J. Frank Dalton

John Frank Dalton (March 8, 1848 – August 15, 1951)[1][2][3] was a man who, in the last few years (1948-1951) of his long life, publicly claimed to be the famous outlaw Jesse James. However, most professional historians believe that Dalton was merely a Jesse James impostor, and that the real Jesse James was killed by Robert "Bob" Ford on April 3, 1882, in a house Jesse was renting located at 1318 Lafayette Street in St. Joseph, Missouri.

J. Frank Dalton
BornMarch 8, 1848
Goliad, Goliad County, Texas
DiedAugust 15, 1951(1951-08-15) (aged 103)
Granbury, Hood County, Texas
Known forclaimed to be Jesse James

With the death of Jesse James in 1882, and the subsequent death of Dalton's wife Julia Ellen Groshon during childbirth in 1886, Dalton abandoned his children and began roaming the countryside. In the 1930s and 1940s he appeared in Independence County, Arkansas, telling tales of being Jesse James, and on other occasions he told tales of being the famous Western lawman John Franklin "Frank" Dalton (June 8, 1859 - November 27, 1887), thus earning himself a meal. By the 1940s he was in Oklahoma and Texas, where his uncle lived and he had relatives. It was in Texas that he first claimed he was the same Frank Dalton who historians believe had been killed in 1887. When it was proved that he wasn't the original Frank Dalton (1859-1887), in April, 1948 – in Lawton, Oklahoma – he took up being Jesse James instead.

Dalton was allegedly 100 years old at the time of his first public appearance as Jesse James – at Lawton, Oklahoma in April–May, 1948. Like the real Jesse James, Dalton apparently had been a pro-Confederate guerrilla in Missouri during the Civil War. However, Dalton's account of himself as Jesse James did not hold up under questioning from Jesse James' surviving relatives.[4]

Nevertheless, several people of note, such as journalist/novelist Robert Ruark,[5] were convinced that J. Frank Dalton was the famous outlaw Jesse Woodson James. To many people's surprise, Dalton did appear to have many of the unique body marks/body features which the real Jesse James was rumored to have. These body features included: seven bullet wounds, a rope burn around his neck, a collapsed lung, a damaged fingertip, and severely burned feet.

On September 5, 1949, Rudi Turilli[6] and Lester B. Dill[7] (the general manager and owner, respectively, of Meramec Caverns, near Stanton, Missouri) hosted a reunion at Meramec Caverns for Dalton and his last-remaining old-time friends, in celebration of Dalton's/Jesse James' supposed 102nd birthday.[8]

J. Frank Dalton died on August 15, 1951, in Granbury, Texas, and his death certificate was recorded with the name of the man he claimed to be.[9] His gravestone in Granbury Cemetery also has that claimed identity recorded on it.

Possibility of the name "J. Frank Dalton" being an aliasEdit

Considerable evidence exists that the name "J. Frank Dalton" (in full: John Frank Dalton) was itself just an alias that this man used.[10] While a resident of the Roper Hotel in Marble Falls, Texas, in the 1940s, J. Frank Dalton claimed to be the presumed dead Frank Dalton, a U.S. Marshal for the Oklahoma Territory under Judge Isaac Charles Parker. The original Frank Dalton was the older brother of the infamous Dalton Gang members and a touring member of Wild Bill Hickok’s Wild West show. The real Frank Dalton was believed to have died Nov. 27, 1887, in the line of duty.[11]

What Dalton said about himself and Jesse James in The Crittenden Memoirs (1936)Edit

In The Crittenden Memoirs (1936), a man who refers to himself as "Frank Dalton" writes in detail about the death of Jesse James, claiming that he (Dalton) was present when reporters, law enforcement officers, and locals gathered to witness the scene, and where Bob Ford confessed. Dalton demonstrates an awareness of the general lack of understanding surrounding the details of the death:

"Why was Jesse James killed? Why was it thought by many that the man killed by Bob Ford was not Jesse James? Why did Aunt Zerelda (Jesse's mother) at first deny that the murdered man was her boy? These things have never been told at all, or grossly misrepresented in the telling." Dalton goes on to say that he is aware of others' efforts to pose as Jesse, saying:

"Of course, Jesse has been seen alive from time to time by cheap notoriety seekers. Once a cowboy came up from the Argentine and said that Jesse was ranching and doing well down there. When this report was sifted down, it was found that the man taken for Jesse was a younger son of an English lord. A few years ago a banker in a West Texas town died, and the report was spread that he was Jesse James. More recently a fellow popped up claiming to be Jesse! How the heck do they get that way, loco weed, or what? No! Jesse James was killed by Bob Ford on the 3rd of April, 1882, in St. Joseph, Mo., there were too many people who knew him well and came to identify him for there to be any possible doubt, so that is that."[12] It is not clear whether the "Frank Dalton" of The Crittenden Memoirs and J. Frank Dalton were the same person, but the evidence and self-declared inside knowledge strongly suggest they were.

Dalton surfaces as Jesse James in his affidavit of April 24, 1948Edit

The following affidavit (signed by J. Frank Dalton in the presence of Reece L. Russell, notary public, in Lawton, Oklahoma, on April 24, 1948) appeared in full on the front page of The Lawton Constitution newspaper, issue of Wednesday, May 19, 1948:

KNOW ALL MEN BY THESE PRESENTS: That I, J. Frank Dalton, being of sound mind and body, wish to state that I am the son of Robert James, a Baptist minister, and Zerelda Cole, and that I was born at Centerville, Missouri, on September 5, 1847. The town of Centerville was later changed to Kearney, Missouri, same being located and situated in the present County of Clay, the State of Missouri. I have used many different names and aliases over many years, but my real name is and always has been JESSE WOODSON JAMES. My full brother was ALEXANDER FRANK JAMES, four years older than myself. We were members of QUANTRILL'S MISSOURI IRREGULARS that fought through the Civil War on the side of the Confederacy, later we became outlaws or bandits who operated over a wide area of several states.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I hereunto set my hand and seal this the 24th day of April, 1948.

(Signed) J. Frank Dalton

Robert Ruark interviews Dalton in June 1949Edit

Ever since the time of the murder on April 3, 1882, there has been a small but steady stream of witnesses and researchers who believe that Jesse James faked his death in 1882 and then adopted an alias. The majority of those who subscribe to this "murder hoax" theory believe the real murder victim was Charles "Charley" Bigelow, an undercover Pinkerton detective who was posing as Jesse James and committing robberies - thus incurring the wrath and vengeance of the real Jesse James. This theory holds that there was a "murder hoax conspiracy" involving several people (all close friends of the real Jesse James), who conspired together to murder someone, and who then all swore before the investigating officials that the murder victim was Jesse James. The goal of the conspirators was to manipulate and/or "control" the murder evidence in such a way that the law enforcement and judicial authorities involved in investigating the murder would certify that Jesse was legally dead, thus setting Jesse James free.

In 1949, J. Frank Dalton was living in a cabin on the grounds of Meramec Caverns, courtesy of Lester B. Dill, who owned the caverns. In June 1949 the journalist Robert C. Ruark interviewed Dalton there and then published some of what Dalton told him in a series of three newspaper articles which were published in early July 1949 in newspapers across the United States. Following is what J. Frank Dalton told Ruark concerning the Jesse James murder hoax. This information is excerpted verbatim from Ruark's article titled "Uncle Jesse Looks and Acts Like Real James" (The Evening Independent, St. Petersburg, Florida, July 9, 1949, p. 10):

"Stanton, Mo. - The old man who looks, acts, and talks like Jesse James, and who claims, at 102 years of age, to be Jesse James, says that the man who was killed and buried as Jesse James was a fellow named Charlie Bigelow.

. . . The old man says he had him a string of runnin' horses, and two come down with distemper. 'I fetched 'em to St. Joe to isolate 'em,' he said. 'I had a house there I was not usin' for a spell - not until after some runnin' races at Excelsior Springs. This fellow Charlie Bigelow looked enough like me to be my twin, and he was huntin' a house. I told him and his wife they could use my place for a spell, until after the races, and he moved in.

One day I was out in the barn doctorin' my horses when I heard a gunshot in the house. When I heerd that gun go off I knowed it wasn't no play-party, because we argued with guns in them days. I run into the house and there was Bob Ford, standing over Bigelow with a gun in his hand and blood on the floor. I said to Ford, 'Looks like you killed him, Bob,' and Bob says, 'Looks like I did, Jesse.' Then I says, 'This is my chance, Bob. You tell 'em its me you killed. You tell my mother to say so, and you take care of that Bigelow woman. I'm long gone.'

The old man says he got on one of his horses - a good horse, a four-mile horse - and he lit out. He says he went to Kansas City to Memphis, to New Orleans, then Florida, where he met with Frank, Who was also on the run and working at a saw mill. He then took a boat for Brazil. He kicked around South America for a spell and came home, and then went to Mexico. He settled later in Oklahoma, and claims to have been elected, under the name of J. Frank Dalton, to the territorial legislature. He later moved to Texas."

The Mt. Olivet Cemetery exhumation (July 17–19, 1995)Edit

In recent years there have been a few attempts to resolve these historical mysteries and to finally get to the real truth of the matter. Unfortunately, none of these attempts have produced any evidence which can definitively resolve the issues being debated by the contending parties.

For example, on July 17–19, 1995, James E. Starrs[13] (David B. Weaver Research Professor of Law, and Professor of Forensic Sciences, at George Washington University Law School)[14] supervised the exhumation of Jesse James' purported grave in Mt. Olivet Cemetery at Kearney, Clay County, Missouri.

Here are the statements of Starrs and his colleagues on this subject, quoted verbatim from their report (page 175): "We are left with three possibilities: (1) the exhumed remains are indeed those of Jesse James; (2) the exhumed remains are not Jesse James, but from another maternal relative of RJ and MN; or (3) the exhumed remains are from an unrelated individual who, by chance, happens to have the same mtDNA sequence as RJ and MN ... Do the mtDNA results prove that the exhumed remains are those of Jesse James? The answer to this question must be no, as there is always the possibility (however remote) that the remains are from a different maternal relative of RJ and MN, or from an unrelated person with the same mtDNA sequence. However, it should be emphasized that the mtDNA results are in complete agreement with the other scientific investigations of the exhumed remains: there is no scientific basis whatsoever for doubting that the exhumed remains are those of Jesse James. The burden of proof now shifts to those who, for whatever reason, choose to still doubt the identification."[15]

However, critics of the exhumation - most notably Betty Dorsett Duke (1947-2015)[16][17] - claim that the DNA samples obtained and tested by Starrs' exhumation team did not originate from the remains exhumed from the gravesite. Duke and many other critics of this exhumation have pointed out that, according to the canons of forensic science, the "chain of custody" of the actual remains which yielded the DNA samples tested by the Starrs team was not precisely known at the time of the exhumation, and, moreover, that the "chain of custody" of those remains cannot now be precisely determined or reconstructed through further investigation. Consequently, the critics of the exhumation believe that the primary conclusion the Starrs team published in their report (quoted above) cannot be relied on with any degree of confidence. Going even further, in view of all the evidence which has emerged (since the time of the exhumation) which contradicts the basic conclusion of the Starrs exhumation team, many critics of the exhumation now believe that the primary conclusion of the Starrs exhumation team (as quoted above) is simply false.[18][19][20]

The Granbury Cemetery exhumation (May 30, 2000)Edit

Bud Hardcastle[21] - an amateur historian and used car salesman from Purcell, Oklahoma, and a long-time researcher of the Jesse James/J. Frank Dalton mystery - is one of those who (for several reasons) has been unwilling to accept the conclusions of the Starrs exhumation team. In the mid-1990s, Hardcastle joined forces with three sons of Jesse Cole James.[22] These brothers - Jessie Quanah James Sr.,[23] Burleigh Dale James,[24] and Charles A. James[25] - all believed that Dalton was their grandfather, and that Dalton really was the famous outlaw Jesse James. J. Frank Dalton was buried in the Granbury Cemetery at Granbury, Hood County, Texas. Hardcastle and the three James brothers decided to request an exhumation order from the Hood County (Texas) Court, so they could have Dalton's remains exhumed and DNA-tested in an attempt to determine - once and for all - if Dalton really was Jesse James.

Attorneys for Hardcastle and his associates filed a request for an exhumation order with the Hood County Clerk's Office on June 14, 1996. At the exhumation hearing held in September 1996, Hood County judge Don Cleveland[26] denied their request, ruling that the attorneys had not provided him with any compelling evidence as to why he should approve the request. On July 20, 1999, Hardcastle's attorney Steven J. Reid filed a second request for an exhumation order with the Hood County Clerk's Office.[27] It appears that after filing the second request on July 20, 1999, attorney Reid filed at least one "Amended Application for Exhumation." These "amended applications" contained detailed genealogical and historical information which Hardcastle and his associates considered to be the "compelling evidence" which Judge Cleveland had stated was lacking at the time of the first exhumation hearing in September 1996. Hood County judge Linda Ray Steen[28] approved this request at an exhumation hearing held on February 17, 2000.[29] During the exhumation, on May 30, 2000, the investigative team found a second casket at the grave site. However, the exhumation order was restricted to one casket, and the decision was made to leave the casket farthest from the headstone untouched.[30] It was later determined that the exhumed remains were those of a one-armed Granbury resident named William Henry Holland (1883-1927), not the remains of J. Frank Dalton. The mix-up was likely a result of misplaced headstones, and so the mystery remained unresolved.[31] Hardcastle appears to have moved on to other endeavors, abandoning any further attempts to exhume the remains.[32]


  • Henry Huston Crittenden, The Crittenden Memoirs (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1936). J. Frank Dalton, under the shortened form of his name "Frank Dalton," contributed 20 pages of material to The Crittenden Memoirs.
  • Frank O. Hall and Lindsey H. Whitten, Jesse James Rides Again (Lawton, Oklahoma: LaHoma Publishing Company, 1948).
  • Phyllis Argall, The Truth About Jesse James - A Post Mortem Presentation of Little-Known Facts About a Famous American Character (Sullivan, Missouri: L. B. Dill and R. Turilli, 1955).
  • Carl William Breihan, The Complete and Authentic Life of Jesse James (New York: Frederick Fell, 1954).
  • Henry James Walker, Jesse James "THE OUTLAW" (Des Moines, Iowa: Wallace-Homestead Co., 1961)
  • Jesse Lee James, Jesse James and the Lost Cause (New York: Pageant Press, 1961).
  • Rudy Turilli, I Knew Jesse James (Stanton, Missouri: Self-Published by the Author, 1966).
  • Columbus Vaughn, Sarah Elizabeth Snow, and Lester Snow, This Was Frank James (Philadelphia, PA: Dorrance & Company, 1969).
  • Del Schrader (with Jesse James III), Jesse James Was One of His Names - The Greatest Cover Up in History by the Famous Outlaw Who Lived 73 Incredible Lives (Arcadia, Cal.: Santa Anita Press, 1975).
  • Ola Everhard, The Hoax that Let Jesse James Live (Unpublished manuscript, 1987).
  • Joe Wood, My Jesse James Story (Washington, Missouri: The Missourian Publishing Co., Inc., 1989, reprinted from "The Washington Missourian").
  • Phillip W. Steele (George Lester Warfel Jr.) The Many Faces of Jesse James (Gretna, Louisiana: Pelican Publishing Company, 1995).
  • Dale L. Walker, Legends and Lies: Great Mysteries of the American West (New York: Tom Doherty Associates, 1997).
  • Ted P. Yeatman, Frank and Jesse James - The Story Behind the Legend (Nashville, Tennessee: Cumberland House Publishing, 2000).
  • Warren T. Getler and Bob Brewer, Shadow of the Sentinel - One Man's Quest to Find the Hidden Treasure of the Confederacy (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2003).
  • Reggie Anne Walker-Wyatt, Chasing Jesse James History - A Series (trilogy):
    • Vol. 1 - Chasing Rivers, Trains and Jesse James - A Man Called J. Frank Dalton, the Civil War, and the Knights of the Golden Circle - A Historical Novel, that follows a new path provided by real life stories regarding the controversial life of a man called "Jesse James" (edited by Lydia Anne Wyatt) (Self-Published, 2004).
    • Vol. 2 - The Back Roads of Jesse James (2010) (77 pages).
    • Vol. 3 - Guns, Gold and Good Whisky: The Continuing Saga of Jesse James alias J. Frank Dalton (2013).
  • Ralph A. Epperson, Jesse James: United States Senator (Tucson, AZ: Publius Press, 2005).
  • History of Randolph County, Arkansas


  1. ^ Dalton's birthdate has not been definitively established at this time. Some sources claim he was born on April 17, 1844 (either in or near Lexington, Kentucky - somewhere in Frankfort, Kentucky - or someplace in Scott County, Kentucky), while other sources claim he was born on March 8, 1848 at Goliad, Goliad County, Texas.
  2. ^ Dalton contributed about 20 pages of material to The Crittenden Memoirs (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1936), a book compiled by Henry Huston Crittenden (1859-1943). The section of the book written by Dalton is titled "Outlawry - Frank Dalton's Pen Pictures" ( comprising pages 355-374 of the book). Dalton's material in The Crittenden Memoirs consists primarily of articles and letters he had written previously to 1936, most of which had already been published in various newspapers (notably in two Texas newspapers: The Gladewater Times and The Henderson Times) prior to their publication in the book. Dalton himself states, at two different places in this material (on pages 363 and 372 of the book), that he was born on March 8, 1848.
  3. ^ Dalton applied for a Confederate veteran pension from the state of Texas. His application was filed on March 19, 1947, and it was approved on August 19, 1947. There is contradictory information on his birth date in this pension file. One letter in the file states that according to a "notice" filed with his pension application, Dalton was born in April 1844, while other paperwork in the file states Dalton was born on March 8, 1848.
  4. ^ Walker, Dale L. Legends and Lies: Great Mysteries of the American West. New York, NY: Forge Books, 1997. pp. 87-110. ISBN 0-312-86848-0.
  5. ^ In 1949 Dalton was living in a cabin on the grounds of Meramec Caverns (near Stanton, Missouri), courtesy of Lester B. Dill, who owned the caverns. Ruark interviewed Dalton there, and on the basis of what he learned during the interview, Ruark wrote 3 articles about Dalton, which were published in various newspapers across the United States (published in early July 1949). It appears that each newspaper in which they were published gave the articles a different title, but the actual content of the articles was kept the same nationwide. Some of the titles of these articles are as follows: "Evidence Supports Story That Jesse James is Alive" (Herald-Journal of Spartanburg, South Carolina, July 6, 1949, p. 3), "Is Jesse James Still Alive?" (The Evening Independent of St. Petersburg, Florida, July 7, 1949, p. 14), "He's Bandit - Case Airtight" (Salt Lake Tribune of Salt Lake City, Utah, July 7, 1949, p. 12), and "Uncle Jesse Looks and Acts Like Real James" (The Evening Independent of St. Petersburg, Florida, July 9, 1949, p. 10).
  6. ^ Rudolph Oswald "Rudy" Turilli (March 17, 1919 - July 19, 1972)
  7. ^ Lester Benton Dill (Nov. 28, 1898 - Aug. 13, 1980)
  8. ^ Rudy Turilli - I Knew Jesse James (Stanton, MO: Rudy Turilli, 1966), pp. 11-69.
  9. ^ Texas Death Index, Name: Jesse [sic] Woodson [sic] James [sic], Date: Aug. 15, 1951, County: Hood, Cert. No.: 42235.
  10. ^ Jesse James Was One of His Names - The Greatest Cover Up in History by the Famous Outlaw Who Lived 73 Incredible Lives (Arcadia, CA: Santa Anita Press, 1975) - by Del Schrader (1917-1982) and Jesse James III (Orvus Lee Howk) (1905-1984)
  11. ^ "Who was that tall, bearded stranger?" - McNabb, Betty. The Highlander, November 30, 1978.
  12. ^ The Crittenden Memoirs, pg. 363-4, http://genforum.genealogy.com/james/messages/31025.html
  13. ^ James Edward Starrs (born July 30, 1930) - See: (1) https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:2QNH-T25 (2) http://www.intelius.com/search/people/James-E-Starrs/Fredericksburg-VA
  14. ^ http://www.law.gwu.edu/james-e-starrs
  15. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2010-07-19. Retrieved 2016-04-03.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link) - "Mitochondrial DNA Analysis of the Presumptive Remains of Jesse James," by Anne C. Stone, James E. Starrs, and Mark Stoneking, Journal of Forensic Sciences (2001), Vol. 46, No. 1, pp. 173-176.
  16. ^ http://cook-walden-davis.tributes.com/dignitymemorial/obituary/Betty-Gail-Duke-102801383 (Obituary of Betty Gail Dorsett Duke)
  17. ^ Betty Gail Dorsett Duke (April 2, 1947 - August 29, 2015) - Author of the following books: Jesse James Lived and Died in Texas (Austin, Texas: Eakin Press, 1998), The Truth About Jesse James (Fiddler's Green Press, rev. ed., 2008), and Jesse James - The Smoking Gun (Fiddler's Green, 2011)
  18. ^ Betty Dorsett Duke - Fraudulent Jesse James DNA Results? (July 19, 2011) - See: http://www.jessejamesintexas.com/2Fraudulent_DNAMedia.pdf[permanent dead link]
  19. ^ Betty Dorsett Duke - "So ... Who's Telling the Truth about Jesse James' DNA Results?" - See: http://jessewjames.wordpress.com/tag/james-e-starrs
  20. ^ Betty Dorsett Duke - "Questionable MtDNA Reference Sources For 'Jesse James' Exhumation" (2010).
  21. ^ Ellis Eugene "Bud" Hardcastle (born May 4, 1939)
  22. ^ Jesse Cole James (Feb. 13, 1882 - Feb. 5, 1964) - There is some evidence that his name was originally spelled "Jessie Coal James." If his name originally was "Jessie Coal James," it is not known at this time why the spelling was changed to "Jesse Cole James."
  23. ^ Jessie (Jesse) Quanah "Tubby" James, Sr. (Feb. 3, 1923 - Dec. 18, 2005)
  24. ^ Burleigh (Burley) Dale James (Nov. 1, 1934 - April 16, 2005)
  25. ^ Charles A. "Shorty" James (born on Jan. 31, 1939)
  26. ^ Donald Gill Cleveland (born on Dec. 1, 1937) - He was Hood County judge from 1991-1998.
  27. ^ See: http://www.co.hood.tx.us/DocumentCenter/Home/View/945[permanent dead link] (Scroll down to page 160 of the document) - Index for Mary Burnett, Hood County Clk - Defendant Civil Docket Listing (01/01/1995 thru 12/31/2011)
  28. ^ Linda Ray Steen (née Linda Lou Ray) (born October 23, 1939) was Hood County judge from 1999-2002. Anderson Luke Rash (born August 8, 1945) was Hood County judge from 2003-2010. William Darrell Cockerham (born July 23, 1943) became Hood County judge on January 1, 2011. His 8-year term will expire on December 31, 2018.
  29. ^ Leland Debusk - "Is It Really Jesse James? - Judge Grants Order to Exhume Reputed Outlaw's Bones," Hood County News, On-Line Edition (Feb. 18, 2000) - See: http://www.granburydepot.org/z/biog/JamesJesseExhumationOrder.htm
  30. ^ "Search for outlaw turns grave 2nd casket found at burial site". NewsOK.com. 2000-05-31. Retrieved 2018-03-08.
  31. ^ "Jesse James Grave Mix-Up". Retrieved 2018-03-08.
  32. ^ "Was fortune stashed to help South rise again?". DeseretNews.com. 2005-05-29. Retrieved 2018-03-08.