DeVos: The Secret Disservice |

DeVos: The Secret Disservice

Jon deVos
The Friday Report
Jon DeVos
Staff Photo |

The Secret Service employs only people like Clint Eastwood and Sandra Bullock. A big part of their job is to throw their bodies on top of the president when things turn sour. To me, a clear sign of a bad job is that you’re expected to take a bullet now and then.

It is a tough job and it’s no wonder they drink. And drive. And frequent prostitutes. And let crazy people in the White House. And sext each other. And get their guns stolen. And invite party-crashers into state dinners. These are the same guys that can’t tell a rifle shot from a hole in their muffler. They reported a car backfiring and it was four days before a timid maid asked if bullet holes in the White House windows were normal.

As appalling as recent Secret Service behavior has been, it’s not very far from their origins around 1874 when they blew Frank and Jesse James’ mom’s arm off. She survived, though, later she would stand by Jesse’s tombstone, where for 25 cents she would rant about that dirty little coward, Bob Ford and the “guvmint bastids” who persecuted her innocent sons and murdered her poor boy, Jesse.

Well, history says the boys weren’t all that innocent, mom’s protestations aside. Rather, the James Gang were ruthless killers who robbed countless stages, trains and banks, shooting everyone who crossed their path. For two decades between 1860 and 1880 they were the most feared outlaws in America. Still, they became folk heroes in the South for their support of the Confederacy.

The Secret Service, known as Pinkerton’s at the time, was particularly piqued at the James Gang’s penchant for feeding Pinkerton agents to the pigs. While this substantially improved the agency’s retirement fund, policy wonks deemed it unseemly and ordered it to stop. So the Pinkerton men got more aggressive.

Late in 1874, Pinkerton’s impeccable spy network determined that Jesse and Frank were visiting the family farm in Clay County, Mo. Trouble was, they weren’t. Agents crept up undetected and threw bombs through the window, killing Jesse’s 9-year-old half-brother and tearing his mother’s arm off. Turns out the brothers were running errands that day, making bank withdrawals in Kansas.

The gang grew more vicious but their popularity began to wane in 1869 when Jesse robbed a small-town Missouri bank. After getting the money, and for no apparent reason, Jesse drew his gun and shot the banker through the heart. The story went viral and the price on his head grew until Robert Ford claimed it and laid poor Jesse in his grave.

Or did he? There’s the conspiracy part.

Bob Ford was a pal. Jesse knew the Pinkerton agents were closing in. He also knew they wanted him dead and didn’t care about the “or alive” part. So the two outlaws murdered a Jesse-lookalike named Charlie Bigelow and staged Jesse’s fake death. Jesse assumed the name J. Frank Dalton and roamed the West for another 60 years before he finally died again in 1951 and was buried in a Texas cemetery. Throughout the 1940s this old geezer claiming to be Dalton/James was a fixture at Merrimack Caverns, regaling audiences with tales of gunfights and robberies back in the day when he was Jesse James.

Spoilsports, who can’t abide a good conspiracy theory, dug up the original corpse in 1995 to test the DNA. That would be the corpse of the Jesse James supposedly killed by Bob Ford back in 1882. They found a probable match with Jesse James’ mother.

His one-armed mother.

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