A Guide to the J. Frank Dalton Papers, 1926-1978
While a resident of the Roper Hotel in Marble Falls, Texas, in the 1940s, J. Frank Dalton (d. 1951) claimed to be U. S. Marshall Frank Dalton, a brother of members of the outlaw Dalton Gang and a touring member of Wild Bill Hickok’s Wild West show. The real Frank Dalton was believed to have died around the turn of the 20th century.
After moving to Lawton, Oklahoma, Dalton assumed the identity of outlaw Jesse James, believed to have died in 1882. He claimed that the man buried in James’ grave was Charley Bigelow, a James associate who had been living in his house. Dalton’s stories were supported by several newspapers, but disputed by the James family heirs, historians, and a Missouri circuit court ruling. In 1995, an exhumation of James’ Kearny, Missouri, grave and DNA testing of its corpse refuted Dalton’s claims. Nevertheless, Dalton remains buried under a tombstone reading “Jesse Woodson James, Sept. 5, 1847-August 15, 1951. Supposedly killed in 1882.”
McNabb, Betty. “Who was that tall, bearded stranger?” The Highlander, November 30, 1978.
Walker, Dale L., and John Jakes. “The man who would be Jesse James: J. Frank Dalton vs. DNA.” Legends and lies: Great mysteries of the American West. New York: Forge, 1997.
Correspondence, notes, literary productions, and a newspaper compose the J. Frank Dalton Papers, 1926-1978, documenting the later life of a man who claimed to be Frank Dalton and Jesse James. The correspondence, notes, and literary productions were left behind by Dalton in the Roper Hotel in Marble Falls, Texas. Letters relate to old age assistance and a cowboy reunion. The notes support poems and first-person reminiscences by Dalton, writing as Frank Dalton, purporting to be fact and discussing such topics as the Dalton Gang, incidents in Jesse James' life, Belle Starr, and the Ku Klux Klan. Additionally, the collection includes a 1978 newspaper containing an investigative report on Dalton and one of his stories about Belle Starr.
This collection is open for research use.
J. Frank Dalton Papers, 1926-1978, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin.
Basic processing and cataloging of this collection was supported with funds from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) for the Briscoe Center’s "History Revealed: Bringing Collections to Light" project, 2009-2011.
Detailed Description of the Papers