THE SECRET LIFE OF JESSE JAMES
by Caveat Lector
THE SECRET LIFE OF JESSE JAMES
“Jesse James in life. Jesse James in myth. Jesse James in death–
or is it Charlie Bigelow?
History tells us that Jesse James died in 1882, shot by a former
friend, Bob Ford. Yet many believe that James faked his death, and
lived for years under the name J. Frank Dalton.
Here his story–a true story of the Weird West . . .
Jesse James reportedly belonged to a secret society, The Knights of
the Golden Circle. Other members included Jefferson Davis, Bedford
Forrest, and William Quantrill (leader of the Confederate guerilla
outfit Quantrill’s Raiders, with whom James rode). Some believe the
society was created by the notorious Albert Pike, the subject of many
a Masonic conspiracy theory.
According to the book Jesse James Was One of His Names (written by
Del Schrader, with Jesse James III), the American Civil War did not
really end in 1865, but continued to be fought “underground” for 19
more years. Its highly sophisticated spy network, operated by the
Knights of the Golden Circle, continued for even longer and was
involved in many subversive activities. One of these was train
robbery, a specialty of the James Gang, the purpose being to enrich
the coffers of the Confederate underground. As a Confederate agent,
James was also involved in smuggling guns and ammunition to the
Plains Indians, as well as providing training in guerilla tactics,
for use against their common enemy, General George Armstrong Custer
and the Union Army.
After General Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomatox, a force of
2,000 Missouri cavalry and a full regiment of Confederate-led Red
Bone Indians from East Texas, led by General J. O. Shelby journeyed
to Mexico to join their ally, the Emperor Maximilian. When they were
later threatened by Mexican patriots under the leadership of Benito
Juarez, an elite force led by William Quantrill and Jesse James was
sent to rescue them.
While in Mexico, James was enlisted in an operation to smuggle
Maximilian’s treasure out of Mexico. On their way north, the James
force learned that Maximilian had “apparently” been executed by the
Mexican patriots. He and several others had been shot by firing
squad, then loaded into carts and carried away for burial. But the
gravesite ceremony was infiltrated by Red Bone Indians, who noticed
signs of life in Maximilian. The Indians talked the Mexicans into
allowing them to give him a separate burial. Later he was nursed
back to health and transported to East Texas.
According to Schrader, Maximilian changed his name to John Maxi and
began living undercover in North America. Jesse James traveled to
Europe, found a double of Maximilian’s wife, Charlotta, then smuggled
the real Charlotta back to America, where she was reunited with her
husband. The man buried in Maximilian’s grave in Vienna is a German
seaman who died in a gunfight in Vera Cruz, Mexico. “Switching
bodies is a subterfuge as old as mankind,” writes Schrader, “and the
Golden Circle certainly had no monopoly on this practice.”
For their assistance, Maximilian rewarded the Knights of the Golden
Circle $12.5 million in gold, and Jesse James $5 million.
Jesse James was now a wealthy man, with enough power and influence to
fake his own death–and, with the law hot on his trail, this was
undoubtedly a wise move.
According to Bud Hardcastle (a Jesse James historian), the man who
was killed and identified as James was Charlie Bigelow. “Bigelow
was robbing things and using Jesse’s name, and that’s one of the
reasons they probably identified him as Jesse . . . and Bigelow was
buried as Jesse James.”
Supposedly, Mrs. Jesse James was in reality Mrs. Bigelow–a
prostitute who had been bribed to identify the corpse as that of James.
Hardcastle states that others who identified the dead body in 1882
had ulterior motives as relatives or members of Quantrill’s Raiders.
These men had all ridden with Jesse and taken an oath to protect each
other. By identifying the body as Jesse James, they were setting
However, one member of the James gang, an illiterate black man by the
name of John Trammell, left a coded message revealing the hoax.
Acording to Schrader, Trammell scratched some messages into some wet
bricks. One brick “contained an image of a Spanish dagger, the
numerals 777, KGC [Knights of the Golden Circle] and JJ [Jesse
James]. . . .” The bricks, which were buried in St. Joseph Missouri,
were discovered in 1966.
Jesse James began living under the name J. Frank Dalton. (The
name “Dalton” was his mother’s maiden name. The initial “J” stood
for “Jesse,” and “Frank” was his brother’s name.) As Chief of the
Inner Sanctum of the Knights of the Golden Circle, James was one of
the most powerful men in America. Schrader writes, “The Knights had
industrial as well as military spies on both sides of the Atlantic.”
Among the activities of James/Dalton was the murder of John Wilkes
Booth, another Confederate spy who did not die when history says he did.
After assassinating President Abraham Lincoln, Booth was smuggled by
the Confederate underground to Texas, where he began living under the
name John St. Helen. In the 1870s he worked as a bartender in a
saloon in Granbury, Texas, and began telling people about his past.
When the Knights of the Golden Circle found out, the decision was
made to silence him. Booth fled Granbury.
Jesse James, along with William “Wild Bill” Lincoln (a distant cousin
of President Lincoln), tracked Booth to Enid, Oklahoma, where he had
assumed the name David George.
In a sworn statement, “Wild Bill” Lincoln wrote: “Our branch of the
Lincoln family was never satisfied with what really happened to
Booth, and I spent fourteen years of my life running down the true
story. Strangely enough, I learned it from Jesse W. james, head of
the Confederate underground. I was present at Booth’s real death.”
According to Lincoln, he and James crept into Booth’s room and
tricked him into drinking a glass of arsenic-laced lemonade. The
massive amount of arsenic consumed by Booth caused his body to
mummify. James arranged for the body to be exhibited on a national
carnival tour. The mummy’s present whereabouts are unknown.
As “J. Frank Dalton,” Jesse James turned his $5 million reward from
Maximilian into an even greater fortune. He invested in the Texas
oil boom, and was also a backer of the Hughes Tool Company (founded
by Howard Hughes’ father). He was also one of Henry Ford’s early investors.
James/Dalton died at the age of 103 in Granbury, Texas. Many people
who had known the outlaw in life swore that Dalton was the real Jesse James.”