WHEN THE JAMES BOYS VISITED CLAY COUNTY - "They Rode Up And Watered Their Horses"


By Larry Maynor Charleston Daily Mail - September 2, 1971

Anis Burnside was just a lad -about 14 - when he saw Jesse and Frank James ride by his father's farm house at the foot of Big Otter Hill near Hallsburg in Clay County.

Some say they had seen the notorious outlaws in the area before, but that was the first and last time Burnside ever saw them. And he has never forgotten it. The 101-year-old retired farmer recalled that day Wednesday while sitting on the edge of his bed in Staats Hospital. He's here for a check-up and doctors have told his family that he is in perfect condition.

Burnside, sporting a handle-bar mustache and dressed in a hospital gown and green socks, was a little shy at first but warmed up quickly, and soon what seemed to be half the nursing staff was listening intently to the old man's story about "The Day I Saw Jesse James."

"There were several gathered around the farm house that day when the James brothers rode up to water their horses,' he said in a distinct but raspy voice. "Jesse looked at us and said, 'You don't know who I am, do you?' Nobody said nothing and he first said it didn't matter but later told us his name was Jesse James."

According to Clay County legend, Jesse James was seen in the area several times after he and his gang reportedly held up a bank in or near Huntington.

The supposition was that Jesse was holed up in Clay County while preparing for a bank job in Charleston.

Old timers in Clay County often talk about a trail the James boys used to travel that begins near the mouth of Big Sandy Creek in Clendenin and winds its way through Roane and Clay Counties.

Burnside, who says he is the great-grandson of the Civil War general with the same last name remembers talk about that trail and has traveled it.

"My only run-in with Jesse was that one time," he said, 'the rest I know is just hear-say, but there's supposed to be a beech tree on that trail up around Newton (Roane County) that Jesse shot a ring around from his horse," (The tree was cut down in 1922.)

"I'm pretty old_ I've worked hard all my life," he continued, "I've forgot more than a book can hold."

However, he did recall one other story that shows another side of the famous outlaw.

"He came through once, Burnside said, "and stopped to talk to this widow woman . She told him how much she owed on her farm and that the owner was going to take it away from her. Jesse left and came back later and gave the widow the money to pay for the farm. He made the owner sign it over right there on the spot, then followed him down the hollow, stuck a gun in his ribs and took his money back. think that was a righteous thing to do for that old widow woman."

On Nov. 11, Burnside will be 102. He was born, grew up, farmed and horse-traded around Hallsburg, Nebo and Duck in Clay County until about three years ago when his second wife, Mayela, died at the age of 91.

He now spends much of his time with his step-daughter, Mrs. R. H. Tanner of Big Chimney, and his daughter Mrs. Bessie Crislip of Huntington. He has a daughter in Texas and three step-children besides Mrs. Tanner: Elva Walker of Duck, Earl Dawson of Duck, and Bert Dawson of Coopers Creek.

Burnside's hearing is not as good as it once was but his eyesight is sharp. He recalls how only five years ago he outshot his grandson, Norman Tanner, of Big Chimney.

Burnside doesn't believe the astronauts ever went to the moon, and has his own solution to world problems: "Right today, if people got back in the country, raised their own produce and hogs, it would be a better country than it is."

The kind old man who prides himself in being a Christian knows why he has lived more than a century.

I think God was the creator of me and the reason I've been here so long. I tried to be a good man and 1 believe God prolonged my time on this land. Mom and Dad told me not to ever mistreat anyone or make a debt that I couldn't pay. And I listened to them."

Ed. Note: Records show 27 Burnsides buried in the Hardman Cemetery at Nebo. Among them is this record: Annis Burnside - 1870-1971.

Clay County Landmarks Commission and Historical Society