MERAMEC CAVERNS, Mo. ( -- We’ve all heard about infamous outlaw and Missouri native Jesse James. Supposedly his life ended on April 3, 1882 in St. Joseph, Missouri when he was shot in the back of the head. But some say he didn’t die that day.

"Meramec Caverns: In Legend & History," written by H. Dwight Weaver, details a story that casts doubt on whether James was actually murdered, and suggests he might have died decades later:

Lawton Constitution

A clipping from the Lawton Constitution on May 19, 1949 detailing the claims of J. Frank Dalton, who said he, as James, faked his death and changed his name.

In early 1949, a newspaper article appeared in Lawton, OK stating that local J. Frank Dalton was none other than the infamous Jesse James.

Dalton, 100 years old, said a different man had been murdered back in 1882. He said it was all a hoax to allow the real Jesse James (himself) to retire from his life as an outlaw. Apparently other men had claimed to be Jesse James before, but all were proven to be hoaxes. This particular claim by Dalton was never disproven.

J. Frank Dalton had scars and characteristics that the real Jesse James had. These included the mutilated tip of his left hand index finger, evidence of severe burns on his feet, a bullet hole scar on his left shoulder, a drooping right eyelid, a bullet scar along his hairline, and the scar of a bullet-hole in his abdomen.

Dalton in court

J. Frank Dalton at court in Franklin County, Mo. He was there to get his name changed back to Jesse James

A convinced Lester Dill (the founder of Meramec Caverns), brought the 100 year old “Jesse” home to Meramec Caverns where he would be well taken care of for this rest of his days. The story broke in 1950 and was page one news from coast to coast.

Lester Dill & son-in-law Rudy Turilli petitioned the Circuit Court of Franklin County, Missouri to have Dalton’s name legally changed back to Jesse James. Ultimately the court hearing did not settle the matter and J. Frank Dalton died less than 18 months later.

Jesse James and J. Frank Dalton

On the left, the last known photo of Jesse James before his death. On the right, a photo of J. Frank Dalton, who claimed to be James and said he faked his death.

Copyright 2020 KMOV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved

Recommended for you

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.