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`Wild West outlaws had Welsh father'.

Byline: RHODRI CLARK

TWO of the biggest outlaws in the history of the American West were the sons of a Welsh Baptist minister, a book claims today.

The new work shatters the image of Welsh settlers as peace-loving Christians and claims they did their bit to make the west wild.

William James, the great-grandfather of Frank and Jesse, was a Baptist minister from Pembrokeshire, according to author Dafydd Meirion, who wrote Cymry Gwyllt y Gorllew-in, which is published today. The notorious James brothers forever cemented their names in history after organising the world's first daylight bank robbery.

The book shows how people of Welsh ancestry were never far from events which have been retold and glamorised in countless Western films. Mr Meirion, a fan of cowboy movies, spent months researching the backgrounds of famous and not-so-famous people from western America in the 19th Century.

``Many of the other Welsh outlaws will never be immortalised on film the way the James brothers have, but this doesn't mean that their lives weren't as interesting,'' Mr Meirion said. Their bloody careers began dur-ing the American Civil War, when they killed and burned on behalf of the Confederates.

They weren't excused after the war because they had acted outside the official army, and Jesse was shot and wounded by northern soldiers.

This is thought to have poisoned their minds against the law and they were joined by other embittered outlaws such as the Younger brothers.

``Between 1860 and 1881, the James Gang were the chief robbers in America, stealing about $200,000 in this period,'' said Mr Meirion.

``In 1866 the James-Younger gang was the first ever to raid a bank in broad daylight in Liberty, Missouri.'' After numerous close shaves, the brothers' stealing came to an end in April 1881 when Jesse was shot in the head by a former gang member. Frank was arrested - but was ac-quitted after his former army colonel provided a glowing testimonial to his character.

One of the most vicious killers of Welsh descent in the Wild West was Isaac Davis, eldest son of Mary Nash and David Davis of Kidwelly. He came into contact with the Mormons in South Wales and travelled across the region preaching.

He emigrated with his wife to Salt Lake City in 1850 but fell in love with another woman. He was forbidden to marry her and turned out of the city, and eventually he fell into bad company.

``He hadn't forgiven those who forced him to leave and some years later he returned to the spot with a gang intent on destroying the area,'' said Mr Meirion, who lives in Penygroes, Gwynedd.

When they reached the outskirts of Salt Lake City they attacked nu-merous farms, killing more than 100 people.

``Having killed the men, they raped the women before stealing everything of value including the wooden cabins.''

Eventually the army arrived to protect the farms but Davis and his fellow outlaws escaped.

Wild Bill Williams, whose family came from Denbighshire, was raised among ``Indians'' and became a missionary. But he later joined a hunting group which killed many native Americans and stole their women. Not all the Welsh people in the Wild West were baddies. John T Morris, sheriff of Collins County, Texas, apprehended a notorious coach robber called James H Reed in 1874. Reed reached for his gun but Morris was quicker and shot Reed.

Annie Ellis, born in Dolgellau in 1845, was abandoned at the age of 13 by her brother on arrival at Kansas City. After being cared for by a charity she befriended Wild Bill Hickock, who found her a job that enabled her to save up for her own guest house.

Among her regular visitors were Wyatt Earp and Bill Tilghman, and the latter once borrowed one of her frocks to escape from the guesthouse after a quarrel with Earp.

Info# Cymry Gwyllt y Gorllewin is published by Y Lolfa (in Welsh only) and costs pounds 5.95.

The wild, wild westMANY parts of the world have experienced periods of lawlessness, but the Wild West is the most prominent because it provided so much perfect material for the American film industry in its early decades.

The exploits of Frank and Jesse James had all the right ingredients - not least their ability to escape the law time after time.

Their first portrayal on screen was in 1921 with Jesse James Under the Black Flag. The most acclaimed film about them was 1980's The Long Riders which features the pioneering daylight bank raid.

Jesse was played by Fred Thompson in a 1927 film and in 1939 and 1940 by Tyrone Power - with Henry Fonda as Frank.

CAPTION(S):

SILVER SCREEN HERO: A still from the 1939 film Jesse James. It starred Tyrone Power in the title role with Nancy Kelly, left, and Henry Fonda, right. The book, Cymry Gwyllt y Gorllewin, claims outlaws Frank and Jesse were the sons of a Welsh Baptist minister; WELSH ANCESTRY: Jesse James; NOTORIOUS: Frank James; SHATTERING MYTH: Book cover
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Oct 31, 2002
Words:836
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