THE ENGLISH WESTERNERS' SOCIETY
MARCH 2018 BOOK REVIEW
This review first appeared in the Tally Sheet (Summer 2016, Volume 62, Number 3)
JESSE JAMES PRINCE OF ROBBERS – A Collection Of Essays On The Noted Missouri Outlaw And His Times
By Robert J. Wybrow. Published by the English Westerners’ Society, 2015; 468 pp; 17 black and white illustrations; pb. Order initially from the author at firstname.lastname@example.org, prices on request.
I think it is safe to say that this is a long awaited and therefore extremely welcome volume containing fifteen articles and four appendices of this prolific writer’s work.
Of course we are all familiar with Bob and his many articles that have been appearing in both the Tally Sheet and the Brand Book, including our Special Publications, since ‘Jesse’s Juveniles’ in 1969. That early article appears in this edition as the revised and expanded, ‘Ravenous Monsters of Society – The Early Exploits of the James Gang’, which was one of four back issue Brand Books I was able to purchase soon after joining the Society. The other articles are as follows: Jesse Woodson James – A ‘Noble Robber’?, comparing Jesse to Eric Hobsbawm’s ideas on the social bandit; Melvin Baugh – ‘A Terror of the People of Kansas and Missouri’, providing details about one of the suspects of the 1867 robbery at Savannah; Separate articles on the Columbia and Concordia robberies; Did the James Gang Rob the Ste Genevieve Bank?; ‘Two of the Gang are the James Boys’, regarding the 1873 bank robbery at Chillicothe; ‘Texas Wants ’Em’ – The Depredations of the Youngers in Texas; ‘My Arm Was Hanging Loose’, about the bombing of the James Farm in 1875; The James Gang in West Virginia; ‘A Desperate Reckless Set’ – The James Gang at Otterville, Missouri; John Barney Swinney; ‘Cousin to Jesse James’; ‘Wash My Hands In Your Heart’s Blood’ – Some Incidents in the Life of Mattie Collins; and ‘One of the Most Peaceful States’ – Missouri in the Early 1880s.
As the author says, this volume does not present a history of Jesse James, or the James-Younger Gang, but rather is an opportunity to present the product of fifty years of research and dedication to the history of not just Jesse James but the times he lived in and the other individuals who either became willing or unwilling participants in his tale. In fact, the complete list of articles featured in Appendix D reads like a checklist for those of us still collecting those long out of print and in many cases extremely rare publications.
There have been some changes – new information has been added and some has been removed to avoid repetition. But from the earliest, ‘the Concordia robbery’ of 1980, to the more recently offered ‘A Death in the Family – the Brothers Ford, Hite, James, and Dick Liddil’, the articles are as thoroughly researched, honest, and well-written as they always have been. The subject matter is always interesting, often off the beaten track, and appropriately illustrated. Letters and featured articles, such as John Newman Edwards’, ‘The Murder of Jesse James’, still appear in their entirety, which is a rare and splendid thing.
Two of the Appendices provide a glimpse into the author as editor. Of course those larger works include ‘A Terrible Quintette’ and ‘The Life and Death of Harry Tracy’ but here they are represented, in Appendix B and C respectively, by the confessions of Dick Liddil and Clarence Hite.
I am not entirely sure why the author chose to ‘relegate’ his ‘From the Pen of a Noble Robber’ to Appendix A as this reviewer still regards it one of the greatest articles in the collection and has been much referred to over the years. It demonstrates the author’s ability to include unabbreviated sources while using the text merely to link them together. This makes the sources the most important component of the article and gives the reader the opportunity to make their own mind up about the content. This volume includes the extended version of the text, privately printed in 2013.
All in all, this is a must have volume. It doesn’t matter if you have some of these articles already because, in its entirety, this book demonstrates only too well the love, skill, knowledge and determination that goes in to preserving the history of the West.Michelle Pollard
English Westerners' Society
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