April 3, 1882 Jesse James’ Greatest Hoax by Betty Dorsett Duke

Rabbits Foot

I wrote the following Introduction for my second book, The Truth About Jesse James (2007). At that time the eBay photo of the James and Jackson families hadn’t surfaced. Step back in time with me and you’ll see just how much progress has been made towards revealing Jesse James’ true fate:


What if the traditional history of Jesse James was not all true, and there was a clever twist where he escaped and lived to a peaceful and ripe old age? What if others close to him followed suit? Some have considered such proposals as utterly preposterous, while others have opened their minds to seriously consider the growing and undeniable alternative evidences. This book adventure will first critique the commonly accepted history, and then to for a fascinating conclusion. Each reader will then have to decide for his or her self if Jesse James was wise enough to fake his death, or did he just wait for the inevitable? As you consider the possibilities, ask yourself what would you have done given his limited choices.

Jesse James’ legendary status began in his own time and still attracts world-wide fascination – it will never die. He has been referred to as America’s Robin Hood, a robbin’ hood, an outlaw, a patriot and a terrorist. Perhaps he was all of these things but the word terrorist is often misused to abuse one’s enemies. The debate will never end because one man’s Robin Hood or patriot is another man’s terrorist.

The traditional story of Jesse James’ death goes that Jesse James was living as Thomas Howard with his wife and first cousin, Zee Mimms, along with their two children, Jesse Edwards James and Mary James, at 1318 Lafayette Street in St. Joseph, Missouri. On April 3, 1882 he removed his guns, stepped onto a chair to dust a picture with his back to his house guests, Bob and Charley Ford, blissfully unaware that they had conspired with Missouri Governor Thomas T. Crittenden to kill him for reward money. Hearing the click of a pistol being cocked, Jesse began turning his head towards the ominous sound just as Bob fired a ball that tore through his brain.

Even if the age-old rumor is true that Bob Ford did not shoot Jesse James dead , he deserves credit for sending Jesse’s legendary status soaring through the annals of history that fateful day. A song was even written about the dirty deed done to some poor yet unidentified soul, because contrary to what you may have heard DNA testing has not yet proved who lies in the grave bearing Jesse Woodson James’ name:

It was Robert Ford, that dirty little coward
I wonder how he does feel
For he ate of Jesse’s bread and he slept in Jesse’s bed
Then laid poor Jesse in his grave.
Poor Jesse had a wife to mourn for his life
Three children, they were brave;
But that dirty little coward that shot Mr. Howard
Has laid poor Jesse in his grave.

Tabloid journalism was alive and well in Jesse James’ day and operating in the same way, just sensationalizing a complete fabrication of untruths. This certainly holds true with Professor James E. Starrs’ 1995 exhumation and subsequent DNA testing of Jesse James’ purported grave. The DNA results are highly touted as proving with science that Jesse died and is buried just as history reports, but the truth of the matter is that they proved absolutely nothing.

No one knows the complete true story of Jesse James. Much of the historical version of his life and death is based on hearsay from the very individuals who were trying to protect him. However, legitimate DNA testing can determine if he’s buried in that questioned grave in Kearney, Missouri, but until this happens the traditional version of his death is based on nothing but folk lore. If Jesse did not die as history reports the domino effect begins — Zee Mimms was not his wife; Jesse Edwards James was not his son; Mary James was not his daughter, and so on down the line. Most “experts” believe Jesse James died just as history reports, but they cannot definitively prove that he did without valid DNA results. There are enough dissenters to make it an intriguing idea, and if anyone could have pulled it off it would have been Jesse James.

Jesse James eluded capture for over twenty years, so he was certainly capable of pulling off his biggest heist ever by getting away with his own murder. The historical fact is that in 1879 he tried faking his death at Short Creek, so why wouldn’t he try it again in 1882 and succeed?

I’ve spent the last twelve years trailing Jesse James searching for evidences leading to his true burial place, because once it’s found his true descendants will be revealed. The search ended in Blevins, Texas. From all indications Jesse James is buried under the tombstone bearing the name of James L. Courtney.

For as long as I can remember I’ve heard family stories that claim Jesse James was my great-grandfather. The story goes that he assumed the name of James L. Courtney, hightailed it to in 1871 and lived to tell his great-grandchildren about his amazing exploits.

Does Jesse James’ blood really run through my veins? How many supposed experts have ridden down the wrong trail? I want to know the truth about my great-grandfather. I researched every known fact, I rode, hell-bent, into wild uncharted territories, ambushed by hired guns at every turn. Some from the past, and some aimed today – truth is a tough journey.

So saddle up! Together we’ll retrace Jesse’s discovery trail as I have replaced the fiction often told with the fact


One comment

  1. Ida F. Dorsett was the daughter of Jesse James. Mary Dorsett was the daughter of Ida and Will Dorsett and was born in 1897. Some of her children were grown by the time Jesse James died in 1943. According to the family story he told them (his great-grandchildren) but I have no idea where he was when he told them or exactly when.

    Yes, according to Jesse James’ diary he was at home plowing when the James Gang robbed the Northfield Bank. A number of sources claim that Jesse wasn’t involved in that robbery. Check out one source – they pose the question of whether he was there:


    I have not traced my DNA back to Jesse James and neither has anyone else according to the James Farm and Museum’s lawyer:


    MtDNA was the type of DNA used in the fraudulent 1995 exhumation and subsequent DNA testing of the remains said to have been retrived from the purported grave of Jesse James in Kearney, Missouri. I have a valid sample of Jesse James’ mtDNA that I obtained from Susan James Parmer’s descendant Sue Laura Hale. Since everyone inherits their mother’s mtDNA (Dorothy Burt Dorsett) my mtDNA will not match Jesse James’ because he inherited his mother’s (Zerelda Cole James). I tried to get an order to exhume my great-grandfather in 1999 but it was denied. At that time I did not have the evidence I now have. I will try again as soon as funds are available.


    Anyone should be able to simply look at the photo that surfaced on eBay and see that the man identified as Jesse James was my great-grandfather. Compare the man identified as Jesse James to the tintype of my great-grandfather:


    Before that photo even surfaced the world leaders in facial recognition said the faces of my great-grandfather and Jesse James were the same:


    Thanks for your interest.

    Betty Dorsett Duke

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