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Historically Speaking: Was the James gang in New Mexico and other stories, part 2

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By Janice Dunnahoo

Special to the Daily Record

Today, we continue the stories about Jesse James, published first in the Philadelphia Inquirer,

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on Aug. 7, 1889, with the headlines reading:

“Jesse James Is Alive

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“He Was Not Shot Dead by Bob Ford, as Reported

“What An Ex-Desperado Says

“… His Death Would Have Been Avenged.

“‘Frank would have killed them. If he hadn’t, I and 50 others would, and 10 years ago when I married, I took a solemn vow never to pack a six-shooter again. No, sir! Jesse James was not killed by the Fords. He is still alive, hearty, well, and respected by the people among whom he lives, who little suspect his real identity. There are not many in the secret, and those who are will never betray him. The man who was killed by Bob Ford was Sam Hill. You can state that as a positive truth. Hill was about Jesse’s age, and he looked very much like him. At one time, I had photographs of them both taken together, and you cannot tell one from the other.’

“He opened an album which was lying on the table and displayed a photograph of the two men, taken together. There was certainly a striking resemblance. The reporter begged for the loan of the picture, that he might reproduce it in his paper.

“‘I won’t do that, said the ex-desperado, for on the back of the photograph is the autograph of the men it represents, and my name, as well. My wife has never seen that name, and never will, for I have covered the back of the picture with a blank sheet of paper. I shall never let it go out of my keeping, and before I die, I shall destroy it. You say that I run considerable risk for having it in my possession, but my wife is not inquisitive and no one else will ever meddle with that album.’

“A Wonderful Resemblance

“The picture was cabinet size and the reporter was endeavoring to mentally photograph the salient peculiarities of the two faces, when the ex-desperado drew a notebook from his pocket, and seizing two newspaper clippings from it, laid them before him.

“‘That photo,’ said he, ‘laying his hand upon the album, was taken in Kansas City, and each face was afterward reproduced separately in Eastern Illustrated papers. These are the wood-cuts taken from it. You are welcome to use them.’

“‘I correspond regularly with Jesse and Frank James, and less than 10 days ago, I received a letter from Jesse. So you can depend upon it, he is still alive. We were raised together and there is not many months difference in our ages. In old Clay County, Missouri, we played together with the boys and I often spent the night with Frank and Jesse. They were good friends of mine and during all the years that we were associated together, I never had a reason to go back on them. Their stepfather, old Dr. Reuben Samuels, was an excellent man, and their mother Mrs. Samuels, is a woman that any man might be proud of. I know the whole family well and the newspapers and the detectives have terribly maligned them.’

“A Robber Relates His Exploits.

“‘I was with Quantrell; and the James boys, the Youngers, the Shepherds, Jim White and Reese Horton were my messmates. I was with them when the bank at Russellville, Kentucky was robbed; and got my share of $14,000 that we carried away on that occasion. I was afterward with them on the Rio Grande in Texas, in Missouri, Kansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Indian Territory, and other places. I left them shortly after the Blue Cut affair, but we parted friends, and have been in constant correspondence ever since.’

“‘It seems strange,’ was the reporter’s comment, ‘that Jesse James was so positively identified as the man killed by Bob Ford.’

“‘Not at all,’ was the answer. ‘The Ford boys were cheap sort of fellows. I knew them well. They never met Jesse James more than a half dozen times in their lives. Sam Hill was one of their kind and they killed him to get the reward and the notoriety. The household effects of the man that was killed by them were sold at auction. Everything went, but among the entire lot was not a single article, a scrap of paper or a letter that identified the owner as Jesse.’

“An Outlaw That Knew No Fear

“‘It was a dead fake. The Ford boys did not have the courage to kill Jesse James, even if they got the drop on him, as they claim, behind his back. Jesse never knew fear and there was something about him that compelled admiration and obedience from his followers. He was not very well educated, but he always used good language, and was well posted on the affairs of the day. He was a good husband, a good son, and a good friend, but he was a bad man to have for an enemy, and you can depend upon it that if he had been killed as claimed, by the Fords, they would have been put out of the way long ere this by men like myself, who have retired from that sort of thing and trying to lead honest lives, but can’t help remembering that Jesse was a fellow that stood by you to the last, and would have avenged the death of a friend, even at the sacrifice of his own life.’

“Yes sir; the man that wrote that letter to the ‘Cincinnati Enquirer’ is telling the truth. Jesse James still lives, and he’ll die an honest man, for he’s been living an upright life for several years, and the people who know him under his assumed name, honor and respect him.”

Still searching for the New Mexico connection.

Janice Dunnahoo is chief archivist at the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico Archives. She can be reached at 575-622-1176 or at jdunna@hotmail.com.