|What makes a legend... [page 3]
Jesse James - forced into a life of crime
In the days of the Wild West, one name spelt fear - Jesse James. He and his gang of about twelve confederate guerrillas including his older brother, Frank James, were at large for almost sixteen years, robbing banks, holding up stagecoaches, committing daring daylight robberies. Despite being branded, as the nation's most wanted outlaw, Jesse James went on to become a legendary character in American history.
Jesse Woodson James was born on a farm in Kearney, Missouri on 5th September 1847. His older brother, Frank James at the age of 18 joined a band of Pro-Confederate guerrillas led by the notorious William Quantrill, when Civil war broke out in the early 1860's. Jesse James joined the rebel guerrilla outfit when he was barely 17 years old. A young boy of the wild mountain country, Jesse soon made a name for himself as a marksman, quite adept with both rifle and revolver. When their leader Quantrill was shot dead in an encounter, the rebels disbanded and with the cavalry hot on their trails, they went into hiding in the hills. Then, the war ended and amnesty was offered to the rebels if they surrendered. Tired of being hunted day after day by the union soldiers, the James brothers decided to accept the offer of pardon. But a twist of fate made things different. When Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, the union soldiers took their wrath on the James brothers and in the ensuing gunfight, Jesse was wounded but with the help of his brother Frank, managed to escape. That action of betrayal by the soldiers turned Jesse into a bitter man, who vowed to seek revenge on the town of Liberty, Missouri. He, along with Frank and seven other remnants of Quantrill's rebel group rode to town and robbed the local bank, the first of their many daylight bank robberies.
The Jesse James gang had arrived and for the next 16 years, hunted by the law who offered hefty rewards for the capture of Jesse James "dead or alive". The loot from their robberies was mainly shared amongst themselves. However, those were the days of rich and greedy landowners forcibly taking away land rightfully belonging to the farmers and causing misery to their families. But Jesse James always came to their aid and saw to it that a portion of the booty was passed on to those needing help. As word spread of the James gang's benevolence, people stood up against the soldiers, to protect and even aid in their escape. In 1874, both Jesse and his brother Frank had chosen their wives and decided to lay low for sometime, incognito. But with the law hot on their heels and tried as much as they did to live family lives, there was no respite and often they had to escape from their homes leaving behind their families.
Northfield, Minnesota turned out to be a sort of nemesis for "America's Robin Hood" Jesse James and his "merry men". In 1876, an attempt to rob the town's bank was foiled by the law-abiding and God-fearing citizens of Northfield. They offered stiff resistance to the gang's attack and a bloody gun battle followed that left many of Jesse's men badly wounded. Eventually, Jesse and his men had to flee. The setback was too much for Jesse to accept. After lying low for three years during which the gang had disintegrated, the James brothers rounded up a new bunch of fighters and struck again, targeting trains and the Wells Fargo stagecoaches for the next three years. The reward on their heads was perhaps the largest ever, a temptation that two of the new recruits, Bob Ford and his brother Charlie, could not resist. With Jesse perched on a small stool trying to set right a picture hung on the wall, Bob shot Jesse in the back of his head. Months later Frank James surrendered, was tried and freed. He died in 1915.
After his death on April 6 1882, he was buried in the farm where he was born. However, just recently a body exhumed in Granbury, Texas is believed to be that of Jesse James. Some say that he faked his death in Missouri and actually settled in Granbury and died only in 1951. Be that as it may, a century later the legend of Jesse James still lives on. To some a lawbreaker, but to many their hero and savior.
Next page... Billy the Kid