May 2, 2021
Whole Number 78
A SPARKS LETTER REGARDING THE OUT-LAW, JESSE JAMES
Mrs. Ruth S. Wood of Pleasureville, Kentucky, has loaned your editor an interesting letter written in 1924 by Theodore C. Sparks of Kansas City, Missouri, Mrs. Wood is the great-great-great-great-granddaughter of 21. John Sparks of Virginia on whom we published information in the Quarterly of June 1956, Whole No. 14, pp. 129-147) in an article entitled "The Sparks Family of Orange, Culpeper, and Madison County, Virginia. One of the sons of 21. John Sparks and his wife Mary was 21.1 Thomas Sparks, born ca. 1715 who died in 1787 in Culpeper County, Va. He married Mary Towles. One of their sons was 21.1.3 Humphrey Sparks, born ca. 1749; he married Milly Nalle.
One of their children was 22.214.171.124 Martin Sparks who married Catty Middleton in 1801 in Woodford County, Kentucky. Their son, 126.96.36.199.1 Abraham G. Sparks (1823-1886) was Mrs. Wood's grandfather. He married Sara Frances (Martin) Moore, a widow, in 1858 in franklin County, Kentucky; she was a daughter of Henry and Elizabeth (Cole) Martin. (In the Quarterly for September 1958 we published a letter written by Abraham G. Sparks to Mrs. Moore shortly before their marriage; see Whole No. 23, pp. 325-26.) Both died in Owen County, Kentucky. Mrs. Wood's father was John Abraham Sparks, born September 25, 1863, in Owen County, KY, died July 27, 1939, in Pleasureville, KY. His wife was Mary Ellen (Clements) Sparks, born September 9, 1864, died July 4, 1948.
The letter quoted below was written to Mrs. Wood's father. The writer was Theodore C. Sparks, a great-great-grandson of 21.1.5 Henry and Lucy (Clark) Sparks. 21.1.5 Henry Sparks (1753-1836) was a brother of 21.1.3 Humphrey Sparks mentioned above. (Henry and Humphrey were sons of 21.1 Thomas and Mary (Towles) Sparks.) The writer of this letter, Theodore C. Sparks, and its recipient, John Abraham Sparks, were thus third cousins, once removed.
In an earlier letter to Theodore C. Sparks, John A, Sparks had told him of his grandmother's relationship to the family of Jesse James. Mrs. Wood has explained that Elizabeth Cole, who married Henry Martin and was John A. Sparks's maternal grandmother, was a cousin of Zerelda S. Cole who married Robert James, father of Jesse, on December 28, 1841. "Both families," according to Mrs. Wood, lived on the Forks of Elkhorn, near Frankford, KY, until the James family moved to Missouri." Jesse James's father, Robert James, was president of Georgetown College, Kentucky, several years before moving to Missouri.
Regarding Theodore C. Sparks, author of this letter, Mrs. Wood states, "Mr. Sparks was a prominent attorney and lecturer at the School of Law in Kansas City, Mo, We have not heard from the family since his death in 1930 at the age of 59. He was survived by a son, William M. Sparks, and a daughter, Margery L. Sparks. His wife was living at the time of his death."
September 8th, 1928.
Mr. John A. Sparks,
Your letter of September 3rd has been received and read with much interest. I promise not to ask any more questions, though I got a good "chuckle" out of your last paragraph, relating to lawyers' questions, etc. It has been a real pleasure to me to write to you as well as to read your letters. .....
Your statement that your grandmother on your mother's side was a Miss Cole, and a cousin of the mother of Jesse and Frank James is interesting to me, because the James family lived at Kearney in Clay County were I was born and raised, their home being some 15 or 18 miles from where we lived. Jesse was born in Clay County as shown by an interview with his mother, who was a Mrs. Samuel, James' father having gone west to hunt gold, but died on the way with a fever, as she afterwards learned. Jesse and Frank were members of Quantrel's command, and after the war, with the Younger boys, became outlaws. Their boast was that they never molested or robbed a Southern man. I remember well when Jesse James was shot by Ford, under arrangements with Gov, T. T. Crittenden, member of the Kentucky Crittenden family. My father said one time in my presence that he was in favor of the arrest and punishment of the entire gang, but such a cowardly means as was employed in killing Jesse was outrageous. The fact was that no one could have arrested him, but Ford got his confidence and shot him while he was hanging a picture in his home, then at St. Joseph, and while his revolvers were lying on the bed in the room out of Jesse's reach. He was said to be a "Dead shot" and no one would match skill with him in any shooting contest. I saw Frank afterwards many times here at Kansas City, who was also a fine shot with a revolver.
Precisely when Jesse James was killed I cannot state, though I am quite certam that I have newspaper clippings showing the date. A search for them has not been successful, but I know it was during the administration of Gov. Crittenden which was from 1881 to 1885. [He was killed on April 3, 1882.] Bob Ford's conduct in that connection was cowardly and mean beyond expression, but of course it was a good riddance. Whether the end justified the means was the large question under discussion, the argument that it did being based upon the proposition that Jesse could not have been arrested by civil authorities without the probable death of at least half of the posse seeking to accomplish it.
Clay County had a Sheriff named Timberlake, who ran for reelection and was defeated because it was believed that he made no effort to arrest Jesse. I remember well that my father and many of our neighbors voted against him for that reason, I presume he had no desire to commit suicide.
The name Quantrell (or Quantrill) is spelled both ways, and it is difficult or impossible for me to certainly determine which is correct; anyway it makes no difference in this connection.
Thomas Coleman Younger was described as one who "looked like a bishop and fought like a bengal tiger." He was said to have been a zealous student of the Bible, and I have heard that he preached to the convicts at Stillwater Penitentiary in Minnesota after their arrest and plea of guilty to the Northfield Bank robbery, in which "Cole", Jim, and Boy Younger were implicated and pleaded guilty.
My wife knew Miss Retta Younger well, she having been a sister of the three above mentioned. She was a school teacher south of Independence in this (Jackson) county. My wife met Cole Younger and perhaps others of them along ca. 1886, when my wife 's family moved to the country from Independence on account of her brother's health. She describes Miss Retta as a high class woman of a rather subdued type, and worked for a pardon for her brothers.
My wife also knew some of the Daltons (who were related to the Youngers), but did not know any of the members of the "Dalton Gang" she thinks, as the ones she knew were younger than the outlaw Daltons. They lived on a farm adjoining that of my wife's Uncle John Campbell Marshall, who she thinks was a brother of Tom and Humphrey Marshall, though she says this has been denied. Her Uncle John came from Kentucky (either Franklin or Owen County), and was a farmer south of Independence until the death of his wife, when he moved to Independence and lived in the family of my wife 's mother until his death. He also was a great student of the Bible and did not drink "fire-water" as Tom did.
Cannot say when we will come to Kentucky; hope to do so in a year or two.
Yours very respectfully
(signed) T. C. Sparks.
(Editor's note: A number of people claimed through the years that Jesse James was not shot as was reported and that they were the real Jesse James. One such person was J, Frank Dalton who died in Texas in 1951 claiming to be 103 years old. The operator of a Jesse James museum in Stanton, Missouri, (Rudy Turilli) recently offered a $10,000 reward to anyone who could prove that this J. Frank Dalton had not been the real Jesse James, The widow of Jesse's son, Mrs. Stella James, age 85 and two of her daughters presented evidence to collect the reward, the evidence including the James family Bible, Turilli refused to accept their evidence, however. They took the matter to court, and on May 8, 1970, won their case, forcing Thrilli to pay them the $10,000. A newspaper at the time speculated that "the old outlaw Jesse James would have been proud of the easy way three of the James girls of Los Angeles picked up $10,000 Friday in his old Missouri stamping ground.")