Jesse James Jr. and Zeo Zoe Wilkins

My great-uncle Count Caldwell made a recording of his early life and memories of his family.  In one segment, he mentions an occasion when his family met up with the James ‘gang’ as the Caldwells were traveling from Arkansas to Texas and Oklahoma.  He (like so many individuals in Southern families who knew sufferings during the Civil War), expressed admiration for Jesse James and the James family.

He mentioned that Jesse Woodson James’ son was a lawyer (practicing in Missouri if I remember correctly – can’t check – for alas: my Old Flood Story – lost the audio tape that Count recorded).

In my genealogy research, I’ve discovered a connection with my Williams family and the Woodson family – thus a very tenuous connection with Jesse Woodson James’ family.

Laura James’ novel The Love Pirate and the Bandit’s Son mixes “. . . historical conjecture with forensic fact” and is about a particular time in the life of Jesse James, Jr. when he meets up with Zeo Zoe Wilkins “whose rise and fall in love and larceny scandalized the nation.”

The book is a very interesting read.

The following is an account of Jesse Jr.’s meeting with his future in-laws from the viewpoint of their daughter Stella McGown (nothing about Zeo Zoe Wilkins – you will have to read the book!):

Now, when I invited my new beau, Jesse, to my home to have my parents meet him, the atmosphere was somewhat strained.  My mother and father were too courteous and too kind, to show any outright hostility to this fine looking, pleasant mannered young man who came courting their daughter.  But certainly they were not able to feel any enthusiastic approval toward the son of the notorious “Bad Man.”

The Sunday afternoon of Jesse’s third visit to my home, I could not help noticing how stiffly everyone seemed to be perched on the edge of the uncomfortable parlor chairs, how the conversation seemed to sputter nervously and die, how my younger brothers and sisters sat around and stared in excited curiosity at our guest.

My father (Alfred M.McGown) asked, “You say you live with your mother here in town, Mr. James?”

“Yes, sir, Mr. McGown,” Jesse replied.  “With my mother and sister, Mary.”

I was wishing that he’d go on to explain that he’d bought and paid for their cottage himself out of his own earnings, for he’d been working hard to support the three of them ever since earliest boyhood.  I wanted Jesse to make my parents see what a fine person he was.

But then my mother, (Martha) just trying to keep the faltering conversation going, and certainly not intending to be unkind, began, “And your father?” breaking off in dismay after realizing the blunder too late.

“He was killed,ma’am, back in 1882,” said Jesse.  And a tense silence fell in the room, while my brothers and sisters exchanged thrilled glances, and waited to see where this tantalizing turn of conversation might lead.

It led nowhere, for Jesse rose at this point and said to my father, “It’s such a fine day, sir.  I wonder if I might have your permission to take Stella for a buggy ride?”

I jumped up in relief as my father nodded his assent.

They were wed on January 24, 1900, even though Stella was not quite eighteen years old and thus not legally eligible for marriage under Missouri law.  There seemed no reason to rush, but they could not wait another six weeks.  The wedding of Jesse  James Jr. was national news in January 1900.  The young couple honeymooned on the old James farm near Kearney, fifteen miles northeast of Kansas City, where the outlaw Jesse and his bride Zee also had honeymooned in bygone days, the home loopholed for defense, raised by federals, bombed by the Pinkertons, and ruled by Zeralda Samuel, improbable a setting as it was for romance.


About hopeseguin

Who am I? I'm still discovering just who I am, I suppose. A. Powell Davis writes that "Life is just a chance to grow a soul."

Posted on December 27, 2009, in Books, genealogy and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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