Thursday, August 13th, 2020

Baton Rouge, Louisiana


 With the pandemic keeping us more at home, TV binge watching has become the norm.  My family and I have viewed season after season of Chicago PD, NCIS New Orleans, even old re-runs of The Sopranos and Friends.  And old-time movies.  How many times can you re-watch The Godfather?

One group of charlatans we enjoyed watching last week were the colorful characters that make up Jesse James and the James Gang.  You remember.  Like Robin Hood, they robbed banks of the rich guys and spread it among the poor Missouri dirt farmers.  And guess what?  My grandmother, who was delightfully named Sweetie Pearl Brown, claimed to me that she had met Jesse himself.

Sweetie Pearl was about the most entertaining person I ever knew. She relished telling me yarns about growing up in the Missouri foothills of Clay County.  She swore to me (and I believe her) that her father, William Hull, hid out Jesse James and his gang as the bank robbers crisscrossed the Midwest.

 According to Sweetie Pearl, she would hear the James gang come riding up to the Hull farm in the middle of the night, enter their family cabin, and lie down on the floor in front of the fire to sleep a spell.  After they left in the early morning hours, Sweetie would see the spur marks in the wood floor. The gang members kept their boots on in case a quick getaway became necessary.

She swore that Jesse James never was killed by one of his own men. This was all a ruse, so she said, to get the lawmen off his tracks. The official version in the history books is that gang member Robert Ford shot Jesse in the back for a big reward in 1882 in St. Joseph, Missouri.  Not true, said Sweetie Pearl. She swears the Robin Hood-like folk hero made his way down to northeast Louisiana and spent some ten years in the small community of Floyd in West Carroll Parish, about two miles south of Poverty Point.

I somewhat doubted her version until I read a story in the Bastrop Enterprise dated June 23, 1938, about how Jesse and some of his gang holed up in northeast Louisiana for over ten years after his reported death. One local account is from a Mrs. W. A. Ober, who told the paper: “It happened on a boat on Bayou Bartholomew tied up at Old Lynn Grove. During a card game, a card shark was discovered winning the game and Jesse pulled out his pearl handle pistol with his name engraved on it. The card cheater, in a sharp tone, demanded, ‘To whom do I owe my disgrace?’ The reply came, ‘to Jesse James.’” 

Could it have been that one of the most famous outlaws in the nation’s history pulled a ruse and spent his final days right down here in Louisiana?  We know that Bonne and Clyde met their just rewards in the northwest parish of Bienville, near the small town of Sailes back in 1934.  There is even a small memorial stone to mark where the shooting took place.

So who knows?  Maybe, instead of being gunned down by a fellow gang member as many history books tell us, grandmother Sweetie Pearl could have been right on the money in both having met Jesse James, and knowing that his final resting place was right here in the Bayou State.  And as Paul Harvey used to say, now you know the rest of the story.

.Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide. You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at




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