The author, Mr. Fred Barber, has generously contributed this article, written from his personal family history, about the day that the Jesse James gang robbed the Ocobock Bank in Corydon, Iowa, and has given his permission for it to be posted to the website to share with all who are interested in the history of Wayne County, Iowa. Mr. Barber is a native of Wayne County who was born on a farm about 3 miles east of Lineville. He is a published author and currently resides in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Breakfast With Jesse
by F. Eugene Barber,
Rev. A 2004
This article was first written for the Mercer County Historical Society Journal printed in hardback—1992.
My grandmother Margaret Belle “Maggie” (Bright) Owen told me this story about an event that happened to her mother Mary (Wood) Bright. (The name Bright was Brecht in Germany).
My great-grandmother, Mary Bright was boiling clothes in an old iron kettle when several men in dusters rode up out of the cornfield that lay to the south of the cabin in Mercer County Missouri. Sam Bright, my great-grandfather, had gone into Lineville, Iowa (Wayne County) to get some cottonwood logs sawed up to rebuild a chicken house. It was just 7 miles to Lineville. (I was born on a farm 3 miles from Lineville).
She asked the men what they wanted, the tall skinny one with a scraggly beard, said, "We would like something to eat."
Mary put out some cold biscuits that had been wrapped in a tea towel and she added milk to the gravy left over from her and Sam's early breakfast, re-heated it, and then fried up some fat-back for the men.
She had no coffee, but one of the seven did. She boiled up some coffee and they ate the food and drank the coffee. As they left, the tall man with the scraggly beard, flipped her a twenty dollar gold-piece—the most money she and Sam had at one time since they had sold some shoats the fall before.
When Sam Bright pulled up with his wagon-load of lumber that night, he told her, "The Ocobock Brothers Bank at Corydon was robbed today by Jesse James and his boys."
Mary Bright laughingly told him she had breakfast with Jesse and his boys.
NOTE: They got $9000 and change from the robbery at Corydon.
Johnny Hines, Jr. told this "colt" story to my grandfather, Charles Andrew Barber, over a hundred and twenty years ago. My grandfather told it to my father around 1918 and my father, Fred Gerald Barber, told it to me in the 1940s and again in 1987—this last time I had the sense to write it down.
On June 3, 1871 Jesse James and his gang rode to the east of Lineville towards the "Old Duff" place after leaving the Sam Bright place where Mary Bright had fed them breakfast. My dad and his twin sister, Frankie, were born in the old Duff farmhouse on August 23, 1910 just east of Lineville. The farm had land on both sides of the Iowa/Missouri line (hence the name Lineville).
The gang arrived at the Hines Livery Stable on the Missouri side of the line in Lineville and soon talked John Hines, Sr. into trading one of their horses that was ‘winded’ from the long ride from Clay County, Missouri, for a mare, and offered money to boot. John Hines Sr. told Jesse that he had to take the colt too as it was not weaned. Jesse agreed and the men rode off.
A few moments later John turned to his young son and said, "Johnny I believe I made a mistake—we will soon be hearin’ a shot."
Sure enough they did. A hired hand named Nick, Johnny Hines Jr., and his father walked about a half mile towards the old Clio, Iowa road and crossed the crick. There lay the poor little colt. Jesse and his boys could not be bothered with a colt as they were on their way to Corydon, Iowa to make an "unauthorized withdrawal" from the Ocobock Brothers’ Bank.
Johnny's dad and the hired hand skinned out the colt for the leather. The timber wolves got the rest. Mr. Hines was sorry, he said later, he just didn’t think about the fact that they might kill the colt until the gang had ridden away. He could have bottle fed the little colt.
Only two men entered the Ocobock Brothers bank in Corydon, Iowa. Two stayed at the door and acted as watchers and guards. Two others waited outside by the hitching rail as look-outs and to hold the horses. They didn't tie them, just held onto the reins.
After robbing the bank, Jesse and his gang headed west towards Decatur County, Iowa. (Leon is the county seat). They passed through Woodland, Iowa at a fast gallop, turned south, and camped just out of rifle range over on the Missouri side of the state line. The gang cooked up some stolen chickens over a hastily made fire, and ate and rested. They had been riding all night from Clay County, Missouri, had robbed the bank at Corydon in Wayne County and had only eaten early that morning at the Sam and Mary Bright place.
Most of the men-folk in Corydon were at a town rally and were listening to Henry Clay Dean discuss the merits of a proposed railroad that might come through Corydon.
When it was discovered that the Ocobock bank had been robbed, some of the men in the crowd quickly formed a posse and headed west. When they finally discovered the gang and realized that the robbers were across the Missouri state line, one of the posse members went into Davis City, Iowa to obtain a legal paper allowing them to follow the gang into Missouri. (Davis City is in Decatur County and south of Leon, Iowa about 14 miles and on the other side of Pleasanton, Iowa—about 2 miles). Jesse and his gang had timed it just right, and were gone before the fellow got back to the posse after seeing the Judge.
Jesse and his boys followed the Weldon River for several miles then crossed over and picked up the trace along the Thompson River. Grand River and Middle River also fed into the river systems. The posse tracked them down into Jackson County, Missouri, but by this time the gang was deep into their home territory. They were heading towards Clay County when the posse finally gave up and went back to Iowa. The bank robbers had split up and gone separate trails.
Clell Miller was arrested in Kansas City, Missouri a few days later and was brought back to Corydon, Iowa for trial. He supposedly was one of the horse holders. None of the witnesses could positively identify him and he had an alibi, so he was turned loose. No one else was ever implicated in the Corydon, Iowa, Obocock Brothers Bank robbery on June 3, 1871. Clell Miller was later killed during the Northfield, Minnesota bank robbery—September 1876. The museum in Northfield still has Clell Miller’s saddle.
Cole Younger, who had been with Jesse and Frank at Corydon, later went on to rob banks on his own after Jesse was shot in the back of the head in St. Joseph, Missouri. The home that Jesse was killed in was made into an Auto Court back in the late 1930s and was called “The Jesse James Court”. (A Court would be called a Motel nowadays). It has been moved about 3 blocks down the street and is a small museum now.
The Home Sweet Home sign (that Jesse was supposedly taking down or dusting at the time he was shot in the back of the head by Bob Ford) was still there when I visited it in 1938.
Jesse and his family were heading for California to start a new life—so it has been said. Jesse’s son (a lawyer) used to work with Harry S Truman in Kansas City for the Pendergast political group. Pendergast was the political power broker for the entire state—except for St. Louis—the beer barons “own” the politics in St. Louis.
Jesse’s granddaughter lived in Orange County, CA and was in a mobile home park right behind our home in Huntington Beach in the late 1970s and early 1980s. One of Jesse’s grandsons also became a lawyer.
At least one of the Youngers was along with Jesse during the Ocobock Bank robbery in Corydon, Iowa. There might have been two. The Younger Boys most infamous robbery was the bank at Coffeyville, Kansas. I was through Coffeyville back in the late 1940s and the bullet holes in the bank walls were still to be seen. Coffeyville is famous for making bricks. Main Street, in Junction City, Kansas (where I went to High School), was paved with Coffeyville bricks. The City has pulled most of them up. The word “Coffeyville” was embedded on the face of each brick and the city fathers have left a small strip of bricks as a historical memento.
Frank James was caught later for other robberies and served time in the “Pen”. He died a free man in Nebraska in 1910 just a few miles from my great Aunt’s house (She was a Hashman) in Alliance, NE. In his later years Frank attended the local Baptist Church in Nebraska on a regular basis. (Jesse and Frank’s father was a Baptist Minister). Their stepfather was a Medical Doctor.
The James home and farm is still intact near Liberty, MO and can be toured for a small fee. It is an easy 35 min. drive from the Kansas City Airport. The land was leased by a farmer close by and he was raising corn when I was last there in 2003—I rented a car and visited the James' home between planes. They dug Jesse up and re-buried him on the Farm in 1995.
It was believed that the RR detectives that surrounded the James home threw a bomb inside. It was found out later to be a railroad flare. Jesse’s mother picked it up with a coal shovel and threw it into the stove and it blew up. It took her arm off and killed Jesse and Frank’s little stepbrother. RR flares in those days were usually built with the flash powder poured into a cast iron shell and with a cotton wick so the RR men could light them easily—no wonder it blew up. It was sort of shaped like a corncob. I have seen them in a RR museum. The RR detectives claimed later that they just wanted some light so they could see to shoot Jesse. Of course he was long gone before they arrived as he had been warned by friends in Clay County.
My grandmother, Ollie Ellen (Moore) Barber told me that my great grandfather, James Buchanan (Buck) Moore let Jesse James stay with him for a few days back in the 1870’s. I don’t know if Jesse was on the “run” or just needed a place to stay. Grandmother Ollie said he stayed in the barn loft and slept in the hay. She told me the year, but I was just a kid and didn’t write it down. It was probably 1874—my best guess because my great grandfather moved to Daviss County in 1875—Bethany is the county seat.
My great grandfather’s farm at the time was in Mercer County and between the town of Mercer, Missouri and Lineville, Iowa. It was almost directly north of the James Farm down in Clay County only about 65 miles apart.
Jesse and Frank were not Robin Hoods in any sense—they had ridden with the Missouri Red Legs during the Civil War and had helped burn and sack Lawrence, Kansas while with the infamous leader, Col. Quantrill. Some say that is where Jesse and Frank got the practice (and the idea) of robbing trains and banks.
I was born near Lineville, Iowa—near the state border—Clay County Missouri is less than 90 miles straight south where the James home is. In 1936/1938, I lived in Cameron, Missouri—just a short drive to Liberty.
See my novels on: www.readerskorner.com
This page was last updated August 31, 2008