SETTING THE STAGE
There have been constant whispers of injustice, rumors of conspiracy, accusations of corruption, bellowing across the country. Missouri is becoming the brunt of sick jokes, the target for the invective. It was once derided as the "Robber State" when Jesse was alive. Now, since his brutal death, there are many questions about the state of justice in Missouri.
It has been rumored for several years that Jesse James was a victim, not a perpetrator, of crime; and the criminal was the illegal acts of the authorities, committed in their zeal to put an end to Jesse. Could it be that officials of the State of Missouri should stand trial for crimes committed against Jesse Woodson James?
Bits and pieces of illegal chicanery, scandalous behavior, and downright skullduggery have surfaced in the treatment of Jesse James by certain officials in Missouri.
Now, in order to clear the air, the Missouri State Senate must step in and deal with the whispers, the rumors, the accusations and the innuendoes of official wrongdoing. So the Missouri State Senate has created a Select Committee to investigate the circumstances surrounding the assassination, and matters pertaining thereto, of the notorious outlaw Jesse Woodson James.
The Select Committee was composed of seven members of the Missouri State Senate; four Democrats and three Republicans with the Chairman chosen by a majority vote. Samuel T. Murphy, the beloved oldest member of the Senate, Chairman of the Missouri State Senate Judiciary Committee, was chosen by his peers to chair the Select Committee. State Senator Murphy, a grandfatherly type, had great credibility among most Missourians. He was regarded throughout the state as an honest man. If ever there was a man who could resolve the problem, clear up the issue, it was State Senator Murphy. Physically, he looked very much like Santa Claus, his disposition was also similar, and was very well liked. He had bushy white eyebrows that fluttered, whenever he expressed himself, like two white caterpillars sitting on leaves and riding up and down after having been caught by a breeze. He was always neatly dressed, debonair and wore the latest of fashions, but he always fingered and quoted from a well worn, pocket size copy of the United States Constitution. Whenever he talked it was with an obvious Missouri twang.
Other members of the Select Committee read like a "Who's who" list of the Missouri State Senate. The Chief Prosecutor, representing the Democrat majority, was Colonel John Philips, a well known and respected lawyer in Missouri. The Republican chose for their minority counsel an equally well known and respected lawyer in Missouri, William Wallace.
Colonel John F. Philips, indeed, was perhaps the most able and respected attorney in the state of Missouri. Most Missourians still remember his brilliant defense of Frank James and how his skill as an attorney was chiefly responsible in obtaining an acquittal for his notorious client. Colonel Philips, sometimes referred to as the "Silver Fox" for his silver tongue oratory and his silver hair. He is portly, well dressed, grandfatherly, and still possesses military bearing. He now represents the Select Committee and to be more accurate, the Democrat majority of that committee.
William Wallace, another outstanding attorney, had been a long standing opponent of the James gang. He is above average in height, middle age, slender, balding, dark thick mustache, and dresses well. He is very deliberate in his approach to the law and very strict in its application. As County Prosecutor, he came out early in his opposition to the James gang and vowed to do every thing he could to put an end to them. He prosecuted the case against Frank James.
The scene now changes to the largest opera house in Kansas City. Every one agreed that the largest opera house was the only structure large enough to facilitate the great multitude of people, the curious and the concerned, who gathered to witness history being made. At last, the people of the state of Missouri were going to get some gnawing questions answered. Was Jesse James a Robin Hood or just another bandit? Was Jesse James forced into outlawry or did he go willingly? Was Jesse James given a chance to surrender or was he hunted, without quarter, to the end? Did the State of Missouri, through its Governor, illegally bargain for the death of Jesse James? Did business corporations in any way put unethical, illegal or immoral pressure on elected officials to assassinate Jesse James? Did the State of Missouri, through its Governor, seek the death of Jesse James? Did the Pinkerton's illegally raid and bomb the James Samuel farm? Were there, in fact, crimes committed against Jesse James? There are so many questions that finally need to be answered and put to rest.
Now, there is talking, people milling about, conversations back and forth, directions asked and given, people walking to their seats, taking their seats. Meanwhile, backstage the furniture is arranged and props properly placed. The principals file in and are seated at a long, decorated table. Patriotic flags and bunting are appropriately placed. All the legal exhibits are carefully cataloged, boxed, and guarded. Now, it is time for the truth to be told. And now, the curtain goes up!
One by one the witnesses come to the hearing, get sworn in, take their seats, and prepare to testify. One by one probing questions are asked, responsive answers given. One by one the pieces seem to fit the puzzle; at first the picture is generally vague, fuzzy, now the thing becomes clearer, recognizable.
THE ACTORS ON THE COMMITTEE
In addition to Samuel T. Murphy, the grandfatherly and much loved and respected State Senate Select Committee Chairman, there were six other members of the Committee. The rest of the Committee included the following members:
Herman Pinkelman, 59 years old, and a Democrat. Pinkelman's cigar, his quiet voice and his corn pone accent concealed one of the best minds in the Missouri State Senate, at least in the judgment of his peers. But he had to be prodded into serving on the Select Committee into the Assassination of Jesse James, and some members of the staff considered him rather lazy.
Daniel H. Fontaine, 48 years old but looked a good deal older, a Democrat, a former Confederate Major who lost his right arm in the battle of Shiloh during the Civil War. Major Fontaine tried hard to keep the hearings fair. Although moderate by political instinct, he was often outraged by what he heard from the witness stand and showed it, especially from the excesses by law enforcement officers.
Joseph K. Beauregard, 57 years old, a Democrat, was probably the weakest questioner on the Committee; according to the stock joke circulating Kansas City, Beauregard listened only to his own questions, rarely to what was said by others on the Committee.
Brandt Crocker, 47 years old, a Republican, son in law of the Speaker of the Missouri House of Representatives. Crocker was in the toughest spot politically. As ranking Republican, he wanted to do what he could to protect his own political ambitions that would be ill served by his outspoken remarks, biting barbs, and cutting wit. Crocker walked a narrow line so skillfully and projected his easy articulateness and boyish good looks so effectively, that he was soon under discussion as a possible gubernatorial candidate. More than any other state senator, he sought to depict the moral climate in the Executive Mansion in Jefferson City that spawned the conspiracy.
William J. Keys, 59 years old, Republican. He was identified by the Executive Mansion, from the beginning, as the Administration's water carrier, and he did not disappoint. Frequently at odds with his colleagues over procedural questions, he also threw fat pitches to many of the witnesses who shared his ideological point of view.
James W. Primrose, 52 years old, Republican, served as an artillery Captain in the Union army. He appeared strikingly youthful, vigorous, tall, rich and sometimes short of temper. Primrose's family, like many others, were divided and held divided loyalties throughout the war. He ran his own investigation to provide him with material for questions, earning the enmity of some of his fellow members. His questioning, though disorganized, was more pointed than anyone else's.
CRIMES COMMITTED AGAINST JESSE W. JAMES: AN INQUIRY
by Richard W. Blair