We love history! To be in the business of salvaging architectural antiques and not having a love for history would somehow seem wrong. Our mission statement is, “To promote the preservation of our architectural heritage through rescuing, restoring, and protecting artifacts of historical significance.” When we run across artifacts that have some relation to a known historical event or person, whether documented or not, we get a little giddy! At the very least it peeks our interest and sparks our imagination.
A few weeks ago we purchased a 1815 barn in Rising Sun, Indiana. The wood from this seemingly simple but large scale barn was incredible. The enormous hand-hewn beams used as the posts and beam structural support were some of the best we’ve ever seen. One of the things that we enjoy most about our salvage missions is that most old structures hold a surprise, and on occasion a mystery, that if unlocked holds a treasure! This barn was no exception! One item that was removed from the barn prior to it being taken down was a large quarter sawn oak chest. We were excited about the chest, but what ignited our imagination was the rumor that Jesse James older brother and fellow gang member, Frank, supposedly hid out overnight in the barn. This alone would have been enough to keep us going for awhile… but there was more!
Once the barn was taken down and all the recyclable wood salvaged, an incredible discovery was made. Beneath the aged floor boards and buried under several inches of dirt, we uncovered an old shotgun! The gun was carefully removed from the ground and wrapped for safe keeping. How did this gun find it’s way underneath the barn? Was it stored there during the Civil War for safe keeping? Could this old firearm possibly have belonged to the notorious Frank James?
Frank James was born and raised in Missouri. He was a Confederate guerrilla during the Civil War and is thought to have taken part in the massacre of unarmed Union soldiers. After the war he spent two decades, along with his brother Jesse, as a member of various gangs robbing banks, trains, and stage coaches. Five months after his brother Jesse was shot in the head and killed by one of his trusted gang members, Frank surrendered to the then governor of Missouri. Although history records that Frank was known to be involved in numerous criminal activities, he was only tried for two robberies/murders. His first trial was held in Missouri. The second took place in Huntsville, Alabama, where he was tried for the robbery of a United States Army Corp of Engineers payroll in Muscle Shoals. Frank was acquitted of both crimes because of the “Robin Hood” status he had gained by common folks who applauded his crimes against the ruthless banks and railroad companies. Prosecutors were unsuccessful in finding jurors willing to convict Frank of any crime.
Frank lived out his last 32 years working odd jobs, never again firing a gun. Rising Sun is located on the Indiana – Kentucky border. Frank and Jesse’s mother, Zerelda, was from Kentucky so it is quite plausible that Frank would have traveled through that area at some point. The barn was erected in 1815, well before Frank began his life of crime in the mid 1860’s, so it certainly would have been available for that overnight stay. Supposedly Frank left the barn in the wee hours of the morning shortly before a posse arrived to search for the wanted man. This rumor has been circulating in the Rising Sun area for well over 125 years. It is doubtful that we will ever know the true owner of the firearm or why it was buried beneath the barn. In the mean time… we will hold on to the gun believing that it is an important piece of our American history and will continue to allow our imaginations to freely wander!
The oak chest is currently for sale and on display in our showroom.
We recently ran across an article on the exploits of Frank and Jesse James written by Buford Parker and published in The Source Historical and Adventure magazine. We’ve added a copy of the article to this post as an additional resource. You can read the article HERE.
Written By: Lisa Jones Webmaster/Internet Marketing