The James Gang in ND
Tuesday, February 17, 2004
The anniversary of Frank James’s death in 1972
is reported as either this past Sunday or tomorrow, so today’s story
lands somewhere in the middle.
A sign in Missouri states: Young Jesse James was plowing
the fields near this location in 1863 when Federal Soldiers surrounded
him and demanded information about the location of his brother, Frank,
and Quantrill’s guerilla camps. When Jesse refused to answer, the
soldiers beat him. Running to the house, he found his step-father, Dr.
Samuel, had been hanged by the soldiers. Filled with hatred and revenge,
Jesse soon joined the guerilla forces.
Jesse was only 17 when he joined 19 year-old Frank and
a group of pro-Southern bandits. While Jesse is the most infamous, many
say Frank was the real leader of the James Gang; an account by James Buttree
of Grand Forks seemed to favor that notion. The Buttree family was living
on a farm near Grand Forks when one Sunday in 1880, two men on horseback
rode up their homestead shanty. James Buttree was only eleven at the time,
but they made a big impression on him.
“They were mounted on beautiful bay horses of 1,100
or 1,200 weight. They asked if they might rest and feed their horses and
get some dinner. Of course, we were delighted to have them with us; strangers
were always welcome, more than welcome; their presence was always a diversion
from the monotony of being so much alone….
“They had double-barrel shot guns…lashed to their
saddles, along with blankets, oats in sacks for the horses, and iron sugar
stakes with lariats for staking the horses out to grass…They were dressed
exactly alike: brown-striped trousers, tucked into high-top boots, were
supported by heavy leather belts; each belt had two holsters carrying
old style Colt 44 revolvers. The guns were worn in front with butts to
center – or the cross-arm draw…I might say that when guns were
considered, not much escapes the attention of the small boy. They wore
blue flannel shirts laced in front and loosely tied black sailor ties,
black slouch hats…
“As they stepped in and shook hands, they held back
their identification, waiting for father to move first. Father said, ‘We
are Canadians. We came out from Ontario in the spring.’
“The taller of the two then stated, ‘We are
brothers; our name is James; we live in Missouri near Kansas City.’…
Ontario having been mentioned, (Frank) knew we had never heard of them…
he boldly told us the truth, and we were none the wiser.
“Mother thought Frank James was a very interesting
young man; he had…a fund of information as well as being a fluent conversationalist.
My memory of this visit is very exact, not only because of the guns and
general picturesqueness of the men, but Fred and I had to wait for dinner…
“Shortly after dinner they saddled their horses
and led them to the door before taking leave. They offered to pay for
their entertainment, but their thanks were accepted instead… Frank did
all the talking and most of the smiling and laughing. Jesse was a stoic.
His only speech was when he shook hands and said, ‘Good bye.’
They mounted their horses and rode away to the west.”
(For James Buttree’s full story, read: The Way
it Was: The North Dakota Frontier Experience; Book One: The Sod-busters,
Everett C. Albers and D. Jerome Tweton, Editors)
Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm