9 December 2019


Daniel J Duke. Jesse James and the Lost Templar Treasure. Destiny Books, 2019.

The notorious outlaw Jesse Woodson James started his life of crime in a guerrilla band known by the name of Quantrill’s Raiders. They were affiliated to the Confederacy by virtue of a piece of legislation known as the Partisan Rangers Act. This enabled groups of people to commit various acts of violence akin to that of regular troops in the name of the Confederate States. This was where Jesse and his brother Frank started their life of violence that escalated later into bank robbery and train-robbing.
The Knights Templar were the first of the mediæval military orders. They ostensibly lived a monastic lifestyle whilst training for battle. The nature of their coming into existence, their allegedly lukewarm attitude to Christ and their bloody dissolution by the French king, Phillipe IV, seems to have made them into poster children for believers in the occult and assorted New-Agers. Their memory is amenable to having almost any outré theory pasted over their image, thereby muddying the waters for serious research into them and their practices.

The Knights of the Golden Circle was a society dedicated to the creation of a “golden circle” of states and nations where slavery was a major economic and social component. The intended states not only included some on North American soil but also Mexico, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, and San Salvador. Some historians maintain that, after the end of the American Civil War, the KGC went underground and turned into a secret society.

Daniel J Duke, the author, spent his life surrounded by tales of Jesse James and treasures associated with him. To quote the author: “My hobbies include hiking, writing, genealogy, history, beekeeping, treasure hunting, researching symbols and codes, healthy cooking and good coffee.”

The book under review purports to ascertain that Jesse James faked his own death and lived out his remaining years in Texas, where he died. Jesse James is also reckoned to be the ancestor of the author, because this is what family lore has maintained. James, according to the author, was a man named James Lafayette Courtney, who also happened to be a Freemason. Associating the reformed James/Courtney with the Knights of the Golden Circle, Duke goes on to speculate that the KCG, with the aid of the likes of James/Courtney, obtained and concealed sizeable stashes of gold in order to finance their grandiose, empire-building schemes.

However, despite this, Duke maintains that James’/Courtney’s knowledge of the places where treasure was hidden was not of the KCG but those communicated to him via the Freemasons and the Rosicrucians, who in turn received their knowledge from the Knights Templar. The treasures included not just gold but knowledge; Shakespeare’s ‘lost’ works, wisdom from the past and such, tucked away by the good offices of that polymath, Roger Bacon. The Kaballistic Tree of Life, church windows and the like lead to something known as The Veil, which may be placed over maps, including those of the USA, in order to find treasure concealed by the Freemasons. The author produces examples of this and explains how that notorious painting Et In Arcadia Ego by Poussin ties in with the aforementioned arcana.

Where, then, to start? The vociferous and desperate claim to kinship with a slavery-supporting outlaw, who doesn’t seem like the kind of person most people would want to give house room to? The dropping of said outlaw after a few pages as we venture into Dan Brown/Holy Blood Holy Grail territory? The sinking sound my soul made as this volume descended into sub-Henry Lincoln speculations concerning landmarks, maps and geometry?

The link between HBHG and this tome is deliberate. As a (much) younger person with a meagre historical education I took much of Lincoln, Baigent and Leigh’s fantastic tale at face value. The experience from that has, mostly, made me more sceptical when it comes to grandiose claims such as those made here. Duke invokes HBHG too, which is a large red light, considering how the book has not stood the test of time. Here we have the crunch. Many claims are made yet evidence is thin on (or, indeed, under) the ground. The Kabbalah is invoked yet is misused. I could go on. Mercifully for all concerned, I will not.

The best part of this book? The title. It may inspire some form of dramatic endeavour that will be considerably more entertaining than attempting to read it. Considering the exotic nature of combining the activities of a violent crook with Freemasons, Rosicrucians and other such societies, this is a surprisingly tough book to read. It also brings attention to the rather distasteful acts that may have been involved had there been proof, such as James hoarding gold for an organisation attempting to set up a chain of slave states. However it does have an index, such as it is, and a bibliography. Oh, and where’s any of the treasure? -- Trevor Pyne.

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