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Granbury, Texas

Jesse James - The Legend Lives On

By Gary Hancock

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In 1951, then Hood County Sheriff Oran C. Baker was summoned to identify a blind Granbury man who had just lost a bout with pneumonia. One look at the body left Baker certain the man was 103-year-old Jesse James.

The man had been known around Granbury as J. Frank Dalton, but Baker had long suspected that name to be nothing more than an alias, and the body that lay before him, supported his theory.

For starters, the county sheriff noted several sure-fire identifying marks, including 33 scars left by bullet wounds. There also was a conspicuous scar on Dalton's neck. Baker claims it's the same type scar that would have been left by the rope that a 16-year-old James had briefly hung from before making a miraculous escape. Last but not least, the 103-year-old Frank Dalton had several burn marks on his feet, which would corroborate stories that Yankees had charred Jesse James' soles in a torturous effort to have him reveal where his brother Frank might be hiding.

With Sheriff Baker providing the final word on identification, the court house filed a certificate listing the deceased as Jesse Woodson James.

Some 50 years later, forensic anthropologists have gone a step further. On May 30, 2000 they exhumed Frank Dalton's bones from the Granbury Cemetery. The anthropologists will now conduct DNA testing which will once and for all determine whether Granbury's J. Frank Dalton was indeed the notorious Jesse James.

Some still claim Jesse James died in 1882 in St. Joseph, Missouri when fellow gang member Robert Ford allegedly gunned him down. But a growing cadre of historians now claim that Charlie Bigelow actually bit the bullet that fateful day and that Jesse James staged the whole thing in an effort to live his life incognito.

The story's revised version makes sense for several reasons. First, Charlie Bigelow, who rode with Jesse James, closely resembled Jesse. In fact, Charlie sometimes pretended to be the notorious outlaw, which made Jesse livid. Second, the bounty on Jesse James stood at $10,000, a tidy sum for Ford, Jesse, and Jesse's brother Frank to split as coconspirators. Third, James needed some way to get the heat off his back.

Some reports even claim that after Ford killed Bigelow, Jesse James shaved his distinctive handle-bar mustache and sauntered into town to sing at his own funeral.

Even the name J. Frank Dalton traces back to Jesse James. Dalton is the maiden name of Jesse's mother, and historians say the J. in J. Frank Dalton actually stood for Jesse.

The fact that Jesse James suffered from ophthalmic conjunctivitis is in sync with J. Frank Dalton having died a blind man. But the man who Ford killed in 1882 did not suffer from ophthalmic conjunctivitis. Neither did he have red hair like Jesse. The man who Ford killed had black hair.

Once Jesse James allegedly died in 1882, a conspicuously similar-looking J. Frank Dalton gave shooting exhibitions as a touring member of a wild west show. Evidently, Dalton engaged in bigamy as well. Historians now say he had several families located throughout the south, which came in handy whenever he needed a place to hide from the law.

When debating whether the Frank Dalton dug up in Granbury is actually Jesse James, one should also consider that James' core family owned ranch land west of Fort Worth. More importantly, one should consider that Dalton often claimed to be Jesse James once his advanced age made him less fearful of being pursued.

The late Ola Everhard, the woman who took care of Frank Dalton when he became ill, claimed her patient told her countless stories about his glory days as Jesse James, and Granbury's D.M. Biggs claimed a real estate friend of his once confirmed that Frank Dalton and Jesse James are one in the same.

According to Biggs, J. Frank Dalton one day approached the real estate agent and proceeded to tell him how Jesse and Frank James once used the barn behind the agent's childhood home as a hideaway. The real estate agent vividly remembered the incident from his childhood, and Dalton's recollection spared nary a detail. The real clincher came, though, when Dalton called the agent by his first name.

The now-deceased Glen Rose attorney Wayland Adams once recounted meeting Jesse and Frank James at the 1923 funeral for the Reverend George English. Adams said his dad "Bull" Adams introduced him to two men wearing long black Prince Albert coats. "Bull" introduced the man with a stern scowl and a black handlebar mustache as Uncle Frank. He introduced the other man, who happened to be smiling, as Frank's brother, but Wayland remembered everyone at the funeral saying "There (goes) Frank and Jesse James."

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