Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Nashville and Jesse James

The James brothers with their mother Zerelda James

  Most everyone has heard of the of the notorious outlaws Jesse and Frank James. But did you know that they lived in Nashville from 1875 until March 1881? Jesse's oldest son Jesse James Jr. was born in Nashville along with his sister Mary. Jesse Jr. was born at 606 Boscobel Street on August 31, 1875. Mary was born on West Hamilton Road in Bordeaux on July 17, 1879. Jesse Jr. went by the name Tim and as far as he knew his last name was Howard. He and his sister would not know their real last names until after Jesse was killed in 1882. Jesse and his wife Zerelda would also lose two male twins in infancy.  Jesse's brother Frank lived on Clarksville Pike. While living there he and his wife Annie Ralston James gave birth to a son named Robert Franklin on February 6, 1877. For a time he would be dressed as a girl and go by the name of Mary. Why his parents did this I do not know.  The brothers were on the run. Nashville was a large town and they could blend in to the local population passing themselves off as respectable citizens. They had led violent lives until they moved to Nashville. Both had been guerrilla's in the Civil War. They rode with Quantrill and "Bloody Bill Anderson". Their men raped women, shot down surrendered soldiers, Unionist civilian's, and sometimes they scalped their victims. Jesse was nearly killed on two occasions when he was shot in the chest both times. The last time near the end of the war when he was trying to surrender. His first cousin Zerelda "Zee" Mims, who had been named after Jesse's mother nursed him back to health. Nine years later she became his wife.

  After the war in 1866 the James gang started robbing banks, stagecoaches, and trains. This was their most active period until September 7, 1876 when the James-Younger gang rode into Northfield Minnesota to rob a bank. The gang was ambushed by enraged citizens who realized what they were up to when they rode into town. Being from Missouri they stood out like a sore thumb. During the robbery Jesse blew a bank tellers brains out and an innocent bystander was killed. The gang barely escaped. Two gang members were killed and the Younger's were were later captured. Jesse and Frank got away and were the only two that were not hurt or captured. Eventually they made their way to Nashville. Here they created the facade of respectable citizens. They sent for their families and Jesse went by the alias of John Davis or (David) Howard. Frank went by the name Ben J. Woodson. Jesse lived in at least three places in Edgefield, which is in East Nashville. At 606 Boscobel street, 903 Woodland Street and lived the longest at 711 Fatherland St. The Fatherland Street house still stands and is on the National Register of Historic places. The other two addresses have been razed. The Fatherland Street house was in deplorable condition and scheduled for demolition in 1984 but was restored by a private owner. It was originally built in the mid 1850's.
A replica of the inside of the bank at Northfield Minnesota 

The route taken by the James brothers from Northfield to Nashville

The James Brothers - Frank in the middle, and Jesse is on right. Fletch Taylor, a former Confederate guerrilla is on the left. This picture was taken in Nashville in 1867 according to the Tennessean newspaper

606 Boscobel Street - Birthplace of Jesse James Jr.  This house no longer exists
Mary James and Jesse James Jr. 
Book written by Jesse James Jr. about his father
Robert Franklin James in later life. The son of Frank James

The house at 711 Fatherland Street 
From left to right: Zerelda "Zee" Amanda Mimms James, 1845-1900. Married Jesse April 24, 1874. Anna "Annie" Ralston james, 1853-1944. Eloped with Frank June 1874. Susan Lavenia James Parmer, 1849-1889. Sister of Frank and Jesse James. Married former bushwhacker Allen Parmer in 1870.

  My wife Debbie grew up at 915 Boscobel St. until we married in 1968. Her father lived there until 1989. My wife's house is in walking distance of the James house on Fatherland Street. Edgefield was the Belle Meade of the Jesse James era and as a young man I did not realize the historical significance of the neighborhood. I have a picture on our wall of her house in 1906. Frank seemed ready to settle down in Nashville but about 1879 Jesse became restless. The gang started robbing again and in 1881 the brothers returned to Missouri. Jesse's downfall began in Nashville on March 25, 1881 when a James gang member Bill Ryan, using the alias Tom Hill, stopped by the grocery store of W.L. Earthman in Whites Creek. This building still stands and when I dated my wife in the 1960's we would frequently pass this building which at that time had a historical marker nearby.  Mr. Earthman also had a saloon in the back of the building. Ryan tended to shoot his mouth off when he was drinking and he began bragging about his exploits with the James gang. Earthman took him at his word and he and others overpowered Ryan. They took him to Nashville where he was arrested. After receiving word of his arrest Jesse and Frank left town in a hurry the next day. Jesse went back to his home in St. Joseph Missouri. On 3-April-1882 a member of Jesse's gang named Bob Ford and his brother schemed with the governor of Missouri, Thomas Crittenden. The governor led the left wing of General Rosecrans Army at Stones River. Ford agreed to kill Jesse and collect the bounty on his head. From that point on Ford was known as the" dirty little coward that shot Mr. Howard". A few years later he was shot in the throat at point blank range by a man wielding a shotgun. Jesse James was seen by many of the common people as a "Robin Hood". Yet there is no evidence that he ever shared his money with anyone other than himself and fellow gang members. Jesse was nothing but a cold blooded killer in my opinion. Mary James Barr, who really did not know her father, came to Nashville in 1933 for the express purpose of seeing the house that she was born in on West Hamilton Road. The house was torn down in 1977. Mary was asked to talk about Jesse and Frank by a local newspaper reporter. She said that the brothers never unsaddled their horses and always slept near a window in order to make a quick getaway. Mary would die two years later in 1935. The following is the last picture ever taken of Jesse when he worked at a cedar barrel factory in Nashville. Jesse is sitting in the center of the picture on the front row. Another gang member has his arm around his shoulder. Frank is to the right on the back row. There are five gang members in the picture besides the James brothers.
The Cedar Barrel Factory
My wife's house at 915 Boscobel Street in 1906. Picture taken from 916 Boscobel Street
The Earthman Grocery store today in Whites Creek

Bob Ford - The dirty little coward that shot Mr. Howard

The body of Jesse James on display


  1. Correction- the twins that died as babies were males- named Gould and Montgomery.

  2. My family is long time TN folk. My namesake moved here in the early 1900s (Veach), descended from Revolutionary War patriots who settled in Kentucky. However it was either the Hillis or Davis branch of my family that actually housed Jesse James and his gang for over a week back in the late 1800s. I'll talk to my grandfather and see if he has any more story to share. My relatives are amongst those that built Nashville and settled the surrounding area... Legend in my family is that Jesse was a decent and respectable fellow while he holed up with my family.

    1. Do you know the name of the gang member who has his arm around jesse? I believe he is my GR Granfather! I have a photo.

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  3. I am born and raised in nashville and story told to me is he lived in a house owned by the hyde family on hydes ferry road in Bordeaux and house is still standing and had been remolded

    1. Frank did live there I just bought a beautiful wood burning heater from the new owner. Frank never used it but I'm still in awe that it sat in his home. I have a link of the last known interview with him done in Nashville. This was also the last place he saw Jesse. Here's the posting for the house for sale. You can see my heater in the corner by the fireplace in the living room.
      Ill share the out link but its a download.


  4. Brad-I just bought a house from the 1800's, South of Nashville and the story that ran with the property, was that long ago owners also hid Jesse James on their property. Can you fill me in on your family's knowledge?

  5. "Jesse was nothing but a cold blooded killer."

    That is not true... Taking a step back paints a bigger picture. The only 'Cold Blooded' killer hiding in the woodpile, is the Rothschild (controlled), Centralized Bank.

    1. As the people who knew him. You'll find out he was a good man. Did more goid than harm a wild west robin hood...

  6. My name is Keith gober. And my grandfather used to tell me that his brother, used to ride with Jesse James back when they started robbing again while they lived here in nashville. If he told me his brothers name I can’t remember it. But he told me about 3-4 different stories that happened while he rode with him. I know how people always want to be associated with the famous outlaws during that time and say one of their relatives ride with the famous one because it would be cool to be involved with them. But I don’t think he would have been as detailed as to what had happened in his stories if he hadn’t rode with the James gang. When I saw the cedar barrel picture that is what reminded me of my grandfathers stories. He said his brother worked at a barrel factory. So I’m assuming that’s where he met the James’s. I can only assume he became friends with them working there and rode with them then. He did say he didn’t ride very long. So either he was killed, or just quit riding. I can’t remember. I was only around 5 years old when he told me about it. I’m 50 now. I’ve slept since then and can’t remember things from 45 years ago. How true all 3-4 stories were, I’m not sure. I can only go by what I was told when I was a kid.