James Home 'Bombing' Stirred Public
Kansas City Times Jan. 31, 1975
By Fred L. Lee
One hundred years ago this week someone tossed a
bomb through a back window of the James farm near Kearney, Mo.
When it exploded it killed Frank and Jesse's half-brother, Archie
Samuel, and shattered the right arm of their mother, Mrs. Zerelda James
The story of the bombing appeared in numerous papers
across the land in 1875. The James boys were "hot copy" back in
One of the first to carry the news of what happened
early on the morning of Jan. 26, 1875, was the Liberty Tribune.
One of the few extant copies of the Jan. 29 issue is owned by the Clay
County Museum Association in Liberty. An article in it is titled,
"Daring Attempt to Capture the James Boys."
"Much has been said about the attempted capture of
the James boys on Monday night," it begins, "and many of stories told,
but from all we can learn, the following from The Kansas City Times is
substantially, and likely entirely, correct." :
"As regards the throwing of the bomb into the house
to destroy the innocent, we enter our solemn protest. The act we
regard as not only indefensible but cowardly and barbarous. If
the James boys have violated the laws capture and punish them to the
full extent of the law, but do not punish the innocent for their acts.
"Much of this information was obtained from Capt.
John S. Groom, the obliging sheriff of Clay County, who was on the
premises soon after the occurence.
"Tuesday morning about half-past 1 o'clock Mr.
Samuel, the stepfather of the James boys, awoke, and found Mrs. Samuels
in the same condition. He said he heard a noise in the kitchen
and thought he smelled fire.
"At this time he got out of bed and went out of the
door of his room to get into the kitchen. When he got outside he
discovered the west end of the kitchen to be on fire. The house
is log, weather-boarded. Mr. S. at once went around to the fire
and commenced to tear off the boards.
"Mrs. Samuel in the meantime had come from her room
with her stepchildren - Johnnie, 14; Frannie, 12, and Archie, 9.
When she entered the kitchen she found Charlotte, her 'Negro woman,'
there with her three children. They, too, had been wakened by the
commotion and the fire.
"Mrs. Samuel saw a quilt on the bed afire. This she tore off and threw out of doors.
"She then discovered something on the floor which
she took to be a turpentine ball. It was on fire. She
attempted to pick it up, but found it too heavy. She then tried
to push it into the fire with her foot but failed.
"At this moment Mr. Samuel came in, having
extinguished the flames, and he tried to kick the supposed ball into
the fire, but failed. He then took a shovel and threw it into the
fireplace. As he did this it exploded. It was a bomb, or
more correctly speaking, what is known as a hand-grenade, a ball about
1 inch in thickness and lined with wrought iron.
"As it exploded a portion of it struck Mr. Samuel on
the right side of the head but failed to knock him senseless; another
portion struck Mrs. Samuel a few inches above the right wrist,
shattering all that portion of her arm; another portion struck the
little boy (Archie), under the third rib, on the left side, and
penetrated his bowels. Still another piece struck the servant on
the head, but did no serious injury."
They carried Archie out on the porch of the home and
into the yard. He died two hours later. On Jan. 28, he was
laid to rest.
Just who threw the bomb into the James-Samuel home?
A Times reporter interviewing Sheriff Groom was told
the following morning that horse tracks were discovered leading from
the barn to a spot in the horse lot near the home. In the rear of
the ice house were found tracks of four or five men.
In the vicinity were indications showing that horses
had suddenly turned and gone off in a northwesterly direction from the
barn and thence into an adjoining wheat field.
Three men were tracked in a northwesterly direction
for some distance and then west to a spot on the Haynesville road where
it was found that seven horses had been tied. It was here that
their trail ended.
Captain Groom and his men remained in the neighborhood for several days investigating the incident.
"We are not advised as to whether any additional
discoveries have been made," concludes the Tribune article. "The
details of Monday night's work are shrouded in mystery."
A witness that morning, E. Price Hall, was
interviewed by Homer Croy, Maryville, Mo., writer, when Croy was
researching his book, "Jesse James Was My Neighbor."
Hall was 87 years old at the time of the
interview. For six years he had been a deputy sheriff. He
was living in Liberty when Croy talked to him.
"At the time of the explosion (Hall) was a boy,"
Croy writes. "His father's farm and the James farm
adjoined. The Halls were awakened by the commotion and
screaming. Young Price hurried to the James house to find out
what it was all about."
When he got there "the stench was still in the
house." Mrs. Samuel's hand was still clinging to her arm by a
shred of skin. Samuel was preparing to cut the pieces of
skin. Little Archie was lying in a cot nearby groaning.
"Shortly after dawn I went out to explore the yard,"
Hall told Croy. "There had been a light snow and there were the
tracks of the men. I followed the tracks a short way and found
where the men had sat down on a log. I found the pistol one of
them had lost. On the handle were stamped the letters,
'P.G.G.' This stood for Pinkerton's Government Guard. Allen
Pinkerton had organized the United States Secret Service and he had
official government backing.
"We followed the tracks to the railroad and saw
where the men had stood waiting for the train. They had enough
authority to stop the train. Then they got on."
WORD OF ARRIVAL
Was it Pinkerton men who had thrown the bomb in the
window that morning? Croy says that when he was writing his book
on the James boys, Ralph Dudley who was general manager of the agency
at New York told him they did. And he told them why they did it.
Jack Ladd, a Pinkterton man working under cover as a
farmhand on the Askew farm across from the James-Samuel place, it
seems, had learned that Frank and Jesse were coming home that January
evening. He somehow got word of it to the home office in Kansas
City. They sent up nine men to take part in the capture of the
Arriving at the stable on the farm home property
they found two horses inside showing signs of just having been
ridden. This, of course, only reaffirmed what Ladd had told
them. The James boys were there just as he had said they would be.
But Frank and Jesse weren't there. Ladd had
guessed wrong. Or had he? One James writer states
definitely they were: "Not only were the James boys in the upper room
of the Samuel home but (contemporary records show) also that Clell
Miller and Dora and Bill Fox followed the Jameses out through the
window when the bomb was thrown inside.
Other writers say the panting horses were doing so
because Fanny and Johnnie Samuel had been to a party at a neighboring
farm home the night before and having stayed later than they were
supposed to, had ridden "hard and fast" to get home before their
parents scolded them.
"They found the James home a citadel," Dudley told
Croy, "with the windows shuttered and barred. They called to
those inside to open up and be questioned, but those inside refused to
do this. One of our men the pried open a window. The
interior was dark except for a fireplace which gave off insufficient
illumination to locate and identify those concealing themselves therein.
"Our men had with them a device for illuminating a
darkened place. It was something akin to nature to the firepots
which later came to be used on the highways.
"Dr. Samuel took a firestick and began to push the
device toward the fireplace, finally getting in in...The result was an
"The entire occurrence must be viewed in the light
of the extremely vicious character of Jesse and Frank James, their
established murderers' reactions to attempts to restrain them.
The methods employed by this posse were necessary under the
The explosion had consequence beyond injuries
sustained by Mrs. Samuel and her stepson. Frank and Jesse became
even more embittered toward the law for the wrong-doing committed
against their loved ones that evening. The bombing only worsened
Public sentiment, in fact, rose to a high pitch in
favor of the boys. It was even proposed in the Missouri
Legislature a few months later that the boys be given amnesty for their
crimes if they'd voluntarily turn themselves in and stand trial for
crimes allegedly committed by them after the Civil War.
The bill was defeated and Frank and Jesse went on just as they had in the past.
Fred L. Lee is a Kansas City free-lance writer active in historical groups.