One of the most infamous figures of the later 1800’s is a man by the name of Jesse James. A legendary outlaw in his own right, his actions are still somewhat shrouded by mystery. Jesse James was born on September 5th, 1847 in his family’s farm in Missouri. His father, Robert James, left his family and died in 1850 leaving his wife, Zerelda, with the responsibility of taking care of Jesse, his two siblings, and six slaves (Trout 3). Some probably expected him to grow up to become a minister like his father, but during the Civil War, his fate was turned around.
During the years of the Civil War, the James family stood behind the Confederacy and supported their cause. A troop of Union soldiers came to the farm in 1863 and brutally interrogated and threatened the James family in an attempt to extract information regarding the whereabouts of Confederate guerrillas (Trout 6). Soon afterwards, in an act of retaliation, Jesse and his brother Frank joined a band of guerillas and associated themselves with William Quantrill and “Bloody Bill” Anderson. Jesse James learned everything he needed to know about guerilla warfare and tactics at that time (City of St.
Joseph 3) In 1864, Jesse James took a gunshot to the chest. He recovered by late September of the same year and participated in the raid of Centralia, Missouri. The raiders terrorized the town killing over a hundred people in total. After the war, Jesse James started a gang with his brother and Cole and James Younger. They had a sporadic crime spree that lasted for about 15 years. Their lives followed a pattern of careful planning, execution, escape, and hiding all while “eluding law enforcement and gaining a popular following and mythical stature” (www. infoplease. com 1).
Jesse James and his companions robbed stagecoaches, banks, and trains, and murdered people in several different states. A price was put on his head by Governor Thomas T. Crittenden. Eventually he was betrayed by Bob and Charlie Ford who, in their attempt to collect the bounty, were instead charged with murder. (Trout 14). The governor soon pardoned them but they did not receive the reward. To this very day, there’s a lot of speculation concerning the life and the motives of Jesse James. Some considered him as a modern-day Robin Hood, while others considered a greedy and cold-blooded killer. However, Jesse James was an audacious outlaw and his legendary story will continue to live on.
Trout, Carolynn. “Jesse James (1857 – 1882). ” The State Historical Society of Missouri. N. p. , n. d. Web. 29 Feb 2012. <http://shs. umsystem. edu/famousmissourians/folklegends/james/ “Jesse James. ” The City of St. Joseph, Missouri. City of St. Joseph, n. d. Web. 29 Feb 2012. <http://www. ci. st-joseph. mo. us/history/jessejames. cfm>. . “Jesse James. ” www. infoplease. com. Who2? , 1998. Web. 29 Feb 2012. <http://www. infoplease. com/biography/var/jessejames. html>.