Maj. Samuel P. Cox — A County Legend

The adventures of Major S.P. Cox (1828-1913) read like a history of our nation including the westward movement, the Mexican War, the West’s early Indian wars, the California gold rush, the Civil War, and the exploits the notorious outlaws Frank & Jesse James.

The adventures of Major S.P. Cox (1828-1913) read like a history of our nation including the westward movement, the Mexican War, the West’s early Indian wars, the California gold rush, the Civil War, and the exploits the notorious outlaws Frank & Jesse James.

Samuel Cox of Gallatin, MO

Samuel Cox was born on Dec. 16, 1828, at Williamsburg in Whitley County, KY. He moved to Daviess County, MO, in 1839 with his father, Franklin Cox. The family settled in the southeastern part of the county near the old Ames Saw Mill and Trosper Lake.

Enlisting in the U.S. Army at age 19, Cox was among the Missouri volunteers ordered to help develop the Oregon Trail and Mormon Trail and to protect the Santa Fe Trail. In 1848 he helped complete Fort Kearney, located on the south side of the Platte River in what later became Nebraska.

Cox settled in Gallatin, MO, in 1850, married and worked four years in the mercantile business. Then, with oxen and cattle, he moved his family to Oroville, CA, to work as a teamster for gold diggers. The family prospered but yearned to return to Missouri. So, they sold out and went to San Francisco where they were attracted to a steam ship voyage, a route with Baltimore as a destination by way of Nicaragua. The family survived a shipwreck near Key West, FL.

In 1859 Cox drew national newspaper publicity for an extraordinary feat. While delivering Army dispatches, Cox covered over 1200 miles in 30 days by mule! His trek from Salt Lake City, Utah, to Nebraska City, NE, included one leg of 125 miles without a stop to avoid hostile Sioux warriors led by Red Cloud. Cox’s feat compares favorably against horseback rides in relay and he was a lone rider without companions or support, other than two good mules.

Cox was among the first to publicly declare for the Union soon after the start of the Civil War in 1861. He promptly recruited and commanded “Cox’s Battalion.” He fought guerrillas at Kirksville (Adair County), Lee’s Ford (Chariton County), and Union Mills (Platte County).

Daviess County Savings Association, located on the southwest corner of the Gallatin business square

After the war, the infamous James Gang robbery of the Daviess County Savings Association occurred on Dec. 7, 1869. The murder of cashier John Sheets vaulted Frank and Jesse James onto the wanted list for the very first time and marked the beginning of an assault against law and order of international interest. Samuel P. Cox was a central player in the outlaws’ early plot.

Inscription on the ceremonial saber presented to Lt. Col. Samuel P. Cox of St. Joseph reads: “Presented to Lt. Col. Samuel P. Cox, 33 Inf. Missouri militia, from the Citizens of Gallatin, Mo., Dec. 25, 1864”
Daviess County Historical Society acquired a ceremonial saber and pistol in May, 1992. The saber was given in gratitude for his wartime services. The pistol is a Remington .44 six-shot U.S. Army revolver, authentic and thought to be used by Cox although not of a quality to interest gun collectors. The Remington is from an estimated quantity of 132,000 issued between 1803 and 1875, and was considered the stiffest competitor to Colt’s Model 1860 Army revolver. A leather holster complete with brass Army buckle was also acquired. (Cox obituary, published August, 1913, in the Gallatin Democrat)

Union Major Samuel P. Cox gained widespread fame when he was credited with the killing of William “Bloody Bill” Anderson on Oct. 27, 1864, near Richmond, MO. The City of St. Joseph presented Cox with a ceremonial sword for killing the notorious guerrilla chief (accused of killing 54 Union men). Few knew Major Cox was actually protecting a bugler under his command, Adolph Vogel, who in all probability pulled the trigger that sent Bloody Bill to his death. Vogel was a young family man, mindful of revenge sworn by Jesse James and other guerrillas against whomever killed their leader. So, as commanding officer, Major Cox assumed that personal risk for years after the Civil War …a risk that became bloody reality when the James brothers later robbed the savings association in Gallatin.

Artist’s concept of the shooting of Capt. John Sheets

Jesse James swore he would avenge the death of Wm. “Bloody Bill” Anderson whenever he next saw Samuel P. Cox. Thus, during the 1869 robbery of the Daviess County Savings Association, John W. Sheets was an unfortunate victim of circumstance when Jesse James mistook him for Samuel Cox. A horse used during the robbery and murder linked Jesse James to the crime. The Governor of Missouri soon offered a bounty for the capture of the outlaw. This was the first time Jesse James was publicly wanted by the law, the start of a 12-year crime spree.

Ironically, a James Gang member, Clelland Miller, was a friend to Cox and actually saved the Major’s life during the Civil War.

The case can be made for Samuel Cox to top our list of military leaders from Daviess County. His escapades and achievements need no embellishment.

In 1862 Major Cox served the county as recorder and circuit clerk. In 1874 he was collector for Union Township.

If Cox wasn’t particularly interested in business, he certainly knew how to pick business partners. Local records show a mercantile business at the southeast corner of the Gallatin square called Ballinger, Cox & Kemper. It operated a little more than a year, long enough for the birth of William T. Kemper. The Kemper family fortune became one of Kansas City’s largest. The family controls one of Missouri’s largest financial institutions, United Missouri Bank of Kansas City, and the Kemper name is lavished on Kansas City’s civic arena. By the way, the real estate for the business in Gallatin was purchased by the three partners for $1,500. Evidently, business was good. Partner John Ballinger later purchased Kemper’s interest for $1,250.

Samuel P. Cox died on Aug. 21, 1913, a man who lived history in legendary fashion. He is buried at Brown Cemetery, on the north side of Gallatin.

— written by Darryl Wilkinson, Gallatin North Missourian editor & publisher

An ‘Eye-Witness’ Version of 1869 Bank Robbery

In October, 1942, the St. Louis Globe-Democrat published an eye-witness account of the 1869 robbery of the Daviess County Savings Association by Frank and Jesse James. Edward Clingan, 89, of Gallatin was identified as the only living witness to the robbery, which at the time of publication occurred 73 years prior. This newspaper account claimed that Mr. Clingan recounted the adventure “as clearly and as accurately as though it had happened yesterday.”

NOTE: This is a reprint of an account based on memories of an elderly man about the 1869 robbery of the Daviess County Savings Association; this account is not independently verified for accuracy. The man was 89 years old when interviewed, who claimed to be a witness when he was 16 years old.

In October, 1942, the St. Louis Globe-Democrat published what was presented as an eye-witness account of the 1869 robbery of the Daviess County Savings Association by outlaws Frank and Jesse James. Edward Clingan, 89, of Gallatin was identified as the only living witness to the robbery, which at the time of publication occurred 73 years prior. This newspaper account claimed that Mr. Clingan recounted the adventure “as clearly and as accurately as though it had happened yesterday.”

When his class was dismissed at noon that day, Dec. 7, 1869, Clingan, then a 16-year-old schoolboy, hurried to the post office for the family mail. As he stood in the post office he heard several shots. Thinking that the shots were first by a celebrator who had been drinking too much corn whisky, Clingan ran from the post office to see who was creating the disturbance.

This is an artist’s concept of the 1869 shooting of Capt. John Sheets of Gallatin, allegedly by Frank and Jesse James.

On gaining the street, Clingan saw William A. McDowell, a bank clerk, stumble through the doorway of the bank, which as located directly across the street from the post office on the southwest corner of the town square. McDowell fell, picked himself up and ran toward the post office. A bandit, who later proved to be one of the James boys, appeared in the doorway and fired several shots in the direction of McDowell. None of the bullets struck him.

“Capt. Sheets had been killed,” McDowell shouted several times as he reached safety on Clingan’s side of the street.

The bandit fled from the bank entrance and Clingan ran across the street to the bank. In the rear room of the 2-room brick building he found his brother-in-law, Capt. John W. Sheets, head of the bank, lying on the floor. Another bystander arrived on the scene about the same time as Clingan. Together they propped up the banker.

“Are you hurt, Capt. Sheets?” Clingan asked. Sheets never answered; he had been killed instantly when one of the bandits had shot him twice at close range. One bullet entered his head hear the bridge of his nose and the other lodged in his heart.

Seeing there was nothing he could do for Sheets, Clingan rejoined the crowd that had gathered in the street. The outlaws, who had been identified by the crowd as Jesse and Frank James, were attempting to escape on their horses which they had left in an alley half a block south of the bank. Several of the more daring men entered the alley cautiously. They found that one of the bandits was not in sight and had obviously escaped, but the other had been thrown to the ground when his wrist had become entangled in his horse’s reins. His horse had freed itself and had run away.

As the crowd approached, someone shouted, “Let’s get him.” The bandit drew his gun and pointed it menacingly. Clingan said that the crowd took to its heels almost at once and he thought it was wise to leave hurriedly, too.

He ran to a drug store owned by Chris Gilliland, which had a rear door opening into the alley where the outlaws had been encountered. E. Barnum, a silversmith, arrived at the store about the same time as Clingan, and the borrowed the druggist’s gun and quietly opened the door leading ito the alley. They were just in time to see Frank and Jesse mount the horse of the man who had fled, but later returned to see what had happened to his accomplice. The silversmith fired one ineffectual shot from the alley doorway, but hastily closed the door when a bullet smacked into the wall beside it.

Laying down a barrage of revolver shots, the brothers rode out of town. A posse quickly organized, rode after them, but took the wrong fork in a crossroad near Gallatin and never saw the outlaws again.

Clingan, eager not to miss any of the excitement, commandeered a small mustard-colored mustang and joined the search. Accompanying him was a burly stranger. Clingan had never seen the man before and thought his actions and appearance suspicious. Deciding that the man might be connected in some way with the robbery, Clingan deemed it best to report his suspicions to the posse. Making an excuse for his departure, he left the stranger and went in search of the posse. He met the unsuccessful posse on its way back to Gallatin and reported his suspicions. A search was made but the stranger was never seen again.

Clingan believes that he was a spy stationed by the James boys to report any progress being made in the manhunt.

A few days later farmer Daniel Smoote received a letter from the desperadoes informing him that he was welcome to keep the fine Kentucky mare they had lost during the robbery in exchange for the horse they had taken from him.

On the day following the robbery, Alec Irving and Jess Donohue, both of Gallatin, returning home from a trip, passed through Kearney, MO. Near Kearney they saw Jesse and Frank James. One of them was mounted on Smoot’s horse.

McDowell, the bank clerk, recounting the robbery, said that one of the bandits had entered the bank and requested change for a $100 bill. Sheets stepped into the back room of the building. The outlaw followed him and, seemingly without pretext, fired the two shots that killed him.

The Gallatin bank acted as a branch office for a larger bank in Chillicothe operated by another of Clingan’s brothers-in-law, Judge James F. McFerran. As most of the money transactions were made in Chillicothe, there was little cash on hand at the time of the robbery. Only a few dollars were involved in the crime that cost Sheets his life.

Clingan has spent most of his 89 years in Gallatin.

[NOTE: The memory of Mr. Clingan is questioned concerning the proximity of the post office to the Savings Association building. Apparently, Clingan mistakenly was thinking of the First National Bank building, which operated in years after the James Gang robbery at the intersection of Grand and Main streets. This bank was across from the post office, not the Daviess County Savings Association where the robbery occurred.]

— reprinted from the Saturday, Oct. 17, 1942 edition of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, written by Ed Johnson expressly for the Globe-Democrat.

1869 Murder in the Streets of Gallatin

by Mayna Milstead
(published in the Gallatin North Missourian on Sept. 15, 1993)

What kind of day was it… that day, December 7, 1869, when two members of the James Gang rode into Gallatin, robbed the Daviess Country Savings Association and shot and killed the casher, Capt. John W. Sheets?

by Mayna Milstead
(published in the Gallatin North Missourian on Sept. 15, 1993)

What kind of day was it… that day, December 7, 1869, when two members of the James Gang rode into Gallatin, robbed the Daviess Country Savings Association and shot and killed the casher, Capt. John W. Sheets?

It was, according to an article published in The Boonville Weekly Adventures, “A day ushered in by a cloud and a mist like a pall hung over hill and wood as the brooding winter was spreading its pall and chill. The city resting upon the hills and plateau was veiled from sight by the dense fog that prevailed, and an unusual stillness and quiet pervaded every quarter of the little city.”

The 1869 robbery of the Daviess County Savings Association marked the first time Missouri proclaimed Frank and Jesse James as outlaws. The building where Capt. John Sheets was murdered, was located on the southwest corner of the Gallatin business square. This photo was taken shortly before it was demolished. Standing second from right is J.J. Mettle, who owned the building when this photo was taken. Fourth from right is Napolean B. Brown. All others are unknown. As the sign painted on the building indicates, owner Jacob Mettle operated a boot and shoe repair shop from these premises. [Shultz Studio, Gallatin]
At the southeast corner of the town square stood a small brick store house. It was one story high, had a pitched roof, two windows on the north side, a door in front, and a door and window on the south.

This little building had a look of sturdiness about it, an air it may have acquired from once being a bank to which was entrusted the earnings and savings of many of Gallatin’s thriftiest citizens. Within its not overly lofty walls, statesmen, financiers and tradesmen came to deposit their wealth or draw upon their credit from the little iron safe that stood in the back room. Here came slender-fingered women who received from the cashier small sums in payment of drafts and grimy mechanics to receive their weekly wages. The little bank was a blessing and many blessed it, for it was a paved way from want to procurement.

In 1869 Gallatin was a county seat town of less than 1,000 people. There was a public square built around a two-story brick courthouse. The courthouse lawn was surrounded by a fence with built-in hitching posts to accommodate horses, buggies and wagon teams coming into town to do their trading and business.

Around the square, with its board walks and muddy streets, were various business establishments and professional offices. There was a three-story public school house one block from the square. The tower on top of the building had a bell that could be heard for five miles. On the southwest corner of the square was the Daviess County Savings Association. Everyone still called it “the bank,” as that was what it originally had been.

On December 7 the little town was going about its business unaware of the tragedy that was to strike within the next few hours — a tragedy that was to put Gallatin, Mo., forever on the map and was to be written in journals and novels for years to come.

Not too far away, Jesse James and his brother, Frank, guided their horses toward the little town. Although they would rob the bank of $700 while there, Jesse James had but one thought on his mind. He was going to Gallatin with the sole purpose of killing a man.

Capt. John Sheets was murdered during the 1869 robbery of the Daviess County Savings Association, apparently a victim of mistaken identity.

John W. Sheets was born in Jefferson County, Va., in 1818. He was one of six children born to Henry and Mary Sheets. When he was still very young, the family moved to Missouri and settled in Daviess County. They were among the early settlers and his father was one of the organizers of the town of Gallatin, founded in 1837. In Gallatin, Henry Sheets practiced his trade of gunsmith.

County records, the U.S. Census and family records show that Capt. Sheets was married to Martha Casey on October 30, 1850. There were two children born to this union, Ernest and Mary. Their mother, Martha Sheets, died before 1860.

The 1860 Census shows John W. Sheets and children living in the household of Jonathan Mann, a merchant. In 1860 he was married to Mary Clingan, daughter of Major Thomas Clingan, a prominent businessman.

Sheets served as sheriff of Daviess County for two terms, circuit clerk for six years, county recorder for four years, and also as county commissioner. He was an honorable man and was held in high esteem by the citizens of Daviess County and the town of Gallatin. He served the people faithfully and well in his many years in office. He was also a civic-minded man and was an active participant in all of the activities of the town.

His war record shows that he was a volunteer in the war between the United States and Mexico in 1846. He and Major Samuel Cox were members of Company D. He also fought in the Civil War under the command of Major Cox on the Union side. It was in the Civil War that he earned the rank of captain —  a title that stayed with him the rest of his life.

William T. Anderson (1840 – Oct. 26, 1864) — known as “Bloody Bill” Anderson — was one of the deadliest and most brutal pro-Confederate guerrilla leaders in the American Civil War. Anderson led a band that targeted Union loyalists and Federal soldiers in Missouri and Kansas. He was killed in a Union ambush near Richmond, MO.

On October 26, 1864, Wm. “Bloody Bill” Anderson and several of his men were killed in a Union ambush at the Battle of Westport, near Orrick in Ray County. Major Samuel Cox was the commander in charge of the Union ambush and John Sheets was one of his troops.

Bloody Bill Anderson rode with Quarterly’s Raiders during the border war between Kansas and Missouri and was later a captain in the Confederate Army. Jesse James was 16 when he joined Quinter’s Raiders and rode under Bloody Bill’s command. He was in the Battle of Westport when Anderson was killed and swore that Major Samuel Cox was the man who had shot Anderson in the skirmish, and that someday he would kill Cox.

It was Major Samuel Cox he intended to kill that foggy morning he rode into the little town of Gallatin. He had been told Cox was a cashier at the local bank. What he did not know was that his source of information had confused Major Cox and Capt. Sheets, who both lived in the small town, to be the same man.

Maud Clingan Fitterer, a relative of Mary Clingan Sheets and a neighbor of mine for several years, told me that Mary’s account of the day of John’s murder had been handed down by relatives. Maud was only two years old when Mary Sheets died in 1878, but she remembered the women in her family talking about the murder and how difficult the senseless crime of Jesse James had been for Mary, John’s children, and the other members of the family. Mary had told them she would never forget a single detail of that day, even to what she had made for breakfast.

On December 7, 1869, Gallatin began to come to life shortly before daylight. Chimneys belched smoke from freshly stoked fires that had died down through the night. Lights from the lamps appeared in the houses throughout the town.

According to Mary’s account, Capt. Sheets arose at his usual time at 6:45 a.m. He pulled himself out from under the covers, leaving Mary to sleep a little longer. In his long underwear and slippers, he went into the big kitchen, lit the lamp and started a fire in the wood cook stove. He put on the teakettle to heat water for coffee and shaving, then he went back to the bedroom to dress.

As he sat on the side of the bed, Mary stirred and turned over. She reached up and pulled him down to her and they lay for several minutes embracing each other. They had been married only nine years and were still very much in love.

While Capt. Sheets shaved at the commode in the corner of the kitchen, Mary fixed breakfast.

She got a roll of homemade sausage from the side porch, fresh butter, eggs, milk and home-canned raspberry jelly from the pantry. For breakfast there was sausage, eggs, hot biscuits, gravy, butter and jelly, washed down with strong black coffee.

After breakfast John put on his boots, coat, hat and gloves to go to work. At the door he held Mary and kissed her goodbye. She stood in the door and watched him as he went down the brick path to start the 10-minute walk that would take him to the bank.

So, for Capt. John W. Sheets, the day had begun.

When Capt. Sheets reached the main part of town he did not go directly to the bank. It was his daily ritual to walk around the square and visit with the merchants and greet the citizens on the boardwalk before going to work.

Already there were a few horses and one wagon team tied to the hitch rack around the courthouse. Two black men pushed carts in the street, shoveling up manure and debris from the day before.

Shopkeepers were opening their establishments for the day’s business. Children were coming from all directions in heed to the big bell ringing in the schoolhouse tower, the younger ones being escorted by parents or older brothers and sisters.

It was into the first week of December and merchants around the public square were displaying their special wares for the coming Christmas season. Shop windows were decorated with garlands of holly, paper bells, candy canes, Santa’s, bittersweet, pine cones, wreaths from pine tree boughs and other decorations gathered from the surrounding countryside.

Mann & Crain Dry Goods Store on the east side of the square had a display of china dolls, dressed in the mode of the day, shipped all the way from Chicago. There were also rag dolls, dolls with leather bodies, wooden toy soldiers, story books, a wicker doll buggy, toy guns and rocking horses and many other toys to catch the fancy of bright-eyed children.

Thomas J. Osborn was displaying a brand new buggy in his hardware store. There were also sleds and toys. The grocery store had small barrels of hard candy, many different kinds of nuts and all the ingredients needed for holiday baking.

A freshly butchered hog’s head dangled from a hook outside the butcher shop, the blood dripping into a box of sawdust below. No doubt some thrifty housewife would buy it before the day was out to make up into mincemeat for Christmas pies.

As Capt. Sheets was completing his tour on the south side of the square, he saw two of Gallatin’s attorneys, W.C. Gillihan and William McDowell, coming from the courthouse. He waited for them as they gingerly picked their way across the street trying to avoid the manure and the mud holes.

Circuit court was in session and there were several cases on the docket to be heard. The lawyers were taking a break while waiting for their cases to come up. Capt. Sheets joined them as they went into the Clingan House Hotel and Restaurant for coffee.

The sign on the front of the building read: Clingan House – Major Thos. Clingan Prop. – best Northwestern Hotel – Table Set with Best in County – Clean Beds and Stables. Between 8:30 and 9 the men left the restaurant, and Capt. Sheets crossed the street to the bank on the southwest corner of the square. Throughout the morning he was busy taking care of customers and bank business.

Around 11:30 William McDowell came into the bank. There were no customers in the bank at the time and many of the merchants were closing their shops to go to dinner. Sheets and McDowell sat down in some chairs in the front and visited.

At about the same time, Solomon McBryer and a hired hand were mending fence on the McBryer farm about three miles south of town.

In the distance they heard horses running over the frozen ground. The fog that had prevailed all morning had begun to lift on the hillside but was still dense in the low-lying areas. In the clearing below they could barely make out horses and riders. They could not see well enough to determine the kind of horses nor how many riders there were.

As they passed in the clearing below, McBryer remarked, “They’re sure ridin’ hard and hell bent for leather.”

About 30 minutes later two men rode up to the bank building, tied their horses to a hitching post and entered the bank. Capt. Sheets got up and went behind the counter to wait on them.

The first man asked Sheets if he could change a $100 bill, that he owed the other man some money and needed the change to pay him. Sheets said he could and went into the back room to get the money out of the safe. The man followed him into the room.

The second man asked McDowell for pen and paper so he could sign a receipt for the money paid him. As McDowell went behind the counter to get the pen and paper there was a gunshot. He turned quickly and saw the first man, with gun in hand, standing over Capt. Sheets, who was lying on the floor. As he turned and started for the outside door, he heard another shot.

The second man stood between him and the door with his gun drawn. McDowell made a lunge for the gun, stumbled and fell as the shot went over his head. He scrambled to his feet and ran out the door, dodging the gunman’s bullets and yelling for help.

Aroused by the shooting and McDowell’s yelling, the merchants that were still in their shops and the few citizens on the square grabbed their guns and went running toward the bank.

The bandits came out of the bank with their guns blazing and the citizens pulled back. As the men tried to mount their horses, one of the horses broke loose and took flight. The other bandit came back and pulled him up behind and they left town on one horse.

When the citizens got into the bank, they found Capt. Sheets lying in a pool of blood on the floor. A doctor came hurrying across the square and went into the bank. It is not recorded what doctor attended Capt. Sheets. Some of the doctors known to be in practice at that time were G.W. Brosius, John Cravens, W.M. Givens and W. Fomsbee. John Adkins was coroner, and it is assumed that he was also in attendance.

The doctor’s examination showed that Capt. Sheets had been shot twice, once in the head and once through the heart. The doctor pronounced him dead and gave permission to move the body.

Someone had brought Capt. Sheets’ wife, Mary, to the bank. As she knelt on the floor beside her husband, cradling his head in her arms, her anguished cries could be heard throughout the square.

As people stood solemnly by, shocked and disbelieving relatives and friends carried his body from the bank to the residence.

For Capt. John W. Sheets, the day and his life had ended.

Major Samuel Cox was getting his hair cut in Wm. Irwin’s barber shop on the east side of the square when the gunshots and commotion started on the other side of town. Everyone ran out into the street to see what was going on. Major Cox hurried on over to the west side toward the shooting.

The assassins were already gone and Sheriff William Flint was rounding up all of the men who had horses nearby to go after them. He sent two of the men after the horse that got away and the rest he formed into a posse. Major Cox got his horse and joined the posse.

Just outside of town, the bandits met David Smoote riding toward town. They forced him to dismount and took his horse. Farther on down the road, they overtook a minister and forced him to guide them around the nearby town of Kidder.

Sheriff Flint’s posse scoured the countryside in every direction, but there was no trace of the two men. The James boys were famous for their fast horses, straight shooting, and dodging posses.

The citizens of Gallatin were positive that the two men who shot Capt. Sheets were the James boys and a reward of $3,000 for their capture was posted by the following: Mary Sheets, wife, $500; Daviess County Savings Association, $500; The City of Gallatin, $500; Daviess County, $500; the State of Missouri, $1,000.

An article in The Gallatin North Missourian on Dec. 14, 1869, stated, “The Sheriff of Clay County, accompanied by two citizens of our town, went to the house of Mrs. James and while at the house the murderers rode out of the barn. They were pursued and some 20 or 30 shots were fired without effect, excepting the killing of the sheriff’s horse. About dark the murderers were in Kearney, a village on the Kansas City and Cameron railroad. They told the citizens there that they had killed the sheriff and defied everybody. They are two brothers by the name of James.”

The Weekly Tribune of Jefferson City, Mo., had the following short article about the robbery and murder in their issue of December 14, 1869: “Two robbers attacked the cashier of the Gallatin Bank on Tuesday of last week and killed the former. They robbed the bank of $700 and made their escape with several citizens in pursuit.”

The horse that got away was caught soon after the robbery and it wasn’t long before the detective hired by the Gallatin bank had positive proof that the horse belonged to Jesse James. With this proof, a Grand Jury was called and Jesse and Frank James were indicted for the murder of Capt. John W. Sheets. It was the first time the brothers had been indicted for murder, and “Wanted” notices began to appear throughout the state.

From February 13, 1866, up to December 7, 1869, Frank and Jesse James, the four younger brothers, and other members of the gang had robbed six banks and killed six innocent men. Their first bank robbery was the bank of Liberty, believed to be the first daylight bank robbery ever committed. Their take from this robbery was over $24,000 in Union dollars and $40,000 in bonds. In that robbery Tally Wymore, a young college student at nearby William Jewell College, was killed. None of the gang members were ever arrested or indicted for any of the robberies or murders.

The governor of Missouri kept after the Liberty sheriff to bring the boys in for questioning. The sheriff made another attempt, but again he was out-maneuvered. He came to the conclusion that there was no way to bring them in.

After the Gallatin bank robbery and the murder of Capt. Sheets, there was a lot of feeling stirred up throughout the area against the James boys. The brothers knew that Det. D.T. Bligh and his assistant William Gallagher were still on their trail. Bligh had been hired by the Russellville, Kentucky, bank, which had been robbed of $14,000 on March 20, 1868.

Just as they felt they had nowhere to turn, they found a powerful ally in John Newman Edwards, editor of The Kansas City Times. He was a Confederate major in the war and was a champion of the guerrillas and their part in the Civil War.

Newspaper publisher John Edwards, ardent defender of the James Boys who largely embellished their lore and legend

Edwards began to write editorials in The Times contradicting the presence of the James boys in Gallatin on the day of the murder. He printed signed affidavits of neighbors, friends and family swearing that Frank and Jesse were at home in Kearney on December 7, 1869. He also printed a letter from Jesse to the governor of Missouri denying that they had anything to do with the crime.

Edwards kept up his barrage of editorials defending the James boys and praising their glorious records in the Civil War fighting for a cause they believed in.

The power of the press worked. The governor of Missouri finally made a statement, printed in The Times, absolving Frank and Jesse James of any participation in the crime at Gallatin, Mo.

They were never brought to trial for the murder of John Sheets.

Although they were relieved by the governor’s statement, the brothers decided it was time to clear out. In 1871, Jesse, Frank, and Cole Younger went to Texas and bought a cattle ranch in the Pecos River country. Other members of the gang soon joined them there, and for the next several years the ranch became their home base. They continued their life as outlaws, spreading out all over the country and adding trains, stage coaches and government payrolls to their list of robberies.

Authors and journalists disagree on many of the facts about the outlaws. However, most of them agree that Jesse James was the one who shot Capt. Sheets, and most of them say Jesse James admitted to many people that he was the one. He always claimed that Cox and Sheets were the same man, and so did some of the authors.

The life and adventures of Gallatin favorite son Samuel P. Cox reflects many parts in the development of the early Old West in America. He was involved in the westward movement, the Mexican War, various Indian wars, the California Gold Rush, and served as a Union major during the Civil War. He was a popular elected official in Daviess County and was linked to the 1869 bank robbery and murder alleged against Frank & Jesse James. Major Cox [1828-1913] is buried in Brown Cemetery, north of Gallatin, MO.
The people of Gallatin and Daviess County knew that Sheets and Cox were not the same man, and the following death notice in The Gallatin Democrat is added proof:

February 14, 1878 — Mary Clingan Sheets, widow of the late Capt. John Sheets and daughter of Major Thomas Clingan, died Wednesday night of cancer. Mrs. Sheets had suffered from the disease a long time. She was 47.

August 21, 1913 — Major Samuel P. Cox died at his home in this city last Friday night. He was 85 years old and had lived in Daviess County for 75 years. He was a potent factor in the development of this section. He was a successful merchant and a veteran of the Mexican and Civil wars. He had been a member of the Christian Church for 55 years. Burial was in Brown Cemetery.

Resting place of John Sheets

Capt. John Sheets and his wife, Mary, were buried in Lyle Cemetery in the southwest part of Gallatin.

It was, as the Booneville newspaper reported, a bleak and dreary day — that day in December 1869 when Jesse and Frank James rode into the small, fledgling community of Gallatin, Mo.

Jesse James is reported to have admitted many times during the following years that he and his brother, Frank, had traveled to the little farming town, about 40 miles from their home near Kearney, for one purpose — to kill Major Samuel Cox, the man he swore to get for shooting and killing Bloody Bill Anderson.

Unfortunately, reports to Jesse James that the man working in the local bank, Capt. John Sheets, and Major Cox were one and the same were erroneous.

Jesse and Frank James never paid for the crime they committed that day. But the descendants of Capt. John Sheets remember it well. It is a story handed down from generation to generation.

It is a story about the day Jesse James rode into town for the sole purpose of killing an innocent man. A man he thought to be someone else.

And his legend lives on.

Sources: Missouri Historical Society, Daviess County Library, Liberty Public Library, Gallatin North Missourian, Gallatin Democrat, Leopard’s History of Daviess County, U.S. Census, county records, James gang novels, accounts from Maud Fitterer and Mary Frances Davis, Sheets family records.

Civil Lawsuit Against Frank & Jesse James

Authentic, historical legal papers — the only civil lawsuit ever filed against Frank & Jesse James — rediscovered on Aug. 17, 2007, by James Meuhlberger, an attorney from Kansas City while researching lawfirm originating partner Henry Clay McDougal.

Authentic historical legal papers — the only civil lawsuit ever filed against Frank & Jesse James — were rediscovered on Aug. 17, 2007, by James Meuhlberger, an attorney from Kansas City while researching law firm originating partner Henry Clay McDougal.

The record of a 137-year-old lawsuit,  unique to those interested in the lives and legend of outlaws Frank and Jesse James, was unexpectedly discovered in the Daviess County courthouse. The find exhilarated historians and others interested in authentic details about the notorious outlaws.

The plaintiff, Daniel Smoote, filed charges against Frank and Jesse James in the Common Pleas Court of Daviess County. Smoote sought payment of $223.50 as reimbursement for a horse allegedly taken by the James brothers following the 1869 attempted robbery of the Daviess County Savings Association at Gallatin, MO.

The murder of Capt. John Sheets during that robbery attempt — apparently when Jesse James mistook Sheets for Samuel Cox over a Civil War grudge — is well known to historians. The ensuing reward announced by Missouri Gov. T.T. Crittenden marked the first time the James boys were publicly branded as outlaws.  Now, with the discovery of legal paperwork over 100 years later, the unique reality of Smoote’s lawsuit filed against the James brothers may revive widespread attention.

The response by the James boys to Smoote’s accusations foreshadows what was to fuel the James Boys’ emerging legend. Defense attorney Samuel A. Richardson wrote that defendants Frank and Jesse James denied being at or near Gallatin on Dec. 7, 1869. Thus, they denied stealing anything from Smoote. What’s more, the outlaws argued their case publicly by writing a letter published in a Kansas City newspaper, a tactic repeatedly used by the James brothers to vault their legendary exploits and self-proclaimed innocence to national and international prominence.

Predictably, Frank and Jesse James never appeared in court. The James boys spent the next decade flaunting their lives in crime. No one dared chance the wrath of the James boys by filing courthouse claims against the outlaws — nobody except Daniel Smoote. This legal document is the only lawsuit ever filed against Jesse James by one of his victims. But it was also the stuff of considerable worries over revenge during the years that followed, at least to H.C. McDougal, the lawyer who filed the charges against Frank and Jesse James.

Henry Clay McDougal, Attorney

On Friday, Aug. 17, 2007, James P. Muehlberger, an attorney from Kansas City, visited Gallatin to expand upon his research of Henry Clay McDougal. Mr. Muehlberger was researching information about McDougal to display at the law firm where Muehlberger is employed. McDougal was a founding partner in what grew to be Shook, Hardy & Bacon LLC, the largest law firm in Kansas City with additional offices located throughout the United States.

McDougal, who was living at Gallatin when the crime occurred, was 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, as Mr. Muehlberger explains, was a partner to his law firm’s founder, Frank Sebree.

Mr. Meuhlberger immediately recognized the significance of the legal papers and the papers were soon wisked away to a local bank vault for safekeeping for the Daviess County Historical Society.

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 says 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 rediscovered, they will be properly preserved. The Secretary of State’s office has been notified, and archival specialists will soon be involved in that effort. An informational display spotlighting this civil lawsuit against outlaws Frank and Jesse James is now featured at the Squirrel Cage Jail in Gallatin.

Daniel Smoote’s accusation against the James brothers:

As the attorney representing Smoote, H.C. McDougal sought damages in writing the following: “Plaintiff states that on the 7th day of December, 1869, at or near the City of Gallatin, in the county of Daviess and State of Missouri, the defendants Jesse James and Frank James did feloniously steal, take and carry away from this plaintiff, and in his presence and against his will by pulling him, the said plaintiff in fear of some immediate injury to his person, the following personal property to wit: one bay horse, with four white-feet and white stripe on the nose, of the value of $150; one saddle of the value of $15; one bridle of the value of $2; and one halter of the value of $1.50. The property of this plaintiff, by which the plaintiff says he is damaged in the sum of two hundred and twenty three and 50/100 dollars, for which he asks judgement.  In addition, interest and costs of the lawsuit were to be added to the value of Smoote’s personal property.

Detailing Smoote’s Lawsuit… petition presented by Attorney H.C. McDougal on Smoote’s behalf, seeking $223.50 in damages; March 8, 1870 — Writ of Attachment issued to the Clay County Sheriff, to apply $223.50 against the holdings and possessions of the James brothers; March 11, 1870 — Clay County Deputy Sheriff J.B. Thomson writes that a copy of the petition was left with a member of the (James) family where Jesse and Frank James usually reside; July 12, 1870 — Daviess County Common Pleas Court acknowledges that “defendants Jesse James and Frank James have absconded or absented themselves from their usual place of abode in this State, so that the ordinary process of law cannot be served upon them.”

“The history of Daviess County has no blacker crime in its pages than the murder of John W. Sheets.”  — 1882 History of Daviess County

The 1882 History of Daviess County confirms how the James brothers presented their alibi to the public through a Kansas City newspaper, described on page 502:  Miss Susie James, a sister of the accused, swears that her brother Jesse and herself attended preaching in Greenville, Clay County, on Sunday, December 5th, and after their return Jesse sold her bay mare Kate (the one left by the murderer at Gallatin) to a stranger who said he was from Topeka, Kansas.

She further testifies that her brother was at home on the 7th. Zerelda Samuel, mother of the accused, swears that her son Jesse was at home December 6th, 7th, and 8th, and that he sold his sister’s mare to a man from Topeka, Kansas, for five $100 bills on Sunday, the 6th. Reuben Samuel, step-father of the accused, testifies to the same thing.

 — written by Darryl Wilkinson, Editor;
published in the August 22, 2007, edition of the Gallatin North Missourian

Who Was Capt. John Sheets?

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.

John W. Sheets (1821-1869) is known mostly as an unfortunate victim of circumstance, allegedly shot by outlaw 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.

Capt. John Sheets was murdered during the 1869 robbery of the Daviess County Savings Association, apparently a victim of mistaken identity.

John Sheets was the son of farmer and gunsmith Henry Sheets of Virginia, who purchased 80 acres in Sheridan Twp. in November, 1844 (land sold to James Morris in 1848 for $300, originally recorded to Wallace McFee in September, 1839; his mother was Rachel Ellis of Jefferson County, VA, the daughter of Obediah Ellis (1745-1825) of Georgetown in Scott County, KY.

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.

In 1850 John Sheets was single and living in Gallatin with Johnathan Mann and Cornelia McFerran. Then 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.

Public service rendered by John W. Sheets of Gallatin, MO, includes:

    • Daviess County Sheriff 1848-52
    • Daviess County Recorder of Deeds 1852-62
    • Daviess County Circuit Clerk 1860

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 crime 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.

As one of the old settlers who served Daviess County faithfully and well, Sheets was a well-known public spirited citizen held in high esteem. When, therefore, his cold-blooded murder was heralded forth, the people rose almost in a body to pursue the murderer and reek vengeance upon him for his dastardly crime. Pursuit, however, proved fruitless; it is not known positively who robbed the Gallatin bank and who was the murderer of Capt. Sheets to this day.

A stone monument marks the grave of Capt. Sheets in west side of Lyle Cemetery, the cemetery located next to Gallatin First Baptist Church on West Richardson Street.

Resting place of John Sheets

The life of John Sheets also connects to another notorious character of the Old West — Johnny Ringo. Sheets had control of the Greenfield and Einstien Store where his father worked as a gunsmith when the store was rented to Martin Ringo and B.B. Pryor (1858-1861). Martin Ringo was the father of gunslinger Johnny Ringo, famous in the gunfight which occurred at Tombstone, AZ.

— research by David Stark, Gallatin; December, 2000.

An Account of the 1869 James Gang Robbery

This account summarizes the robbery of the Daviess County Savings Association and murder of Capt. John Sheets upon the 44th anniversary of the incident. The following is reprinted from the files of the Gallatin Democrat:

This account summarizes the robbery of the Daviess County Savings Association and murder of Capt. John Sheets upon the 44th anniversary of the incident. The following is reprinted from the files of the Gallatin Democrat:

Artist’s concept of the shooting of Capt. John Sheets

Forty-four years ago, December 7, 1869, the Gallatin bank was robbed. It is said by the James boys and Jim Anderson. It was a dark, gloomy day. The cashier of the bank, Capt. John Sheets, was killed. The robbers got about $100 and left a fine bay mare that was worth more than the money they took from the bank. The mare was taken by Daniel Smoote, who was forced to give up the horse he was riding to his home southwest of Gallatin. The robbers told him he could have the mare left in town. This mare was kept for several years by Mr. Smoote and he raised several fine colts from her.

The 1869 robbery of the Daviess County Savings Association marked the first time Missouri proclaimed Frank and Jesse James as outlaws. The building where Capt. John Sheets was murdered, was located on the southwest corner of the Gallatin business square. This photo was taken shortly before it was demolished. Standing second from right is J.J. Mettle, who owned the building when this photo was taken. Fourth from right is Napolean B. Brown. All others are unknown. As the sign painted on the building indicates, owner Jacob Mettle operated a boot and shoe repair shop from these premises. [Shultz Studio, Gallatin]
The bank building stood at the southwest corner of the square, the present site of the Mann & Musselman Hardware Store. The picture, shown here, was taken in 1903, a short time before the authentic bank building was torn down. The marks of one of the bullets made during the robbery was pointed out to school children on their way to school and to inquiring strangers up to the time the building was torn down.

In October, 1876, Governor Woodson of the state offered a reward of $1,000 for the James brothers and under date of Dec. 20, 1878, Jesse James replied from Deer Lodge, Montana Territory, denying the robbery by saying they were not in the state at the time of the bank robbery. He said among other things that if he was offered a fair trial that they would come to any place in Missouri except Gallatin, if the governor would guarantee them a fair trial, and would agree not to honor extradition papers from the governor of Iowa. Nothing came of the offer. Jesse James was killed by Bob Ford in St. Joseph, MO, in April, 1882, and Frank now lives on his farm near Kearney, MO, and he is about 70 years old. Mrs. Sheets, the wife of the bank cashier killed, offered a reward of $500. Daviess County $250 each, and the bank $500, and the State of Missouri $500, making a total of $3,000.

The Winston train robbery, for which Frank James was tried in Gallatin in 1883, occurred at Winston in this county on the night of July 15, 1881. By this time, the reward for the capture of the James brothers totaled $50,000. Clarence Height was caught and he plead guilty to the Winston train robbery and was sentenced to a long term in the state prison. He said he was on the engine and looked after the engineer and fireman. He was pardoned and died shortly afterwards from tuberculosis.

MORE DETAILS…

The Sept. 30, 1943 edition of the Gallatin Democrat featured an tribute to longtime Gallatin businessman R.R. Wynne, written by C.M. Harrison upon Wynne’s death at age 84:

“In 1866 the Wynne family bought and moved into a home located where the Democrat office now stands and in the front yard of which he heard the shot that killed Capt. Sheets in the robbery of the Sheets bank in 1869. At that time the population of the town was about 300, and there was not a graded street nor sidewalk in the town except in front of the few business houses. There were no railroads here then, and all merchandise was brought in by a stage line running from Hamilton to Gallatin.

“Outside the courthouse and jail, both of which were in the square, there were only two brick buildings in town, the Sheets bank, which afterwards housed Jacob Mettle’s shoe repair shop, and a brick dwelling where the Bank of Gallatin now stands. Part of this building was occupied by The Tourchlight, a newspaper conducted by the Fram brothers, Thomas and George, his paper was later purchased by the late Harfield Davis and the name was changed to the Democrat.”

— reprinted from the Gallatin Democrat