History Channel // 2009 // 90 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Victor Valdivia (Retired) // March 20th, 2010
Discover new truths about the American legend.
Jesse James' Hidden Treasure starts off with an intriguing premise and then slowly and painfully runs off the rails until it ends up as a totally different show. It's like starting off watching an episode of WWII in HD and gradually realizing to your horror that you've ended up sitting through an episode of Ax Men. No one deserves that, not even Jesse James himself.
The initial idea and first half of Jesse James' Hidden Treasure is actually promising. Though there are many myths and legends surrounding the famous western outlaw, there are actually a few facts not in dispute; one of which is that he was an avowed pro-slavery guerilla who fought for the Confederacy in Missouri. What this show proposes is that it was possible that after the Civil War ended, James continued to support Confederate organizations secretly, using the money he stole from banks and stagecoaches. It explains the rise of a sinister underground cabal, the Knights of the Golden Circle, who emerged at the dawn of the Civil War and was firmly committed to supporting the Confederacy both financially and politically. The KGC had ties to several people who James would become closely linked to and the organization and its various offshoots continued to exist even after the war ended. Consequently some historians believe it may have been possible that James' string of robberies were not just done for personal greed-he may have actually been collecting funds for the KGC to stage a possible guerilla war. The show does give an interesting depiction of a story that's not as well known as others from the Civil War and makes a persuasive case that it should be investigated more. For this first half, Jesse James' Hidden Treasure is a good historical program.
Unfortunately, the story of James' possible hidden motives is completely overshadowed by the second story told. The show also follows Ron Pastore, an amateur historian and Jesse James biographer who has devoted his life to searching various Kansas locations that he believes James used as depots for his loot. This reality-style conceit ends up overtaking the show and turning it into an unholy cross of UFO Hunters and Geraldo Rivera digging through Al Capone's vault. Pastore and his team run around using fancy equipment to caves that James might have used, deciphering cryptic symbols that bear some similarity to the ones used by the KGC, and seeing blips on radar that may be hidden stashes of gold and money. After all the speculation and overheated theories, all that Pastore and his team uncover is a broken mason jar with some gold and silver coins. This method of storing money is consistent with the description given in various KGC publications, but since all of the coins Pastore finds were minted after 1882, the year James was murdered, it's probable that he wasn't involved in burying them.
At least, that's what you would think. It's in the last half-hour that Jesse James' Hidden Treasure becomes a jaw-dropping mess of conspiracy theories suggesting that James actually faked his own death and died of old age instead of being shot by a small-time outlaw named Robert Ford, who claimed to betray James for a sizable cash reward. While the show does explain that there were some curious inconsistencies in how Ford was treated, to claim that this indicates the presence of an intricate conspiracy by the KGC to fake James' death is far-fetched. It gets even worse when the show spends time investigating the claims of a family that says that their great-grandfather was Jesse James under a new identity. They provide no evidence, apart from some minor trinkets that sort of resemble trinkets that James was photographed with and a picture of their great-grandfather who sort of looks like Jesse James as an old man. What any of this has to do with Jesse James hiding treasure in the Kansas wilderness is anyone's guess. Then again, by that point, you'll probably have taken the DVD out of the player and gingerly backed away from your TV, lest it explode in a paroxysm of incoherence.
Okay, maybe not, but it's too bad that this show is supposed uncover new truths about Jesse James and ends up discussing crazy conspiracy theories that may or may not involve Jesse James. The story of the KGC is a fascinating one that deserves further investigation, but sadly this show would rather wander off in the stratosphere instead. If you're really curious to learn about Jesse James you'd do better to pick up a biography rather than sit through this mess.
Technical specs are typical History 1.78:1 non-anamorphic transfer and Dolby 2.0 stereo mix, both acceptable. There are no extras.
Guilty of not knowing who or what it's supposed to be about.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: History Channel
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated