John W. Sheets (1818-1869) is known mostly as an unfortunate victim of circumstance, allegedly shot by outlawn Jesse James who mistook him for former Union leader Samuel Cox during the 1869 robbery of the Daviess County Savings Association in Gallatin. But a look at the life of John Sheets reveals much more.
Research reveals many details about the life and times of John W. Sheets. From January 1838 through May 1842 he kept the records of property lot sales in Gallatin. On Aug. 28, 1847, he joined the U.S. Army to serve in the Mexican War.
John Sheets served as sheriff of Daviess County from 1848 to 1852, and then as circuit clerk of Daviess County from 1852 to 1858. He then served as recorder of deeds from 1858 to 1862.
During the Civil War, John Sheets was a Captain of Company D, First Regiment of Cavalry in the Missouri State Militia for the Union (1862-64). He returned to civilian life to become a partner in a dry goods store in Gallatin, known as Sheets & Brosius, and saw his partner murdered in the store in 1864.
From 1865 until his death, Capt. Sheets was employed by Col. McFerran as cashier of the Daviess County Savings Association. It was while he was at work that Sheets was shot to death. Although Jesse James was never convicted of murdering Sheets nor of robbing the savings association, the robbery which occurred Dec. 7, 1869, marks the first time the State of Missouri officially declared a bounty on Jesse James, branding him as an outlaw. Witnesses said Jesse James was sworn to avenge the death of Confederate guerilla “Bloody” Bill Anderson by killing the man credited with killing Anderson, Samuel P. Cox. Apparently, James mistook John Sheets for Samuel Cox — shooting first before asking questions. A stone monument marks the grave of Capt. Sheets in Lyle Cemetery, next to Gallatin First Baptist Church.
The life of John Sheets also connects to another notorious outlaw of the Old West — that of Johnny Ringo. Sheets had control of the Greenfield and Einstien Store where his father worked as a gun smith when the store was rented to Martin Ringo and B.B. Pryor (1858-1861). Martin Ringo was the father of outlaw Johnny Ringo, famous in the gunfight lore of Tombstone, AZ.
John Sheets was the son of Henry Sheets of Virginia; his mother was Rachel Ellis of Jefferson County, VA, the daughter of Obediah Ellis (1745-1825) of Georgetown in Scott County, KY.
In November, 1850, at age 29 John Sheets married Martha R. Casey, daughter of Thomas J. and Martha Casey of Gallatin. The couple were parents of two children before Martha’s death in 1856.
In September, 1861, Sheets married Mary G. Clingan, the daughter of Major Thomas and Elizabeth Clingan of Gallatin.
Researched by David Stark, Gallatin; December, 2000.