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Jesse James

By Doc Halliday

In April of 1882, Jesse Woodson James died at the hand of Bob Ford. Jesse was straightening, or perhaps dusting, a picture on the wall of his rented home in St. Joseph, Missouri when Bob Ford shot him in the back of his home. Jesse had led a gang of outlaws for over a dozen years when he was assassinated by a new member of his gang. The Fords were treated as members of the James family with Jesse's wife cooking for them. Mrs. James and their two children were in a different room at the time of the murder. Bob Ford was just 20 years old when he committed the murder. Jesse was 34 years old at the time of his death.

Robert Ford was assisted in the murder by his brother Charles. They had been in contact with Thomas T. Crittenden, the Governor of Missouri, who had offered a $10,000 reward for the killing or capture of Jesse James. The Fords surrendered to the local authorities, but were surprised and demoralized when they were charged with first degree murder. Unlike our present day legal system, the Ford brothers were indicted, plead guilty, and sentenced to death by hanging in just one day! Luckily, Governor Crittenden came through on his promise and issued a pardon for the brothers.

Less than seventeen months after the murder of Jesse James, Charles Ford committed suicide. He had been terminally ill with tuberculosis, and was addicted to morphine. Prior to committing suicide, Charles and his brother Bob appeared on stage with a traveling stage show. The brothers would reenact the murder for audiences. Bob also earned money by posing for photographs. He was after all "the man who killed Jesse James". Bob Ford moved to Las Vegas, New Mexico, and then settled in Creede, Colorado. Less than ten years after he murdered Jesse James, Robert Ford was himself murdered in Creede by a blast from both barrels of a double-barreled shotgun. Bob Ford was considered a coward and a traitor for killing Jesse James.

Five months after the murder of his brother, Frank James surrendered to Governor Crittenden. Frank was tried for several crimes, but was acquitted. He never served one day in a penitentiary. He moved to Oklahoma where he lived with his mother for a period. Frank became a shoe salesman among other occupations. In the later years of his life he moved back to the James farm and gave tours for twenty-five cents. He died in 1915.

In the autumn of 1881, Jesse James executed the Blue Cut train robbery. Charles Ford is believed to have participated in that robbery and Bob had joined the gang a short time later. Jesse had hoped to give up the life of crime after that robbery and settled in St. Joseph, Missouri. The gang was much smaller than it had been because of the botched bank robbery in Northfield, Minnesota in 1876. Several members of the gang were killed as a result of that incident, and the Younger brothers were captured.

Jesse started his violent career by following in the footsteps of his brother Frank. Frank had been a member of William Quantrill's organization. They were considered guerillas during the Civil War, but were best known as bushwhackers. Frank participated in the brutal murders of hundreds of Union soldiers, many of whom were unarmed. A month after General Robert E. Lee's surrender at Appomattox, Jesse James was shot in the chest during an encounter with union troops. Jesse was nursed back to health by his cousin, Zerelda Mimms. Nine years later Jesse married "Zee", and it was she and their two children that were in the house when Jesse was murdered.

One hundred and forty-eight years ago, on December 7, 1869, Jesse James began his violent career in civilian life of robbing banks, stagecoaches and trains. On that date, he and his gang committed the first confirmed bank robbery of the Daviess County Savings and Loan in Gallatin, missouri. During the robbery Jesse shot and killed the bank's cashier. Jesse mistook the cashier for Samuel Cox who had murdered Bill Anderson in 1864. The cashier was not Cox.

The image of Jesse James is from

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