Jesse James:
In Grey County?

Jesse James: In Grey County? An interesting question. Did the notorious gangster hide out in Proton Township? We will never know. But it is fun to speculate!

Although significant numbers of settlers had begun to arrive in Grey County after the 1840s, by the 1870s, the Queen's Bush was still relatively underpopulated. The many stretches of dense forests in the area could provide safe haven for someone wishing to avoid law enforcement officers. Because of that, the legend that one of North America's most notorious gangsters hid out in Proton Township could actually be more fact than fiction. 

The village of Hopeville began as a tiny pioneer settlement in the forests of Proton Township during the mid-19th century. Perhaps the new community was named Hopeville because it was similar to the name of the community where many of the first settlers had originally resided when they first arrived in the Canadian colony: Port Hope. 

In the forest near the road between Hopeville and Dundalk there was a small shack where a man named Chadwell lived. No one really knows whether Chadwell was his real name because he also used other names. The location of this building was ideal for someone who wished to avoid attention, especially from the local police! 

The legend goes that one day "Chadwell" arrived at the home of a settler who lived east of Hopeville and asked if he could provide some food for himself and his friend who was visiting him. After he had visited the settler's home a few times and perhaps felt secure with their friendship, he revealed that his visitor was none other than Jesse James, the notorious American train robber. 

Jesse James was born in Missouri in 1847. During the Civil War his family were victims of the Union Army because of their sympathies for the Confederate cause. Perhaps because of this mistreatment James, who was already a well-known marksman with a rifle, joined a guerilla band led by William Clarke Quantrill at the age of 15. At the end of the war, James and some of Quantrill's men surrendered to the Union Army. Somehow, James escaped and formed his own band of outlaws, which would wreak havoc robbing trains and banks throughout the American Midwest. The cool and daring of James and his gang became legendary. 

Wanted: Dead or Alive - Jesse James - $10,000

When it seemed that no one could capture James, the Governor of Missouri placed a bounty of $10,000 for the capture, dead or alive, of Jesse James. In 1882, two of James' own gang, Robert and Charles Ford, shot and killed Jesse James in his home in St. Joseph, Missouri. 

The legend of Jesse James has transcended time. His bold raids on banks and trains have spawned countless Hollywood movies. The possibility that this notorious outlaw hid in Proton Township for a while is intriguing. 

Whether it is true or not, we will never know for sure. But what is interesting is that while James was supposedly in Grey County there was a bank robbery in Guelph and the thieves were never apprehended. Perhaps it was Jesse James. 

The information used in this article came from sources held in the Grey County Archives.

A version of this story originally appeared in my Local History column in the Owen Sound Sun Times on October 21, 2001

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History Pages introduces the readers to interesting people, places, and events that I have researched and written about in my writing career that spans more than three decades.

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