In the Pinkerton Detective Agency lot at Graceland, most of the graves are worn down and illegible. Which is probably why it took me so long to find out that a victim of Jesse James is buried there! Joseph W. Wicher, killed by the James Gang in 1874, is buried beneath the grave on the left below, in a section that looks appropriately like something from the “Wild West” . You can almost make out the name:
What’s remarkable about the lot is, though it certainly served as good advertising for the agency just by existed, we know very, very little about the lives and adventures of the detectives buried here. The two largest and most legible markers are for Kate Warne, one of the first female detectives and spies, about whom books have been written, but which are really little better than fanfiction about her; what we know for sure of her can fit on one page. Next to her is a very wordy monument for Timothy Webster, a spy who, like Kate, helped Lincoln sneak past assassins into Washington D.C. But he’s actually buried in a whole other state – the marker is just a tribute.
Nearly all of the other graves – both of the detectives and the smaller plots nearby for their children who died young – are largely illegible now, victims of time, limestone, and acid rain. So I was very surprised to find an article mentioning that one of them, J.W. Wicher, had been killed by the James-Younger gang.
There are points in his story where we have to fill in the blanks – we don’t know precisely what happened in between what happened when he told local officials in Independence, MO, that he was going to pose as a farmhand to get access to the home of Frank and Jesse James, and the time a day or so later when he bullet-riddled body was discovered. But the basics can be easily guessed. Some believe that local officials warned Jesse, and other believe that Wicher simply couldn’t convince him that he was a farm worker with his soft hands. Both might have been the case. But there exists little doubt that the James gang executed him.
His name is variously spelled as Wicher, Whicher, or Witcher, which makes him a bit tricky to research. Newspaper reports also go their own way on calling him Joseph, Joseph W, or J.W., all of which can throw a wrench into searches.
Pinkerton’s own stone is far easier to read, telling the story of how he worked to free slaves (we’d now call it “performative wokeness,” perhaps, but the epitaph isn’t lying; he was active in the underground railroad and knew John Brown and Frederick Douglass). The employee lot is behind it and to the right. It’s a regular feature on my Graceland Cemetery Tours
Here’s my map of the employee lot. Can you find out more about the others buried there?
MUSIC AND CREDITS
The song for Joseph in today’s episode is in by James Mahaffey of The Scrap Merchants.
Voices in the episode include:
Andrew Block as Jesse James
Kitten McCreery as Zerelda Samuels
Orchestra music by the Advent Chamber Orchestra