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 Samuel.
    The story of the bombing appeared in numerous papers across the land in 1875.  The James boys were "hot copy" back in those days.
    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."

    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 outlaws.
    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 explosion.
    "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 circumstances..."

    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 matters.
    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.