On the final night of their summer vacation Luke and Jenny decide to camp out on their great-grandmother’s porch at her Missouri farm.But when their sweet dreams are interrupted by Kate, the ghost of a young farm girl, they once again find themselves on another journey back in time as they follow the adventures of Frank and Jesse James and their friend Cole Younger and his brothers. Young readers are right there with Luke and Jenny as Kate guides them though the Civil War and the many bank and train robberies committed by the notorious James-Younger outlaw gang.
As the three stood by the empty railroad tracks and watched the setting sun Kate explained that the James and Younger brothers were still seen as heroes among their neighbors for fighting back against Northern banks and businesses. However, those banks and businesses were becoming increasingly unhappy over their mounting losses. So much so that they decided the time had come to take matters into their own hands.
“Many times the local sheriffs would raise posses and chase after the James boys and their gang when the banks were robbed,” explained Kate. “But once the gang crossed state and county lines they were out of their jurisdictions. And with the support of their friends and neighbors back in Clay County it was nearly impossible for anyone to arrest them, much less put them on trial.”
“You know, Kate, that’s something that I just don’t understand,” said Jenny.
“Well, before my dad went to Iraq, he’d always watch the 6 o’clock news as soon as he got home from work. And sometimes I’d come sit with him and we’d talk about what was happening on the news. And every now and then there’d be something about a bank robbery and the police were asking for help in catching the robber. And my dad always used to say that if I ever knew anything about someone committing a crime like that it was my civic duty to turn them in.”
“Your father is right,” agreed Kate.
“So what I don’t understand is why people didn’t turn in Frank and Jesse James. From what you’ve shown me so far I think they’re a couple of thugs. They’re not just robbing banks and trains, they’re hurting and killing innocent bystanders too, and that’s just not right.”
“Yes, Jenny, you’re also right,” said Kate. “There were a lot of innocent victims who got caught in the crossfire, and yes, those who knew about their wrongdoings should have turned them in. But it’s the time and place Frank and Jesse lived in. It’s like I mentioned to you before. After the Civil War ended the Northern business interests came into Missouri and made life difficult, if not miserable, for the people who lived here. From their point of view Frank and Jesse James weren’t thugs; they were heroes fighting back against those Northern interests by robbing their banks. To them Frank and Jesse were like Robin Hood.”
“Yeah, but did they share their loot with the poor?” asked Luke.
“No, Luke, I don’t think they did. But still, to lots of folks in Missouri, Frank and Jesse James were heroes nonetheless, and they weren’t about to turn them in.”
“But our parents always taught us that two wrongs don’t make a right,” replied Luke as Jenny nodded her head in agreement. “So why didn’t they bring in the FBI? They could have brought them in.”
Kate started laughing once again.
“What’s so funny?”
“You are, Luke. The FBI didn’t exist until 1908. And since they weren’t there yet these Northern interests enlisted the help of the Pinkerton Detective Agency. But the problem was they just didn’t follow the rules the way that regular police do. They were scoundrels in their own right.”
Marshall Trimble, Official Arizona State Historian
What I love most about this book is the reader is treated to an
accurate, birds eye view of the notorious James-Younger Gang as seen through the eyes of two youngsters, Luke and Jenny. These two have the ability to communicate with
the spirit world and do some time traveling. Couldn't we all be so blessed. What a great way for people, especially youngsters, to learn history.
Jeff Smith, author of
Author Gayle Martin captivates young readers with her easy to follow and understand explanations of a complex time period in American history. Riding with the James Gang is fun as well as educational. Definitely an imaginative way to introduce youngsters to the excitement of the American old west and family genealogy.