Guerrilla Gordian Knots Unraveled

A review of I Knew Frank…I Wish I Had Known Jesse.  We start with an image of Fletch Taylor, Frank & Jesse James taken in 1866.                                                                  

The book entitled “I Knew Frank…I Wish I Had Known Jesse,” Family, Friends and Neighbors in the Life and Times of the James Boys by Samuel Anderson Pence received the John Newman Edwards Literary Award in 2008. Frank James, Donnie Pence and Bud Pence fought under Quantrill’s Partisan command during their youth. Alexander Doniphan “Donnie” Pence and Thomas Edward “Bud” Pence were the great uncles of Samuel Pence. The author knew all three of these men who had been guerrillas.

On Page 456 & 457: “He (attorney J.M. Smith) was shot by a Federal soldier he had never seen, and the reason was never known. This was one of many reasons why there were guerrillas in Missouri to avenge such murders.”

This book verifies my contention that much Kentucky blood fertilized the fields, woods and hills of Missouri during our War for Southern Independence. On Page 265: “Clay County was just a transplanted chunk of Kentucky blue grass, and if there ever was a successful grafting and transfusion, time has proven this one to be.”

Samuel Pence was a walking encyclopedia of genealogy concerning the folks who settled his hometown of Kearney, Missouri. His own family tree was composed of the Pence and Anderson families who had migrated west to Missouri from Kentucky.

The author’s great grandfather, Adam Pence, was an early Clay County pioneer. The James and Pence farms were situated near each other. Samuel Pence knew Cole Younger and Jim Cummins as well as many less well-known Clay County residents. The author’s father, Samuel Adam Pence, had operated a drug store in Kearney.

Typical of small towns everywhere, local residents were tagged with nicknames for a lifetime, jokes were played and stories were repeated around the dinner table or “loafing” places. Samuel Pence was a talented reporter of these hometown events.

Both the mother and father of Frank and Jesse were natives of Kentucky. Their mother, the long suffering Zerelda Cole James, was educated at St. Catherine’s school in Lexington, Kentucky. The father of the boys, Robert James, attended Georgetown College in Georgetown, Kentucky, and became a preacher in Missouri. The stepfather of the James boys, Reuben Samuel, was a medical doctor from Owen County, Kentucky.

Within Frank and Jesse pulsed the blood of the aristocrat, not the diluted blood of the dregs of society. It is reported that Frank James often quoted Shakespeare to the surprise of some of his detractors. On Page 29: “He read Shakespeare and what one reads will show sooner or later in ones speech. His ancestors probably have a higher IQ rating than most of his deriders of the arched-eyebrow and disdainful set.”

The author unwinds all the tangled blood relationships within the James family. He connects all the dots between half brothers, half sisters, cousins, half aunts and uncles. It is quite a knot to unravel and understand.

After the War for Southern Independence ended, Frank and Jesse realized that the only thing that could be guaranteed upon their surrender to the authorities would be a hangman’s noose. The author covers various robberies the James boys were accused of committing. He explains the reasoning used for the Northfield, Minnesota, bank robbery while leaving the reader unsure whether Frank and Jesse participated. Several chapters record the lives of the Younger brothers and their time spent in jail after being captured.

Life on the run came to an end in 1882 after Missouri Governor Thomas T. Crittenden, a native of Shelby County, Kentucky, placed a large financial reward upon the capture of the James boys. This led to the murder of Jesse and the surrender of Frank that year.

The reason the James boys had not been caught sooner was blamed upon the fact that the area around Kearney was full of their relatives. On Page 35: “Some Clay County citizens thought that Patton (the sheriff) did not press down on his saddle stirrups hard enough to get his speedometer to register the necessary MPH to diminish his distance from the James Boys in a chase. Too much kin, it was thought; fear was not a factor.”

Today, the author’s two great uncles are buried in the Stoner Chapel Cemetery near to Samuels, Kentucky. They both followed the great Quantrill into Kentucky in January, 1865. Donnie and Bud were able to safely surrender at Samuels Depot after the War was over. Both brothers married Samuels sisters and became good citizens. Donnie Pence served as the sheriff of Nelson County for many years. Bud also served as a lawman.

Samuel Pence wrote his manuscript on a manual typewriter and completed it about 1960. His attempts to have it published were not fruitful. Samuel’s grandson, Daniel M. Pence, is to be commended for editing and having this wonderful book published in 2007.

The author had a knack for the retelling of humorous events that will make you laugh out loud. On Page 164: “…and if he made money he felt like getting drunk on account of his success, and if he lost money, he felt like getting drunk to drown his sorrow, so regardless of making or losing, he always got a drunk out of it.”

This book is a valuable resource for those interested in the Kentucky/Missouri guerrillas and their many convoluted Gordian Knot blood relationships to one another. “I Knew Frank…I Wish I Had Known Jesse” contains 501 pages. There are 30 pages of illustrations and photographs. The ISBN number is 9781929311606. The book lists for $28.00 at HaroldsBookStore.com. or you can phone Harold Dellinger at (816) 241-5315.

From a speech by John T. Barker, former Attorney General of Missouri, on Page 206: “They lost fighting for a lost cause. The loser always looks bad and the winners always look good. Victory made George Washington and his soldiers patriots and heroes, but had they lost the revolution they would have been hung. How would the James boys have looked had the South won?”

Nancy Hitt –©quantrillsguerrillas.com

Permission should be requested and agreed to before using this copyrighted essay."  Bud Pence is the image below with the wavey locks, his brother Donnie has the wild mustache. 


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