Cover Photo: Painting by Bob Niles, my father-in-law.
[ Just a quick note to you, my reader. Please take honest, strict care of yourself and those you love. Coronavirus continues to spread throughout the globe. Medical experts are reporting it will get worse before it gets better. Guard your health and don’t stop. Trust in the One in control even during what seems to be chaotic times from this side of the darkened glass. – God’s grip, Alan ]
“…And I feel like a bullet in the gun of Robert Ford.
I’m low as a paid assassin is.
You know I’m cold as a hired sword…” (1976 release) “I Feel Like A Bullet (In The Gun Of Robert Ford)” Recorded By: Elton John Composers: Elton John & Bernie Taupin
The infamous outlaw, Jesse James, and his brother, Frank James, were raised in the home of a Baptist minister, Rev. Robert S. James. The Baptist preacher also was one of the founders of William Jewell College in Liberty, Missouri in 1849.
Photo: Rev. Robert S. James – findagrave.com
Rev. James was a member of the Missouri Baptist Convention. Although Rev. James passed away during the rearing years, one can only assume Jesse & Frank grew up hearing multiple sermons in and outside the home by a very strict, hell, fire, and brimstone father. No doubt the preacher’s wife must have been a Bible-mother as well. Of course, their private home-life behind closed doors is unknown. Although he had earned his Bachelor of Arts, Rev. James commuted from Clay County, Missouri to Kentucky to gain his Master of Arts from Georgetown College. It would appear the preacher was away from the home much of the time due to his academic pursuits. One thing is clear, in the case of the preacher’s kids, it seems being frightened out of hell didn’t take.
If you’ve ever read the bio of the James brothers, or have seen a movie about their lives, then you already know how dipped they were in a serious life of crime after the Civil War. In fact, some consider Jesse James to be one of the most notorious gangsters in American history, if not at the top of the list. From Texas to Minnesota, the James boys, and gang, left bloodshed and ruin in their wake.
After years of shocking crime sprees, there were dead gang members left in the dust, or swinging from prison gallows. Replacements were being vetted by Jesse all too often.
Photo: History.com (Rare photo of Jess James with his killer, Bob Ford.)
Two young recruits looked promising to Jesse, in fact they were good friends. Bob and Charley Ford were brothers very familiar with a life of crime. The James family, and the Ford family, spent time together as if in the same clan. Jesse even invited the outlaw brothers to move into his house. What Jesse seemingly didn’t know, the Ford brothers had dollar signs in their eyes as the Missouri Governor, Thomas T. Crittenden, had offered up to $10,000.00 to anyone who could “capture” the James brothers. In the Ford case, Gov. Crittenden went as far as to offered amnesty for past crimes as well.
On April 3, 1882, after breakfast at the James family dinner table, Jesse, Bob, and Charley went to the living room to talk business. It seems there was a robbery being planned for that week. Some say Jesse was suspicious of the Ford’s intentions and loyalty. That remains a mystery. What happened next has been debated since the event. Some write that Jesse observed dust on the frame of a painting on the wall and wanted to wipe it down. Others claimed the frame was crooked on the wall and Jesse intended to straighten it. (The latter is the story I grew up with.) One thing is certain, Jesse James left his pistols on the sofa, walked across the room, placed a chair just under the framed painting, stepped up to reach it when Bob Ford pulled his gun shooting Jesse James in the back of the head. Zerelda Mimms-James, Jesse’s wife, was just in the next room of the small house. Jesse was 34 years old.
Two years later, in May of 1884, a suicidal Charley Ford shot himself. He was 26 years old. On June 8th of 1892, a man named, Ed O’Kelley, walked into a tent saloon, owned by Bob Ford, and shot him in the throat with a shotgun. Bob was 30 years old. In January of 1904, you guessed it, Ed O’Kelley was shot dead by a police officer he was trying to kill. Ed made it to 46 years old. Amazing domino effect, isn’t it? Let’s hope the policeman lived to see his 90’s.
In the end, Jesse James was an outlaw, but he was also a teacher. Let me show you what I mean using the simplicity of an item in many a tool box.
The plumbline is an ancient builder’s tool. It is also used by surveyors. You can find this instrument mentioned with tremendous intention in the Old Testament book of Amos (Amos 7:8). Today it is usually a stainless steel or solid lead pointed weight attached to a string. It is used to align anything which stands vertically, a wall, a beam, a door, etc.
When building a brick wall, if aligned geometrically with a plumbline measuring an upright line, as the center of gravity shows it to be without faulty readings, that wall will stand perfectly straight. If the walls stand perfectly straight then the entire frame of the building will have integrity. On the other hand, if the wall is built via an eyeball’s view, it will lean at some point in the process leading to the failure of the entire structure.
The crooked picture frame, which Jesse James was obsessed with on that fateful morning, reveals an outstanding irony. Jesse and Frank were raised hearing all about the straight and the narrow. A student of the Bible, their father, and mother, obviously taught them of a great plumbline for living, yet they grew up to be crooks. A crooked life has its toll. If the leaders of a home are crooked, or altogether absent, more than likely the home will not stand with endurance. No matter how much stolen cash is accumulated, the crooked life has a higher price. Jesse James has taught us this truth by example. A choice was made and the James brothers ran from the measurements of society, which were based on law, making the allurement of crime something to be at risk for. You might say the wall Jesse built leaned heavily, doomed for gravitational collapse. Fame and fortune destroyed his life, the life of his killer, and the life of his killer’s killer. “…and be sure your sin will find you out.” – Moses – (Numbers 32:23b)
Teaching our children well is our responsibility. Afterwards, the choices are their’s. It’s good to be measured for structure-sake.
Unlike sand, when building on a solid rock, there are different results. It can all be found, measured and delivered in fuel for the race.
“I will go before you and make the crooked places straight; I will break in pieces the gates of bronze and cut the bars of iron…..so that you may know that I am the LORD, the God of Israel, who calls you by name.…” Isaiah 45:2-3b (NKJV)