Prowling History with Psychological Type


'Joseph Lee Heywood: His Life and Tragic Death' by Gerald OtisIsabel Myers liked to illustrate different Psychological Types using figures or events from history. One can also reverse the process, enhancing the appreciation of historical figures and events by adopting a Type perspective, as I show in my biography Joseph Lee Heywood: His Life and Tragic Death (ISBN: 978-0-9835944-2-0).

I grew up in the small Minnesota town of Northfield, where in 1876 an attempted bank robbery occurred that has been the subject of some 40 different movies. I knew the broad outlines of the story: the notorious outlaw Jesse James and his gang came to town, tried to rob the bank, killed the cashier, Joseph Lee Heywood, and got shot up by the towns folk. I did not know much more than that even though I had gone by the site of the raid thousands of times, drove a taxi out of the building that was the actual bank, saw the supposed bullet holes in the bank building surrounded by black circles, saw all the gruesome pictures of the dead outlaws, and sat through more than one Jesse James movie with mountains in the background and little relationship to the reality of the event. I attended the first “Jesse James Days” celebration when I was ten years old.

Jesse James

In a seventh grade history class, I heard of the controversy about “celebrating an outlaw” that resulted in shifting the name of the event to the more politically correct “Defeat of Jesse James Days” and in a class outing we all read the inscription on the metal plaque honoring the dead cashier.  He was deemed a “hero”  because, when the bandits demanded that he open the safe, he demurred, saying that the safe was on a time lock and could not be opened at that time. This ruse went only so far in appeasing the outlaws and, in a fit of rage, they shot him in the head. The town was grateful for his sacrifice and saving their money, honored him in lofty speeches and took care of his grieving family. Although he was a veteran of the Civil War, he apparently never talked about it and subsequent writers about the event never bothered to check his military record, assuming instead that he had played a minor role in the war. So the written record of Heywood was rather slim, focusing on the few minutes he thwarted the bandits and what it meant to the town. There were things about the official account that did not set well with me. I wanted to get past the myth created by the good merchants of the town and by Hollywood screenwriters. I wanted to know more about the character of Northfield’s Hero – I wanted to know his Psychological Type.

After I retired, I steeped myself in the history of the town, the Jesse James gang, and the Civil War. I found first hand accounts of the raid and contemporaneous hearsay accounts in local repositories. I found descriptions of the actions of Heywood’s unit, the 127th Illinois Voluntary Infantry, in the Adjutant General’s Report for the State of Illinois. The memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman provided strategic and decision-making views of the authors’ participation in the Civil War but also contained a lot of detail about specific battles. I stumbled across a reference to a memoir written by the son of Heywood’s brigade and later division commander, Thomas Kilby Smith, which added to the specification of just where and how Heywood’s regiment took part in the battles at Chickasaw Bayou, Arkansas Post, Steel’s Bayou, Champion Hill and the two assaults at Vicksburg before the siege. Articles written during the Civil War are available online  from several newspapers. Numerous Civil War memoirs and diaries provide first-hand accounts of the experiences of individual soldiers in the same and similar battles. Other sources of information included sites for genealogy research (Family Search and Ancestry) and some sites maintained by particular families (e. g., Descendants of John Heywood).

Finding that one can obtain compiled military service records from the National Archives for a small fee, I sent off and received the muster rolls and some letters contained therein for Joseph Lee Heywood. Later, I discovered that there also might be medical records available in an obscure set of files and the folks at the National Archives were kind enough to find and send me those records for Heywood gratis. I created a chart listing dates in one column, data from muster roles and letters in another column, troop movements and places in a third column and entries in the medical record in a fourth column. After puzzling over these for some time, I believe I finally figured out most of Heywood’s comings and goings during his time in the service.

From the comments made about him while in the service as well as those made by his co-workers in the bank, friends and the pastor who delivered his eulogy, I was able to deduce Heywood ‘s standing on each of the four bipolar contrasts that make up the MBTI. I concluded that he was an ISTJ.

To illustrate, when we look at Heywood’s behavior on September 7, 1876, there is no evidence to suggest that he factored into his decision to resist the robbers the effects it would have on his family should he be killed. Although Reverend Leonard remarked that Joseph did not seem to know that he was “lovable and well beloved,” it is likely that he would know that his wife and daughter would be heartbroken without a husband and father and that both would likely face uncertainty and hardships without him. He also did not seem to consider the feelings and welfare of his fellow bank employees and their families when he drew them into his plan to thwart the outlaws’ desires by the ruse of the time lock. They were given no vote in the matter and had no choice but to go along with the strategy lest they anger the crooks further by fessing up to a lie. Tactically, he probably could have sped the bandits’ departure, as things were getting hot for them outside, by allowing them to take the $3000 in the cashier’s till, but he did not. He seemed not to want to give them any folding money at all! Joseph obviously gave little thought to his own feelings, needs and motives either, save for his desire to preserve his honor and be loyal to those who entrusted him with responsibilities. That is, he apparently gave no thought to his personal interests on that fateful day and seemed to be a man who took pride in his ability to maintain his integrity and faithfulness to duty – perhaps a slavish adherence to duty. He kept his fear under control and did not let it overrule his judgment. He treated himself as an object to be placed in the way of the outlaws and foolishly tried to shame the villains into playing by the rules by shouting “Murder! Murder! Murder!” at them. They obviously were not playing with the same set of moral “givens” as was Joseph!

The fact that Joseph had given forethought to the possibility of confronting the kind of situation he did on September 7th also points toward a rational, impersonal perspective. A few days before the raid, President Strong of Carleton College had visited the bank to view the new time lock and, reminded of the Confederate bank-raid in St. Albans, Vermont, asked Heywood if he would open the vault if robbers ordered him to do so. Joseph’s response, delivered with “a quiet smile, and in his own modest way” was “I think not.” Thus, we are forced to conclude that Joseph Lee Heywood made a Thinking judgment to resist the gunmen on September 7th and that, in all likelihood, he favored approaching problems in a rational, logical and impersonal way.

In the process of writing the book about Heywood, I discovered the heretofore unknown fact that the “captain” who recruited him into the Union Army, Adoniram Judson Burroughs, was murdered in the Treasury Building in Washington, DC by a jealous jilted lover. The trial, taking place while authorities searched for the Lincoln assassins, became a national obsession, covered daily by newspapers all over the country. I obtained the transcript and observed that the dramatic battle between the prosecution and defense teams was fundamentally a conflict between Thinking and Feeling Judgment. Consequently, I constructed an historical novel about that contest and its participants – especially the defendant, Mary Harris, and her attorney Joseph H. Bradley, the two of whom married many years after the trial, to the consternation of his family and the amusement of Washington’s elite. The name of the book is Paroxysm: Love, Murder and Justice in Post Civil War Washington, DC. (ISBN: 978-0-9835944-0-6).

About the Author

Gerald OtisGerald D. Otis obtained his PhD in psychology from the University of Arizona in 1966. He has conducted many empirical studies employing the MBTI. His most recent publication (with Naomi Quenk) is Physician Career Choice and Satisfaction (Amazon, 2019).

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