April 11, 2013
By Joel R Kolander
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When you speak of the American West certain names seem to keep coming up: Billy the Kid, Wyatt Earp, “Wild Bill” Hickok, Annie Oakley, William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody, and of course, the Outlaw Jesse James. The history of Jesse James is a clouded one. Some folks call him “America’s own Robin Hood,” while others think of him as nothing more than a bank robber and cold-blooded murderer. In either case, he is a fascinating character in the early history of our young nation. Our April 2013 Premiere Auction will be offering no less than the spurs attributed to this American legend! The items have a rock-solid documentation extending through two United States Congressmen and all the way back to the Outlaw’s own progeny! First, a little history to help separate man and myth.
Born in 1847 in the state of Missouri, Jesse James was a product of the Antebellum Era of the United States. It was a hostile time between North and South as legislation and talk of slavery was already beginning to tear the country asunder. Soon enough, secession was declared by several states and the Civil War began. The Jameses, having over half their family’s wealth in slaves, was unabashedly supportive of the Confederacy. However, in a border state like Missouri, this was often easier said than done. Missouri’s populace was largely supportive of the Confederacy, but it was taken and occupied early on by the Union. This led to many southern sympathizes resorting to guerrilla-style fighting against the Union. Of course, the Union didn’t take too kindly to that and things spiraled quickly. Suspected Rebels and their associates were often lynched, shot, had their homes burned, or were simply kicked off their own land. Union loyalists were shot while they worked their fields or in their own homes. It was in this “eye-for-an-eye” environment that Jesse James spent some of his most formative years. The Civil War was a bitter and very personal event for the Jameses. He was only 13 when the Civil War began and learned much in the arts violence and depravity from these guerrilla fighters or bushwhackers. The brutal massacres, inhuman mutilations, and merciless killings that young Jesse James would have witnessed would forever alter his life.
After the Confederates lost the Civil War, many bushwhackers continued their terrorizing by robbing banks and other disruptive acts as a way to protest the new Republican government. It was in this time, December 1869 to be precise, that Jesse James first found his notoriety. In an attempt to avenge the killing of local guerrilla leader “Bloody Bill” Anderson by Samuel P. Cox, Jesse mistakenly identified a local banker, John W. Sheets, as Cox and shot him dead. Despite Jesse’s earlier involvement in some of the most infamous guerrilla massacres during the Civil War, this botched vengeance killing is what would first earn him a bit of newspaper fame, the title of “outlaw,” and a bounty for his capture offered by no one less than the governor of Missouri.
From this point on Jesse James and his gang, known as the “James-Younger Gang,” would go on to rob banks, stage coaches, payroll offices, and trains in a brash style that defined the gang. Most robberies took place in broad daylight, involved murder, and were generally reckless. It was early on in his turn to crime that Jesse was befriended by editor and founder of the Kansas City Times, John Newman Edwards. Edwards, a former Confederate soldier himself, made no secret of trying to revitalize the politics of the Democrat party. He appreciated Jesse James acts no doubt, but also saw him as a symbol for the South that was still fighting to right itself against a hostile North even after the War had ended. It was this appreciation that led to much press about Jesse James, some even penned by James himself with Edwards’ assistance. Much of it plead Jesse James as innocent, but much of the column space was also dedicated to Rebel-sympathetic rhetoric of a victimized southern man robbing the radical Union banks and greedy corporate railroads that were ruining the lives of hard working Midwestern farmers.
It’s not hard to see James becoming a folk hero through these articles. There were tales of him being polite, handsome, well-groomed, religious, saving widows from foreclosure, and showing kindness to women, children, & animals alike. Historically, the only evidence supporting any of these claims is that James’ later robberies of trains only took money from the safe on-board the train and not the passengers. However, any “Robin Hood” type claims are fanciful at best, as there is no evidence to show that the James-Younger gang gave their money to anybody’s cause but their own.
The spurs that you see below are attributed to Jesse James himself. They are both made of stamped steel with their chain studs on each side near the front. They were originally part of a collection of Mr. Harry Hawes, a United States Senator of Missouri who had the spurs certified as legitimate by none other than the son of Jesse James himself, Jesse Edwards James! From Senator Hawes’ collection, the spurs were then procured by Alabama Congressman Frank W. Boykin, and eventually passed on to his son Richard Boykin, Sr. The pedigree of these spurs is well documented and much of the rest of Senator Boykin’s collection currently resides in the Mobile Downton Museum!
To own these spurs is to own a little piece of Americana. It’s the same reason that companies that make football and baseball trading cards with little pieces of game worn jersey inside of them. We all seek to own a piece of history, a unique moment in time that connects us with great people or places. We all want to be closer to someone or something that we admire. We want to show our admiration by becoming knowledgeable on the subject, conversing with others who appreciate what we do, and by possessing something, however small, to truly make that admired subject part of our own lives. These spurs not only put a piece of American history in your collection, but also bring with them a rarity that few people could hope to match.
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