Paper Trail Leads to Jesse James

A James family genealogist told me that the age-old mystery of Jesse James’ true fate could be solved by following his paper trail. I doubted what she said at first but have since learned she was right! In 1999 I failed to obtain a court order to exhume my paternal great-grandfather’s grave (mainly due to lack of evidence) for DNA testing to determine his true identity. He was known as James L. Courtney in Texas but according to old family stories he was really Jesse James, America’s most famous outlaw.

This article only reports a fraction of the genealogical information that made me a believer in genealogy and paper trails. Besides genealogical evidence I, with the help of others, have amassed pictorial evidence that literally shows the man known in Texas as James L. Courtney was really Jesse James. Then there’s his 1871 diary that he signed, “J. James” and “James L. Courtney”, and mentioned historically recognized members of the James Gang. There’s a preponderance of evidence that he was Jesse James, yet scientific DNA testing taken under strict chain of custody guidelines, is needed to provide the ultimate identification proof…and it is currently underway.  Read More Here:  Shelton_Connection_To_The_James_Family

© Betty Dorsett Duke 3/8/2014



  1. My family is also related to Jesse James. We are currently near St. Louis, MO. My family has for centuries kept track of its lineage. Jesse James was an Uncle with a few Greats in front of it.

    I stumbled upon your blog and was intrigued. I like your dedication to uncovering the details of the past. I look forward to your further discoveries.

    I should assume you may have already seen this document, but I will try and attach. It popped up in my google search after yours and I just read it. The California Descendent’s of Jesse James posted this doc. I was intrigued again by this reunion they had in Paso Robles where they began a Jesse James DNA Project. In the document it says that a descendent who is also Superior Court Judge Ross in Fullerton, CA had Jesse James body exhumed in 1995 for DNA and tested against all of theirs. They will test those that want to be confirmed. I however saw your blog, pic and the old article w recollections from a gang member and friend. This initially and still has me leaning toward your route. But I am curious if you ever read this info and what you thought. So if Sam Hill was the one shot in the head, was he then buried with inscription as Jesse James on his tombstone. Then also is it possible that descendants of Sam Hill, at that time, may have been surprised an assumed that he was using the moniker. Thereby at some point upon relocation, especially to Cali, that they thought they would return to the surname James and not Hill creating a false legacy. Or did the Judge in Cali, exhume the body, I assume is in Texas.


    At a reunion of the Jesse James family & its related James families, held September 12-14, 2002 in Paso Robles, California, the start up of the James Family DNA Project was announced. Six thousand dollars was raised to initiate the project to start in 2003. The project hopes to help identify valid claims of relationship to the James family, among the many new discoveries in the family’s genealogy.

    A keynote banquet address by Eric James noted, “The Jesse James family was disconnected from its larger family. Intensive research has revealed Jesse James has many more relatives than previous histories show.” James publishes Stray Leaves, “A James Family in America Since 1650,” a web site devoted to the history & genealogy of the James family. ( The DNA project, James said, will help reconcile James family lines known to be related by circumstantial evidence & family lore but lacking in documentary evidence.

    The banquet was hosted by a great grandson of Jesse James, James R. Ross, a retired Superior Court judge from Fullerton, California. Two other great grandsons of the outlaw and other family lines also attended from all over the country. In 1995 Judge Ross employed DNA technology in the exhumation of Jesse James’ body. DNA then proved the body to be that of Jesse James, and disproved claims of a family relationship by others.

    James demonstrated how the Jesse James family became disconnected from its larger family. “Pioneering migrations and the Civil War splintered the family. However, the criminality of Jesse & Frank James was the ultimate embarrassment for this extraordinary family of community founders, educators, and ministers,” said James. “Individual family lines simply cut loose of the Jesse James family. That wall of silence has lasted 140 years and persists today, even among those most closely related to the outlaws.”

    James pointed to the failure of historians to adequately investigate & report James family genealogy. Joan Beamis, a James family member, assembled the first genealogy, disseminated among the immediate family in 1966. In 1970 she published “Background of a Bandit” with William E. Pullen. Since then, subsequent family histories continued to show the Jesse James family as isolated, small, and with no outside relations. James said, “We now know that the James family is large, very large. Joan Bemis’s early research also has been located and points to a larger family we now know exists.”

    Family DNA projects are underway already by various in-law families related to the James. Among those are the Lindsay, Martin, Woodson, and Graves families. “Finding the new James family genealogy was based on a tri level approach, “said James. “We researched the James family, then the in-law families, then the families related to the in-law families of the James. This unique approach recreated social communities that identified new family relationships.” James expects the DNA project will result in similar breakthroughs and will point James family research in more new directions.

    The James Reunion was held in Paso Robles, California, celebrating James Founders Days & Jesse & Frank James’ uncle, Drury Woodson James, who founded the town. Drury W. James came west in 1849 with his brother Rev. William Henry James, a year before the outlaw’s father, Rev. Robert Sallee James, followed. D. W. James became a wealthy California cattleman, mayor, county supervisor, State senator & State representative. He hosted Frank & Jesse in California in 1868-69 when each was wounded with bullets and seeking recovery. “New genealogy research into Drury’s line has cracked a couple of Jesse James mysteries already,” says Eric James. His research was successful in locating living great grandchildren of Drury W. James. Joan Beamis, a great granddaughter of Drury Woodson James, died in 1990. “Drury now has a claimant line in Canada,” says James. “DNA sampling should be able to establish if the current new found descendants and the claimant line have Drury as their common ancestor.”

    For decades many have claimed to be related to the James family. “The James Family DNA Project will generate new findings as to who is and who is not a family member.” James added, “Properly placing the Jesse James family in the context of its larger James family also will lead to a reassessment of the character, personality, and motivations of one of America’s enduring legends.”

    The James family of the above press release is not affiliated with this Civil War St. Louis James & Younger website. If you have questions or comments on this press release please contact them via Eric James’ Stray Leaves website

    • I posted the article about Sam Hill on my website to show that long before my family claimed that Jesse James did not die as history reports others were claiming it. That’s all I know about Sam Hill.

      My first book about Jesse James was published in 1998. I included my thoughts about who was really buried in Jesse W. James’ reported grave. My second and third books on the same subject expound on the subject.

      I have read about Eric James’ DNA Project and find his refusal to make the DNA results public very revealing.

      There are many posts about Eric James and other subjects that may interest you on Delphi’s Jesse James Photo Discussion Forum at

      Thanks for your interest.


      Betty Dorsett Duke

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