Bud and Donnie Pence

They Rode With the James Boys

After the Liberty bank robbery, Thomas Edward "Bud" and Alexander Doniphan "Donnie" Pence fled to Kentucky where Donnie became the sheriff of Nelson County and their homes at Samuels Depot became safe harbors for Frank and Jesse.

Alexander Doniphan Pence

Thomas Edward Pence

William Clark Quantrill

Jesse Woodson James

Alexander Franklin James

Wilson Samuels

Mary Rachel Samuels Pence
Of all the Pences, the most written about were Bud and Donnie. The reason? Because they once rode with the James gang!

These two Clay County, Missouri, natives grew up as neighbors to Frank and Jesse James, with the Pence farm located just across the highway which runs past the James farm today. Some James historians suggest the Pences and James were related, but from the known and extensive genealogies of the two families, no connection can be found.

It has been stated that the connection may have been through the James' stepfather, Dr. Reuben Samuel, who possibly was a relative of the wives of Bud and Donnie. The two married daughters of Wilson Samuels of Samuels Depot, Nelson County, Kentucky. However, T. William Samuels Jr., a cousin of the Samuels sisters (and president of Makers Mark, distillers), says his extensive research of the Samuels family shows no connection between the Samuels family of Nelson County and Reuben Samuel.

Interestingly, Mr. Samuels says he has a letter from Frank James to the wife of Donnie Pence which confirms that when Quantrill's Raiders moved from Missouri into Kentucky in January of 1865, they went directly to the home of Wilson Samuels, the father of the wives-to-be of both Donnie and Bud.

Mrs. Lawrence Barr (wife of Jesse James' grandson) of Overland Park, Kansas, wrote in 1982 that the Pences were not related to the Jameses. She cited the book, Background of a Bandit, the Ancestory of Jesse James. A check of this book reveals no possible relationship, only the coincidence that the two families migrated from Virginia to Kentucky, then on to Missouri. The migrations, however, were from different counties in Virginia and Kentucky.

No doubt contributing to the life-long closeness between the Pence brothers and the James brothers was the nearness of their ages. Frank James was born January 10, 1843, less than six weeks after Bud Pence, who was born November 28, 1842. Donnie Pence was born August 15, 1847, and Jesse James only a few days later on September 5, 1847.

In his definitive book, Quantrill and the Border Wars (page 302), William Elsey Connelley recounts an interview with W. W. Scott in 1887. Connelley says that Bud Pence joined Quantrill late in 1863, following in the footsteps of his boyhood friend, Frank James. Bud's younger brother Donnie joined six months later.

After Bud had joined Quantrill, Federal troops came to the home of his father, Adam Pence, in Clay County and put a rope around his father's neck and threatened to hang him if he did not tell where Bud was. He did not know. They broke a fiddle over his head and also the stock of a gun in their persuasions before hanging. These had no effect on the elder Pence so he was pulled up off his feet two or three times but no information was gained. He miraculously survived and afterwards moved to Liberty to save sending his youngest son to Quantrill, but Donnie soon joined his brother anyway. (It should be noted that the story about the breaking of the fiddle and the threatened hanging is one found among several Missouri families.) The younger Pence went with Quantrill to Kentucky and was with him at Wakefield's when Quantrill was killed.

This incident is given as another reason for the closeness: Donnie Pence and Frank James were serving together at Beulaville, Meade County, Kentucky, in the Civil War. During a retreat, Pence turned his horse and single-handledy held about 100 Federal cavalry at bay. As he started to rejoin his comrades, he was wounded and his horse was killed and pinned him to the ground. Frank James rode to the rescue and succeeded in saving Pence, according to Historic Nelson County, by Sarah B. Smith.

On July 26, 1865, Frank James and 15 others of Quantrill's Raiders, including Bud Pence, surrended to Union forces at Samuels Depot. Donnie Pence and Jesse James had slipped away.

The next year, on February 13, Bud and Donnie Pence were identified as being among those who robbed the Clay County Savings Association at Liberty, Missouri. It is thought in Liberty that the two who actually went into the bank were Frank James and Bud Pence. During the holdup, called the first daylight bank robbery in the United States, a young bystander was shot and killed before the outlaws escaped with $60,000 in gold and silver coin, currency and U.S. Treasury bearer bonds. The bonds totaled $42,500 and were (except for $2,500 worth) redeemed in 13 cities, mostly in the East.

After this robbery, the Pences fled back to Kentucky. An attempt was made by Missouri to extradite Bud, but feelings in Kentucky were high against lynchings of southern sympathizers (and suspected bank robbers) and by the time a deputy arrived from Missouri to take Bud back to Missouri, the latter had escaped - probably with the help of local authorities.

Historic Nelson County relates this story: "An officer by the name of John Francis went to Samuels, Kemtucky, at the Pence home and arrested Donnie Pence by surprise. Then they brought him on into Bardstown. They stopped on their way to Bardstown to see Mr. William Johnson about some requisition papers to take him back to Missouri. While there, Pence got away. Francis came on to Bardstown to help recapture Pence and put him in jail. He sought several to go with him, but Francis was told it was not healthy to go out to Samuels for that purpose. The next day he went out to Samuels and talked to Wilson Samuels, Pence's father-in-law, and stated that his mission was at an end. With that he took a train back to Missouri."

Clay County Savings Association Today

Both Bud and Donnie Pence settled in Nelson County after the robbery. Donnie lived at Samuels Depot and his home is described in several accounts as a haven for Frank or Jesse James when they were hiding out. Mail for the James brothers, usually coded, was sent to Donnie's home. On one occasion, Jesse James is said to have cut his name and the date - October 18, 1881 - with a diamond ring on a window in Pence's house as proof he was not involved in a robbery in Kansas the day before. The house was later owned by A. W. Sherman Jr. and when he sold it he reserved the window pane. In 1969, when the house was razed, the pane was in the possession of Sherman's son-in-law, Felix Bean, in Louisville. The window was later donated to the Kentucky Historical Society in Frankfort, where the authori viewed it in the late 1980s.

An account of the Pence house and a picture is given in The Kentucky Standard, Bardstown, Ky, July 24, 1969. Donnie Pence is called "captain" in this story and in his obituary, which also gives an account of the time Pence and Frank James helped each other escape from Federal cavalry.

Also in 1881, according to Historic Nelson County, Federal officers Yankee Bligh and George Hunter went to Bardstown to try to arrest Frank and Jesse James. The two outlaws were eating in a hotel there and were quickly joined by Sheriff Donnie Pence and another prominent local citizen, Ben Johnson, who earlier had been Pence's attorney during attempts to extradite him. After the meal, the four walked past the Federal officers in the hotel lobby and the James brothers mounted their horses and rode away without an attempt being made to arrest them.

A writeup on Donnie in The Nelson County Record, Illustrated Historical and Industrial Supplement, 1896, says he was appointed a captain in the Cerro Gordo Dragoons by the governor and describes him as being "one of the best officers the county has ever had. He is a most agreeable gentleman and there is no more popular officer."

His obituary said the county had suffered an "irreparable loss. As fearless as a lion when put to the test, in manner he was as gentle as a woman, his many endearing qualities winning for him the warmest affection of those who ever came into contact with him and knew him. For thirty years he had been Nelson County's trusted and beloved Sheriff or deputy." The services, says the obituary, were attended "by one of the largest gatherings of bereaved friends that ever attended a funeral in Nelson County." Four judges were among the pallbearers.

In buggy: Frank James (left) and Judge Muir
A letter from John Muir of Bardstown says Frank James attended the funeral of Donnie Pence, riding in a carriage driven by John Muir's uncle, Joe Muir, who went to the Pence home to get James. Another account says those in the carriage were James, Circuit Judge Samuel E. Jones and Jasper W. Muir Sr.

The photo at left was probably not taken at the time of the funeral, as Donnie Pence died in late February and those in this photo are obviously dressed for summer.

One of the few authenticated pictures of Jesse James recently was found among the effects of Bud Pence's daughter Mattie. This photo was among "the Pence collection' donated to the Kentucky Historical Society. Also found in this collection was an original of an authenticated photograph of the infamous guerrrilla, William Quantrill. Based on information on the back of some of these photos, the author was able to help the Society's staff identify some of those in the photos, particularly family members from Missouri.--Dick Pence

A. D. "Donnie" Pence died February 25, 1896, at Samuels Depot and is buried at Stoner's Chapel Cemetery, east of Samuels in Nelson County, along with his wife, Sarah Isabel (Belle) Samuels. Edward "Bud" Pence died September 15, 1880, in Nelson County and is also buried in Stoner's Chapel Cemetery along with his wife, Mary Rachel Samuels, Belle's sister.


Photos of A. D. Pence, Edward Pence, Quantrill and Jesse James scanned from photocopies of the originals in the A. D. Pence collection at the Kentucky Historical Society. Photos of Wilson Samuels and Frank James and Judge Muir from a collection once belonging to Frank James and now owned by Armand De Gregoris, Philadelphia, and used with his permission. The view of the Clay County Savings Assciation was taken by Kurt Bickle and used with his permission (he is a descendant of the Clay County Pences). Wanted poster from the museum at the Clay County Savings Association at Liberty, Missouri.


For more information about the James gang go to The James-Younger Gang website.

For more on the robbery of the Clay County bank go to Liberty Bank Robbery.

Are you related to Jesse James? You can find his ancestors at The Ancestry of Jesse James

© Copyright 2009 by Richard A. Pence

17 February 2009