Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo and California Statehood

One of the most interesting aspects of California history in the late 1840’s and early 1850’s was the role of ex-General Mariano Vallejo of the Mexican military. Events happened so fast during this era that often times the prominent role that Mariano Vallejo played in early California history goes unnoticed.

general vallejo

Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo, public domain photo

To preface this article, I need to point out that present day California has a city named after this Mexican ex-General. Vallejo California lies in the far northeastern part of San Francisco Bay (San Pablo Bay) in the Carquinez Straits which separate the San Pablo Bay from Suisun Bay to the east. The United States navy also commissioned the nuclear submarine USS Mariano G. Vallejo, (SSBN-658), in 1966. The submarine was in service until it’s decommissioning in 1995. An interesting historical fact about the submarine is that the Vallejo’s tail was saved and is currently on display at Mare Island California, adjacent to the city of Vallejo. The site at Mare island, the first full scale Naval installation on the west coast, is a fitting place for the Vallejo submarine tail display.

Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo was born into a prominent Spanish family and pursued a career in the military and politics. Vallejo firmly believed that the American presence in Alta California promoted economic prosperity and political stability. Mariano Vallejo was born in Monterey on July of 1808. Starting off as a cadet in the military he was made comandante-general of California in 1838. Vallejo  made a name for himself at the age twenty-one, when he led a victorious Mexican and Indian expedition against an Indian revolt at the San José Mission. Not long after that accomplishment, the Mexican governor appointed Vallejo the head of the San Francisco garrison, then as the military commander of the northern part of the state. This preceded vallejo’s move to Sonoma. Vallejo actually had additional power as director of colonization of the north Alta California region and was authorized to issue land grants to settlers.

sonoma california

Historic Sonoma California

Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo is quite an interesting figure in early California. Although he was briefly jailed during the Bear Flag Revolt in the late 1840’s, Vallejo went on to become quite a booster for the new State of California that was established in 1850. At the time of Alta California being ceded to the United States from Mexico, Mariano Vallejo was in charge of a military garrison located in present day Sonoma California. Sonoma of course was a Franciscan Mission town which, surprisingly, was built by the secular Mexican government after the defeat of the Spaniards. The popular story about the mission in Sonoma is that the Mexican government needed a northern outpost north of San Francisco Bay because of Russian activity to it’s north. The Russians had a long history of fur trapping and trading in the Fort Ross and Bodega Bay area of the Pacific coast, north of San Francisco. The mission settlement and troops stationed under Vallejo in Sonoma would serve as a sort of lookout post. This is what placed Vallejo and his troops in the Sonoma County California area at the time of the Bear Flag Revolt and the ultimate takeover by the U.S. It has also been written that at one time the Russians were interested in selling Fort Ross, on the Pacific coast, to the Mexican government and that Mariano Vallejo had indeed discussed this with them. Nothing of course ever happened in this regard.

sonoma california barracks

General Vallejo's Sonoma Barracks

Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo passed away in 1890. At the time of his death he still was able to hold a relatively small 200 acre ranch. As it turned out for Vallejo and other Mexicans who were present in California at the U.S. takeover, the future wasn’t exceptionally bright. By the end of the 1800’s most all Mexicans and Mexican-Americans found themselves an ignored minority, with little or no political power and little wealth.

Two related articles you’ll find interesting is a visit to Sonoma California and a trip to historic Mare Island.

There is a lot of interesting history as to how several sites around present day Vallejo received their names. The city of Vallejo itself was named for the ex-Mexican General in 1844. The city of Benicia to it’s east was named after Vallejo’s wife. The very historic naval shipyard of Mare Island, adjacent to Vallejo California on it’s west, reportedly received it’s name because it was the site where Vallejo’s favorite horse was found after it fell off a raft in 1845.

city of vallejo california

Vallejo California as viewed from Mare Island

Today, there are several historic sites and museums that tell the story about Vallejo California, Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo and the naval history of this North Bay California city. The Vallejo Naval and Historical Museum tells the fascinating story about Vallejo California and adjacent Mare Island. The museum is located at 734 Marin Street in Vallejo. The Sonoma Plaza in Sonoma California has the home of General Mariano Vallejo and the site where the Bear Flag Revolt took place in 1846. Petaluma Adobe which is  preserved in Petaluma Adobe State Historic Park in Sonoma County, is considered one of the oldest preserved buildings in northern California. The adobe was constructed by General Vallejo and was a part of his ranch. The state park has been temporarily closed due to budget restraints. You check on the status of the park before you journey there.

(Photos of Sonoma Barracks, historic building and city of Vallejo are from author’s private collection)

Building the Transcontinental Telegraph Lines / Westward Expansion America

When you research western history, one of the most significant events that helped the United States solidify itself was the creation of a transcontinental telegraph system. In fact, the telegraph system was the sole reason the Pony Express had such a short existence. The Pony Express ended at about the same moment that the last telegraph wires were joined together. It wasn’t even a surprise. Everyone well knew that the telegraph system to California would be completed more sooner than later. Pony Express riders would pass work crews stringing the lines.

Building of the Telegraph Lines

Pony Express rider passing telegraph line work crew

Very similar to how the transcontinental railroad would be completed in 1869, the telegraph lines built to transmit the Morse code translation, would be constructed from both ends simultaneously.

At the start of the Pony Express in 1860, lines from the east reached St. Joseph Missouri. From the west they reached Placerville California in the Sierra Nevada foothills. A Pony Express rider carrying a mochila with telegrams heading west from St. Joseph would drop them off in Placerville where they would then be telegraphed to San Francisco. St. Joseph Missouri would be the terminus for telegrams to be sent further east.

As you might expect, building the telegraph lines between Missouri and California was not the easiest job in the world. It all began in earnest with the passage of the Pacific Telegraph Act by Congress in 1860. So why was 1860 a pivotal year for communications?

The Telegraph and the Civil War

The public domain map below shows the route of the first Transcontinental Telegraph line. The lines used to send and translate Morse code to text would change America’s communication systems forever.

The year 1860 marked the beginnings of the American Civil War. California became a state in 1850, at a time when the California Gold Rush was in full swing. The United States was spread from the Atlantic to the Pacific with a lot of frontier in between. The federal government needed some way to communicate rapidly with it’s far flung state of California.

To demonstrate the problem, a letter sent from Washington D.C. to San Francisco California in 1860, prior to the Pony Express, had two options to be delivered. In the 1850’s, the method was by Pacific Mail ship from San Francisco to Panama, then through the Panamanian jungles to another ship on it’s east coast, then on to Washington D.C. or New York. This was a journey of perhaps two months. If the ship happened to be using the Cape Horn route, it would take longer.

he second method came into being in 1858. This was the Butterfield Overland Mail Stage Line which ran from Missouri to California via the southwest. The Butterfield route via El Paso and San Diego was scheduled to take about twenty-five days covering it’s 2,795 mile distance. Not fast, but a marked improvement over the steamer mail service. What was fast was the Pony Express system which made the Missouri to California trek through the middle of the country in ten days. In fact, prior to the telegraph, this was considered lightning speed.

Pony Express Postmark

Several other telegraph bills were passed by Congress, and one of those appropriated $40,000 a year, for ten years, toward the building and maintenance of a telegraph line between the Atlantic and Pacific States.

The mergers and consolidations that would be the history of the later railroads, were similar to what was being set up to construct the transcontinental telegraph. The various California telegraph companies would merge together to build the line from California to Salt Lake City. The Western Union, who was awarded the contract, would build from Salt Lake City eastward. The California companies did formally  meet and agree on their consolidation. The new California telegraph company was named the Overland Telegraph Company with capital of $1,250,000. They would complete a telegraph line from San Francisco to Salt Lake City.

Building the telegraph lines between Omaha Nebraska and California presented a host of problems. Materials were put together in the latter part of 1860. Major problems in supplying the construction crews were overcome but there was a constant shortage of sources of telegraph poles on the Midwest plains and the deserts of the western portions.

The Civil War made heavy demands on both labor and supplies. Add to this the task of completing the line over the high and rugged Sierra Nevada Mountains. Materials for the western section were shipped around the Cape Horn to San Francisco, a similar route as taken by many prospectors heading to the California Gold Rush a decade earlier.

In addition to the geographic difficulties, there was always some threat of Indian attack. The Indians were a bit perplexed as to what exactly was going on. Watching work crews stringing wire from pole to pole raised there curiosity. It was reported that many Indians thought that the wire represented some sort of mystical powers not really understanding the concept of electricity flowing over wires. As a side note, there was an effort made prior to the construction of the line to try to explain to the Indians what was about to occur and why.

Western Union Telegraph Key, circa 1900

Edward Creighton, a Western Union general agent, organized two teams of builders, one to work on the line from the West , the other from the East. On October 18, 1861, the workers of the one subcontractor, Pacific Telegraph Co. reached Salt lake City. This completed the eastern section of the line out of Omaha. The western section was shorter in mileage but the terrain was quite different. The western section of the telegraph was finally completed on October 24, 1861. This date marked the time that the Pony Express system was considered obsolete.

An historic event took place immediately upon completion of the line. Using the key telegraph system in Morse code, a message was telegraphed to President Abraham Lincoln from the president of the Overland telegraph Company which officially read, “I announce to you that the telegraph to California has this day been completed. May it be a bond of perpetuity between the states of the Atlantic and those of the Pacific.” Truly, this was a major milestone in communication and unified the country as never before. The Morse code sound traveled across the country at virtually the speed of light.

Here are links to two other articles you should find interesting regarding the westward expansion in America. The Pony Express Trail in California and the story of the Central Pacific Railroad, a part of the first transcontinental railroad.

On our Western Trips site you’ll enjoy the article on The Great Train Robbery and the Union Pacific Posse.

Visit the Locust Grove Museum

There’s an interesting historic site tied in with the transcontinental telegraph system. Locust Grove is a villa in the Italianate style designed in 1850 for artist and inventor Samuel F. B. Morse by architect Alexander Jackson Davis. None of the original furnishings survive from the Morse family’s years at Locust Grove. Of special interest however is that the Museum Pavilion is the home of a permanent exhibit that explores Samuel Morse’s two careers, first as an artist and later as the inventor of the telegraph and Morse Code.

William and Martha Young brought a new vision to Locust Grove after acquiring the estate from Morse’s heirs in 1895.  According to the Locust Grove Museum, In 1975 Annette Innis Young, the last member of the Young family to live at Locust Grove, created a not-for-profit foundation to preserve the estate for “the enjoyment, visitation, and enlightenment of the public.”  Her bequest included more than 125 acres of gardens and grounds. The Locust Grove Estate is located at 2683 South Road, Poughkeepsie, NY .

(Western Union telegraph key photo is from author’s private collection. Other images shown are in the public domain)



The Tsunami of Crescent City California / A Natural Disaster

Since the devastating Japanese tsunami of 2011, many people came to realize just how damaging an event like this is to a country’s infrastructure. There is a scenic coastal town in far northern California, very near the Oregon border, that was the scene to one of the worst tsunamis on United States soil. Crescent City California unfortunately is situated at a point where the seabed itself magnifies wave action that can turn a tsunami into a ravaging tidal wave that can engulf almost the entire town. The story of why this is so and the havoc and loss of life it delivered is an interesting story. The year 1964 was a year residents of this coastal community never forgot. At the time it made headlines the world over.The story of Crescent City California is an interesting one.

crescent city california harbor

Crescent City California harbor, Courtesy U.S. Army Corp of Engineers

An earthquake near Anchorage Alaska in 1964 changed the history of the coastal town of Crescent City forever. Wave cycles that were larger than eight feet virtually destroyed this town. The Crescent City Ca tsunami was one of the worst in America’s history. West coast tsunamis have been a danger to contend with ever since the area was settled. All west coast states place great emphasis on tsunami warning systems.

What is a tsunami ? A tsunami is generally defined as a long period wave, or seismic sea wave, caused by an underwater disturbance such as a volcanic eruption or earthquake. A reason was discovered as to why this particular tsunami in 1964 had the devastating effects it delivered. The seafloor around Crescent City is shaped as such that tsunami action is actually focused and magnified. When the earthquake occurred in Alaska, a tidal wave effect not only traveled across the Pacific Ocean but swiftly traveled down the North American continent west coast as well. In a matter of a bit more than three hours the effects of the tidal wave were felt in Washington state. About one and a half hours later the waves were striking Crescent City California, about twenty miles south of the Oregon border. In reality, any seismic event anywhere in the Pacific region, whether it is 1,000 miles or 6,000 miles away, can affect any city or town on the United States west coast. When warning system sensors detect certain undersea pulses after a seismic event, you can count on west coast tsunami warnings to be put in effect.

The devastation at Crescent City was reported as follows. Two hundred and eighty nine buildings were totally destroyed. An enormous one thousands automobiles and twenty five large fishing boats were literally crushed. Twelve people were initially confirmed as dead, one hundred were reported injured and there were many people missing. A total of sixty city blocks were flooded and thirty blocks considered destroyed. Never before had a tsunami wreaked this kind of damage to an American city. The tsunami continued down the California coast but fortunately not with this type of devastating effect. Over the years, west coast tsunami damage has been experienced in many communities in addition to Crescent City.

crescent city jetty

Crescent City harbor jetty, Public Domain photo

So what effect does the seafloor off Crescent City California have with tsunami waves? To understand this you need to recognize that the seafloor is not flat. It varies as much as the topography on dry land. There are deep shallow spots, canyons and tops of mountain ranges, all below the waters surface.This undersea layout affects the amount of energy at the various locations as the original tsunami wave gets variously reflected and diffracted on the way. You may already be familiar with the way the water retreats before the tsunami wave hits the shore. Many people have lost their lives by wandering out to areas on the beach that have been exposed by the waters retreat. This is the trough before the wave arrives, and this can cause problems if people go out into previously covered areas when the water retreats before it comes back with considerable force. There are newsreels that have shown this type of water retreat as well as the ensuing large wave that strikes shortly after. Tsunamis are sometimes quite confusing to anticipate from the shoreline. The wave action and massive force involved occur underwater. In other words, it’s not like looking out at the horizon and seeing a giant wave thirty feet high in the distance. The force is underwater and as it approaches the shallower seabed off shore, the level is forced to rise as it is being pushed up higher and higher because of the seabed. It appears more like a constant water level rising than a towering wave.

del norte county california

Crescent City area within California, public domain image

The effect a tsunami has on boats actually illustrates this. It’s common knowledge that a vessel can ride out a tsunami much better being out at sea than tied up at a dock. At sea, the boat will generally feel a rising of the water as the powerful wave travels underwater beneath it’s hull. If that same vessel was tied up at a dock when the wave hit the shore by rapidly rising, the boat would most likely be destroyed by the severe tossing around and would likely break away from it’s lines. Most observers conclude that a vessel at sea is almost under no threat. By the same token, it is never advisable to try to launch a boat from the dock while a tsunami is already in progress. Five people died in Crescent City in 1964 when they launched a boat near the crest of the fourth wave and were caught in the strong outflow. In fact, it is strongly suggested not to even try to go to a dock to try to secure your boat after the tsunami action has already started. Since the wave action comes in cycles, your chances of being caught in the dock area when another wave cycle comes ashore is great.

As far as warning and preparedness against tsunamis, much has changed since the Crescent City California disaster of 1964. Being educated about what a tsunami really is and it’s characteristics many feel is key to knowing what to do and what not to do. Tsunamis can be misleading because they last for a long time. They usually are not one quick event. There was a large tsunami that hit the California coast in the year 1946.This Aleutian generated tsunami produced waves heights of 12 to 16 feet at Half Moon Bay, Muir Beach, Arena Cove, and Santa Cruz. In Crescent City in 1946, half the deaths happened because they went back too soon. The 1946 Aleutian Tsunami crossed the Pacific, producing waves up to 30 feet high in some locations at the Marquesas Islands in French Polynesia, and even had the power to damage fishing boats in Chile. During the tsunami of 2006, Crescent City almost had some deaths because people went back to check on the boats. They didn’t fully understand that subsequent underwater waves were still lurking offshore. Simply put, the best action to take is to head for high ground and then stay there.

tsunami evacuation road sign

Tsunami Evacuation Sign, public domain photo

As most people are aware, we now have in place a Pacific Ocean wide tsunami alert system. This system employs undersea sensors that measure the magnitude of underwater wave action. Along with this and to take advantage of the timely information, a communications infrastructure has been established to issue timely alerts to permit evacuation of coastal areas. Tsunami alerts that might be issued for the west coast of the U.S., Alaska and Canada originate from the Alaska Tsunami Warning Center in Palmer Alaska. Obviously, the best way to save lives in a tsunami is to be able to give out warnings far in advance and this is the goal of the current warning systems. The west coast tsunami warning system is today quite extensive.

Warnings of course work best when the initial seismic event that causes the tsunami is far away. When an event occurs across the Pacific, the time a wave would take to reach the west coast of the U.S. is measured in hours. When an earthquake occurs around Alaska, the time to prepare is much much less.

Because of the seabed topography around Crescent City California, the threat of a tsunami will always remain but the much improved warning system in place, both across the Pacific Ocean as well as in the city in particular, will go a long way in providing adequate warning if and when another threat presents itself. The northern California coast is a very beautiful place to visit and Crescent City, along with it’s close proximity to the Redwood National and State Parks remains a very popular tourist attraction. If you’re vacation plans include far northern California, it’s a great addition to your trip planner.

A Tour of The Pioneer Museum in Fredericksburg Texas

Fredericksburg Texas, in the beautiful Texas Hill Country, was a major settlement for German immigrants. Located in Gillespie County Texas, Fredericksburg presents an excellent example of early German migration to the state. In fact, there are many towns in the Texas Hill Country with German names such as New Braunfels, Gruene, Boerne and others. The Bavarian government largely discouraged emigration in the 1880’s but nevertheless there was a lot of publicity in Germany regarding Texas. Those who did publicize Texas told about the available land, the topography of the Hill Country and the abundance of wild game. Many Texas Germans arrived in in the state during the German Revolutions of 1848. One thing that is quite remarkable is that the early German settlers developed a good relationship with the Indians. It’s remarkable in the sense that trouble with the Native Comanches is so much a part of Texas history. A few other interesting facts about the Texas Germans was that they actively participated in politics, and by 1846 a German language version of Texas law was in place. Also, Fredericksburg stood out as a bastion of Union support during the American Civil War. Most of the immigrant population was adverse to slavery.

Today, Fredericksburg Texas is a fun Hill Country tourist destination with a lot to see and do. There are many things to do in Fredericksburg and one of these is to explore the towns early days of Texas German immigration.

One very historical attraction which goes a long way in explaining and showcasing Fredericksburg’s founding is the Pioneer Museum and village located in the heart of Fredericksburg Texas. The Pioneer Museum which includes many outdoor exhibits is located on three acres of shaded grounds and included many plants that are native to the Texas Hill Country.

Pioneer Museum, Fredericksburg Texas

The early Texas Hill Country was very active with people who emigrated to the area from the German region of Europe. Many towns in this part of Texas have German names.such as Fredericksburg, New Braunfels, Luckenbach, Bergheim, Boerne,and Gruene. The history of these settlements tell the story of the Germanic influence on the early settlement in this part of Texas. The Pioneer Museum does a great job in showcasing all of this early history.

The Dambach-Besier House stood at 515 E. Main Street for 135 years and was moved to 325 West Main Street where it has been reconstructed to form the entrance to the Pioneer Museum and the Fredericksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau Welcome Center. The house was originally built in 1869. According to the museum, In 2005, the owners at that time, Kenneth and JoAnn Kothe, donated the house which was disassembled, moved, and reconstructed with funding from donors to the Gillespie County Historical Society.

Klammah House

The Pioneer Museum also exhibits the Kammlah House. This is another very interesting and historic structure. Originally built in 1849 as a one room structure, it grew considerably in later years to include three kitchens, bedrooms, living areas and a stone patio.  When the Historical Society bought the Kammlah property in 1955, amazingly, four generations of Kammlahs had lived in the house. A barn and smokehouse are part of the original property owned and run by the Kammlah family. A general store was operated on this property between the years 1870 and 1924.


Sunday House

While touring the museum grounds you’ll see a small structure called the “Weber Sunday House”. Lots of history here. The Sunday House was utilized as a place to eat and rest when the Weber family made the seven mile trip to town for shopping and church. This type of structure is unique to the Fredericksburg TX area. The Sunday Houses stopped being essential when the roadways in the area improved. Interestingly enough, during World War Two when gas rationing was in effect, Sunday Houses had a kind of rebirth of usefulness. It cut down a lot of driving for people who had access to one.



Watson Log Cabin

There is a 1880’s log cabin on the museum grounds that was the family home of John and Nancy Walton and their three children. After her husbands death, Nancy married John Smith and they added to the house. When this home was rediscovered in the 1980s, the original cabin had been totally encased by additions to the house. According to the Pioneer Museum, in 1985, it was moved and rebuilt at the Museum by Cox Restoration in memory of Jay Cox.

Fredericksburg is about 80 miles west of Austin and about 70 miles northwest of San Antonio Texas. Founded in 1846 and named after Prince Frederick of Prussia, Fredericksburg is a popular tourist destination in Texas and is well known for it’s unique B & B’s. Fredericksburg Texas lodging choices ar many.

A very well known son of Fredericksburg TX was Admiral Chester Nimitz who commanded Pacific Naval forces during the Second World War. Today, many people travel to the Nimitz Museum of the Pacific War which is in downtown Fredericksburg. The museum has absolutely excellent displays of just about everything related to the war in the Pacific. If you have the opportunity to travel to Fredericksburg, the Nimitz Museum is a must stop.

.Another noted resident from Fredericksburg was Carl Hilmar Guenther, an immigrant from Wiessenfels Germany. Guenther served at one time as Justice of the Peace and established flour mills in Fredericksburg. Eventually and because of a severe drought, he moved his flour mills to San Antonio Texas and they still stand today. The Pioneer Flour Mills grounds in San Antonio are a very popular tourist attraction, a museum and also features an excellent restaurant and bakery. It’s definitely a stop to add to your south Texas vacation planner.

You should find this article link about the Pioneer Flour Mills and Carl Guenther interesting. Good pictures of the Guenther house and grounds.

If you have a chance to visit the town during the holiday season, Fredericksburg is well known for their lights and displays. Some of the best holiday displays in the entire state of Texas.


The Pinkertons and Jesse James

There may have been no other train and bank robber in the 1800’s who was sought more than Jesse James. In fact, at one time he most likely was at the very top of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency wanted .

The Pinkerton National Detective Agency started in business in the 1850’s and during the American Civil War was quite active on the Union side in the capacities of both protection and spying. On the other hand, Jesse James and his cohorts were very active for the Confederacy. His cohorts included such infamous names as William Quantrill and his Quantrill’s Raiders who raised havoc with killings and massacres in the volatile Missouri and Kansas area. Also included with this group of irregular Confederate guerrillas was Bloody Bill Anderson who branched off with his own group and did much the same as Quantrill.

Jesse James, most likley taken between 1876-1882

When the Civil War ended in 1865, there remained strong differences that lasted for some time. The popular story of Jesse James was that his rampage of train and bank robberies after the war was his way of continuing the southern resistance. The James and Younger gang members were acquaintances from the Civil War with strong Confederate beliefs. A lot of this thinking was stoked by sensational newspaper and magazine stories which painted the outlaw as a crusader. Some people looked at it this way. The banks and railroads were extensions of the Union.They were the establishment.  Attacking them was, in a way, attacking the Union. This thinking prevailed in many quarters even though the Confederacy was gone.

It appears that the number one apologist for the James gangs crimes was an editor at the Kansas City Times by the name of John Newman Edwards. Edwards, originally from Virginia, was a southern sympathizer both during and after the war. From his Kansas City desk, Edwards clear objective was to instill pride in ex-Confederates and help orchestrate their return to political power. In his effort to accomplish this he lionization Jesse James within his articles and editorials. This is thought to be where the Jesse James  as “Robin Hood” myth began. I have never read any stories of the James and or Younger gangs giving out any of their monetary spoils to anyone but themselves. The Robin Hood comparison may have been from the mind of an author or news editor. The myth about James played well to large numbers of people from Missouri and Kansas since that area had a good number of ex-Confederates living there.

Cole Younger as a young man

The Pinkertons place in all this was that they were under contract from both the railroads and bank associations to apprehend the outlaws. This included James, Sam Bass, Butch Cassidy and several others. While the Pinkertons often worked in concert with whatever law enforcement group had jurisdiction, this was also an era where detective agencies like the Pinkertons operated as a type of unofficial police force. They were known to take matters in their own hands if need be. There has been a lot written about the Pinkertons and their work on behalf of big business. They were frequently hired by big business interests between the 1870’s and early 1900’s to counter and or prevent labor strike violence. There were other private detective agencies also involved in this type of work.

It is believed that the first robbery by the James Younger gang occurred on February 13, 1866 when $60,000 was stolen from the Clay County Savings Association in Liberty Missouri. This was also chronicled as the first daylight bank robbery during peacetime. A seventeen year old boy was accidentally shot and killed during the gangs escape.

Two of the most reported on crimes involving Jesse James was the attempt to rob the Northfield Minnesota Bank and later in his criminal career, the Blue Cut train robbery near Independence Missouri.


Robert Newton Ford, taken between 1882-1892

The Northfield bank robbery failed. It seems that the town was aware that a bank robbeyr attempt would take place and armed and prepared a defense. This was of course unknown to the James gang which included the Younger brothers. The bank robbery attempt took place on September 6th, 1876 ( just a little over two months after Custer’s defeat at the Battle of the Little Bighorn ). The bank targeted was the First National Bank of Northfield. The robbery was a complete failure.  A firefight ensued with the towns people and the robbery was thwarted. Jesse James and his brother Frank barely escaped. The remainder of the gang ( Younger Gang ) were either killed or captured. During the robbery attempt a bank employee and bystander were killed. Cole Younger spent many years in a Minnesota prison.

The one sure thing about the Pinkertons was that once they got on your trail they didn’t let up. They were well known for this and the outlaws knew it as well. Pinkerton agents traced James and many times would be seen in towns where James had recently been to. This was the major reason that at the end of James life he was living under the assumed name of Thomas Howard. The banks and the railroads had a large bounty on his head and the Pinkertons, including Alan Pinkerton himself, was putting more and more pressure on Jesse James. There was one incident where the suspected home of Jesse James was firebombed in an effort to either capture or kill him. The tale was that the Pinkertons were heavily involved in the attack. In fact, it’s been written that Allan Pinkerton took a keen interest in the James gang as a personal vendetta of sorts. This may have been because the gang had eluded the Pinkertons for so long. The attack occurred on January 25, 1875 at the James farm. An incendiary device that was thrown inside by the Pinkerton detectives exploded. The bomb killed James’s young half-brother and blew off one of James’s mother’s arms. After the incident, Allan Pinkerton denied that the raid’s intent was to burn the house down. Apparently the Pinkertons were given some tips beforehand by Union loyalists who resided near the farm. Jesse James was not at the farm at the time.

Allan Pinkerton, circa 1861

The last crime that Jesse James was involved with was the robbery of a Chicago and Alton Railroad train in Blue Cut Missouri. Blue Cut is an area very near to Independence Missouri where the trains slowed down at the curve making them more vulnerable to robbery. The Blue Cut robbery stepped up the efforts to capture or kill James and the bounty on his head was increased.

As portrayed in the recent movie regarding Jesse James and his death, he was shot from behind in 1882 at his home by Robert Ford, a member of his gang involved in the Blue Cut train robbery. To this day there are conspiracy theorists who contend that Jesse James faked his own death and lived a long life. DNA evidence on the exhumed remains in 1995 say otherwise. There also was a man who died in Granbury Texas near Fort Worth in 1951 who, at the alleged age of 104 and on his deathbed, claimed to be Jesse James. An exhumation took place by court order on his remains in the year 2000 . DNA tests in 2000 did not match to the DNA taken from an alleged James relative. Granbury believers say there are photos and artifacts that back up their claims. They also say that their Jesse James had a grandson who was a dead ringer for the outlaw. The people of Kearney Missouri where the other Jesse James ( according to DNA testing the real Jesse James) is buried totally discount the Granbury Texas assertions.

While the Jesse James debate continues into the 21st century, today, the Pinkerton National Detective Agency is called Pinkerton Consulting and Investigations, and is a subsidiary of Securitas AB, headquartered in Stockholm Sweden.

For those traveling to St. Joseph Missouri, there is the Jesse James Home Museum displayed on the grounds of the Patee House at12th and Mitchell. This is only two blocks away from the homes original location. There is also the Jesse James Farm located on Jesse James Farm Road  Kearney, MO.

(Photos shown are in the public domain)