Daniel Smoote Sues Jesse James for Loss of Horse …and Still Lives to Tell About It

Mistaken identity led to murder during the December 7, 1869, robbery of the Daviess County Savings Association. When Jesse James dropped cashier Capt. John Sheets with a bullet, mistaking Sheets for Gallatin’s Samuel P. Cox, James thought he had avenged the death of Confederate guerrilla leader Wm. “Bloody Bill” Anderson. Records show that only about $100 was taken from the simple one-room brick building located on the southwest corner of the Gallatin square.

At the time of the crime, nobody knew with certainty who actually pulled the murderous trigger. In their haste to depart, one of the bandits lost his horse and the bandits escaped southwest toward Cameron by riding double on the remaining mount. Along the way, they encountered a local farmer, Daniel Smoote, and forced a horse exchange. The robbers told Smoote he could have the mare they left behind in Gallatin.

Although the bandits were not recognized, the horseflesh they left behind linked Jesse James to the crime. Soon thereafter, Governor T.T. Crittenden proclaimed a bounty for the arrest of the James brothers — marking the first time Frank & Jesse James were publicly branded as outlaws. Mrs. Sheets, the wife of the murdered bank cashier, offered a reward of $500. Daviess County added $250 for each outlaw, the bank another $500, and the State of Missouri $500 — all a part of the $3,000 total reward offered.

People in those times were known by the horses they kept; horseflesh could be easily recognized by those whose livelihoods and well-being often depended upon horses. Good horses were highly prized. Daniel Smoote wanted his own horse back. And the bay mare he kept – linked to owner Jesse James — was proof enough for Gov. Crittenden to publicly brand Frank & Jesse James as outlaws for the very first time.

Smoote contacted a young Gallatin attorney, H.C. McDougal, to sue the James Boys for damages. McDougal later may have had second thoughts about prosecuting the Jameses.

Gallatin attorney Henry Clay McDougal was just embarking upon his impressive career when he agreed to represent farmer Daniel Smoote in a lawsuit against Jesse James.

In his book entitled, “Recollections,” McDougal relates a harried moment when he thought he might unexpectedly be personally confronted by Jesse James while riding on a train.

As the outlaws became more notorious, McDougal’s worries increased. Ironically, after Jesse’s death in St. Joseph in 1882, McDougal assisted in the prosecution against Frank James during a trial held in Gallatin in 1883.

Soon after that proceeding, McDougal left Gallatin for Kansas City and embarked upon a most fascinating career — a founding partner of what would become the renown law firm Shook, Hardy & Bacon. McDougal also became a personal adviser and confidant for several U.S. presidents.

The complaint, filed on behalf of Daniel Smoote against Frank & Jesse James, cites a loss in damages totaling $223.50.
This summons was issued requiring the James Boys to answer charges made against they by Daniel Smoote in Daviess County.

Neither Frank nor Jesse James appeared in court. Smoote never got his own horse back. Instead, he kept the James’ horse, named Kate, and subsequently raised several colts from her. The Smoote family eventually relocated to Belton, MO, where today the family lies in the Belton Cemetery.

The only civil lawsuit ever recorded against outlaw Jesse James was filed by a Daviess County farmer, Daniel Smoote, who lost his bay mare “Kate” to the robbers as the fled from their crime in Gallatin in December, 1869. This docket was rediscovered on file in the Daviess County in 2007.

A Modern Footnote…

For over 100 years Smoote’s lawsuit against Frank & Jesse James was filed among other legal documents in the Daviess County courthouse …overlooked and eventually forgotten. Historians came to believe that these papers were pilfered by some collector or unscrupulous historian. But the authentic legal documents were rediscovered in August, 2007.

Authentic legal documents were rediscovered in August, 2007, by James Muehlberger, shown here with Daviess County Circuit Clerk Sue Bird.

On Friday, Aug. 17, 2007, James Muehlberger visited Gallatin to expand upon his research of Henry Clay McDougal. Mr. Muehlberger is preparing text and a display about McDougal for the law firm where Muehlberger is employed. Shook, Hardy & Bacon LLC is the largest law firm in Kansas City with additional offices located throughout the United States.

McDougal is primarily remembered as one of the special prosecutors appointed by the governor during the trial of Frank James held in Gallatin in 1883. McDougal is also the connection which enabled the Daviess County Historical Society to secure funds from an estate which now finances ongoing maintenance and limited operation of the county’s 1889 Squirrel Cage Jail as a visitors’ information center. McDougal also was identified by Mr. Muehlberger a partner to his law firm’s founder, Frank Sebree.

During his research, Mr. Meuhlberger immediately recognized the significance of the legal papers and the historic docket was soon whisked away to a local bank vault for safekeeping.

The legal papers have been elusive to those previously researching Jesse James lore. In fact, it was commonly thought that the paperwork on this lawsuit might even have been stolen by some collector or unscrupulous history buff. Circuit Clerk Sue Bird explains that the legal papers weren’t actually misplaced, just filed in a way that made sense to the court clerk of that time.

Now that these authentic historical papers have been found, they will be properly preserved. The Secretary of State’s office has been notified, and archival specialists will soon be involved in that effort.