When Jesse James Came to Visit

By Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Archivist/Curator

In any community there are stories that fall into a category that can only be called myths and legends. Stories that have been passed down through generations that may have started with a real event but embellishments have been added. Or stories that seem probable but cannot be proved by other documented sources.  This is the case with Nellie Young’s account of an interaction that involved Jesse & Frank James on a Harvey County homestead.

In February 1936, an unknown reporter visited 90-year-old Nellie Young at her home “for the purpose of obtaining some first hand information regarding the life of early settlers.”  The typewritten account is one of the many stories that are part of HCHM’s Archives.

Nellie and her husband, H.N. Young and two small girls arrived in Harvey County in the spring of 1873. They had been living in Cameron, MO. The family homesteaded in Macon Township, seven miles west of Newton.

First Years

Nellie described living in a dugout for two years while her husband broke several acres where they were able to raise a few bushels of sod corn. In the spring of 1875, they were able to build a one-room sod house with a low flat roof. She described the house as sixteen feet long and twelve feet wide with walls three feet thick, a door at one end and one window on the side. Nellie recalled that the rattlesnakes enjoyed sunning themselves on that flat roof, much to her dismay.

Harvey County Sod House similar to the Young’s sod house, 1870s.

Summer 1875

By summer 1875, they had developed a small acreage for wheat and it had been cut, bundled and stacked by the house. Nellie tells the story:

“At about 5 o’clock one afternoon the girls called my attention to two horsemen riding leisurely along the prairie trail in the hot August sun. We watched expecting them to pass, we were somewhat surprised to see them turn into our yard and go directly to our new straw stack.. . . they dismounted, unsaddled the horses and picketed them out near the straw stack. They then came to the door of our sod house and asked if the might stay at the straw stack over night, and after being told they should secure the permission of Mr. Young who was at that time out in the field at work, they remarked, ‘Well, we’ll stay anyway, our horses are tired and need rest.'”

“Splendid Looking Man”

Nellie noted that they did not have access to many newspapers. In fact, the only one they saw regularly was the St. Louis Weekly Democrat that a neighbor several miles away loaned to them. Even so, Nellie recalled, “I at once recognized our uninvited guest as being Jesse James and one of the other members of his notorious gang.” She felt that the newspaper pictures had not done him justice as Jesse “was indeed a splendid looking man. He wore a blue suit of expensive material and with his broad rimmed hat and fine leather belt filled with cartridges, and his holster buttoned over his revolver he was indeed the original of what the movies now attempt to imitate.”

Jesse James (lt) Frank James (rt), 1872

She observed the horses were well cared for and the saddles and bridles “were of the heavy cowboy pattern and were of expensive leather, beautifully hand carved.”

They had given their horses feed from the Young’s “small pile which were we carefully hoarding to furnish feed for our own team.”

At that point Mr. Young came in from the field and agreed with Nellie’s identification – it was indeed Jesse James at their farm.

“A Restful Night’s Sleep . . .for the Guests”

Then, Nellie realized she would need to feed the “guests.” She recalled that she increased “the portions of our limited menu . . . we all ate heartily of boiled potatoes, and corn dodgers with sorghum molasses and Arbuckle’s coffee.”

Night came and Mr. Young was afraid that the guests would steal their horses if they were allowed to sleep outside, so he insisted that they sleep in the house. Nellie provided quilts and pillows and “they apparently enjoyed a restful night’s sleep on the floor of our shanty, while we slept but fitfully at the end of the room.”

“Chatting and Visiting Like Old Friends”

For breakfast she prepared a freshly killed chicken, fired potatoes and hot soda biscuits and coffee. Jesse and his friend did not seem to be in any hurry to leave and remained with the Youngs for close to two hours “chatting and visiting like old friends. . . Jesse told us he was returning from Texas and frequently mentioned his mother remarking that she disapproved of the long trips which he frequently took. When finally ready to leave Jesse inquired as to the amount of their bill and on being informed that there would be no charge insisted on leaving two silver dollars and bidding us a hearty goodbye. They mounted their horses and were soon out of sight as they crossed a ridge a mile to the east.”

Truth or Myth?

Did this really happen? The story is difficult to prove or disprove. In 1875, the James brothers and their gang were all over the United States. On December 8, 1874, they robbed the Kansas Pacific train at Muncie, Ks. They were in Kearney, Mo in January 1875 and by September at least some of the gang was in W. Virginia and Nashville. At some point in 1875, they reportedly cased the 1st National Bank in Wichita but passed on a holdup due to the high security of the huge basement vault. Documentation for this visit is also scarce.


Delano District, Wichita, Ks, 1875

It is possible that the James brothers were in Harvey County in August 1875 and that they stopped at a remote homestead for the night.  At this writing we only have the memories of 90-year-old Nellie Young who shared her story in 1936.


New at HCHM: Three Photos & A Mystery

by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Archivist/Curator

Recently the museum received three photos with limited information. The donor had been told by older relatives that they were photos from the time their family lived in Newton, Ks. The donor’s grandfather was  Joseph Murphy, but had been born in Newton with the name Job Combs March 26, 1885. The photos are of a house, a Feed & Sale Stable and a man identified as Carter Williams. The house photo had the Mrs. B.F. Denton photographer stamp on the back along with the color scheme of the house.

Research started to discover the location of the Feed & Sale Stable business, but the mystery of the Combs became the story long after the location of the stable was known.The Feed & Sale Stable was located at the corner of 5th & Poplar, Newton in 1885. The business was owned by Job Combs, but who was he?

The Mystery

The biggest question surrounded the identity of Job Combs and why did he change his name to Joseph Murphy? The second was the identity of Carter Williams and how did he connect. The first thing discovered was there were two Job Combs – a father and son.

Job Combs Family in Newton

In 1871, 28 year old Job Combs arrived in what would become Harvey County with his 16 year old wife and several children, the oldest William was eleven. Job was born in Indianna in 1843 and served in 2nd Indianna cavalry. An oral story in the family says that he was a spy, but when he was captured, he was able to escape due to his slender wrists.  He lists his occupation as “jockey” in the 1880 Census. His wife, Mollie, or MJ, was born in Arkansas in 1855 and listed her occupation as “Keeping house.”

Ten years later Job Combs announced that he was an independent candidate for the office of sheriff. He noted that he was not a politician and had never run for office. He served in the military as a member and promised; “if elected he will be a terror to horse thieves and other law-breakers throughout the ‘Great Southwest’.” (Weekly Republican 7 September 1881) He did not win election.

Throughout the early 1880s, Job Combs worked for various stables in Newton including the Ensign Stable.

The next mention in the newspapers is on September 27, 1883, when R.O. Tyler was put on trial for selling liquor to Job Combs. The complaint was brought by his wife, Mollie Combs who had instructed Tyler not to sell to her husband. Over forty witnesses were subpoenaed in the case.

Life must have stabilized for the Combs family for a few years. In 1885, Combs bought two lots at the corner of 5th & Poplar and erected a stable 32′ x 110′. (Newton Democrat 24 April 1885).

Newton Democrat, 12 March 1886

He built a house next to the stable “with six rooms, a good well and cistern, cellar and every convenience.” (Newton Democrat 12 Jun 1885)

Baby Combs

Earlier in March the Combs family added one last son to the family. On March 27 1885 the Newton Democrat offered congratulations to the Combs family on the birth of a son named Job Combs.

“Mrs. Job Combs . . . presented her leige lord with an heir – a son who kicks the beam at 12 pounds avoirdupois . . . the mother and child are doing nicely and hopes are entertained that the father will if an antidote can be found for his excessive hilarity. We congratulate, you Job, and wish you many, many -er, er, well, many happy days, even years , with the youngster.” (Newton Democrat 27 March 1885)

“The Best Piano in the City”

Two years later, Combs sold home on 5th and bought a farm three miles west of the Fair ground. His land and other assets are sold at a sheriff’s auctions in 1892 and 1889.

Job Combs and Mollie Williams Combs divorced May 18, 1888, and Mrs. Combs began selling furniture. One item in particular was a point of contention, “the best piano in the city.”  Mrs. Job Combs advertised it for sale in 1888. It is possible that her ex-husband Job did not agree to the sale of the piano. In May 1891, this piano became the focal point when Job Combs was arrested for disturbing the peace in an altercation with D.S. Welsh. Welsh had possession of the piano.

Newton Daily Republican, 1 December 1888

Combs spent time in the City jail and was fined $5 and costs as a result. No further word on what happened with the piano. Job Combs does not appear in the Harvey County papers after 1892.

Who Was Mrs.  Mollie Combs?

Born in Arkansas in 1855, she married Job Combs young, possibly at the age of 14. She came with him to Harvey County in 1871. After the divorce from Job Combs, Mrs. Combs’ name begins to appear in the Police Court sections of the newspapers.

In 1890, Mollie Combs got in trouble with the law as “a proprietress of a bawdy house.”   Her establishment was located on E 6th and was known as the Atlantic House.  In June 1890, Dr. Earnest Schurchart  was arrested for violating a prohibitory liquor law. Schurchart, described as a “German of rather disreputable character whom it is said has only been out of the penitentiary a short time,” was living at the Atlantic house. One witness against Schurchart was Mrs. Combs son. Mrs. Combs was “fined $50 and cost for keeping a house of ill fame.”

The 1900 Census shows that Mollie has moved to Minneapolis, Minnnesota and is married to Patrick Murphy. Included in the census is a 16 year boy named Joseph Murphy born 26 March 1885 in Newton, Kansas. Patrick Murphy is listed as his father.

Who Was Patrick Murphy?

In a document with the U.S. Social Security Numerical Identification Files, Name and Form, 1943 for Joseph Murphy, Patrick Murphy is listed as the father and Mollie Williams is listed as the mother. Joseph’s birthdate was 26 March 1885 in Newton, Ks. Was Patrick Murphy Job Combs’ actual father?

Patrick Murphy was a difficult man. He lived in Burrton, Kansas. He was a known gambler who regularly beat his wife. For example, on December 23, 1890, the Newton Daily Republican reported; “Sheriff Pollard has gone to Burrton for Patrick Murphy who is accused of assaulting his wife and children.”

Samantha Murphy received a degree of divorce from Patrick Murphy on the ground of extreme cruelty February 27, 1891.

Job Combs/Joseph Murphy

Joseph Murphy made a life in Hennepin, Minnesota. He married Ollie L. from Norway sometime before 1910. They had one child, Amy Virginia Murphy.

On an application to change his name dated February 1943, Job Combs officially changed his name to Joseph Murphy and listed his parents as Patrick Murphy and Mollie Williams. Just a few years later on documents related to his death on 2 April 1948, Job Combs is listed as his father, Mollie Williams his mother and his spouse was Ollie L. Murphy.

Job Combs/Joseph Murphy was 63 years old when he died at St. Louis Park, Hennepin, Minnesota.

Loose Ends

Mollie Williams Combs Murphy died in January 1925 at the age of 80 in Minneapolis, MN. She was survived by her sons Joseph Murphy, Harry C. Combs and William Combs, daughters Nellie Combs Halliday and Amy Combs Drain.

At this date, nothing more has been found on Job Combs (the elder) or Patrick Murphy.

Who Was Carter Williams?

The last mystery includes the photograph identified as Carter Williams, “grandfather of Job Combs who changed his name to Joseph Murphy.”  Evidence suggests that the photo is of Mollie Combs Murphy’s’ father. No evidence could be found that he ever lived in Harvey County.

Carter Williams


  • Divorce Index, 1872-1940, Archives Indexes, Harvey County Historical Museum & Archives, 203 N Main, Newton, Ks.
  • Burrton Graphic: 27 December 1890,3 July 1891, 30 September 1892,
  • Newton Daily Republican: 18 June 1890 27 June 1890 23 December 1890.
  • Newton Democrat:  12 September 1884, 17 September 1886.
  • Newton Journal: 20 June 1890.
  • Newton Kansan: 20 September 1883, 1 September 1887.
  • Weekly Republican: 25 September 1885, 26 December 1890, 27 September 1891.
  • Kansas County Marriages, 1855-1911, Charles C Flowers and Amy Combs, 1 June 1886.
  • Kansas County Marriage Records, 1855-1911, Ira Combs and Mary Elisabeth Simpson, 12 May 1890.
  • Kansas County Marriage Records, 1855-1911, Wm M Combs to Luella Callager, 11 August 1889.
  • Kansas County Marriages, 1855-1911, Patrick Murphy and Samanta Gibson.
  • Kansas Naturalization Records, Partrick Murphy 10 October 1887.
  • Minnesota Deaths, 1887-2001, Entry for Joseph Murphy and Job Combs, 2 April 1948.
  • U.S. Social Security Numerical Identification files, 1936-2007, Joseph Murphy.
  • U.S. World War II Draft Registration Cards, 1942, Entry for Joseph Murphy and Ollie L Murphy.
  • U.S. Census: 1880, 1885, 1900.

“Scattered to the Four Winds:” the Halstead Cyclone May 2, 1910

by Kristine Schmucker, Archivist/Curator

Harvey County recently experienced a brush with severe storms. On Sunday night, May 21, 2024, straight line winds and tornadoes made their way through Burrton, Halstead and the southern part of Newton causing a great deal of damage. Luckily, no one was hurt.

Harvey County has experienced devastating and fatal tornadoes before including, 1 March 1888, 1 May 1895, 2 May 1910 and 25 May 1917, 24 May 1962, 13 March 1990.

The tornado in May 1910 especially caused havoc in Halstead.

Scattered to the Four Winds

On May 2, 1910 one of the “most destructive storm in the history of Harvey County passed through the county at about 1 o’clock Monday morning.” Although it did not quite match the intensity of the “great cyclone which swept over Harvey County May 1, 1895,” the May 2, 1910, tornado came close, and Halstead took a direct hit.

Halstead Independent, 5 May 1910

The storm roared through in the early morning hours of May 2 when most Harvey County residents were asleep. The fact that there was only one fatality was a miracle.

The editor of the Halstead Independent reported the following damage. The path of the storm went from the south to west and “the storm twisted trees and pulled many from their roots and made a specialty of picking out barns and windmills and leaving residences alone.”  Telephone and electric poles were down, and while the storm “did not assume all the characteristics of a cyclone, it was near enough to satisfy everybody who heard the terrific noise which accompanied it.”

Path Through Town

G.A. Schriver’s new barn in the west part of Halstead was completely destroyed and “on the north end of this tract the machine sheds of Fred Massler were scattered to the four winds, while his threshing engine and separator were left standing without damage.” Next, the storm damaged several homes in Halstead. In the business district W. C. Hinkle & Co’s “two story wood frame warehouse filled with implements was blown to the ground.”

Hinckle & Co, Halstead, Ks after the May 2, 1910 Storm

The Halstead Milling & Elevator Co sustained “the heaviest financial loss of anything in the path of the storm. The brick smokestack was blown down, the storage warehouse  . . . was scattered over many acres and a portion of the roof had been carried over the river.” The Warkentin property east of the mill sustain damage with trees “being twisted off about twenty feet from the ground.  The north annex to the big barn . . . was moved from the foundation but not badly damaged.”

Halstead Main Street, after May 2, 1910 storm

Other damage was noted. John Stilikle was “heavy loser because John reigns as King over there and had more buildings to damage.” Stilikle estimated his loss will be around $275.89. David Lehman’s orchard suffered from the wind and hail. Virtually all the windows in the Lehman’s home were broken from the hail. An early morning train was delayed to clear tracks and the Santa Fe signal tower at the depot was blown down.

One Fatality -Michael Hoffman

There was one fatality, Michael Hoffman, who lived on a farm about seven miles southwest of Sedgwick.

“The house at his place was blown to the four or a dozen or more of  winds . . . and the lifeless body of Mr. Hoffman was found after the storm was over. He was badly mutilated; any one of the three or four wounds having been sufficient to have caused his death almost instantly.”

His wife was severely injured, while his son sustained no injuries.

Property Loss

When the storm was done, “no less than thirty barns have been partially or wholly destroyed, while the Hoffman house was the only one blown away.”

The editor noted;

“the property loss in the path of the storm is difficult to estimate, but it cannot be less than one hundred thousand dollars. The damage at the mill will amount to from five to eight thousand dollars, the Hinckle & Co. loss is quite heavy, the Mitchell building will have to be rebuilt in the front and the hundreds of smaller losses will amount to a considerable figure.”

Halstead, Ks, after the May 2, 1910, storm.

Cyclone or Tornado

West Park also experienced much damage. The writer described the park;

“it presents the appearance of having passed through a genuine cyclone, although those who claim to be posted say it was nothing but a tornado. We have talked with some of the sufferers from the 1895 cyclone and they are almost unanimous in the declaration that the late storm was attended by the same kind of noise and other trimmings.”

Longed For Rain

The Evening Kansan Republican noted that the May 1910 storm was one of the “worst storms in several years,” but it did come with the much needed and “longed for rain. . . and Harvey County farmers are not disposed to find fault with the methods . . . the deluge this morning has served to place the soil in condition to produce excellent crops.”


Evening Kansan Republican, 2 May 1910.

Wishing for Cyclone Cellars

In Newton, “houses trembled and quaked . . . and nervous sleepers, awakened by the fury of the storm, lay in bed and wondered if only the roof would come off, or whether the whole house would be carried away.”  Daylight revealed the streets were littered with tree branches and beautiful shade trees were ruined. The glass windows on some of the downtown businesses was blown out. Many electric and power lines were down, as well as telephone lines. Newton did not experience as much damage as the town of Halstead.


  • Burrton Free Lance: 5 May 1910. 
  • Evening Kansan Republican: 2 May 1910.
  • Halstead Independent:  May 5, 1910.
  • Newton Kansan: 5 May 1910.