, I told him. Thousands were doing it. Argonauts they called themselves and as green as green could be, they were.

Shouldn’t be all that difficult, the Reverend said. I’ve purchased a guide book.

Capt’n Fremont’s?

Precisely, he said. And I have prayed over it.

Some folks say the real reason the Reverend James headed west was because his wife was cheating on him, but I never believed that. Nor do I believe that little Jess clung to his legs and pleaded for him to stay, like other folks say. Jess would have been but two or three years old at the time. It could have happened that way, I suppose, but I don’t know for sure. I didn’t pay much mind to those boys back then, to tell the truth.

I’ll be back in a year or two, the Reverend told me. My pockets will be bursting and the future assured.

He never did come back. Dysentery, it could have been. Cholera, maybe. Jess went looking for his grave after he growed up, but I don’t think he ever found it. Can’t say for sure. You know how men are. Jess never talked much about the experience and I never asked.

His ma remarried a few years after the Reverend died. But I can’t tell you much about that fellow, either. I first met him over in Keatsville, when I was selling my hemp to Sidney Marion Keats. Sid had a ropewalk on his plantation up there, you see. He was the one who introduced us.

Billy Drury, say hello to Dr. Reuben Samuel.

Mr. Drury, Dr. Samuel said, smiling.

He seemed the exact opposite of the Reverend —not overbearing in the least, but calm, I’d say. Pleasant, even.

Glad to meet you, doctor, I said, as we shook hands.

My pleasure, he said. Absolutely.

He never practiced medicine after he married, don’t know why —preferred farming, I suppose.

Care to have a look around, gentlemen? Sid Keats asked. Red haired and dapper was how Sid looked —a genuine, dyed in the wool, Southern cavalier. During the war, he became a great general and, afterwards, an ardent supporter of Frank and Jesse James, but he was still just Sid Keats, in those days.

We’ve made some big improvements since your last visit, Billy. You might want to see them.

I told him no thank you.

I’d toured his ropewalk once, you see, and once was enough. It stood about a mile off from the plantation house —out of sight, like a snake in the meadow. A thousand feet long, it was, because the weaving of the rope had to be done in a straight line. The hemp was spun into yarn, and the yarn was twisted into long strands. Then the slaves would tie these strands to their waists, and walk back and forth all day long, three hundred groaning spiders, weaving the hemp —my hemp— into rope.

Dr. Samuel? Sid Keats said. Care to have a look around?

Yes. Certainly. Never having seen it before, and since we’re going to be doing business.

You’re sure, Billy?

I shook my head, no. I’ll just set on the porch and enjoy the peace, if you don’t mind.

The back porch of Sid’s plantation house, the verandah, he called it, overlooked the flower gardens and the lawn. It was lovely sitting there, watching the black women weed and the black men mow. I made myself comfortable and a boy brought me hot tea and corn batter cakes from the cookhouse.

Skinny, he was, and barefoot, wearing nothing but a man-sized shirt that hung down to his knees. I asked him how old he was, but he just smiled and backed away.

Ten? I said. Eleven?

When he grinned I saw how bad his teeth were —worse than mine, even.

The South has been a colony of the North too long, Sid Keats said later on, as we sipped our tea on his doomed veranda.

Dr. Samuel seconded the motion. It’s time we stood up for our rights. What do you say, Mr. Drury? We can’t back down, now. Can we?

Don’t know much about politics, I said.

Sid Keats shook his head. This isn’t about politics, Billy. It’s about freedom. Missouri cannot be free unless Kansas is slave. You can understand that, can’t you?

Kansas was getting ready to come into the Union about that time, as I recall. Slave state, free state, it didn’t matter much to me.

But the Puritans are trying to impose their will on us, Billy. They’re coming down from Massachusetts to stuff the ballot boxes. You don’t like Puritans, do you?

Don’t know any Puritans.

Dr. Samuel shook his head. You wouldn’t like them if you did.

Later on, Sid passed by my place on his way to the ferry. Had a few friends with him —two or three hundred would be my guess— mounted, angry and armed to the teeth.

Sid called out to me from atop the fine-blooded charger he rode. You going with us, Billy?

Well, what kind of picnic is this? I said, standing safe inside my garden. And where are you going anyway?

We’re going to Kansas to vote, Sid Keats said.

Vote? Why you’re Missourians. How can you vote in Kansas? And what are you carrying all those guns for?

Sid Keats laughed. Your second question answers your first. We’re paying a dollar a day plus whiskey. Are you with us, sir? Or are you against us?

I heard wild-eyed John Brown preach in Lawrence, Kansas, once. A regular fortified town, Lawrence was in those days —it got burned out in fifty-five, as I recall, then again by Quantrill in sixty-three. Frank was in on that raid. Cole Younger was, too. Some folks say Jesse was there, others say he wasn’t. He was only fifteen or so, at the time. But I can’t tell you the truth of that, either —damn lot of good, I am. It just ain’t the kind of question a wise man asks of Jesse James, you see.

Don’t matter, one way or the other, though. Jess murdered and pillaged with the best of them, once he was given the chance. And as for John Brown, well, he was just about as crazy as any Southern cavalier you might care to mention.

Without the shedding of blood, cried he, there is no remission from sin. One Sharp’s rifle will have more effect on the slavers than a thousand Bibles.

That was when the shooting started —the guerrilla war on the Kansas-Missouri border. Folks killed each other, ran off each others stock and burned each others farms. Once it got started there was no stopping it.

Are you with us, sir? Or are you against us?

I was born the same year Dan’l Boone died, by the way. First president I have much recollection of was Andy Jackson. Yes sir, Andy was president, and the common man was king when I was a boy.

Frank and Jesse, they weren’t so lucky.

Autumn 1856

Ophelia Helms

Missouri Schoolteacher

At the end of the school year in 1856 I was let go from my teaching position in Gallatin, Missouri. But that did not surprise me one bit for teaching, in those days, was something of a nomadic profession. School districts, for reasons I never agreed with, preferred bringing in new teachers every few years to keeping the old ones. I was twenty-four years old and, having begun teaching when I was sixteen, I had already held five different positions.

I applied for employment in Clay County, Missouri. A horrible guerrilla war was raging nearby on the Kansas border, but I don’t suppose anyone ever considers that the sweep of history will have the slightest effect on them. I was trying to get work to keep body and soul together and in that there was difficulty enough.

As is well known, the respectable occupations for women in those days were teaching school or teaching music, but even so, male teachers were preferred. The big boys, it was feared, would run wild with nothing but a woman —and especially a diminutive one— between them and the devil. Thus, both my gender and small size counted against me as did the fact that I had reached such an advanced age and had yet to marry.

So I lied to the school board.

I told them I was engaged and that my intended was surveying a railroad route to California. He was to return in two years, I said, and then we would be married. This tale quelled their fears and impressed them, too, as railroading was quite the thing in those days, and I was given the job.

The schoolhouse where I was to both teach and live was a lovely, white, clapboard building standing in a secluded grove near Kearney. It was a one-room school of the type our poets and politicians are fond of romanticizing about. I, however, knew what to expect. I brought with me the four McGuffy’s Readers I owned, a roll of maps, a dictionary, my precious globe of the world, and an old alarm clock.

Let the poets dwell on the merits of the one-room school, I shall not. That fall I had seventy students and not a single, proper desk. The students sat on benches so high that the younger children’s legs could not touch the floor and, so, dangled in space, all day. The school’s library consisted of a Bible and a Farmer’s Almanac, and many of the children did not have the money to buy slates and writing tablets.

We did not have grades in those days, the students, instead, being placed according to the reader they were using. My seventy scholars were spread