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Monday, June 6, 2011

1880 :: The Day the James Boys Rode into Rockdale

The Rockdale Reporter. June 6, 1974. The Day the James Boys Rode into Rockdale. It was back in the year 1880 that Frank and Jesse James and three members of their gang paid a visit to Rockdale . . . . but very few people knew about their visit or who they were. The following letter from Ruth (Williams) Wildman (1905-1993), a former Rockdalian now [1974] living at 5133 Lindsay in Houston, tells an interesting story about the visit of the James gang.

My father, Edward Williams, came to Rockdale as a very young boy. Having been born in Yazoo City, Mississippi, he crossed the Mississippi River on a ferry with his parents, Mr. and Mrs. John Shark Williams. The family settled on a farm near Schulenberg, but later looked for greener pastures. They bought a farm near Rockdale, and there my father grew up and lived his entire life, except for one brief business adventure. Yes, a business adventure. He came into town when he was 21 years old, the year was 1880. He opened a wagon yard, and the story he told was:

On a cold winter's evening, five men rode into his wagon yard and asked what he would charge to feed and keep their horses. He gave them his price, and they replied, "Sell us a barrel of corn, and we will feed our own horses." This he did, but he locked their saddles and bridles up for the night. Each saddle had a Winchester buckled to it.

The men told my father they were going to the telegraph office to send a wire. They left and did not return until late the next afternoon. They paid my father, but asked him if he would go buy them a loaf of bread. When he returned with the bread, they were saddled and ready to ride.

One of the horses began to act-up, and one man said, "Here, trade horses with me," so they traded. As they rode out of the gate, my father remarked to the one who was on the pitching horse, "I'd sure like to own that horse." The man replied, "Yes, and a lot of others." Then the man pulled his coat back and showed my father a big side gun, and said, "They don't allow this in this town, but I'd like to see them help it." Then they rode away unnoticed, as they had ridden in.

In the meantime, there was another businessman there, under the name of Bell. He ran a livery stable. About six months to a year later, Mr. Bell decided to leave town, but before he left he said the five men who rode in that day were Frank and Jesse James, and three of their gang. They had spent the night and the following day with him. He said they spent the night talking of old times, and they rested all day. They were his friends. He was a former member of the gang, and his name was not Bell.

My father said later, "I always knew they were the James Boys." He said, "It was Frank who traded horses with Jesse, and it was Frank who showed me the side gun."

One more thing, the wagon yard was located where Phillips and Luckey Funeral Home is now [1974].

Note from the Keeper of this blog . . . back in 1974, Rockdale was celebrating its 100th birthday . . . and this was one of the local history articles that ran in the Rockdale Reporter . . . which is now celebrating the 100th anniversary of being owned and operated by the Cooke family of Rockdale . . . there seem to be quite a few stories about the James Gang among the families of the Rockdale area . . . our Henry line came to Texas from Kentucky . . . a story that has been passed down in our family says that members of the James Gang stopped for a visit at the Henry homestead in Milam County . . .

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