A photograph of notorious outlaw Billy the Kid sold to a Florida billionaire for $2.3 million in 2011.
I bring this up because you have to have that $2.3 million figure in mind when you read this story about Patrick Meguiar from Portland, Tennessee.
Meguiar, 64, wrote me a letter explaining that he had a family connection with Jesse James.
And he has a picture he hopes is worth even more than Billy the Kid’s.
Here is the truth. Records have been destroyed or lost. No one is sure if Patrick Mequiar’s distant relative was a sister to Jesse James’ relative. And without Jesse James around, it will be impossible to prove the authenticity of the photo.
Here’s what I know for sure. Patrick Meguiar believes he is Jesse James’ “double third cousin, three times distant.”
“I have every reason to believe that Mary Hines James of Hanover County, Virginia was the sister of Sarah Hines Martin also of Hanover County, Virginia,” he said. “They lived in the house of John Hines in Hanover County, Virginia, and were members of the same Presbyterian church.”
Mary Hines James was Jesse James’ grandmother. Sarah Hines Martin was Meguiar’s grandfather’s grandmother. I think that would make her Meguiar’s great-great-great-grandmother. But it’s hard to keep track.
He also said his family “helped and encouraged Cousin Jesse” to hide from the law.
Connecting to Jesse James
Jesse James was a murderous thug who robbed banks and stagecoaches and somehow became popular for causing mayhem.
He died in 1882 at the age of 34, shot in the head by a member of his own outlaw gang. Yes, he was very popular.
James was originally from Missouri, but spent time in Tennessee, Kentucky and California. He was a “bushwhacker” during the Civil War, part of an unofficial group that attacked Union soldiers using guerrilla tactics.
His career as a bank robber peaked between 1866 and 1876 when he and his brother, Frank, teamed up to form their own gang (the James-Younger Gang) with outlaw Cole Younger.
Famously, the James-Younger gang attempted to rob the First National Bank in Northfield, Minnesota on September 7, 1876. Six of the eight robbers were killed in the attempted robbery. Only Jesse and Frank James got away with it.
For the last six years of his life, James was a wanted man. He arrived in Nashville and Humphreys County, where he helped raise and race horses. Meguiar also said James came to the family farm in Kentucky.
The horses, Meguiar said, are the clue that connects him to James.
The Mequiar family owned a horse-breeding farm in Lake Springs, Kentucky. Meguiar said James became a business partner of that farm.
ALL TYPES:“She loved me so much she married me twice.” A couple from Tennessee finally got married
MORE FROM KEITH SHARON:Two victims of a horrific crime speak out at a school in Tennessee. What students learned about sexual assault
“My grandpa told me he heard Cousin Jesse was always really friendly when he was passing by,” Mequiar said.
Using racehorses to get away from crime scenes was key to James’ success as a thief, Meguiar said.
The stories his grandfather told him fascinated Meguiar…including the one in this old photo of Jesse James.
“That’s all you need to know”
When Meguiar grew up, he ran the family farm – cattle, corn, soybeans, wheat.
In 1977, while a student at Tennessee Tech, Meguiar decided to go in search of James’ photo. He did some research and found that his Aunt Patti had it.
“It was in a box in a desk,” he said.
Her Aunt Patti’s reaction, however, was enlightening. “He’s your cousin, and that’s all you need to know.”
Meguiar later found out that her aunt hated James.
“She was ashamed to be related to him,” Meguiar said. “She wanted this picture out of her house.”
Realizing that a photo of Jesse James was extremely rare, Meguiar first put it in a fireproof box. Now it is kept in a safe.
“The Idiot Traditionalists”
The photo is an ambrotype.
I had to look for this. Ambrotype: an underexposed, underdeveloped wet collodion negative on glass which, when viewed against a dark background, appears as a positive image.
That means it’s kind of soft-focused and open to interpretation.
Here is the biggest problem with the photo. It doesn’t look like the photo of Jesse James that is widely known from Jesse James wanted posters.
Meguiar doesn’t like people who think James looks like that pointy-headed, receding-haired person in the popular photo.
“Traditionalists aren’t going to believe anything,” he said.
He likes to call them “dumb traditionalists”. “It makes me a little angry,” he said.
The real defining feature of James’s face is a misaligned jaw, Meguiar said.
He said a woman named Gilda Elizabeth, known on Facebook as “The Online Progenitor”, told him her picture of James matched James’ Civil War-era picture. Elizabeth’s Facebook page says she lives in Kent, England, and attended Oxford.
I contacted Elizabeth, who compared Meguiar’s photo to others of Jesse James. His answer :
“I cannot swear under oath that this is a photograph of the same person as the authenticated photos,” she said. “I would say that I see no difference between the two, that it looks much more like the authenticated photos than others that have been tentatively accepted, and that in my opinion it is the same person. That certainly deserves further investigation by a journalist as it could be a great story, with all the family ties that Patrick talks about.”
Meguiar knows he has a long way to go to establish enough evidence to sway popular opinion about what Jesse James looked like.
He said if his photo ever becomes valuable, he will donate it to a historical society memorial center in Simpson County, Kentucky.
“I believe it’s Jesse James with all my heart,” he said.
Contact Keith Sharon at 615-406-1594 or [email protected] or on Twitter @KeithSharonTN.
Want to read more stories like this? A subscription to The Tennessean gives you access to The Type Set column and other stories important to your community, plus unlimited access to all the latest news across the entire USA TODAY Network.
This story is part of Project 88, which is named after the 88 characters produced on a Smith-Corona typewriter. Tennessean’s Keith Sharon types letters on his 1953 typewriter and mails them to people around the world with an envelope and a stamp so they can reply. This story originated from a letter received by Keith. The question Project 88 tries to answer is: Will people communicate the old-fashioned way, through heartfelt letters about the best and toughest days of their lives. This project is not intended for political ranting, and any type of postal mail (typed, handwritten, or computer-printed) is acceptable. Please include a phone number.
You can be part of Project 88 by writing to:
1801 West End Ave.
Nashville, Tennessee 37203