Al Thomas was a young child not yet old enough to attend school when he learned about the notorious Jesse James. Al may not have been old enough for school but he listened attentively and remembered the story his great-grandmother told him.
His great-grandfather and grandmother Bradshaw (nee Pixley) lived on a remote, modest ranch in Kansas near the Oklahoma border in the late 1860s. Oklahoma was not yet a state and the Civil War had just altered the social history of the south. Towards dusk one evening, a latered-up horse carrying a well-dressed man arrived suddenly.
The Bradshaws were thrilled to have a visitor. It was not just a cow-hand visitor but a man dressed complete with leather gauntlets, who was well-spoken and full of news. His fine guns were not those of a rancher. The gentleman's horse was spent and he was in need of a meal and a good night's rest.
Great-Grandma Bradshaw prepared a hearty meal and the gentleman entertained the couple with stories of his travels. Before long the gentleman retired to the guest bedroom for the night.
The next morning the Bradshaws were shocked to learn that their visitor had already left (through the bedroom window) before dawn. Great-Grandpa checked the stables and indeed the horse was gone too. Their guest left a little letter with some cash thanking the couple for their hospitality.
Later that morning around 10:30, a group of riders arrived and perfectly described the visitor. They once again were too slow on the trail of Jesse James. The Bradshaw's ranch location confirmed their suspicion that James would head for Oklahoma where the law could not touch him. The riders did not pursue James.
"My mother celebrated her 90th birthday a few weeks ago in British Columbia. I called her from Ontario to wish her well and I asked her about the well-dressed visitor that visited her grandmother so many years ago," Al says.
"She told me the story of Jesse James exactly as I remembered my great-grandmother telling me more than 55 years ago."
This article appeared in the November 1995 issue of Hot Chocolate.