An Old West Mystery

I just love it when a historical figure combines with a mystery. It sure makes for some interesting reading—and speculating.

Jesse Evans was half-Cherokee and graduated from the Washington and Lee College in Virginia. Why would a college graduate turn into an outlaw? That was my question and there seems to be no clear answer. The only thing historians can figure out is that his family turned him into one.

Jesse is seated on the left. The other two are gang members.

He was arrested with his mother and father in 1871 in Elk City, Kansas for passing counterfeit money. He was released not long after and wound up the next year in New Mexico Territory where he worked for a while for John Chisum on his ranch.

From there, he drifted and wound up in the John Kinney Gang for a while. He and John became very close. For some reason, they parted ways and Jesse was hired in the Murphy/Dolan faction in the Lincoln County War and fought opposite Billy the Kid’s regulators. Strangely, Jesse Evans was more feared than Billy. He murdered John Tunstall which ignited the powerkeg.

Following the end of the Lincoln County War, Jesse killed an attorney and went on the run from the Texas Rangers.

The Jesse Evans Gang. I think he might be the one seated (left)

The Rangers caught up to him and a gang member near Presidio Del Norte in Mexico. Jesse killed a Ranger. They captured him and he was sent to Huntsville. One day during a work detail, he escaped. They recaptured him a few months later and he finished out his sentence.

Jesse was released in 1882….and disappeared. He was never heard from again.

Where he went, what he did from there is still a mystery.

Personally, he made so many enemies that I think someone was waiting for him and killed him. Maybe a Texas Ranger.

However this takes an odd turn…in 1948, 70 years later, Jesse’s brother died and his estate needed settling. A man named Joe Hines appeared, claiming to be Jesse and saying he’d been living in Florida under the alias. He was able to sufficiently prove it to the satisfaction of the court. But was it really true? No one knows.

This whole story of his life is strange to me. How could an educated man with a good start in life end up a murdering outlaw? Does something just snap in his head? And what about his parents? Why did they involve their son in their illegal activities? But still….to go from counterfeiting to killing? Just so strange.

What are your thoughts? I’m giving away a $10 Amazon gift card to someone.

About LindaBroday

I'm a NY Times and USA Today bestselling author of western historical romance. I love stories of the old West and the people who once lived there. I haunt libraries and museums and can hang out in them for hours. To tell all the stories that are in my head would take a lifetime.


An Old West Mystery — 27 Comments

  1. What an interesting subject, and that does make you wonder why. Why would an educated person go from counterfeiting to murder. Since we don’t know what he was taught and shown at home by his parents. And if he got a thrill out of crime, and wasn’t getting his ” fix” had to move up to killing. If he were doing those crimes into days world, the experts would examine his mind.

    • Good morning, Veda…….Yes, he certainly would make a great test subject for experts. And did he really disappear to Florida? Who exactly was the man who showed up claiming to be him. The judge just wanted to get done with the estate so might not’ve looked really hard at the evidence. I’m so glad you enjoyed this.

      Much love and hugs! Stay safe down there.

  2. My theory is, it was family. He seen someone die and it changed him. He began to take revenge on everyone else.

    • Hi Allison……You may be right. Kids tend to be like their parents and in Jesse’s case, they were criminal’s so what could they teach him? But still, he went to college and graduated!! Why do that if he had no interest in learning something? Very odd.

      Much love and hugs!

      • I believe he went to school to learn and not be like his parents, but he got caught up in the criminal activities, and as they say “the rest is history”.

  3. Linda- Good morning, wonderful article. How does someone snap like this? Well we are seeing it everyday in modern times. So so sad.
    Great educated people are just snapping and making such horrific decisions that end up destroying their lives, their loved ones hearts, and ultimately taking an innocent person’s lives or harming them. Today we call it a mental breakdown or illness, but back then there were no diagnosis or medications for mental illness, so everything was chalked up to being an Outlaw whose was ruthless. Today, We see professional athletes doing crazy things, children/parents snapping and killing their entire families, and disgruntled workers going into offices shooting up the place because they were either fired or someone made them mad.
    Then the crazy school shooting. The list is sad and endless.
    I believe back then times were bad and people who became outlaws did it as their only way to cope with surviving & this triggered the The instability that was in feeding the illness. Great article and even though outlaws were mean, I also think their were good ones who weren’t mentally challenged, they were just down right mean and wanted the notoriety. But as the song says ” Lady’s Love Outlaws”, so even though these were ruthless men and women, we love to read about them.
    Thanks fir sharing this article about Jesse.

    • Hi Tonya…….I’m glad you enjoyed this. Yes, he very well could’ve had a mental illness. Thanks for bringing that up. For whatever reason, something really went wrong in his head. I absolutely think there were good outlaws who saw that as the only way to survive. Also, back then they lived in a live or be killed world. Ours is fast becoming that too. I think everyone but me has a gun. I don’t want one, even for protection.

      Much love and great big hugs!

  4. Well Linda as true to you I’m learning more history I don’t remember ever learning before. I just love that! Very interesting blog.

    Oh how I wish we had a way to find out why he chose to turn into a criminal with his family. Having a degree back then was a major accomplishment so that was quite a waste. I can understand becoming a murderer in self preservation or defending others but to just join gangs of men going around killing is a whole other story. More deadly than Billy the Kid is a huge reputation. Now I just want to know more.

    • Hi Stephanie…..I’m glad I could bring a bit of history to you that you didn’t know. There is quite a bit online about Jesse. All I know is that he was a very troubled soul and I think he must’ve liked killing.

      Much love and hugs!

  5. Wonderful article I think sometimes things like this are just unexplainable no rhyme or reason that’s just my opinion. Sometimes the universe is just unexplainable

    • Hi Glenda……I’m so happy to see you. I’m glad you enjoyed my article. Jesse Evans was a strange man. It is unexplainable, but tell that to my brain. It doesn’t stop me from wondering.

      Love you, lady!

  6. Very interesting Blog! As true to you I just learned history I don’t remember ever learning before! Love it and now I just wish we knew more and there was a way to find out our questions.

    I agree, it was a major accomplishment to have a degree in that day and time. What a waste! I can’t imagine why he decided to join his family in a life of crime let alone why his parents involved him. Going from counterfeiting to joining murdering gangs was a huge step up for any criminal. Becoming a man that was considering meaner than Billy the Kid is so far removed from being a college graduate!!

    I wish we could find out more! I do wonder if that really was him that came forward for that inheritance or if it was a really good criminal. I bet it was him. He would definitely have had to take on a new identity and live a life incognito to get away from his past.
    Keep on teaching us Linda! I love having you as a history teacher. I love real historical events and characters showing up in HWR books.

    • Stephanie…..I’d like to know also if he was Joe Hines. Part of says no way. I think he died and Joe Hines was an impostor. But everyone has a theory. I’ll keep teaching as long as I have people wanting it. 🙂

  7. Linda- I also wanted to say you have the best articles and blogs, I love the history you research and the time it takes to do this is extensive and I know you’re so so busy. So thank you so much, Love you my sister friend.

    • Tonya, it does take time to do these but I really enjoy it. Often though I’m sitting here at midnight on a Sunday night trying to finish one because I know I have you and others wanting it on Monday. You’re very welcome though.

  8. Fantastic article Linda! I love reading your blog and all the research you do, being a fellow history geek! This question of what happened to Jesse would bear digging into further…might he show up in story, perhaps? I’m loving your Legend brothers. They are the epitome of the best kind of men, not the worst.

    • Hi Elisabeth! Thanks for coming. I’m glad you like this about Jesse Evans. You just never know….he might show up somewhere down the line. 🙂

      Love you, lady!

  9. Who knows whatever happened to this man that no one ever heard of. If he was still alive in 1948, he was a very old man. I’d guess that he left Texas, went to Florida and changed his ways. Maybe even used his education. Lots to speculate. I remember there was an old man who lived at Hico, Texas, who claimed to be Billy the Kid. I don’t know if was ever proven, but it’s interesting. Of course, there are those who swear Elvis is still alive too. 🙂 Great post, sister! And, I agree with E.E. Burke. I love your men of Legend!

    • Hi Jan…….I guess it’s just pretty common for a person to claim to be someone else. I remember about ten or so years ago they exhumed Jesse James’ grave to make sure he was the one buried there because some kook claimed to be him. That man is Hico is Brushy Bill Roberts. I read about him and I seem to remember that they dismissed that as a hoax. Yeah, Elvis too. While I wish that one is true, I don’t think so. It would a whole lot harder to disappear and take a new identity in this day and age. I’m glad you like my Legend men! I do too.

      Much love and hugs!

  10. Hello Linda, I am very intrigued! Your novels are exactly what I love to read so I’m so glad to have found your blog from your Romance University post. Best wishes for continued success! I will be reading Knight of the Tx Plains! I love historical romance, so all your books look wonderful!
    I also love this post as I am also working on a historic mystery. After a quick Google search I see that Jesse Evans was born (so they think) in 1853. If that’s correct he would have been 95yrs old when he came forward as an heir to that estate. (Wouldn’t the juicy details of just what that entailed be interesting too?) Well 95 is pretty darn old and I’m curious how he proved his lineage as well. I do hope you’re planning on writing this story! I will try to answer all of your questions just for fun though.
    How could an educated man with a good start in life end up a murdering outlaw? My guess would be that his social circumstances were more to blame than his family. Higher education is expensive and they would not have supported him in this endeavor if they didn’t love him and hold him in high esteem. Unless of course he put himself through school and I doubt that given the salaries in those days for someone without a higher education. Does something just snap in his head? My guess would be that since he was half Cherokee and half white (? assuming) that he may not have been accepted in the larger society, even if his family and tribe did accept him. He would have been banned from places much like segregation in the south, Indians would not have been allowed in bars, maybe even some stores. Also, who would he date? People were not as accepting of mixed race marriages. Thankfully we are moving forward! Perhaps prejudice played a role in making him angry with society and turning to crime. And what about his parents? Perhaps they were also marginalized. They may have been the subjects of bigotry and even abuse. Even the laws may not have applied to them, or there may have been corrupt lawmen. (lawwomen?probably not, but another novel idea!) Why did they involve their son in their illegal activities? Maybe he involved them? But still….to go from counterfeiting to killing? I don’t think we have enough information (as others have said) but as a novelist in training I could come up with a few scenes to get him there! 😉 I think once people start on a path of crime they often continue on that path. Thanks for the brain exercise! Now- what happened to Meriwether Lewis? Was it murder or suicide? He was found dead in a cabin in Hohenwald Tn on his way to Wash. DC. He was both stabbed and shot-twice- once in the head, once in the stomach. Read more at Interesting fact, a monument was erected there in 1948 to honor Lewis accomplishments. (his and Clark’s 8,000 mile trek through the Louisana Purchase)- the same year that Jesse Evans collected his inheritance. (This fact simply popped up as I was writing this.) Also, some tried to exhume Lewis’ body (through legal means) but the National Park service countered and the judge sided with them. So add him to your list. I’m off to purchase Knight of the Texas Plain. 🙂

    • Good morning, Meg…….Thank you for coming. And how nice that you caught my blog on Romance University! That’s great. I love the way your brain works on these questions. You raise some very good points. Yes, you’re right about Meriwether Lewis. That’s another intriguing mystery. Thank you for reading Knight on the Texas Plains. I hope you enjoy it.

      Have a great Labor Day weekend! Hugs!

      • You are most welcome, Linda, and sorry to get all Chip and Dale, but thank You for an awesome story! A talented writer you are! I am on chapter 7 and truly love how the tension is building. Duel and Jesse are lovable characters and the intrigue is so believable, plus it’s set in my favorite time period. I would be farther along if I hadn’t so much on my plate. How can I not have a gr8 weekend with a gr8 book on my Kindle?

        You enjoy too! Hugs! 🙂

        • Meg, I’m so glad you’re enjoying Knight. Duel and Jessie are such great characters. Duel’s brother Luke has Book #2 The Cowboy Who Came Calling. That’ll come out in February. Then #3 of that series (Texas Heroes) is an adult Marley Rose and she discovers the secret Luke has kept. She’s completely devastated and feels her whole life has been lie. So lots to look forward to.

  11. History has never been so interesting for me. The details from your research light up the past. I am enjoying everthing I read from you. The Legend men are my favs, so far. Houston sets my heart on fire. Any man of today that has his ethics, loyalty, inner strength, commitment, bravery, compassion, and love would be welcome to my heart, if he even exists today. Thank you for all you bring to us, Linda.

    • Good morning, Jerri Lynn…….I’m so happy you stopped by. Those Legend men are all such great characters and each one steps onto the page ready to find justice for someone. Although they never seek a fight, they’re committed and they’ll ride through hell in the attempt to win. Just extraordinary people and they live in my heart like family. I wish there were more men today with this kind of honor and strength. We could use them.

      Much love and hugs!

  12. Hi Linda, Enjoyed your blog about Jesse Evans. Looks like he hard a really hard life from the very start. Half-breeds didn’t belong to either world, white or indian. I think, he got fed up with all the hardships & he decided that he would make people pay. He turned into a hard man. I enjoyed your Men of Legend series & all your other books. Currently reading your, Knight on the Texans Plains, looking forward to your other books on this series. Thanks for all your hard work & research you do to write your books.

    • Good morning, Miss Lois…….I’m so glad you enjoyed my piece about Jesse. Huge thanks for your kind words about my stories. Knight on the Texas Plains was such a personal story to me. I hope you enjoy it.

      Much love and hugs!