The Redemption of Jessie James – Book Two of the Memoirs of H.H. Lomax: My Review

the redemption of jessie james book coverThere are few characters in the Old West as colorful as H.H. (Henry Harrison) Lomax. He claims in his memoirs to have been involved in most of the momentous events that occurred during westward expansion and settlement, interacting with the likes of Billy the Kid (see my review of Book One, The Demise of Billy the Kid, dated June 7, 2018) and now the infamous bank robber, Jessie James!

Author Preston Lewis uses his typical wit and humor to reintroduce us to H.H. Lomax as a young boy living in Arkansas with his family during the Civil War. Henry is twelve when the war begins, and sixteen when fate causes him to leave home and seek out Jessie and Frank James in Missouri.

Nearly two-thirds of the book is devoted to these five formative years and Henry’s memories as a boy. There are descriptions of the difficulties that were faced by families just trying to survive, boyhood pranks that have consequences far beyond that of just having fun at someone else’s expense, adolescent love, awakening desires, the loss of siblings and friends to the war, and the viciousness of unscrupulous individuals willing to use sex or any other means, including murder, to get their way.

What they want from Henry and his family is a hidden cache of gold from a Confederate payroll. Rumors of its existence result in constant harassment and threats by a former neighbor turned guerrilla leader, his promiscuous daughter, a Yankee deserter, and Jessie James!

The Redemption referenced in the book’s title hearkens back to Jessie’s hatred of all Yankees and Yankee sympathizers. When the war ends in 1865 the Drake Constitution grants amnesty to irregular units that fought for the Union while holding similar Confederate units and individuals accountable for their actions. Instead of uniting Missourians it further inflamed the biases, loyalties, convictions and prejudices that already existed and it will turn the James brothers into outlaws.

Henry Lomax gets inadvertently involved in the James’ first bank robbery… they threaten to kill him if he doesn’t help or if he ever turns them into the authorities.  He does, however, eventually escape and for the next sixteen years aimlessly wanders the American West in search of fame and fortune. Down on his luck and needing to finally return to his home in Arkansas, he once again runs into none other than Jessie James.

Fearing the worst, Henry is surprised when Jessie (now living under the name Thomas Howard) invites him to meet his wife and children and even buys him new clothes and gives him money to help him get back to Arkansas. Jessie admits to having looked for Lomax after his escape planning on killing him before he could identify Frank or himself, but when no authorities show up he figures Henry has kept his word to remain mum, and this is his way of thanking him. Of course, Jessie hasn’t totally changed his ways and is planning another heist with Charlie and Bob Ford. Fortuitously, Henry declines the invitation to join them. Jessie James will be shot in the back in his own home by Bob Ford for the $10,000 bounty on his head.

Henry’s Arkansas reunion is bittersweet. He visits with those family members still living in his old hometown, discovers that he is revered for killing the bushwhacker who tormented the countryside so many years ago, and apologizes to his childhood sweetheart for leaving her behind. All is forgiven and he is asked to stay. But there are adventures yet to live and stories yet to tell.

Preston Lewis has crafted another chapter in the H.H. Lomax saga that combines homespun humor with vivid historical detail. As to further adventures and recollections of the same, there’s a gunfight in Henry’s future at the O.K. Corral!