James Gang Spotted In Bollinger County

This article was originally published by State of the Ozarks online magazine.

The Methodist Episcopal Church South located a mile from Marble Hill, Missouri.

John Reilly spotted Jesse and Frank James camping “at the foot of the hill just beyond ‘Uncle’ David Lutes’ residence about one-and-one-half mile west of Lutesville [Bollinger County, Missouri].” It was the night after the James Gang’s first train robbery. The holdup occurred near Gad’s Hill, Wayne County, Missouri, on January 31, 1874.

Reilly’s story was printed in the Marble Hill Press newspaper on July 9, 1891.

Not long ago, my good friend Scotty Hooe and I discussed the possible locations of that James Gang campsite as it was possible the occurrence took place on Scotty’s Lucky Valley Ranch.

The late Scotty Hooe.

The ranch is approximately one-and-one-half miles west of old Lutesville and there is an old well there. The well would have made an ideal camp. Scotty began researching property abstracts and found the land once belonged to David Lutes.

We pored over the abstracts carefully and what I found next led me to believe Scotty’s land was indeed the James Gang’s 1874 camp location. The land’s history is fascinating.

Capped off well located on Lucky Valley Ranch

It is a parcel with a boundary line of the north bank of Opossum Creek. Jacob Lutes’ name appears on the abstracts, dated April 10, 1849 (on a document signed by President Zachary Taylor and Secretary of the Interior Thomas Ewing).

Ewing’s signature is ironic.

Jacob Lutes was a rider in the Bollinger County Light Horse Cavalry. He was a Confederate.

Secretary of the Interior Ewing was father of General Thomas Ewing Jr., the infamous Union general who authored Order #11 — the order displacing thousands of Missourians in an attempt to route Confederate sympathizers.

General Ewing also commanded Fort Davidson in nearby Pilot Knob, Missouri, when Confederate General Price attacked in 1864.

Did Jacob Lutes’ Confederate ties play a role in Frank and Jesse James’ decision to choose the Lutes’ land as a campsite? The nearby Methodist Episcopal Church South was a known safe haven for Confederate soldiers. The apparent coincidences are stirring.

My friend Scotty Hooe’s personal ties to the Confederacy are stirring as well.

Grounds of the Methodist Episcopal Church South. The church was located on a small hillside known as Point Pleasant.

Scotty is related to General Robert E. Lee. Virginia Hooe-Mason married Wilmer McLean in 1854. McClean was a cousin to Lee. Civil War history buffs might recognize the man’s home: the Mclean House in the village of Appomattox Court House where, on April 9, 1865, the surrender of the Confederacy took place.

Of course, here in Missouri the war did not truly end until 1882 when Jesse James was betrayed and shot by Bob Ford.

FEBRUARY 10, 2016.

– Clint Lacy is author of Blood in the Ozarks: Expanded Edition available in paperback $15 or Kindle $2.99

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