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The James' farm in Kearney, Missouri

Jesse Woodson James was born near Kearney on September 5, 1847. He was the younger brother of fellow notorious outlaw, Frank James. His father was a baptist minister, but he died when Jesse was still a child. When the American Civil War broke out in 1861, Missouri found itself as a border state between the warring factions. Jesse eventually started operating as a Confederate guerilla...

Confederate bushwhacker

It was during his time as a young bushwhacker (a term for guerilla fighting during the American Civil War) that Jesse James started gaining his reputation. He was part of raiding units that treated their victims mercilessly. During this period of life, he was deeply wounded in the chest twice. The second time he had to rest at his uncle's house in Harlem, Missouri - looked after by his future wife (and first cousin) Zerelda "Zee" Mimms. With the end of the Civil War, it was not immediately clear what Jesse had planned for his future...

The James brothers - train robbers

It wasn't long before both Frank and Jesse James were raiding various financial institutions. Ruthless behavior learned in war-time was keeping money in their pockets during peace-time. Their exploits, although illegal (and often murderous), led them to become local heroes in Missouri. Jesse was media-savvy, sending letters to a newspaper, increasing public awareness of this outlaw. The James gang combined with the Younger gang to create the fearsome James-Younger gang, which engaged in train robberies. By 1874, the gang was so infamous that it was time for the Pinkerton National Detective Agency to get involved...

Founded by Allan Pinkerton in 1850

The actions of the Pinkerton Agency and its founder were considered extreme. Agents sent by Pinkerton were ambushed by the James-Younger gang, thus creating a personal grudge with Allan Pinkerton himself. The James' home was attacked by Pinkerton operatives who tried to burn it down. The James' half-brother was killed and their mother was seriously wounded. Local residents sympathized with the James', thus enhancing their reputations even further. Various more robberies, manhunts and shoot-outs took place over the next few years, and by 1881 the gang had been virtually wiped out...

Robert Newton "Bob" Ford (January 31, 1862 – June 8, 1892)

By 1882, Jesse James was living in St. Joseph, Missouri with his wife and two children. At this point, he probably realized he was pushing his luck in regard to illegal activities; in fact, brother Frank had already moved to Virginia and was soon to give himself over to the authorities. Jesse had invited Charley Ford (a James Gang member) and Robert Ford (Charley's younger brother) to stay in his house, and it was here on April 3, 1882 that Robert shot an unarmed Jesse James in the back of the head.

Dan the Info-man
Robert's motivation seemed to be reward money for James' death and getting a pardon for himself and his brother from Governor Thomas T. Crittenden.

Did he survive? No...

Like many other folk heroes, there are always people who will insist James survived. But he was killed by Robert Ford and then buried in Kearney, Missouri. Robert Ford didn't make it to old age either, he was killed in 1892 at the age of 30. Frank James, however, lived until 1915 and died at the age of 72!

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