Seeking the real Jesse James

Published 12:38 am Monday, September 24, 2007

VIDALIA — A Shreveport-based author will make her way into the area for the Jim Bowie Festival in hopes of tracking down information about another historical figure: Jessie James.

Reggie Ann Walker-Wyatt has already written one book of what is slated to be a trilogy about Jessie James, and her next book is slated to have a chapter about the Vidalia-Natchez area in the years after the Civil War.

“One of the stories I’m working on was about a man who was in the Civil War who eventually moved to Brookhaven,” she said. “J. Frank Dalton was shot bringing horses from Texas to Louisiana, and he went to the plantation (owned by that man) to recuperate.”

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J. Frank Dalton was a 100-year-old man who in 1948 came forward and said he was the real Jessie James, and he had faked his assassination so he could slip away and have a quiet life.

Dalton claimed the assassination was faked by having a man named Charlie Bigelow — who reportedly was using his name and resembled James enough to fool even some of the James gang members — shot.

“Maybe there was more than one Jessie James and maybe J. Frank Dalton wasn’t telling a big whopping lie,” Walker-Wyatt said.

“These men were hounded by the Pinkerton (detective) Agency for 20 years after the Civil War,” she said. “Why wouldn’t they want to change their names and fade away?”

Though many historians are skeptical of Dalton’s claims, Walker-Wyatt said she believes he was the real Jessie James.

“I have gathered a great preponderance of evidence to build a case for my theory,” she said.

Some of that evidence includes what she says are pictures of Dalton with other members of the James gang taken in Delhi in the years after the Civil War.

Part of Walker-Wyatt’s interest in the Vidalia-Natchez area comes from the fact that James was known to visit the “little 101 Plantation” near Sicily Island, and she hopes her visit to the area will yield more information about James, she said.

Walker-Wyatt will exhibit some of her evidence at the Jim Bowie festival, and said she hopes to open a full exhibit in the Jim Bowie museum when it is completed in the spring.