DEAD: Jesse James

DEAD: ON THIS DATE

Jesse James (aged 34)
American outlaw, confederate guerrilla, and train robber

Jesse Woodson James (September 5, 1847 – April 3, 1882) was an American outlaw, bank and train robber, guerrilla, and leader of the James–Younger Gang. Raised in the “Little Dixie” area of western Missouri, James and his family maintained strong Southern sympathies. He and his brother Frank James joined pro-Confederate guerrillas known as “bushwhackers” operating in Missouri and Kansas during the American Civil War. As followers of William Quantrill and “Bloody Bill” Anderson, they were accused of participating in atrocities against Union soldiers and civilian abolitionists, including the Centralia Massacre in 1864.

DEATH: With his gang nearly annihilated, James trusted only the Ford brothers, Charley and Robert. Although Charley had been out on raids with James, Bob Ford was an eager new recruit. For protection, James asked the Ford brothers to move in with him and his family. James had often stayed with their sister Martha Bolton and, according to rumor, he was “smitten” with her. By that time, Bob Ford had conducted secret negotiations with Missouri Governor Thomas T. Crittenden, planning to bring in the famous outlaw. Crittenden had made capture of the James brothers his top priority; in his inaugural address he declared that no political motives could be allowed to keep them from justice. Barred by law from offering a large reward, he had turned to the railroad and express corporations to put up a $5,000 bounty for the delivery of each of them and an additional $5,000 for the conviction of either of them.

On April 3, 1882, after eating breakfast, the Fords and Jameses went into the living room before traveling to Platte City for a robbery. From the newspaper, James had just learned that gang member Dick Liddil had confessed to participating in Wood Hite’s murder. He was suspicious that the Fords had not told him about it. Robert Ford later said he believed that James had realized they were there to betray him. Instead of confronting them, James walked across the living room and laid his revolvers on a sofa. He turned around and noticed a dusty picture above the mantle, and stood on a chair to clean it. Robert Ford drew his weapon, and shot the unarmed Jesse James in the back of the head. James’s two previous bullet wounds and partially missing middle finger served to positively identify the body.

James’s original grave was on his family property, but he was later moved to a cemetery in Kearney. The original footstone is still there, although the family has replaced the headstone. James’s mother Zerelda Samuel wrote the following epitaph for him: “In Loving Memory of my Beloved Son, Murdered by a Traitor and Coward Whose Name is not Worthy to Appear Here.” James’ widow Zerelda Mimms James died alone and in poverty.

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