Jesse and Frank James had strong connections to Grayson County
The name Allen Parmer may not mean anything to anyone now living in Grayson County, but it was Mr. Parmer — or rather his wife, Susan, who frequently attracted Jesse and Frank James to this area. Much of the information in this column about Parmer was supplied by Helen Eller, president of the Grayson County Genealogy Society, who has done research on Quantrill’s Raiders and the connection to the James gang.
Allen Parmer was a cattleman, a farmer, a railroad builder and a member of the Jesse James gang. He was born in Harry Truman’s hometown of Independence, Missouri, in 1848 and when he was 15 years old he joined the Confederate guerilla force organized and led by William C. Quantrill — a name that should be familiar.
Parmer, who was referred to in many books as being among the leaders of Quantrill’s guerrilla organization, stayed with Quantrill and his raiders throughout the war and in 1865, after being wounded during one of Quantrill’s raids, he surrendered to the authorities — possibly to receive treatment for one of five wounds he received during the war.
Parmer, with Frank James, participated in the infamous Lawrence, KS., raid under Quantrill’s command and was listed as one of the Quantrill party, again with Frank James when the war ended at Samuel’s Station, KY.
He wasn’t held long and after he was released he went to business college in St. Louis and in 1870 married Susan Lavenia James, Jesse and Frank’s sister. Allen and his new wife headed for Northeast Texas and settled in Grayson County, where he became a farmer and raised livestock before moving to a farm in Clay County, which later became Wichita.
Susan, the younger of the James children, was only a few months old when her father died in California. Her mother remarried for the third time and that husband, Dr. Reuben Samuel was the only father that Susan knew. Susan was active in the Baptist Church all her life and was very religious and a highly respected lady, according to published reports.
After their marriage, Susan taught school in the Bethesda community near their home at Cane Hill in Madison County, Ark. When they moved to Sherman she again turned to teaching. It is believed that Susan and Allen lived in Sherman from 1874 through 1879, then moved back to Wichita Falls.
She died in there shortly after giving birth to a stillborn son and was buried near her three children who had preceded her in death. She was survived by four young daughters in addition to her husband.
Frank James visited Susan in Wichita many times. After leaving her house, he sometimes visited the Indian Territory and Denison traveling on the MK&T Railroad.
While living in Sherman, the Parmers lived in a small house near the railroad track east of First Street and north of King Street. The house is no longer standing, according to an undated article in my file from the Sherman Democrat.
A story related in that article is how a young girl, Minnie Gryder of Sherman was asked to spend the night with Mrs. Parmer while her husband was out of town overnight. Shortly after Minnie arrived at the Parmers, the James Brothers and their party rode up on horseback.
Mrs. Parmer is said to have asked Minnie to stay in the back bedroom and wait behind the closed door. After the James boys decided to eat supper, Mrs. Parmer called Minnie to help cook the meal.
Minnie remembered the men placing their pistols on the table as they ate. One stood guard on the front porch with a big shotgun and was later relieved to eat and his shotgun stood beside his chair as he ate in the lamplight.
Minnie said they did not act bad and were kind to her, giving her some coins. They left a pile of money on the dinner table for their sister.
After they rode off, Mrs. Parmer cautioned Minnie not to say anything about the visit, but she did tell her family the next morning when she went home. Her father had seen the outlaws come into town, but didn’t know who they were.
Bill Brown now lives in Denison, but grew up in Colbert, where he listened to many stories told by Mrs. Mabel Bacon, an old-timer in the area. Bill said there were a lot of stories of gold buried along Red River. Mrs. Bacon told Bill that Frank and Jesse had a relative living east of Denison, near Carpenter’s Bluff and that they came here to hide out when officers got high behind them. She said that Frank came more than Jesse.
Some of her stories were of the Younger Brothers and Quantrill’s raiders roaming the river and hiding out. There are supposed to have buried their gold along the river, then came back and get it.
Bill’s dad grew up in the area north of Hendrix and he said that he and his brother found part of a map that had lines on it marking trees and other landmarks. One day Bill’s grandpa and the family were in the fields and several men got off the train and rode by their house.
They ask Bill’s dad and his brother if they had seen a piece of paper with writing on it. They handed the paper over to the men, who rode off toward the river. Bill said he thought the area in which they were looking was where Eastman Creek emptied into the river. Bill’s dad said that at one time there was a big cottonwood tree and the X was around the area of the tree.
Bill talked to a lot of the older people as he was growing up and they told him where Frank and Jesse stayed when they came to this part of the country. They said that both were good to people and that was one of the reasons they helped them out.
An Abilene Methodist minister, Rev. James A. Hyder of Clay County, Missouri, was interviewed for a May 1927 story in Frontier Times. He said he knew the James boys during their younger days and was pastor of their mother’s church. He also was one of the men to identify the body of Jesse after he was killed in 1882.
Rev. Hyder knew the brothers when they were about 14 and 17 and were well liked by school children. Even the neighbors liked them and once when Frank was on trial at Gallatin for robbing a bank, people raised $1,400 to help fight the case. Their mother, whom he described as a “magnificent looking woman, very intelligent and read on politics and religion and admired by all.” She attended his church about the time the brothers were hiding from the law.
Frank James surrendered to the Governor of Missouri in 1882 and stood trial for robbery and murder in Gallatin in 1869. He was acquitted.
DONNA HUNT is former editor of The Denison Herald. She lives in Denison and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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