To be honest I feel like we need to talk about the Friends of the James Farm (FOJF). The organization branches off from the Jesse James Farm in Kearney, Mo. The group has existed for 39 years and Oct. 14, 2017 was its last reunion. On June 20, 2017, I met with the Board at the Clay County Archives in Liberty, Mo. to start a research project organized through Dr. Christopher Wilkins and the history department at William Jewell College. The project was self-designed and allowed me to learn more about Rev. Robert Sallee James, an original Jewell Trustee, and his relationship with the College before his death in 1850 shortly after Jewell’s opening in 1849. I spent the next two months conducting research in the Clay County Archives, the William E. Partee Center for Baptist Historical Studies at Curry Library and the Milton F. Perry Research Center at the Jesse James Farm in Kearney, Mo. My research led me to the conclusion that Frank and Jesse James donated a portion of Rev. James’s estate to William Jewell College.
This project and its conclusion further allowed me to study a subject I love while learning more about an almost forgotten trustee. It deepened my belief that we should study history to learn more about the past and about ourselves. The decline in history majors and a passion for history has resulted in the decline of the FOJF as individuals pursue varied interests in multiple ways.
Two periods in history that constantly receive large enthusiasm are World War II and the Holocaust, and the American Civil War and Reconstruction. The enthusiasm for these two eras of history will endure for many centuries to come. The FOJF will endure as a result of its close proximity to the Civil War. They have succeeded in creating enthusiasm for learning more about the James brothers which will continue into the future by other means.
We as citizens need to take an interest in our history and historical organizations and groups as they shape how we live. My experiences with the FOJF have solidified my passion for history and encouraged me to pursue further study in graduate school. Similar events occur throughout history. The era of the Civil War and Reconstruction that the James brothers lived through continues to impact our lives, and contemporary conditions mirror that of the Reconstruction era as the U. S. continues to move towards equal rights for all. The lessons that we can learn from the FOJF will endure and create curiosity in the next generation of scholars and historians. They will be inspired to study large-and small-scale historical events and analyze how the events have influenced their lives and will decide their future.
We need to talk about the FOJF as it represents a community of historians that choose to study one of the most well known names in 19th century American history. The organization’s enthusiasm will endure through historians and volunteers who choose to carry on their work. The organization’s decline represents a closed-mindedness in America in the way that Americans are largely indifferent to history and how historical events influence them. Young Americans need to take an interest in the past to better understand present and future events. The FOJF is an enthusiastic group of historians and volunteers who choose to study the past. Historians work to learn more about the past and how events occurred to search for truth. My time with the FOJF should remind everyone about the importance of historical organizations, objects, eras and historiography to become more open minded to think critically to change the world.
Photo by Mykala Crews.