Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Genuinely scary

       They called him Genuine Jim, the real thing. But as I sort through reports of my most notorious ancestor, I have a devil of a time deciding what is real and what is legend.
         I can't even tell you for sure when he was born. His tombstone in Yoakum, Texas, says he was born in 1841 yet on the 1850 census he was listed as age 6. Other age reports conflict as well.
          About all we know for sure is Jim Jamison was a healthy young man in the unhealthy state of Missouri during the Civil War. Imagine if you took all the political disagreements of today and tried to solve them by shooting anyone who held an opposing view. That was Missouri in the 1860s!
           According to his widow's pension application, Jim served as a Confederate soldier from 1862 to the end of the war. But even that service is in dispute. Some say he spent the entire war in prison. Some say he wasn't an official soldier but a "Bushwhacker" who rode with the likes of Bill Wilson and Quantrill's Raiders.  The most frightening tales come from the memoirs of a former Union soldier, Col. William Monks, who describes Jamison as terrorizing southern Missouri in the years after the war, slaughtering returning Union soldiers for no reason.
          By 1870 Genuine Jim moved to Texas where his gun-slinging ability was appreciated. He served as a deputy or marshal in several Texas towns -- Halletsville, Luling, Flatonia, Schulenberg, Gonzales. Even those records don't always agree on his title and jurisdiction.He supposedly killed about 20 people during his lifetime, and was wounded at least that many times.
        When he died of pneumonia in 1906, an obituary called him "one of the best known peace officers in the state of Texas... He never knew what fear was and handled the toughest desperadoes with a facility and fearlessness that caused his very name to strike fear to the hearts of lawless people."
           Evidently Genuine Jim still has the ability to be pretty scary.
           Lavaca County Attorney John Stuart Fryer keeps a picture of Jamison on his office wall in the courthouse. Even in black and white, Jamison's icy blue eyes are so menacing that Fryer said one visitor commented that he looked like he was going to kill him.

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