My grandfather's grandfather was named Thomas Jefferson (no, not THAT one). He and his wife, Louisa, had two children, I.R. and Will. In late 1865, shortly after the Civil War ended and a few months after Will's birth, Thomas was accidentally shot and killed while traveling by wagon train by a fellow traveler who was cleaning his gun. Louisa continued on the trip with the two little boys and settled around Holden, Missouri, around 50 miles southeast of Kansas City.
It was during this time that Jesse James and his brother, Frank, joined Quantrill's Raiders, one of the many vigilante groups of secessionists in western Missouri, guerilla fighters known as "bushwhackers." After the war, the James Brothers turned to robbery, robbing banks, stagecoaches and trains. They joined forces with the Younger Brothers, also former Quantrill's Raiders, becoming known as the James-Younger Gang. They terrorized people from Minnesota to Texas to Kentucky and beyond, their reign finally ending in 1882 when Jesse was killed.
One day, when my great-great grandfather Thomas and his brother Will were young boys, they went to town with their mother. They were standing on the sidewalk on the main street of Holden, Missouri, when there was a commotion of horses and riders passing through town in front of them. The townspeople called to each other that it was Jesse James and the James-Younger Gang.
Last month, for the first time in my life, I was in Holden for a volleyball tournament. The venue was half a block from Main Street.
More than 140 years after my great-great grandfather and his brother stood on the sidewalk in Holden, watching Jesse James and his gang ride by, I stood on that same street, in front of the same buildings, imagining the clatter of hooves, the clouds of dust, the excitement mixed with fear at the realization the notorious outlaw rode through the center of town.
|Close your eyes and imagine....|