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  Texas : Features : Columns : Lone Star Diary :

Is Jesse James
really in that Missouri grave?

by Murray Montgomery
Murray Montgomery
One of the most famous outlaws in American history was the legendary Jesse James.

And it seems, that there has always been an air of mystery has to whether or not he was really killed the way our history books have recorded it.

The story goes that Jesse was murdered by one of his outlaw buddies, Bob Ford, while he (Jesse) was standing on a chair dusting a picture. Many folks have disputed this version of the story and some have went as far as to have poor Jesse's body exhumed from the grave (for the third time, I believe).

The Discovery Channel aired a program awhile back entitled, "Seeking The Real Jesse James." It was very interesting and showed how DNA was recovered from one of James' teeth; the DNA sample was then matched with a sample from the blood of one of Jesse's descendants.

After all was said and done, the forensic experts concluded that they were 99 percent positive that the poor soul in the grave was Jesse James. Once again Jesse's remains were laid to rest, with full military honors, by members of a Confederate Army living history group.

I don't believe that it is over yet for Jesse James; members of the opposition still question the DNA tests and vow to continue to search for proof that the real Jesse isn't in that Missouri grave.

There have been many folks over the years who also have disputed the theory that Jesse died from a single shot from Bob Ford's 1851 Navy Colt.

One of those who disagreed with history's version of James' death was a fellow known as Uncle Bill Goodwin of Dublin, Texas. Uncle Bill's version appeared in The Gonzales Inquirer in 1933 and his story is the subject of this edition of Lone Star Diary.
The Gonzales Inquirer February 24, 1933
[Headline: JESSE JAMES]


"How the people held their breath, when they heard of Jesse's death.
And wondered how he came to die; For the big reward little Robert Ford
Shot Jesse James on the sly."
DUBLIN, Tex. Feb. 24 (UP)
Contradicting the old saloon-day refrain Uncle Bill Goodwin, 77, former peace officer and boyhood playmate of the James brothers, claims that Jesse James posed as his own slayer and collected the bounty which had been placed on his head.

"It's all a mistake," said Goodwin. "What really happened was that when Jesse found Bob was plotting to kill him, Jesse killed Bob and sold Ford's body to the law, claiming it was that of Jesse James."

After that the outlaw lived as a peaceable citizen under the name of the man he killed, the aging Goodwin declared.

"How do I know?" Goodwin anticipated the inevitable question. "I saw Jesse and talked to him in Brownwood long after 'his' funeral was held. He was a prosperous and respected business man at Brownwood."

According to the version of his former playmate Jesse James died with his boots off in a linened bed at Brownwood in 1898.

Goodwin is positive of the identity of the famous desperado:

"Frank James, his brother, was with me at the time. We went to Brownwood for the very purpose of seeing Jesse. Besides, when I was a kid back in Clay County, Missouri, I played with Frank and Jesse."

A Robin Hood code of ethics was one of the virtues seen by Goodwin in the most publicized highwaymen who ever held up a Southwestern stagecoach.

He recalled how the James brothers, touched by sight of a Weatherford widow's tears, inquired the cause of her sorrow and learned that a mortgage was to be foreclosed because she was unable to meet a $600 payment.

Jesse, according to Goodwin, gave the widow money to pay the mortgage when the sheriff called, then lay in wait and robbed the officer.

"How do I know?" asked Uncle Bill. "Well I was somewhere there abouts."

Goodwin has lived here 50 years, acting as marshal of the town through the 90's. During the Civil War his father was shot to death by Missouri bushwhackers. Goodwin set out to find the slayer.

Was he successful? He prefers not to say, but he is no longer on the hunt.

Murray Montgomery
Lone Star Diary

October 3, 2007 Column
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