Thursday, April 17, 2008
Believe it or not...
Forever historians have passed stories on, some written down and some oral. Sometime ago, I was talking to Jack Mayfield who shared this piece of Lafayette County history, but the story took place in Harmontown, on the north side of the Tallahatchie. Jesse James and his brother were outlaws who lived in Missouri in the 19th century. I could never understand why people would elevate them to hero status. People said that during the Civil War the James Boys would rob the Yankees and give to the poor which put him into the same category as Robin Hood in England hundreds of years earlier. He robbed the rich and gave to the poor.
Historians pass stories around and this is a fascinating piece of history I thought you might enjoy hearing. The law and order wanted Jesse James dead or alive and posted a big reward for his capture. Jesse’s brother, Frank, was his best friend and they were partners in crime. Jesse also had friends in the Younger family and the Ford family. In 1892 Jesse was supposed to be visiting with the Fords in Jesse’s parlor and Jesse got up to straighten a picture on the wall and the Fords shot him in the back killing him and collecting the reward money. Once I visited Jesse’s home in middle Missouri and stood in his living room and saw where they said the Fords killed Jesse. (I always remembered it was the Fords that killed Jesse and consequently Jesse James was the first person killed by a Ford!) That was before I found out that Jesse had lived through all of this and would end up down in Mississippi. Working with the Fords, they are said to have “faked” his death by killing someone else and substituting his body for that of Jesse James and Jesse ended up collecting his own reward money. Then Jesse disappeared with that reward money and went to New York, then crossed the ocean to Europe where he stayed abroad for twelve years.
Mr. J.B. Beck was my sister’s father-in-law and I loved that wonderful old man. He was born in Cornersville before the Civil War. Mr. Beck was full of great stories and he told me that when he was in the 7th grade he had the best teacher in the world named Frank James and Mr. James made learning fun. One day during school hours Mr. James’ brother came in and got him and they never saw him again.
One dark night in 1894 in Harmontown there was a terrible storm raging and the wind was fierce. A stranger was riding toward Harmontown trying to see his way through the torrential rain to guide his horse down the muddy road. He stopped at a farmhouse and asked if he could stay there for the night in the farmer’s barn. The stranger told him he was looking for his sister, Sarah Howell. When the stranger was introducing himself to the farmer, he hesitated, then said “Willie Knight” was his name. Later he said he chose the name “Knight” because of the dark rainy night, but his real name was Jesse James, back in circulation again.
The next day Willie found his sister and stayed awhile with her and her family. He went to church with her and enjoyed singing. He had a big powerful voice and you could hear him sing above all the other singers. Reverend N.F. Metts was the preacher and he really liked this stranger. Willie was 49. He met twenty-year-old Bethany Caroline Rikard and Willie began to show her lots of attention. Her father did not like Willie and forbade him to come to his house. However, about two months later, Reverend Metts married Willie and Bethany and in time they had eleven children. Bethany was dis-inherited.
Willie bought a little farm near Sardis but he wasn’t a very good farmer. He would leave and be gone for months at a time. Bethany’s brother came to see them. Willie excused himself to go cut wood and was gone three months. One of the neighbors remembered how well -dressed the Knight children were.
In 1914 Willie and Bethany moved to Bolivar, Tennessee, and Willie died in 1922 at age 98. Before he died Willie showed one of his sons where he had buried two churns of gold under a tree in Hickory Valley and said when he died to dig them up and divide it among his children. Willie said the money came from a robbery he had done when he robbed the Yankee Garrison of money intended for the Reconstruction troops in Mississippi.
In Bill Ferris’ book, he told of Ray Lum, horse trader, mentioning Jesses James was in Dallas, too, at that time (maybe it was at the same time he went to cut wood.) Jesse James used many names during his lifetime; Anderson, Williams, Thomas and was “killed” under the name of Howard. Several of Willie’s and Bethany’s children migrated and lived in Kearney, Missouri, where Willie was born.
Truth is always stranger than fiction. John Wilkes Booth assassinated Abraham Lincoln at the Ford Theater in Washington. Booth broke his ankle while jumping from the theater box onto the stage, making escape difficult. But he did escape. He was captured in Virginia in a barn. However, he did exactly what Jesse James did. It was said that the body found in the barn wasn’t John Wilkes Booth’s. It was somebody else. Booth escaped and later came to Guntown, Mississippi, where he had relatives. He died and is buried in Guntown, which is located about 15 miles east of New Albany. Remember Dr. Billy Booth, who used to work out at the hospital here?
Come and see the Square Museum at 111 Van Dorn Ave. here in Holly Springs. We are open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on this Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Sunday afternoon from 12:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. for Pilgrimage hours. Visit our website at www.mchmuseum.org
Swanee’s Good News Happy Hour
This week’s program on Swanee’s Good News Happy Hour at WKRA 1110 AM will be so entertaining and will have great information for you to enjoy! At 2 p.m. on Thursday we will be welcoming Tim Liddy, town alderman-at-large, to talk about the “Main Street Project” of Holly Springs. Then we will talk to Jane Hubbard, headmaster at Marshall Academy, about their spring program at the school.
Carole Jean Taylor, local talent, will entertain us with her beautiful melodic voice in the midst of it all.
It promises to be a truly wonderful program. If for some reason you can’t listen to it between 2-3 p.m. on Thursday or you just want to listen to it again, the entire program will be repeated on Saturday at 10 a.m.
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