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Jesse James Was Here. We Think.
Aug 5, 2014
Carvel Cooley stopped in our magazine office today. He's a great old fellow from Bon Homme County, a gentleman farmer historian.
He brought a "new" picture of Jesse James.
The James brothers have long been linked with southeast Dakota Territory and northeast Nebraska but there's been little proof and some James historians doubt that the two had much of a connection to this part of the West.
Their most famous sighting is of course at Garretson, north of Sioux Falls, where Jesse supposedly jumped Devil's Gulch on a stolen horse in September of 1876 as he and his brother Frank were fleeing from the Northfield, Minn., bank job. As the story goes, Frank was on the west side of the gulch and Jesse on the east. As the posse closed in on Jesse, he reportedly spurred the old nag and persuaded her to leap an 18-foot chasm.
Family stories in our part of the old territory have kept alive many other sightings. There's hardly a 19th century barn standing that Jesse didn't sleep in; hardly a 19th century farmhouse, for that matter, where he didn't dine. All the stories tell of a kindly young man who caused no harm and sometimes even extended a courtesy or maybe left a horse.
Mr. Cooley says there are records showing that Jesse might have fathered a child at Santee, Neb., south of Yankton, in 1870. The child was supposedly baptized Jesse James Chase in March of 1870. He says Jesse was present at Devil's Nest, an outlaws' hideway about 30 miles west of Yankton on the Nebraska side of the river, in 1869, 1871 and 1876.
Mr. Cooley lives on the Bottom Road west of Springfield, across the river from Devil's Nest. He brought us this undated picture of the James brothers, hanging out with a couple of young men from Nebraska. It is further proof that the James boys were making acquaintances in our part of the country. If you have more evidence, let us know. We've started a file.