Gary Chilcote, speaking before the Gallatin Rotary Club in 1996, makes no apologies for Jesse James. Neither does he defend him. Mr. Chilcote simply notes that Missouri is most widely known for two historical realities: the Pony Express and Jesse James.
“You folks here in Gallatin have one of the two most important things the world knows about Missouri,” says Chilcote. “Don’t ever be ashamed of the name Jesse James. History is what wise men agree once occurred. And nobody today will ever exactly know what caused Frank and Jesse James to lead the life that they did.”
The notoriety of the outlaw still commands public attention today. Conflicting allegations between families claiming to be descendants of the outlaw prompted the body buried under the Jesse James tombstone at Kearney to be exhumed this past July 19. The event attracted widespread publicity, even television crews from England.
“I knew that the body would be exhumed long before the notion became public,” Mr. Chilocote says. “I sat on the story for six weeks, something really hard for a retired newspaper reporter like myself since this undoubtedly would command national attention. But when word finally leaked out, it was no surprise to me that interest was so widespread.”
An autopsy on Jesse James was performed in 1882 after his shooting in St. Joseph. Mr. Chilcote believes the outlaw’s brain was probably removed during that official proceeding. Unfortunately, those records have been lost. That allowed speculation to simmer until accusations prompted this most recent effort to positively identify the remains.
Grave diggers took three days to exhume the body. There were surprises. Chilcote said the coffin was made of wood and had collapsed to a height of about six inches. The body apparently was buried face down, but seemed anatomically correct.
“Perhaps Jesse really had turned over in his grave over some of the things said about him over the years,” Mr. Chilcote quips. Chilcote expects a determination to be announced Feb. 23, 1996. Studies are being performed by the American Academy of Forensic Sciences in Nashville, TN. The work involves DNA identification, tracing through the female line of the family. This is the same method which was used to identify remains of military veterans during the Vietnam war.
Mr. Chilcote was personally involved in the reburial ceremonies for Jesse James. He finds it odd to be a pall bearer for a man who died 113 years ago. This was James’ third burial; 20 years after his murder his mother, Zerelda Samuel, moved to town and eventually, in 1902, Jesse was buried beside his wife in the cemetery at Kearney.
The number of people who attended the funeral, the continuing controversy it stirs, and the interest in the forensic report yet to come all underscore Chilcote’s point that people?– especially cultural and historical tourists — are interested in anything authentic about the James Gang.
“Gallatin is going in the right direction in renovating your county’s Squirrel Cage Jail,” Chilcote says. “You’ve got so much James Gang history in this area to work with, but you need something for visitors to actually visit. Two years ago, for instance, I brought members of the national James-Younger group to visit here. They were excited about it although we could actually do little more than share an enjoyable meal here at McDonald Tea Room.
Mr. Chilcote applauds the idea of reconstructing the Daviess County Savings Association building robbed by the James brothers in 1869. He suggests that Courter Theater might be put to some use as a backdrop to focus on the 1883 Trial of Frank James which occurred in Gallatin, since the trial was actually held in an opera house here.
“You need to get something together to display your James Gang history, even if nothing other than devoting a corner in a store somewhere to local history, legend and lore. A tourist is someone who travels more than 50 miles and spends a few bucks. That’s what tourism is all about, and it’s an economic tool just waiting to be fully used here.”Mr. Chilcote speaks with some authority. He is one of the founders of the Pony Express Museum in St. Joseph with over 33 years of volunteer service. He notes that museums don’t necessarily share in attracting tourism dollars. Admissions into the Patee House during 1995 were down by 7 percent, he said. But admissions into the Jesse James home nearby was up by 11 percent.
“The town of Northfield, MN, hosts an annual event called “The Defeat of Jesse James” to commemorate that historic event,” Chilcote says. “It attracts over 200,000 people. Perhaps some of that success is due to Northfield’s proximity to the Malls of America. But regardless of the scope, it does prove that people continue to be genuinely interested.”
— written by Darryl Wilkinson, Gallatin Publishing Company
GUN USED TO KILL JAMES DRAWS $164,000
In May, 1993, the Associated Press reported the following: “LEWES, England — The .44 caliber Smith & Wesson revolver used to kill Old West outlaw Jesse James was sold at auction Wednesday for $164,000. It was bought with a postal bid by an American gun collector identified only as J. McGee, said Roy Butler, senior partner in Wallis & Wallis Auctioneers, which specializes in antique arms and armor. The seller was an anonymous American. Butler said a disagreement about the gun’s ownership had been cleared up before the sale. Henry A. Lingenfelder, son of a former owner, the late Henry G Lingenfelder of Towson, MD, had said the gun was stolen from a museum in Sullivan, MO, in 1968. His father had lent the gun for exhibition. Butler said the Lingenfelder family has “relinquished all claim to the gun after accepting a cash offer from the seller.” He did not say how much money changed hands.”
According to a report published in the April 1, 1993, edition of the Kansas City Star (p. A-7): The gun was taken to Baltimore in 1904 by Corydon F. Craig, son f the jailer in St. Joseph, where Bob Ford and his brother, Charley, were held during their trial. The Fords were convicted of the murder and sentenced to hang but were pardoned by Gov. T.T. Crittenden. Upon his release, Bob Ford gave the pistol to their jailer in St. Joseph for the kind treatment he and his brother received. The gun was later engraved, “Bob Ford killed Jesse James with this revolver at St. Joseph, Mo. 1882.” The same engraving is described on the pistol up for auction in England.