Laboratory Reports Outline Information About Jesse James
The Joplin Globe, July 16, 1979

by Scott Kraft

    KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Bits of human remains unearthed at an old gravesite near the Jesse James log cabin show the Old West outlaw had head lice, endured an illness at age 5, and had type A blood.

    Those findings were outlined over the weekend in laboratory reports on small bones and tufts of hair found last fall.  Along with other recent discoveries, they mark some of the more significant advances ever made in the study of Jesse James' life and death, historians say.

    "This whole thing is really telling us lots of stories," said Milton Perry, superintendent of historic sites for Clay County in Missouri.

    This summer Perry and his crew of archaeology students have been sifting through the 129-year-old James homestead located on rolling farmland near Kearney, Mo., northeast of Kansas City.  The county bought the farm last year and have begun a $50,000 restoration project.

    So far, the discovery of an 1853 penny and an 1823 50-cent piece is the closest they've come to recovering any loot stashed by the train and bankrobbing James Gang.

    But they have collected a sackful of other material, including rifle balls and smallcaliber pistol shells, a coin purse, pre-Civil War marbles and a hatpin that may have belonged to Jesse's mother.

    "This old building is talking to us," Perry says.  "But we have to understand the language."

    Jesse was buried in a plot about 30 feet from the cabin 1882.  Twenty years later, when his family moved the body to a nearby cemetery, the coffin fell apart and parts of Jesse's body fell back into the original grave.
    Archaeologists digging into that grave last year found a boot heel, a button, parts of the ornate casket, a .38-caliber bullet, a tooth and other bits of human skeletal material.  Those remains were sent to the osteology laboratory at Kansas State University.

    Perry says he hasn't yet completed his study of the slug, which a ballistics expert has concluded could have been the bullet that killed Jesse James.

    Perry doubts that claim because newspaper accounts of the day indicate the fatal bullet was a .44-caliber slug.  The .38-caliber slug may be from a leg wound Jesse received during a shootout at Northfield, Minn., in 1876, Perry says.

    The lab reports indicate the human remains belonged to a Caucasian man with brown hair who was between 30 and 40 years old and had been buried slightly less than 100 years.  The life and death of Jesse James fit that description.

    An examination of the tooth indicates rings, similar to growth rings in a tree.  They revealed that when he was 5 years old Jesse had an illness that was accompanied by a high fever.  Clay County records show that in 1852, when Jesse was 5, he was treated by a doctor for an unknown ailment.

    Although typing of blood was unknown during Jesse's time, laboratory tests on his remains indicate he was blood type A.  Also, tests indicate his hair contained eggs of a common louse -- a condition Perry says was not unusual in the 1880s.

    Perry says when final tests are completed, the skeletal material will be reburied in the old gravesite.