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More Jesse James stories

More Jesse James stories
By Tom Watson
Thursday, June 30, 2005

Over the years, some of the Civil War tales and post Civil War tales about Jesse and Frank James have proven to be inaccurate. There is so much confusion over who did what in Spencer and Nelson counties during the war between the states that whenever stories are handed down about a fatal shooting or robbery in our area, Jesse and Frank get the blame.

As this column has noted in the past, Frank James came to Kentucky and Nelson and Spencer counties with Confederate Capt. William Quantrill, perhaps the most noted of all the guerrillas or irregular soldiers in the war. Jesse went to Texas and there's no hard evidence that he ever visited in Spencer County, but if he did, it would have been when the Civil War was over and after he and his brother, Frank, organized their outlaw band.

One of the "Jesse did it" stories was the killing of Tom Hall, a (Union) home guardsman who was gunned down through a door of his Washington County home by guerrillas led by Samuel "One Arm" Berry of Mercer County. A lady stood by the door pointing out the bullet hole in an edition of The Kentucky Standard of Bardstown a few years ago. This scribe wrote in to explain that according to documents in the National Archives, it was a band of Rebel guerrillas led by Berry and others. Neither Jesse nor Frank James were there.

There are scores of stories about "Jesse James watered his horse" at one place or another. Many old pistols "belonged to Jesse James," but rarely are the stories supported by fact. When the truth is determined, the stories prove just as interesting with the people who actually participated.

Sometimes Henry Magruder of Bullitt County, Marcellus Jerome "Sue Mundy" Clarke of Simpson County or others committed acts that over the years have been attributed to Jesse James.

It's because that as time goes by, the actual name or names are forgotten and the first name people think of is Jesse James.

The following is part of a column I wrote for this newspaper May 27, 1982. It's as true now as it was then. I wrote this when Ruth Green of Bloomfield was alive and let me tell you, that sweet little lady knew her genealogy up one side of Nelson County and down the other.

Referring back to 1982:

"The scribe visited Mrs. John Green in Bloomfield recently and Mrs. Green let me copy some very old and rare photos of Chaplin. She also had a few rare views of Spencer County. The photo of the hotel was taken somewhere around 1890. The hotel burned about 1912.

Mrs. Green's mother Ida Wright (who married Clifford Rowland) lived at the Chaplin Hotel with the hotel's managers, Mrs. and Mrs. John Henry Thomas. Mrs. Green said the hotel was once operated by Thomas K. Marshall, the father of Dr. Frank Marshall.

Mrs. Green said Dr. Marshall "operated on one of the James boys and received a gold-band ring for payment." The late Mrs. Reuben Moores, Dr. Marshall's niece, used to wear the ring.

Not only it is a well-known historical fact that Jesse James was in Chaplin numerous times and used to hide out in the hotel, one source even says Jesse bought the hotel at one time to insure he would always have a place to hide. I don't know if the report is true. When the old Southern Bank of Kentucky was robbed at Russellville, Ky., Jesse claimed he had no part in it and that he was at "a hotel in Chaplin, Ky. that day."

Ruth Green said the reason her mother lived with the Thomas family was that her mother's mom, Nancy Jones Wright, died very young , then Ida's father Silas Wright died, leaving only a stepmother."

In our photo blowup of the people on the front porch of the old Chaplin Hotel, we see Ida Wright with Mr. and Mrs. John Henry Thomas. The child belonged to someone else, Mrs. Green guessed. On the far right side of the porch is Rossie (pronounced Raw-Zee) Thomas, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. John Henry Thomas and "possibly Burton Williams," Mrs. Green said.

Rossie Thomas worked in Stewart's millinery department in Louisville for many years, Mrs. Green said, and never married. The Thomases later operated a grocery in Louisville.

Restoration of the A.D. Foreman House

A businessman from Louisville has bought the former Shirley Johnson (Aaron Decker Foreman) farm and is restoring the house to its original log exterior. The house in Waterford at the intersection of Kentucky 44 and Lilly Pike is incredibly historical and was a favorite stopping place by some of Quantrill's men and I'm sure, at times, Quantrill himself. You'd have to believe Frank James and Jim Younger of Quantrill's outfit had meals there, but it's hard to say if Jesse James spent time in the house. If he did, it would have been after the Civil War when the James Gang was passing through.

I can't tell you how many stories I have heard about Jesse James in Spencer County. I can't remember them all. We could guess, but that wouldn't hold a lot of water. If you have a diary or journal in which Jesse James, Frank James, Quantrill or any of his men are mentioned, please let me know.

Rebecca Wootton kept a daily diary in Fairfield and mentioned when Quantrill and his men passed through. She never mentioned Jesse or Frank. Neither does Dr. John Lilly in his diary, nor William Thomas "Salt River Tom" Love in his. But it's not difficult to understand why a diary keeper would decide not to make entries that would allow Union troops or Pinkerton detectives to gain information on the men they hunted.

John McCorkle wrote many years after the Civil War about visiting the A. D. Foreman house and finding the Foreman girls to be quite lovely. McCorkle was so old when he was dictating his book, it probably sounded like he was saying "Thurman," when he was actually saying "Ferman," but was trying to say "Foreman." This was determined by comparing census and other records, which prove it was the Foreman family who lived in the house at


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