PEND OREILLE, Wash. -- There are not many known photos of the infamous outlaw Jesse James. Recently a one of a kind photo handed down through five generations has landed in the hands of a Pend Oreille County woman.
Jesse James was an infamous legend of the Wild West. He was seen by some as a vicious murderer. Others saw him as a kind of Robin Hood. Factually, an old west gang leader who blazed a lawless trail of bank and stagecoach robberies. Most people know the legend through movies and books. But, Sandy Mills has a more personal connection. Her family tells first-hand stories of harboring Jesse James and his gang in their Missouri farmhouse.
"They would like give them a place to sleep and feed their horses, give them food," said Mills.
But is this just another story? Consider this: Mills has a family heirloom to back it up. A photo, an old tintype, of Jesse James. She said it is an original.
In the photo James is sitting side by side with Robert Ford. It has been handed down one generation to the next. Mills' grandmother gave it to her in 2003."They kept it wrapped in a hankie put away in a dresser drawer for 130 years," said Tom Razo, Mills' boyfriend.
"I would talk to people on the phone and tell them what I had and they'd be like, ‘Well do you have paperwork?' And it's like what outlaw is going to have paperwork," said Mills.
"When she first showed me and I held it and she showed me what it was I know I believed it because the hair stood up on the back of my neck. And don't know if it was Jesse's stare in the photograph or what it was," said Razo.
So Razo started investigating. The trail lead him to Forensic Artist, Lois Gibson from Houston.
"I can look at a picture of Jesse James and I can see him turn his head," said Gibson.
Using known photos of James and others of Robert Ford, Gibson set about to authenticate the photo.
"I did massive work. Intense, detailed work. That is Jesse James and this man is Robert Ford," said Gibson.
A Jesse James historian also investigated and discovered Mills' great-great-great grandmother, Pauline Roundtree, was indeed linked closely to Jesse James.
"We just wanted to be validated more than anything because so many people said, ‘Nah this can't be.' Well it is and we've proven it," said Razo.
The tintype is no longer stashed in a dresser drawer. For now, a bank safety deposit box seems much more appropriate.
"It's worth some money. We've heard numbers in the millions. But we don't really know," said Razo.
While James is known to go into hiding, it looks like his rare photo is destined to see the light of day.
"It's a wonderful piece of history and I think the world should see it," said Mills. "It's better than sitting in my dresser drawer."
A man who claims to be a descendent of Jesse James has publicly questioned the authenticity of the photo. The forensic expert, the Jesse James historian and of course Sandy Mills are standing by their belief that the photo is authentic.