From the collections at the Leavenworth County Historical Society and Museum. Reprinted with permission from The Leavenworth County Historical Society and Museum and the Leavenworth Times. Donated by Debra Graden.
Platte County Organized Militia for Protection Against Them--They Were Often in Leavenworth But Committed no Offenses Here.
Seventy-two years ago this month, or, to be more explicit, in January, 1870, the James gang of outlaws was creating such terror throughout the state of Missouri and this section of the west, that George W. Belt, sheriff of Platte County, Mo., by authority from Governor J. W. McClurg, organized a company of militia, with himself as leader, for protection against them. The services of the company, however, were never required, as the James Boys, so far as is known, never pulled off a robbery in Platte county, although their home was in the adjoining county of Clay. In 1882, Frank James, while suffering from a wound, was harbored by friends in the eastern part of Platte County, but he did not suffer the wound in that county.
On July 15, 1881, an express train was held up and robbed between Winthrop and Sugar Lake, in Buchanan County, Missouri, and Conductor Westfall was shot and killed. This, for a long time, was believed to have been perpetrated by the James gang, but their guilt was never definitely established. On January 4, 1866, Henry J., John W., and B. F. Freeland, prominent brothers of Platte County, hired a hack at Leavenworth to go to St. Louis. Near Quindaro they were attacked by robbers, and, in a gun duel, Henry J. Freeland was killed and robbed of $70 and some gold nuggets, but the robbers overlooked $20,000, which he had concealed in his belt. The outlaws were not apprehended and their identity never became known.
Judge E. Lee Lindsay, and attorney in my home town, Porterville, Calif., who was reared near Iatan, in Platte County, informs me that as a boy he used to loaf a great deal at the old Iatan blacksmith shop and was told by old-timers that the James boys occasionally (sic) had their horses shod at this shop, and while waiting for their mounts, would practice shooting at a mark on an old out building. "I have seen the bullet holes in that building many a time," says Judge Lindsay, "and do not doubt that they were mementoes of the James boys, for they had many friends and sympathizers in that section."
The James boys were often in Leavenworth, Atchison and other Missouri river border towns, but were always peaceable when here, and citizens who did not know them were seldom aware of their presence. The late Charles J. Rust, of San Jose, Calif., who was a pioneer of Platte County, and Atchison County and who was county clerk of the latter county at one time, once wrote me as follows:
"In answer to your question: 'Were the James boys ever in Atchison.' I will relate a little experience, or perhaps circumstance, that took place, as near as I can give the date, in the late 70's. I became acquainted with a man who was running a candy and peanut stand on the street in Atchison (I cannot recall his name) who claimed his wife was a sister of Frank James. One day when I was conversing with this man, a very quiet, spare built man, perhaps five feet ten inches tall, stood just opposite to me talking to the peanut man's wife. I noticed the stranger wore a close fitting suit and had his pants legs in his boots. He stood there conversing for perhaps 15 or 20 minutes, and then walked quietly down the street toward the river bridge. As soon as he was out of sight the peanut man asked me if I knew the man that just left. I said no, and he then told me it was Frank James. Of course I doubted his word when he said: My wife is Frank's sister; but then, from what I had read about Frank James, his resemblance to the strange and upon giving the matter due consideration I became satisfied that the man was Frank James. As I was not looking for any of the James gang just then I said very little about it."
Jesse James, as is well known, was cowardly slain in his home at St. Joseph, Mo., by Bob Ford, on April 3, 1882. Mr. Rust told me that during the Civil war, Bill Ford, a brother of Bob Ford, enlisted in his (Rust's) company--Company C, of the Eighth Kansas Infantry, but after serving about three months, deserted and joined the bushwhackers in Missouri. At the time of his enlistment in Col. John A. Matin's famous regiment, Bill Ford was living in my old neighborhood about 14 miles northwest of Leavenworth, according to Mr. Rust. That was about ten years before I appeared on the scene, and I cannot vouch for Mr. Rust's statement, but I do know he was a pretty reliable gentleman, and one of the best authorities on the pioneer history of that section the country that I have ever encountered.