Fiction, Fantasy, and Falsehoods #2
Bonham Daily Favorite, January 8, 1995
Arguably more American myths have emerged from that period of history in which the infamous gunslingers of the West held sway than at any other time. The American fascination with the events, characters, and causes of that era have spawned their share of mythic stories in the Red River valley. Last week's column attempted to shed some documented light on one of Fannin County's more notable persons, John Wesley Hardin. Before leaving Hardin to his later exploits, one other myth needs some clarification.
There are still a few Fannin County natives who clearly remember one of Bonham's more colorful citizens who for years operated a livery stable and mule barn and renowned boarding house. In myth Jeff D. Hardin (Uncle Jeff) has been identified as the younger brother of gunslinger John Wesley Hardin. On at least two occasions in the pages of this newspaper, articles have been written detailing at length the relationship between the two men. One such article was written by one of Bonham's more illustrious citizens who failed to check the accuracy of the facts which appeared in the story.
It is easy to see how the mistake could have been made if one looks only at the surface facts. I suppose that it is possible that Uncle Jeff might have fostered this belief for such a relationship would certainly provide all the free publicity one could wish.
John Wesley Hardin's father was the Reverend James Gipson Hardin. Jeff D. Hardin's father was Amos Hardin, son of Gibson Hardin. Amos Hardin was killed in the Civil War when Jeff D. was only about a year old. the Reverend James Gipson Hardin had a long career in Texas as a Methodist circuit rider. He died in Red River County in the late 1870's.
To further compound the misinformation. John Wesley Hardin had a younger brother named Jeff D. Hardin who was born the same year as Uncle Jeff's brother. This Jeff Hardin lived most of his life in Kimball County.
A respected Hardin family researcher has documented the two Hardin families. A kinship has been established between the two but it is several generations removed from John Wesley Hardin and Uncle Jeff. A common ancestor for the two men has been found in Colonial Virginia a hundred years before our two Fannin County residents were born.
MYTH #2 - Frank and Jesse James. Pick up nearly any history written about the Red River valley during and after the Civil War and a tale of the James Brothers activities in the area will appear. If they had been involved in as many events as they have been credited with they would have been much too exhausted to engage in their post Civil War criminal career. We won't attempt to refute all these stories for we could fill the space of this column for the next six months. Instead, we will deal with one question, "were the James Brothers in the area with Quantrill and his raiders?" The probable answers will not satisfy those long cherished family stories about a visit from Jesse and Frank.
Documenting stories about Confederate guerrilla leader William Quantrill are difficult for we are dealing with a personality who followed his own devices, rarely obeyed official orders and regulations, and commanded a band of constantly changing personnel.
It has been documented in official records, most notably correspondence to and from General Henry McCulloch, Commander of the Northern Sub-District, C.S.A., headquartered in Bonham, that Quantrill and his men did spend at least parts of two winters, 1863 and 1864, in northeast Texas. It is possible that Frank James was with Quantrill on at least one of these visits.
Recent evidence, however, by respected researchers of the James family, seems to indicate that rather than actually being an early member of Quantrill's band, Frank only joined with the group upon their arrival in Kentucky in 1864. It has been proven that Frank did enlist in the Confederate army soon after the outbreak of the war. The James brothers post war activities with the Youngers may have given rise to the supposed Texas connection.
Jesse James was too young, only thirteen years old, to have been accepted into the army at the beginning of the war. When he did join the troops about three years later, he proved his mettle, despite his youth, participating in several skirmishes in Missouri, Kansas, and Arkansas. Some post war accounts do place him in Texas with remanents of Quantrill's group, in 1864, after Quantrill had arrived in Kentucky to join a proposed attack on Washington D.C., not during Quantrill's winter sojourn of 1863 - 1864.
MYTH #3. The equestrian statue on the courthouse lawn. From time to time this myth surfaces and is argued about at great length around the coffee tables and other watering holes in town. Even the proponents of such a statue fail to agree on exactly the location of this statue, why it existed, who is mounted on the horse, and the horses' stance, i.e. are all four hooves on the ground or is the horse rearing.
I'm still waiting on some proof positive such as a written, legal account of the placement of this statue, or an original, unretouched photograph of the monument in question.
There are many who claim to have climbed all over such a statue in the days of their youth. Others have claimed to have taken shelter from a hot Texas sun, in the shade of the statue, while accompanying others to events taking place on the courthouse square. One person even claimed that the statue was till there, for all to see, and James Butler Bonham was astride the horse. Only when driven to the scene, did he admit that his memory was somewhat faulty.
In support of the "non-existence" of the statue, the following facts are presented. The Fannin County Commissioners Court records 1838 to the present day are intact and undamaged. The Commissioners have always been cautious in recording any activity approved by the court. When purchases have been authorized everything is recorded at great length as to physical description, cost, persons involved, etc. Sometimes these salient facts occupy several pages in the record books. The Confederate statue, the James Butler Bonham statue, the public well, the public privy, the farmers produce house, the bandstand, and even two authorized lawyer's offices on the west side of the building, are recorded in great detail. No equestrian statue has ever been recorded.
Photographs of all four sides of the courthouse square from 1860 to present day have been taken at regular intervals. There is no statue of a horse and rider on the grounds of the Fannin County Courthouse.
Fannin County Museum of History
One Main Street, Bonham, Texas