November 26, 2023
I swear, the truth is so elusive it sometimes makes me wonder if we can ever really know what really happened in so many historical events. Take this one for instance.
When I was on the Jesse James Outlaw tour of Missouri with author Mark Lee Gardner last May, he took me into the Buchanan County Courthouse in Saint Joseph where the actual bench used in the Ford brothers hearing is still being used.
In addition to an account of the affair by a competent courthouse historian I received an authentic reproduction of the historic court document of the event. It says, in part: "On April 17, 1881, just 14 days after the killing of Jesse James, the Ford brothers were indicted, pleaded guilty, and were sentenced to 'hang by the neck until dead' for shooting Jesse in the head while his back was turned.
"The sentencing did not disturb the tough Ford brothers. They had the word of Missouri governor Thomas J. Crittenden that they would be pardoned. They had also been promised a $10,000 reward.
"News accounts of the sentencing reported that Bob Ford smiled and indicated a laughing contempt for a 'trivial circumstance of this nature.' Charles Ford, one reporter wrote, 'entertained a fuller appreciation for the gravity of the situation.'
"Both Fords were pardoned the next day and released from jail with only a part of the $10,000 reward that had been promised for Jesse James dead or alive.
"The Ford brothers from the time of their arrest until the day they were freed from jail were treated like celebrities. Protected by their promised pardon, they talked freely about their crimes.
"Charles Ford even volunteered that a gold watch found in Jesse's home was one that he, Charles, had stolen from the Governor of Arizona in 1875."
End of quotes. I was quite curious about how the Ford brothers would be in the vicinity of the governor of Arizona while roaming Missouri so I asked my guide that day if that is true. Here is his reply:
"That statement on the back of the Ford brothers' sentence is not entirely accurate. Multiple newspapers did indeed report that the stolen watch had belonged to the governor of Arizona, and this information did apparently come from the Ford brothers. However, the watch actually belonged to the former governor of Dakota Territory, John Burbank, and it was taken during the robbery of the Hot Springs stage in January, 1874. Charley Ford wasn't a member of the James-Younger gang at that time, of course."
—Mark Lee Gardner
Well, thank heavens for researchers and historians like Mark Lee Gardner. This is so much appreciated, but, at the same time what's discouraging is, even when you get official documents much of it isn't true.
Sometimes I think if so many of the things we study turn out to be BS, why not make up some better BS?
"The Redoubtable Ducky Davis"
Only one man knew the true story of what actually happened in Pete Maxwell's bedroom, at Little Bighorn, in San Vicente and in the sideyard of Fly's Photo Studio. And now, finally, his footnoted journal has been located and vetted by two members of The Western Writers of America. Is the Western world ready for "The Man Who Knew Everything And Lived to Tell About It"?
Soon to be a major podcast!
"There is no greater angony than bearing an untold story inside you."