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Dead Outlaws

Jesse James Is Exhumed

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, May 31, 2000.

In Texas, authorities are digging up the grave of a man dead since 1951 who claimed he was Jesse James. They are going to run DNA tests with people who are known James descendents. Thus the fascinating crime career of the James family continues into its third century, for it is the tax payers who will absorb all the expense all to increase tourist interest in areas contiguous to cadavers James and not for the benefit of their progeny, James and not. And let's see a show of hands: who among us woke up this morning determined to solve this historic genetic tracing?

Jesse James, along with his brother Frank and various cousins, fought with the Confederate Army in Quantrill's Raiders during the Civil War. For benefit of University of Colorado graduates, the American Civil War took place between 1861 and 1865 between the northern states and the southern states. The North won. Even by the horrible standards of that conflict, and by the even lower standards extant in Missouri, where the James family lived, and Kansas, where the equally vicious Union thugs lived, Quantrill's Raiders were a scary bunch. It is not surprising that the post-war outlaw history of the American West can really be reduced to a series of fights between ex-Confederate soldiers, now outlaws, and ex-Union soldiers now wearing badges. It was surely so with the James Gang and the Daltons, their cousins, and with most of the outlaws. Northerners Wyatt Earp, Bill Hickock, Bat Masterson, and Bill Cody stood, more or less, against them. Sort of. Unless there was money in it for them.

Jesse and Frank James were revered, but only in the South, because they stole from trains owned by New York bankers and primarily killed northern folk. That was good marketing sense, given their time and place. Jesse was, in accordance with karma, shot in the back of the head by a traitor from within by the name of Robert Ford. All this took place in 1882 in Missouri. Frank James, also in accordance with American tradition, turned himself in, served significant time, was pardoned, went to California and made movies in his dotage. There was a rumor that Jesse James faked his death because he was tired of running and that he went to Texas where he changed his name to Dalton. The person who claimed that is the bag of bones Texas is exhuming.

The body supposed to be Jesse James' was dug up and tested for compatible DNA some years ago. The results, they said, were inconclusive. I don't understand how that can be true, given what we are told about how DNA testing works. The male specific gene is either the same or it is not. What do you think the Texas results will be, given that the town of 6000 is totally dependent on the tourist dollar?

I don't know if any of you notice, every summer, the number of people who rush into the cemetery off ninth street to have their photo taken at Tom Horn's grave site. To me, this is ghoulish beyond the norm. Horn was a hired gun who was hung for murder in Cheyenne in, I think, 1901. His brother lived in Boulder, and that's where the corpse was taken. Until Steve McQueen's last movie about Tom Horn, nobody cared, but now a parade of badly dressed people, mostly overweight single men in plaid shorts, pose smiling by the gravestone. A friend lives nearby, and I have talked to these guys over the years. They visit Boulder solely for that photo, possibly as part of a national photo tour of outlaw graves.

Imagine if that grave was the source of your income, which you derived from fat people wheezing over Tom Horn and then getting food and lodging at your business before they fire up the Nova for the jaunt to Glenwood Springs to visit Doc Holliday. Now suppose someone threatened to expose that it is not Tom Horn buried there, because he escaped the noose and went down on the Titanic years later. Chances are pretty good that you'd fight all evidence to the contrary. Still, it is shady to pretend to a mystery for profit.

And the James saga continues, with the southern con men robbing northerners of their cash for their own benefit. Before, it was the theory that Northerners were exploiting the South. Now it is under the gossamer of scientific discovery because of pressing medical mysteries. The mystery is, which used car salesman is really the genetic descendent of a sociopathic killer and gets to brag about it on his website. Hurry, guys, hurry and let us know. We're so excited to find out.