Jesse James and me

jesse_james_portrait_in_colourIt’s obvious that my great-grandfather named most of his children after the famous outlaw Jesse James. This was not unheard of at the time. What’s interesting (to me) is how closely dates and places line up.

The children of Joseph Sunlin (1855-1899):

  • Bessie Sohnlen (b. 1879, Michigan – d. 1958)
    • Bessie’s daughter Jessie Anna Carney (1901-1954)
  • Jessie Jane Sunlin (b. 1881, Michigan – ?)
  • Joseph Jess Sunlin (b. 1888, Minnesota – d. 1961)
  • Mark Lewis Sunlin (b. 1893, Minnesota – d. 1935)

Jesse James (1847-1882)
Great Northfield Minnesota Raid (1876)


King Bill and Lew

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From The Tatler, January 13, 1904:

King Bill is the name of a magnificent bull-the only trained one in existence. Owned by Mr. L F. Sunlin of Grand Rapids, Michigan, he is a Durham, five years old, and weighs 400 lb. He was bred in the state of Mississippi and shipped to Cuba to be transformed into food for United States soldiers. Mr. Sunlin bought him from the United States Government pen and spent a year in training him. Bulls are not very amenable to training indeed, a horse could be trained in half the time but by dint of perseverance. Mr. Sunlin has triumphed and King Bill is now a master of many antics on the classic sawdust.

The bull’s acts are remarkable. The most difficult one he has been taught to perform consists of standing with all four feet on a box 6 in. wide by 8 in. in length. For so clumsy an animal as a bull to undertake such a task requires more skill than most people would imagine. King Bill will also sit down squarely on his haunches just as a dog or cat does. He will lie down on his side at the command of his master and allow him to lie down on him. He will stand upon a tub whilst Mr. Sunlin sits upon his back; stand with his front feet upon a tub with his trainer standing with one foot on his head and the other upon the middle of his back; will place his head upon the ground while his owner with feet in the air rests his own head between the animal’s horns. King Bill will also roll a barrel with his nose.

A most interesting part of King Bill’s long list of remarkable feats is his firing of a revolver. This he does without any show of fright or excitement, though the smoke curls about his head and the report is loud and near to his ears. The revolver is placed upon a slanting pole, and to reach the trigger with his mouth the bull stands with his fore feet upon a tub. He reaches the climax of his exhibition when he proceeds to walk up a flight of steps on to a platform, and then with much confidence and graceful movement easily mounts and stands proudly on a raised round platform not more than 2 ft. in diameter. After quietly viewing his surroundings for several minutes King Bill dismounts, walking down the steps head forward, conscious that he has just performed a wonderful feat.

He is now being trained to do some new tricks, among them being how to make butter. In his yard there is a treadmill which operates a churn. The bull is led on to the tread mill and fastened. No further attention in connection with the churning is necessary until the cream has become butter. It is said that King Bill knows when the butter is made and makes a great fuss in order to attract his owner’s attention.

Mr, Sunlin has received a proposal from the owners of the Chicago stockyards to train King Bill to become a decoy to lead his fellows to death, but his trainer thinks the bull would show a lack of brotherly love in leading his fellows over a beaten path to the slaughter, and for that reason does not look with favour upon the unique proposition.

It is not altogether surprising that few people try to train bulls. In many instances it would mean a pitiless death or maiming for life. Some people would as soon risk their lives in a den of lions as undertake to train a bull. Nevertheless, there are those who have complete control over these usually dangerous domestic animals and whose every command is met by obedience. It may be remembered that a man who lived near Richmond (on the Thames) trained a bull to trot in a cart. It was quite friendly for a time, but one day it killed him. Bulls are notoriously treacherous. One thing seems certain- no trainer could practice cruelty on them for any length of time. If we could be quite sure of an absence of cruelty animal training would be less objectionable than it is.


The Annie Oakley connection

Interesting to discover family links to legends of the Old West.

From the book Annie Oakley, by Shirl Kasper:

“…Sitting Bull had given Annie a picture of himself, a large feather from the head of a Crow chief, and the original pair of moccasins he’d worn in the Custer fight. There had been witnesses, not the least of whom was Major McLaughlin, and from the Arlington and Fields Combination Tin-pan Fields, the Sunlin Brothers, Heffern and Professor Morrison, Ace Levoy, Sarsfield and Flynn and Miss Allie Jackson.”

That was in April 5, 1884 in St Paul, Minnesota.

Lew and Allie/Marie had been married in 1883, so they would have been newlyweds at this point.

Annie Oakley was with the Sells Brothers Circus at the time, and we know Lew was listed with Sells by 1888 and probably before that.

Lew’s brother William J. Sunlin is listed as doing circus work in 1881, but with another circus. Certainly if his brother Lew was touring with Sells in 1883, he could have added his brother to his act. William wasn’t married to Grace until 1890.