The Death of Mrs. Zerelda Samuel, mother of Frank and Jesse James

Thanks to Sher Baker for providing this article from her family's collection.



from the Holden Enterprise, Johnson County, Missouri,  2-16-1911


"Jesse James's Mother Dead" from Oklahoma City, Okla 2-10


Mrs. Zerelda Samuels [sic: common misspelling of the name], mother of Frank and Jesse James, fell dead this afternoon in the stateroom of a Pullman on a northbound Frisco train as it neared this city.

She was accompanied by Mrs. Frank James.

Mrs. Samuels had been to Fletcher, Okla., to visit her son Frank, who is now a farmer, and was on her way to her home near Kearney, Mo.

The body was removed to an undertaking establishment here and was sent to night to the old James homestead.

She will be buried alongside the grave of Jesse James, who was killed by Bob Ford in St. Joseph, Mo., in 1882.

Mrs. Samuels was 86 years old and considering the thrilling vicissitudes of her life, she was exceptionally well preserved and was in fairly good possession of all her faculties. Heart disease is supposed to have caused her death.

Twice widowed, one of her husbands dying unexpectedly thousands of miles from home, the other, dying in an insane asylum three years ago; two of her sons assassinated, her own arm blown off by a bomb, all of her others either dead or married. Mrs. Samuels, at the age of 86, had been living at the old James farm near Kearney, Mo.

It was at this farm that Mrs. Samuels experienced the stirring incidents of the Civil War, and which was the heaven for her out lawed sons whenever pursuit became close.

In one of the few interviews ever granted, Mrs. Samuels told a Republic representative four years ago some of her unusual experiences:

Mrs. Samuels, who was nearly 6 feet tall and broad-shouldered, while appearing courageous and determined, talked in low tones, and evidenced that she was reared amid refinement. She was educated at a convent in Lexington, Ky. Her maiden name was Zerelda Cole. Her grandfather was a soldier in the American Revolution and her mother's name was Lindsay, of a famous Kentucky family.

Mrs. Samuels was first married in December, 1841, when she was 17 years old, to the Reverend Robert James, a Baptist minister. A few months later they moved from Kentucky to Clay County, Missouri. He bought the farm to which Mrs. Samuels returned four years ago after boarding for several years in Kearney. It once comprised 180 acres, but she had sold or given to her children tracts of land, until now it consists of only seventy-six acres, upon which the house to which she went as a bride is located.

Mrs. James was married to Doctor Samuels in 1855. He too, was from Kentucky. Dr. Samuels attended school at New Liberty and was graduated from a Cincinnati medical college. He came west in 1850 and while practicing medicine at Greenville, Mo., met Mrs. Samuels. Excepting a period of the Civil War, when Doctor and Mrs. Samuels were compelled to remain away from Clay County, they lived near Kearney until he was sent to the asylum at St. Joseph.

Jesse James was buried under a large coffee-bean tree in a corner of the yard of the farm, but a few years ago the body was removed to the Baptist Cemetery at Kearney where the remains of Doctor Samuels were interred.

"Almost continuously from the close of the war until Jesse was killed and Frank surrendered detectives visited our home. One night in 1876 when Doctor Samuels, my negro servant, my son Archie and myself were in the sitting-room a bomb, or hand grenade was thrown through the window of the kitchen.

"We heard the crash of broken glass and ran into the kitchen. The explosive was wrapped in cloth, soaked in coal oil. We rolled the bomb into the fireplace, not knowing what it was, and believing it but an attempt to set the house afire. A moment later it exploded, striking Archie in the chest and mangling my right arm. Archie lived but a few hours. All of us ran outdoors, but the night was unusually dark and we could not see anyone.

"We found that the rear of the house had been set on fire. We put out the blaze, and no doubt saved the lives of the rest, for the plan evidently was to kill all of us and burn up our bodies to destroy all evidence against them.

"Doctor Samuels and Jesse were plowing when the militiamen reached the farm. They took the doctor to a tree and with a rope around his neck demanded to know where Quantrell was. He did not know, but the soldiers believed he did. So they strung him up three or four times. He was almost dead, and as they half dragged him to the house the Captain of the militia said to me,

" 'Now, we're going to take him out and shoot him and let the hogs eat him.'

"They rode over the hill and I heard several shots fired."

"I did not know for three or four days that the doctor had not been killed. The Home Guards had simply fired into the air to make me believe they had shot my husband, and had taken him to the county jail at Liberty. The soldiers pointed guns at my head and threatened to kill me, too, if I didn't tell them where Quantrell was, but I didn't tell.

"After the Home Guards had gone, Jesse said to me, 'Ma, look how those soldiers have beaten me.'

"I took off his shirt and his back was striped from the rawhides the soldiers had used on him because he could and would not tell where Frank was.

"But Jesse did not whimper. He saw me crying, and said:

'Never mind, Ma, I'm going to join Quantrell.'

"Jesse joined Quantrell in the spring of 1863 to avenge the treatment of his stepfather and himself. My son, Frank had already joined the guerrillas.

One day a band of Home Guards came to our house and tried to force my husband to tell them where Quantrell was then operating, thinking he knew because Frank was with them.

"I had always told Jesse that I did not like the looks of Bob Ford. I had seen Charlie often times, but until the night he stayed at our house I had not known Bob Ford. I told Jesse to beware of Bob. I don't know why I feared him, but something told me that he was not a friend. Jesse seemed somewhat doubtful himself, but he did not suspect treachery.

" 'I'll watch him, ma; but I don't believe he means to harm me.' Jesse said to me out in the kitchen before he left for St. Joe.

"Less than two weeks later a message came to me from St. Joe that Bob Ford had killed my boy. He shot him in the back."






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