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Just the Facts, Ma'am

On page 131 of Mrs. Duke's book we see a page of figures that look like slender, lazy figure eights, lying on their side, with different markings on each one. The caption says "A page from J. L. Courtney's diary shows the code he often used. On the page he inadvertently signed his name `J James'." This didn't look like any code I had ever seen, and when I received a copy of JLC's diary that Max Courtney had transcribed, it became clear. JLC often mentioned branding cattle for his neighbors, and every time he did, he drew a small picture of the brand. When Max was transcribing the diary he faithfully reproduced these brands. Several illustrations of this can be seen in the Documentation section. I found a book titled Owners of Cattle Brands Recorded At The Old Red Store. It was compiled and indexed by Polly Lewis Murphy. She realized that many people have inherited old branding irons and most had no idea what they meant. And sure enough, there for all to see, is twelve or more pages showing different brands, six brands to each page. At least three on each page were the lazy figure eights, each with different markings. Some of these brands are depicted in the Documentation section. I included this when I gave my presentation to the James/Younger convention in San Angelo in October 2001. When Mrs. Duke saw the slides she shouted for all to hear, "I didn't do that, that wasn't my idea, my publisher did that!" David Hedgpeth, who was also in San Angelo, said later on Genforum that this was done by Melissa Roberts, Mrs. Duke's editor. No matter who did it, let's just get it corrected in the next book, which is coming out soon, right?

JLC did use a very basic code at times. The five vowels a, e, i, o and u are replaced be numbers 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5; the numbers 6, 7, 8, and 9 are assigned to consonants, but different consonants in each message. It is so basic, I don't know why he even bothered.

Now let's take a look at some of the points that Mrs. Duke says strengthen her case.
1. When someone would ride up to his house after dark, Grandpa would blow out all the coal-oil lanterns and lie down across the doorway with his gun cocked.
2. George Roming of El Paso personally saw at least 30 bars of gold, weighing 15 to 20 pounds each, stacked on a shelf in Grandpa's barn.
Now I ask you, folks, would a man this paranoid leave all that gold in the barn, unguarded?
3. He purchased large farms for each of his eight children when they got married.
One of the cornerstones of Mrs. Duke's book is her claim that there was a strong connection between the James/Samuel and Courtney families without distinguishing between the Clay County Courtneys and the Johnson County Courtneys, sixty miles away and across the Missouri River. Linda Snyder and I independently studied these families before we became aware of each other's research and neither of us found any connection. Here's what we did find.

Stephen Courtney's family originated in Fauquier County, Virginia, and eventually moved into eastern Tennessee. Stephen's grandparents were James Courtney, Jr. (born 19 August 1749 in Fauquier County, Virginia, died 12 March 1836 in Green County, Tennessee) and Sarah Kesterson (born 14 April 1758 in Northumberland County, Virginia, died 18 December 1836 in Greene County, Tennessee). James and Sarah married 28 January 1779 in Fauquier County. Stephen's parents were George Washington Courtney (born about 1780 in Fauquier County, Virginia, died 04 January 1849 in Green County, Tennessee) and Elizabeth Ensor (born 1788 in Fauquier Co., Virginia). George and Elizabeth were married 06 August 1805 in Fauquier Co., Virginia. Stephen Courtney was their sixth child. A footnote here -- JLC's "Unkle Jacob Haun" witnessed the signing of the will of James Courtney.

Now let's look at the Clay County, Missouri, Courtneys. A Revolutionary War veteran from Pennsylvania, John Courtney married twice and had five children with each wife. By the early 1800's most of the family had moved into Garrard County, Kentucky, where old John is buried. Three of his sons, including young John Courtney and Archibald Clinton Courtney, moved into Clay County, Missouri, in the mid 1820's. Young John died soon after arrival, leaving his widow Ruth Burnside Courtney and three small daughters. One of the daughters was named Rebecca. Rebecca married George W. Hall on July 3, 1845. In the 1870 census for Clay County we see George and Rebecca listed with their eight children. Their fifth child was a son, Joseph C. Hall. On Dec. 30, 1880 young Joseph C. Hall married Fannie Quantrill Samuel, Jesse's half sister, in Kearney, Missouri. Neither Linda nor I found any connection between the Clay County Courtneys and the Stephen Courtney family in Johnson County. We also found no connection between either of the Courtney families and the James/Samuel family.

Mrs. Duke's book was published in 1998. On July 25, 1999, just weeks before her exhumation hearing, her internet spokesman David Hedgpeth posted the following message on the Courtney page on Genforum: "Looking for these family connections: Were Archibald Clinton Courtney of Clay County, Missouri and Stephen Courtney of Johnson County, Missouri related? If so, how?" Obviously, Mrs. Duke published her book before her research was complete.

Mrs. Duke has also stated as fact that there were at least five known James Gang members listed by their first names or an initial and last name in JLC's diary. She names Bud Singleton, Bill Wilkerson, Jim Clark (an alias used by Jim Cummins), John Moore, and J. White (James White). She also states that other suspected gang members are listed in the diary by their last names only -- McDaniels (Thompson McDaniels?), Devers (Jim Devers), Anderson (Jim Anderson, Bill Anderson's brother?), Cooper (Ben Cooper), Hines (Jim or John) and last but not least, the name that strikes fear into the hearts of brave men everywhere, the dreaded Jones (Payne Jones?).

Okay, let's look at JLC's diary and the 1870 census for Texas and see what we find. Yes, there was a young man named Samuel Singleton in Falls County in 1870, age 25, born in South Carolina. His 17 year old wife, Millie, was born in North Carolina. On Friday, August 11, 1871 JLC noted in his diary that he had met a man named Singleton in the home of Thomas Hudson Barron. On Saturday, he went "ahunting" with Crowe, Singleton and Trav Barron. On Sunday he went to church with Trav Barron and Bud Singleton. On Wednesday, he went ahunting with Bud Singleton and Bud Barron, and this is the last time Bud Singleton is mentioned. On February 22, 1874 he wrote that "J Mixon and Bill Wilkerson, they was here today...." This is the only time Bill Wilkerson is mentioned. On January 1, 1874 JLC and Jim Clark went to the home of the Whites, five miles south of Waco and spent the night. The next day they got a load of corn and returned home. This same month, Jim Clark accompanied JLC on a trip to Shreveport, Louisiana. They arrived back in Falls County on January 16. JLC made daily notations of their whereabouts and how much money they spent, and noted that they had met "Bud." Mrs. Duke believes that Jesse James as JLC, Jim Cummins as Jim Clark, and Cole Younger, also called "Bud", committed the stage coach robbery in Shreveport on January 8, 1874. My research shows that, first, one of JLC's brothers-in-law, R. C. Barron, was nicknamed "Bud" and is mentioned frequently in the diaries. In the second place, since they returned home to the Waco area on January 16th, who robbed the stagecoach in Hot Springs, Arkansas on January 15, 1874? This robbery has always been attributed to the James Gang. This is the only entry for Jim Clark but there was a large Clark family in Falls County, and JLC makes occasional references to "Old Man Clark".

Now let's look at John Moore. There were four men named John Moore in Falls County in the 1870 census; their ages were 12, 14, 45 and 96. On July 22, 1876, JLC wrote that he had gone to Masterville and had seen "Old John Moore" there. This is the only reference to John Moore in the diaries.

On October 6, 1876, JLC, Bud Barron and Tom Lavender took their cotton "into the city" (Waco?) to sell. They camped that night, and when they were on the way home the next day, they met "McDaniel" on the road. This is the only mention of "McDaniel" and let's keep in mind that this was October 1876. Thompson McDaniel, the Gang member, had been shot in September 1875 by a posse member after the Huntington, West Virginia bank robbery, and died shortly thereafter.

On November 11, 1874, a Mr. Jones asked JLC to cut some hay for him. Over the next few days JLC did cut, rake and stack 26 acres of hay for Mr. Jones. Do you really think that Jesse would work as a farm hand for Payne Jones? There were 2,470 Jones families in Texas in 1870, 43 of them lived in Falls County. But let us not forget that Payne Jones was lynched by a posse in 1867 after the Richmond bank robbery.

On September 17, 1876 in the time-honored tradition of neighbor helping neighbor, JLC and several other men sat up all night with "old Mr. Lavender" who was dying. One of the other men was a J. White. There were four J. Whites in Falls County in 1870: James, age 27, John, age 32, Jerry, age 26, and John, age 50, a minister of the gospel. Don't you think it "likely" that it was the minister that was with them? This is the only entry for J. White.

On April 2,1872, he noted in his diary that he "hunted horses with Cooper and Hines," and on April 18th of the same year, he noted that "Cooper and his hands was here." There were two male Coopers on the 1870 census, Dave, age 28, and Randall, age 19.

On November 4, 1874 he cut hay for a "Mr. Anerson." On November 11, 1874, he "cut hay for Raff Anerson all day." There was a Randolph Anderson living in Falls County, he was age 45 in 1870.

Now let's say, just for the sake of discussion, that Jesse James did assume the identity of James L. Courtney at some point in time. Let's say he did move to Falls County, Texas in 1871 and began working immediately for Thomas Hudson Barron. Three months later he married Mr. Barron's daughter Mary Ellen, started a family and was living the life of a Texas farmer. Do you really think that he would allow so many of his gang members to move to the same county, using their real names? In all my research I have seen Jesse accused of many things, but being stupid wasn't one of them.

Now let's consider the sources of great wealth that Mrs. Duke tells us that JLC had in his barn and buried in the yard.
1. $50,000 in greenbacks in a trunk.
2. "Several" five gallon buckets of silver dollars sitting around the house.
3. At least 30 bars of gold, weighing 15-20 pounds each in the barn.
4. Gold and silver buried in different locations in the yard.
I measured a five gallon jug -- the rectangular kind that you carry water in when camping -- and found that the volume is about 1,120 cubic inches. As an estimate, eight silver dollars would fill one cubic inch so each jug would contain $8,960 in silver dollars. How many containers were there "around the house?" Let's guess three, so now we have $26,880 dollars in containers. Now, let's look at those gold bars -- thirty of them, weighing 15 - 20 pounds each. Let's use the 15 pound figure for our computations. Today, gold is selling for $290.00 an ounce, or $4,640.00 a pound, so by today's values, each bar would be worth $69,600.00, and the thirty bars would be worth $2,088,000. I found another great book in our library, it is "The Value Of A Dollar; Prices and Incomes in the United States 1860 -1999" edited by Scott Dirks and published by Greyhouse Publishing, Lakeville, Connecticut. This book tells us that the 1860 dollar was worth $17.43 in 1997. We will round to seventeen dollars to use in these figures. So, the $2,088,000 dollars worth of gold bars (today's value divided by 17) means that JLC had, by 1870 values,

$122,823.52    in gold
    50,000.00    in cash, in a trunk
    26,880.00    in silver dollars in buckets
$199,703.52    total in 1870 dollars
$3,394,959.84    in today's dollars

and this does not include the gold and silver buried all over the yard.

Now, let's look at this "wealthy" man's lifestyle. On July 7, 1874 he borrowed $8.55 from his recently widowed mother-in-law to pay a tax. On the following July 25th he made a list of things he wanted to buy at a sale but scratched it out because Mr. Gordon, Mr. Robles, Mr. Whatley and Mr. Holcom refused to sign security for him, the equivalent of co-signing a note today. On July 30th he asked Jane Gardner to sign security for him and she refused. On August 3, Tom Cox and Tom Whatley refused to sign security for him. But on August 21, 1874, a Mr. Patterson signed security for him when he had to pay $30.00 for a new harness. So, JLC did seem to have some financial problems in the months following the death of his father-in-law, Thomas Hudson Barron. He then seemed to settle down as he continued to support his family by tending to his own farm, and hiring out to other farmers for such work as mowing hay and branding cattle. Now I ask you folks, if you had almost $200,000.00 sitting around the house and barn would you go out and cut, rake and stack hay in south Texas with 1870's equipment? Or build a big bonfire to heat branding irons?

Mrs. Duke has told us once again, on her website, that JLC purchased large farms for each of his eight children. On December 31, 1891, JLC purchased a 25 acre tract of farm land in Falls County. He paid $100 cash and signed promissory notes for $262 each, one due on December 1st, 1892, and the other due December 1st, 1893. These notes, plus 10% interest, were paid on time and JLC was released from indebtedness and given clear title to the land. Any other purchases must have been made outside Falls County as this was the only deed found. In his will, signed on April 28, 1934, he left a 160 acre farm to his third wife Ollie, since she had previously deeded it to him. He left a 120 acre farm in Bell County and a house and lot in Belton, Texas to his daughter, Ida Dorsett. All other real property was left to two of his living children and the heirs of two that were deceased. He left nothing to two other living children and the heirs of two children that were deceased. He mentioned by name all that were receiving nothing, saying "I mention them here to show that I have not forgotten them. I have heretofore deeded to my beloved children herein named, various tracts of land, and it is my desire that such advancements shall constitute their and their children's entire share of my estate." The value of the property that was left to those who hadn't been deeded land was $600.00 each.

There is a very long essay on Mrs. Duke's website; the name of the author is not given. It is mainly a number of quotes from her book. Let's look at some of them.

The first is the assertion that Mrs. Duke still believes that it may have been possible that the real James L. Courtney had been killed battle and his personal effects "went missing." "It was common practice for the Confederates to search the uniforms of the dead in order to identify them, and she thinks this could have been one way for Jesse to assume the identity of the real James L. Courtney," we are told. This was thoroughly discussed on the Courtney page on Genforum several years ago. In her book, Mrs. Duke shows the front page of JLC's first diary. In his own handwriting we see "James L Courtney this book bought June 28 1871 at Decator texas for 50 cents. If the oner should be found dead his unkle lives in cass co. mo. His address is as follows E. L. Andruss Brosley PO Cass Co Mo. If the oner should be found dead the person who finds this will please rite immediately to E. L. Andruss Brosley PO Cass Co Mo."

Now, the major problem with thinking that this might have been written by Jesse James is that the real JLC really did have an uncle, E. L. Andruss, in Cass County, Missouri, but not until a few years after the Civil War. Erastus "Uncle Rat" Lafayette Andruss was in Tennessee during the Civil War and moved to Missouri several years later. So there is no way that his Missouri address could have been found on the dead body of a Union soldier. Mrs. Duke and David Hedgpeth questioned this whole thing, wondering why JLC would have named his uncle instead of his parents, as persons to be notified. I told them I felt this was his way of helping them protect their new identity. They had lived in Morris County as Hauns for four years by this time, and always carefully guarded their new name. And then of course there is the fact that James L. Courtney was on the 1865 agricultural census with his parents in Miami County, Kansas, and was again with them as James L. Haun on the 1870 population census in Morris County.

In an attempt to further support her claim, Mrs. Duke repeatedly states that James Wilkerson, a known James gang member, was living in the Courtney aka Haun household in the 1880 census. This is discussed here in the Documentation section, along with a copy of the census. You will see that this desperado, whose last name is barely legible on the census page, was eleven years old and was listed as a ward of the Haun family in 1880.

Another gross error in that essay is the statement that Wood Hite, Jesse's cousin, would have had the same mtDNA as Jesse, and there is no way this could have happened. The male DNA is found in the Y chromosome, and the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) is passed through the maternal line. The mother passes it to all her children but the sons do not pass it on. So, Wood Hite would have had the Hite Y chromosome DNA, and also mtDNA that his mother, Nancy Jane Hite, had received from her mother, Polly Poor James. Jesse would have had the James Y chromosome DNA, along with the mtDNA that his mother, Zerelda Cole, had received from her mother.

Yet another of Mrs. Duke's overstatements is the claim that all of her photographs of the Courtneys have been positively matched to photos of the James family. This will be fully discussed in the Photographs section.


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