The Mysterious Life and Faked Death of Jesse James: Based on Family Records, Forensic Evidence, and His Personal Journals by Daniel J. Duke and Teresa F. Duke

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Duke, Daniel J., and Teresa F. Duke, The Mysterious Life and Faked Death of Jesse James: Based on Family Records, Forensic Evidence, and His Personal Journals. Rochester, VT: Destiny Books, 2020.

As a historian, I approach straight history books with skepticism until the thesis is proven. Dukes’ thesis: Jesse James faked his death and lived out the rest of his life in Texas under the nom de guerre James L. Courtney. The authors’ reasoning is sound, their research impeccable, and their analysis is hard to refute. Conclusion: the thesis stands. This isn’t the first offering I’ve read by Daniel J. Duke. I was impressed then and doubly impressed with the brother-sister Duke Duo in The Mysterious Life and Faked Death of Jesse James. I suggest reading (though it isn’t absolutely necessary) Duke’s debut historical, Jesse James and the Lost Templar Treasure: Secret Diaries, Coded Maps, and the Knights of the Golden Circle, where the author gives tremendous backstory, setting the stage for the jaw-dropping revelations in book two.

If you prefer to let dead dogs lie – Set. This. Book. Down. If you recognize that history is ever-changing, never static or finite – that one testimony, one photograph, one artifact, one seemingly unimportant diary entry can recast history, then dust off your Wild West Discovery Kit and settle in for a rousing, yet analytical approach to solving the mystery of Jesse James’ legacy!

*Note – Chapter 3 Pictures Speak Volumes. This is a tipping point chapter – where most readers will start questioning past history accounts. The authors’ abundance of primary sources is impressive. More impressive is their inclusion of past descriptions that disagree with their own findings. They have chosen not to cherry-pick the good bits to further their case. This is clearly not a monograph of well-written lies and half-truths. They give the reader all the information available. This type of full disclosure is rare and excitingly fresh.

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