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Folklore of the Old West Festival enjoyed by hundreds
The Folklore of the Old West Festival in Columbia was a great success even with overcast skies and cool temperatures. Smells of barbecue filled the air as traders traded, children rode ponys and the little train around the block, and artists shared plans for upcoming showings. Hundreds of men, women and children crowded onto the public square for the second annual re-enactment of the Jessie James Gang robbery of the Bank of Columbia. The noisy crowd swelled until an announcer called time for the event to begin and then a hush fell over the square. Horses hooves approaching were the only sounds, making one feel as though it really might be a hundred years ago, until someone's cell phone rang reminding us it is 2003 and this is just a play. (Photos begin at the end of the text.)
The story was told over loud speakers as the action played out before the crowd. The Bank of Columbia was staged for the event in the old Lerman's building at the corner of the square and Jamestown Street.
It was Civil War times in the United States -- times were very hard and families were divided. The Jessie James Gang stayed in homes in and around Adair County scouting out the Bank of Columbia. (Mrs. Lorena Jackson of Cane Valley shares the following details from her writings.)
April 29, 1872 was a nice spring day and in the farming community of Adair County where folks were at work in the fields and in town. Not many people were in the Bank of Columbia during the morning. Thomas Tyler Alexander was president, Board members included prominent Columbia merchants Thomas H. Frazer and Sinclair Wheat, and Squire Josiah Hunter and George Dohoney. The cashier who would loose his life in the robbery, a man named R.A.C. Martin, had moved himself and his wife to Columbia from Shelbyville to take advantage of work in the new bank.
Things went as usual until around noon when most of the businesses closed for lunch. Four men were gathered in front of the fireplace in the bank with Cashier Martin, James Garnett, the Bank Director, James Thomas Page and Thomas Claburn Winfrey. While they talked, William H. Hudson, Columbia businessman and later a very influential figure of the Adair county Fair, joined them. Mr. Hudson, who lived on the edge of town, had eaten his noon meal early, preparatory to the trip to town.
Five horsemen rode abreast down Burkesville Street in Columbia to the intersection of Frazer Avenue where two rode ahead, turned into Jefferson Alley and dismounted, hitched their horses and entered the bank. One of the three remaining five also turned in to the alley, dismounted, and held the bridles of the three horses while the other two opened fire in front of the bank, shooting at every movement they saw.
Those in the bank were caught unaware. The gang demanded that Martin open the safe, but he refused. James Page told later that he was standing by Martin and one of the robbers held a gun on him. It was Mr. Pages' belief that the man did not intend to kill Martin, but thought to force him to open the safe by threatening to shoot Page. Martin moved, and as the man swung the pistol around it fired and Martin was hit.
In the confusion that followed, one of the robbers leveled his pistol at Garnett as it fired. Garnett knocked the pistol up receiving a slight wound on the back of his right hand which in later years was responsible for the removal of his hand. Hudson, who as a powerful man, then struggled with the robber and kocked him to his back on the floor.
The four gang members managed to get out of the room. Page and Major Winfrey and possibly the others escaped across the alley to the old tavern house on the corner and secured guns but it was almost over by this time.
In the bank, across the room, Martin was dragged from where he fell to the safe where his body was later found.
Meanwhile, some of the people in town became aware that the bank was being robbed. Isaac Cravens, a young clerk at Phillips & Bradshaw company, heard the shooting and grabbed his pistol and ran out the door. He shot, but the riders returned the fire and drove him back in. One bullet lodged in the door sill just above his head.
In those moments, it is surmised that the two remaining robbers in the bank, failing in their attempt to force Martin to open the vault, scooped up the money in front and dashed out. They rode out of town on Jamestown Street. Their use of the side roads showed they had thoroughly planned their escape route.
A posse was formed quickly in town. It was led by James R. Hindman, a Civil War Captain, lawyer, and in years after, Lt. Governor of Kentucky. They lost the trail of the robbers near the Russell county line. The gang was thought to have worked their way north through Taylor and Marion Coiunties to their hideout in Nelson County.
The body of Mr. Martin was taken to his home of Burksville Street where it was prepared for removal to his home in Shelbyville for interment by packing it in ice. The house was later the home of Mr. Ed Hughes. His daughter, Mrs. Horace cundiff, remembered the blood stains on the floor of the room where the body lay.
At 9 p.m. on the night of the robbery the funeral party started to Shelbyville. It is remembered that the moon was shining brightly and the only sound in Columbia at the time of departure was the tolling of the church bells.
The indictment for murder carries the James name but once, and that of Younger twice. Nevertheless, it is believed that the five men were Jessie and Frank James, Bob and Cole Younger, and a brother-in-law of the James men called Garrett.
This story was posted on 2003-06-07 15:25:29
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