Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Family Lore-Jesse James and the Wrights

Genealogists warn of  misleading and often incorrect information in family myths and lore. Sometimes there is a grain of truth in there somewhere. Maybe these stories have just become miss told or misunderstood through the years. These tales are often quite fun and hard to let go. We have one of those stories in our family. 

It has to do with Jesse James and the Wright family of Sac City, Iowa. According to the story after Jesse James and his gang robbed the Northfield Bank in Minnesota, they stopped by the Wright farm on their way back to Missouri to water their horses. Now another family genealogist has pointed out the fallacy of this claim. The robbery took place in 1876. The Wrights moved to Sac City in the early 1880's.

However, it is believed that indeed the James brothers and gang did stop in Sac City after that Minnesota robbery to water their horses.  According to an article written in the Rockwood (Pennsylvania) Gazette in 1904 and reprinted in History of Sac County, Iowa by William H. Hart, the James boys halted for a drink on their retreat from the north to their home in Kansas City country, although at the time they were not recognized by the citizens of Sac City.

"One bright summer morning while pumping a pail of water at a well in an unfrequented part of the hamlet of Sac City, near the office of the Sac Sun, two unkempt, unshorn and not altogether fierceless looking men on saddleless horses, steaming with perspiration, rode to the well and with ugly oaths demanded of a boy his bucket to water their horses." 

"In dismounting one of the men appeared crippled and in great pain, and he cursed with awful oaths.  He rolled up his pantaloons and exhibited a badly swollen limb, which he bathed in the cold water.

As you read the next part, remember when this article was written. Today=1904

"News then traveled slower than it does today, but a day or two later the daily papers came out with full reports of the great Northfield robbery, in Minnesota, telling of the capture of the Younger boys and of the escape of the James boys on two white horses taken from a farmer in northern Iowa."

I imagine the residents of Sac City talked about this big event for decades. So, it is easy to see how this story was told over and over and over from the early 1880's until, well... look here I am telling the story in 2017. I can just imagine Charlie or Jennie Wright, Nathan or Anna Olmstead re-telling the story they heard after their arrival in Sac City. Then their children told the story to their children. The years go by. Someone overhears or misunderstands part of the story and there we have it. The two strangers stopped at the Wright farm to water their horses. Only later, did the family realize it was probably the James brothers.

There is a grain of reality in the story.  The Wright family lived in Sac County, Iowa. Jesse James probably watered his horses there on his escape from that well known caper in Minnesota.  Who cares about those pesky dates.

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