Did Jim Cummins & Other Former Missouri Guerrillas Suffer From Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome?

Hello Members: Cindy Taylor here, aka as “The Austinkid." 

I recently visited with an aunt who knew my great-grandfather, W.G. (Bill) Austin, Quantrill man—she was a child then. She related to me some interesting family information about him. It seems, in his older age, that he became very difficult to live with. Not that that is unusual for older people, but what I found interesting is that he refused to sleep indoors, preferring to sleep outdoors.

Also, Bill refused to bathe, which might be two behaviors linked to the Quantrill days when those guys lived outdoors for long periods of time. Of course the guerrillas had to be awake and at the ready at any time, in case of attack. I can only imagine how bad they must have smelled!! Finally, the family built a sort of “shack” for great-granddad, that had a metal cot-type bed and wash basin---no toilet. He agreed to sleep there, this being after his wife died. He was pretty spry, and would take off when my grandmother approached him to bathe. Alzheimer’s, perhaps. But I wondered if anyone else had any recollections of these men that had any similar strange behaviors that might be throwbacks to the “living in the wild” days?

Also, we hear a lot nowadays about Post-Traumatic Stress—wouldn’t they have all suffered from this? With their homes burning down, property seized, relatives murdered, etc. it wouldn’t be surprising. How many could possibly be “normal” after such experiences? Just a thought and pondering.  Dial “austinkid” if you have any thoughts or ideas? Cindy Taylor. 

We hope you enjoy this image of  "Windy Jim" as a young man.                   


Editors Note: The Austin-Kid brings up an excellent point. Anyone who survived the horrors of war is forever changed by the experience. The six months my Father's spent prisoner of war in German affected him for the rest of short life, and my Brother's time in the Navy during Vietnam changed him forever.

Virtually every man, woman and child, who lived in Northwestern Missouri, was a victim of  least one act of violence and depravity during the decade long Missouri Kansas border war. And those who may have been fortunate enough to avoid personal harm, knew their neighbors, friends and relatives who were not so lucky.

For those of you who are not aware, website founding members Paul Petersen and Don Gilmore, discuss this subject in their recent works. Please allow me to cite another example of post war behavior of the former Missouri Guerrillas, which could possibly be related to what we now call Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome.

Jim Cummins (sometimes spelled Cummings), was born January 31, 1847 near Kearney Missouri, a few miles from the James farm. He attended the same schools and church as the James boys. During the war he served in Anderson's company, the same as Jesse. He fought in numerous engagements including Centralia. After the war he went to Texas with George Shepherd.  There is little doubt that Cummins engaged in some nefarious activities. In 1874 Clay County, Missouri; issued an indictment against Cummins, for allegedly stealing a neighbors horse. Jim was accused of robbing a paymaster at Mussels Shoals, Alabama.

Cummins was a suspect in numerous James gang attributed robberies including the ones at Blue Cut, Glendale, and Winston. In 1885 he was arrested but not convicted, in connected with a train robbery that occurred near Pacific, Missouri. Jim named himself as a member of the James gang in one of the books he wrote after long after the gang had broken up and he had past his prime. He made several attempts to surrender to the authorities. However no one believed he was really  a member, so Cummins so was never tried for any crimes.

This lack of acknowledgment (fame?) seemed to first disappoint, then later infuriate Cummins. Jim was quoted was saying he never forgave Frank James for implicating him in the Winston robbery, and that "he'd always liked Jesse more" Maybe that is why Frank claimed Cummins was a "devil may care person who was not all all dangerous."   

In 1902 J. R. was accepted into the confederate Veterans home in Higginsville, Missouri. In 1909 Cummings was arrested for striking a fellow Ex- Confederate at the home, who died he next day. However, no charges were filed, and Jim was allowed to continue living at the home for the next twenty two years. He died at the home on July 10, 1929.

So here is a case where the actions of one ex-guerrilla whose appeared to be in total control of his mental capacity, and whose actions seem quite clear and calculated. However they do not seem to be rational, all things considered. Did the effects of post Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome contribute to J. R. Cummins decision to abandon his lifelong friends and comrades ? The same men who with he routinely entrusted his life for decades.

Perhaps a better question is; How different might our country be today if most of the famous icons of the American West, as such as; Frank and Jesse James, Cole and Jim Younger, Wild Bill Hickok and Buffalo Bill Cody, had not suffered from the side effects caused by one of the most horrific armed conflicts to date?   

Members, what do you think? Also please don't forget to submit you questions, comments, and artifacts. Thanks to the Austin-kid, for being a trail blazer once again. 

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