Hood County Texas Genealogical Society
FORMER SHERIFF OF HOOD COUNTY
THINKS REAL JESSE JAMES
DIED IN GRANBURY
Oran C. Baker, former sheriff of Hood County, feels sure that the man who died here in 1951 is the real Jesse James. Mr. Baker gives his reasons in the following report.
“I would like to tell you about one of our early day citizens, Jesse Woodson James.
He was born in Scoot County, Kentucky April 17, 1844 and grew to young manhood in Missouri.
He became famous by the use of his guns. He used a pistol in each hand, shooting both at the same time. He fought in the Civil War with the South, enlisting at the age of 17.
The records show that soon after the Civil War Jesse Woodson James came to Hood County, Texas in the early 1870’s. He was a contractor for the railroad and helped put up the dump for the Frisco from Ft. Worth to Brownwood, Texas.
The headquarters camp was at Granbury, located near what is known as the Sam Rash home place, near the dump and spring on Lambert Branch. This site was chosen because there was plenty of water for men and teams. No. 2 slips and teams were used in building the dump. Jesse Woodson James was known on this job as J.W. Gates. He was 5 foot, 8½ inches tall and his standard weight was 212 pounds.
I am happy to say that I was born and reared in Hood County, registered for military service June 5, 1917 for World War I. I was third in the draft from Hood County and was placed with the MP’s attached to the U.S. Detective Dept., attached to the 18th (Cactus) Division.
In World War II I volunteered for service for my country, was accepted and placed with…the Army Air Force Headquarters Training Command with the same rank and same type of work I was in WW I. Again I served throughout the war and six months following.
I was elected Sheriff, Tax Assessor-Collector for Hood County in 1950. It was while I was in office, on or about August 6, 1951 that I was contacted by the grandson of Jesse Woodson James, Jesse James III, alias Lee Howk. He came to the sheriff’s office and told me that he had brought his grandfather, Jesse Woodson James, back to Hood County to live the rest of his days.
“He wants to talk to you, the Sheriff,” Mr. Howk said. My answer was that I would be at the Sam Rash place in a few minutes. I arrived there and helped unload the old man from the Estes ambulance in which he had been brought from Ft. Worth. The old gentleman was very tired and I did not talk to him much that evening.
However, I visited him every day as long as he lived, about nine days. He became interested in talking to me. On the third day I visited him he called his grandson, Lee Howk, to his bedside and said, “I want you to get my spurs, my hand cuffs and my favorite necktie and give them to this sheriff. He is a good man.”
In our visits I asked Jesse why he wanted to come to Hood County to spend the rest of his days. He said during his early days in Hood County he made lots of friends, that he had a girl friend whom he thought more of than any girl he had ever known. “She died and was buried in Hood County and my desire is to die and be buried here,” Jesse said. Her father worked for Jesse on the railroad.
In my early days I became a lover of history. I loved to read about Jesse James and his Rough Riders. In talking to him at his bedside I asked him about some of his men who rode with him such as Frank James, Cole Younger, Harry Tracy and Bob Ford. He always smiled when he spoke of these men.
On August 15, 1951 I was called to the Estes Funeral Home at the request of the family to hold a post mortem examination which I did. Jesse, lying flat on his back, measured 5 foot, 8½ inches, big broad, square shoulders. I counted what I considered to be bullet wounds. I counted 32 from his forehead to his knees. These scars resembled the eyes on an Irish potato. I would say there was a scar from a rope burn around his neck. Both his feet had been badly burned. The end of his index finger was missing. There was a tattoo on the inner side of his forearme “Tex Ys.”
He was buried in the Granbury Cemetery, Estes Funeral Home in charge. Three relatives whose names I did not know, Doye Parkinson, Noel Freeman and myself acted as pall bearers.
From what I have learned about Jesse James from child hood and from my examination of the body at the funeral home, I would say that I firmly believe this man to be the one and only Jesse Woodson James, 107 years old.”
Oran C. Baker
~ Web Page by Virginia Hale ~