Book Review: Jesse James Lived & Died in Texas (by Betty Dorsett Duke) : WW

8/12/2001 • Davy Crocket, Jesse James, Outlaws, Wild West Reviews

Jesse James Lived & Died in Texas, by Betty Dorsett Duke, Eakin Press, Austin, Texas, 1998, $21.95.

Has the title sunk in yet? Well, nobody doubts that Tennessee-born Davy Crockett died in Texas, so why couldn’t Missouri-born Jesse James have also breathed his last in the Lone Star State? Of course, if you make such a claim, you can bet that the howls of protest from the Show Me State will be heard at least as far south as Austin.

Historians say Jesse Woodson James was born in Missouri’s Clay County on September 5, 1847, and was assassinated by Bob Ford in St. Joseph, Mo., on April 3, 1882. Betty Dorsett Duke says that they probably got the first part right, but that Jesse pulled a fast one on lawmen and historians by faking his death in order to live a relatively quiet life in Texas as James L. Courtney. In 1995, Jesse James’ remains were dug up for DNA testing that seemingly proved the West’s most famous outlaw was resting nearly at peace in his Kearney, Mo., grave. Duke says that the testing was flawed and that her great-grandfather, Jesse James (aka James Courtney), actually died on April 14, 1943, in Marlin, Texas.

Her great-grandfather, she says, once even used the signature “J. James” in his diary. (More than 100 pages of this 208-page book are devoted to entries from Courtney’s diaries.) That signature is one of 24 points of “evidence” that Duke offers at the end of her intriguing book. For those who yell, “show me,” Duke provides photographs of her family that have been matched by experts to James family photos. On a still day, those howls of protest can be heard as far away as the East Coast, but skeptics could very well have a hard time dismissing those photos and some of the other evidence… that is if they actually read the book with an open mind.

Louis Hart