Jesse James and his Gang

Jesse James Dime Novel of 1901

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Jesse James

Old picture of a young Jesse James.
Old picture of a young Jesse James. | Source

Jesse & Frank James

Jesse and Frank James in 1872.
Jesse and Frank James in 1872. | Source

The James Farm Kearney Missouri

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Thomas Theodore Crittenden

24th Governor of Missouri
24th Governor of Missouri | Source

Old Army Gang

The exciting life of Jesse James and his gang. The most successful outlaw gang in history. They succeeded in robbing banks and trains for over 20 years and stole over $200,000 in their career. The James Younger Gang were impossible to catch for several reasons.

  1. They were gorilla fighters trained by the military.
  2. They were loyal members of that same disbanded army unit.
  3. They were disciplined and could effectively use military techniques to operate as bandits.
  4. They were protected by many friends and neighbors.
  5. They gained sympathy from the whole country as their fame grew.

As most confederate soldiers went back to their old lives at the end of the civil war. The confederate army refused to recognize Quantril's National Rangers as a sanctioned unit of their army because of the outrageous acts of violence they committed. And so they were refused amnesty and arrested at the end of the civil war. Jesse and Frank James, the Younger brothers, Clell Miller, Charlie Pitts and many others did not surrender. They became branded to be outlaws on the run with the end of the war.

Jesse James was pulled into the Civil War when a group of Federal troops found him working in his family's field. He was 15 years old and his brother Frank was already riding with Quantrill. The Kansas Jayhawkers beat him and hung his stepfather. Jesse's step father survived the hanging, as he was cut down before he strangled.

Jesse tried to join Quantrill, but he was too young. Later when Jesse James was 16 years old Bloody Bill Anderson enlisted him to fight by his side for Quantrill. Jesse became good at fighting from horse back and shooting with both hands, a pistol in each. He soon became a leader in his unit.

After the war they all took their oath to the union, but then they were arrested. Jesse was shot as they began to leave. The boys resisted arrest and went home to find they could not stay in one place for too long. The people of Missouri were being exploited by Northern corporate interests to the point of barely surviving. Square heads and carpetbaggers, as they were known back then, were buying up everything and bleeding the local citizens dry with high prices. This was the beginning of the corporate thumbscrew we all know and live under these days.

The James Gang were viewed as hero's fighting for the people against this great and overwhelming new evil. They were thought of as Robin Hood fighting against tyranny for the less fortunate.

They were still young when the war ended. The war ended for everyone, but them. But they could have hid away and gone back to farming and we would have never heard of them. Instead, they decided the war was not over and continued to fight.

Jesse may have thought to himself, "if they are going to make me an outlaw, I will be the best outlaw I can be"? And so he did.

The James gang was trained better than the Pinkerton detectives that were after them. They could not get close to gang for over ten years. One dark night the Pinkerton detectives sneaked up to the James family farm and while everyone was sleeping tossed a bomb through the window. It exploded into a fireball killing Jesse's little brother and blowing his mother's arm off. Jesse and Frank we not even there.

The Pinkertons chased the gang around killing innocent people and never getting the boys. Soon the Pinkertons began turning up dead. The James Younger Gang was becoming national press. The people loved reading about them and began asking politicians to give them amnesty.

But when they began robbing trains the Railroad company bribed the governor of Missouri to have them assassinated. We all know the story of how your Bob Ford shot Jesse in the back in front of his wife and children, while he stood on a chair to straighten a picture hanging on the wall. Governor Crittenden of Missouri hired him to kill Jesse for $10,000 and $15,000 if he killed both Jesse and Frank James. The Governor never did pay Bob Ford and was later investigated and dishonored for his part in the murder.

Three months after Jesse was murdered, Frank was given amnesty and all charges dropped at the request of public outrage.

This is an example of government policy failure. For the law to refuse a select few of the soldiers amnesty is outrageous because they were following the orders of their commanders. That is what forced the men into becoming outlaws, they were wanted and hunted before ever robbing the first bank. In effect, they were state sanctioned outlaws by the politics of the times. And then to pay another outlaw to commit a cowardice act of murder. Shooting someone in the back in front of their family and only after he is unarmed. That is why Frank James was then given amnesty and allowed to go free.

Liberty Bank Missouri

Clay County Jesse James Museum
Clay County Jesse James Museum

Liberty Bank Safe

Clay County Museum bank vault
Clay County Museum bank vault | Source

Career of an outlaw


Their first bank heist was in a town called Liberty Missouri and the year was 1868. About 14 men rode into town and causally walked into the bank. They asked the teller to break a $100 bill. When the man opened the safe they drew their guns and walked out the door with over $60,000. No one in the bank was hurt and everything worked fine as they left. When they got to the street one member of their gang shot a boy because he shouted an alarm. The core of the gang was Jesse and Franks James, Cole Younger and his two younger brothers. They were angry that the boy was killed and decided their gang needed to be much smaller. They operated as an army unit and needed a few extra people, but disciplined people that do not shoot innocent civilians and can operate in an organized military fashion were not easy to find.

This was the first bank robbery in the history of the United States. No one ever robbed a bank before face to face in broad daylight. This was a highly trained special unit of a defeated army. These were highly intelligent people who came from solid decent farmer families. This was not a band of thugs, they had personality and were well liked. They were disciplined by the military. They kept violence against civilians to a minimum. This was their business.Through dime novels they became legends in their own time.

There is also a conflicting theory that Jesse was still bedridden from a gunshot wound to his chest at the time this bank was robbed and that one of bandits (Archie Clement) from their old guerrilla army unit shot the student in the street. The original Liberty Bank is a museum today showing the décor of the bank when it was robbed by the James Gang. In the museum there is a list of suspects who they either questioned or wanted to question about the robbery. Jesse James does not appear on this list because he was bedridden at the time at his uncle's farmhouse. There is also an old letter that was written months after the hold up to the parents of the student who was killed in the robbery. Apologizing to them for the death of their son and that it was never intended for anyone to be killed. This letter was signed by Jesse James and was written long before anyone knew the name of Jesse James and so it is believed to be authentic. And so they believed even though Jesse did not take part in the robbery he was in on the planning of it. The story goes on to say that Archie Clements was thrown out of the gang because he killed this boy in the raid.


Cole Younger

Cole Younger when he rode with the James Gang
Cole Younger when he rode with the James Gang | Source

Youngers

Sitting left-to-right: Bob, Jim and Cole Younger, with their sister Henrietta
Sitting left-to-right: Bob, Jim and Cole Younger, with their sister Henrietta | Source

Robbing Banks and Trains

Over the years the James Gang robbed a string of banks. In 1868 Jesse and Frank James along with Cole Younger and others robbed the Russelville Bank in Kentucky. The story goes that the James brothers and the Younger brothers were cousins. In December of 1869 the James Gang robbed the Davis County Bank in Gallatin Missouri. Jesse shot and killed a cashier in the bank named Captain John Sheets in a case of mistaken identity. He thought he shot Samuel Cox, who had killed Bloody Bill Andersen during the Civil War.

Throughout the nation the papers wrote about the murder of John Sheets and the daring escape from the posse by the James Gang. This is when their fame began and they were publicly branded wanted ex-confederate outlaws.

Soon an ex-confederate newspaper editor of the Kansas City Times, named John Newman Edwards aligned with Jesse James and the outlaws. Writing heroic articles about the gangs escapades. Jesse and Frank used this alliance to their advantage to capture the sympathy of the country in the hopes of one day receiving amnesty. It is said they wrote press releases for John Edwards to edit and publish making themselves appear as hero's fighting tyranny. Jesse and Frank James are the first, if not the only outlaws to to use the press for positive publicity. These men were brilliant strategists and masters of the media, not your ordinary outlaw thugs.

They robbed a string of banks and a few stage coaches carrying Federal money throughout the Midwest. But, it is likely they are credited with many more crimes than they actually committed. Eventually they began robbing trains.

July 1873 they derailed the Rock Island train in Iowa wearing KKK masks as a symbol of the South, but they did not attack or steal from the passengers. They were the gentleman robbers of their time to promote their publicity and fame. The James Younger Gang took part in the famous Glendale Train robbery. The blew open the safe in the train and stole the railroad money. They were polite to the passengers, telling them who they were and stole nothing from them. They robbed several other trains only stealing the Federal money boxes and never stealing from the passengers or private citizens. Occasionally they would "hoop it up" for the people witnessing the robbery, while treating them with polite courtesy. All the more to benefit their media coverage of the times.

It was the railroad companies who hired the Pinkertons to track them down. It has been said that the railroad companies spent much more money chasing the boys then they ever stole from them. It was also the railroad companies who put up the final bounty for Missouri Governor Crittenden to have them assassinated.

Northfield Minnosota Bank

Northfield Savings and Loan
Northfield Savings and Loan | Source

The coward Bob Ford who shot Jesse James in the back.

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Failed Bank Robbery in Northfield Minnesota

Everyone has heard of the failed bank robbery of Northfield Minnesota. September 7, 1876 Jesse and Frank James, Cole and Bob Younger and their brothers along with Clell Miller and several others failed in their attempt to rob the First National Bank in the center of town. Originally they had planned to hit a different bank in Minnesota, but decided on Northfield because they thought it had more Yankee money and one of their gang members knew that area very well. The plan seemed sound until everything went wrong.

The gang split into two groups, one group going into the bank the other standing guard outside on the street. The bank teller would not open the safe telling the boys there was a time lock on it and it will not open, but this was not true. They hit him on the head with a pistol butt and when the other bank teller ran out the back door they shot him in the shoulder. This alarmed the town who was ready for a bandits. As the gang was leaving the bank one of the bandits turned and shot the teller in the head. To this day no one knows who fired the shot.

Out in the street a gun fire broke out from all directions and a Swedish immigrant was shot. The gang member who knew the area of Minnesota was killed along with several other gang members. The Younger brothers were all wounded badly, but made it out of town. To get away from the posse they started several wheat and corn fields on fire as a distraction. Through the smoke and confusion they got away and hid out in a cave nestled in some trees off the road. Then the James brothers and the Younger's split up because the Younger's were too wounded to travel. Soon the posse caught with the Younger's and captured them all. They spent the rest of their lives in jail, only Cole Younger survived his sentence and was released 22 years later.

Frank and Jesse James were the only gang members to escape, but the take was nothing. Worse than that they did not know the area, as they lost the man who. So they could not use their old tactics of out maneuvering their enemy, as they did back home where they knew the land and had friends to help them. It was rumored that the James boys hid out at a local farmhouse for a time and then disguised themselves to eventually slip away. Their career was not yet at an end, but they never regained their past successes. Eventually Frank quit the outlaw life to live a quiet life with his wife and family.

As time went on things were changing and the heat grew for bandits, the wild days were fast coming to an end. Jesse grew paranoid and trusted almost no one. In the end he only trusted the Ford brothers, which turned out to be a fatal mistake.

After the death of Jesse James it was rumored that Jesse staged his own murder with Bob and Charlie Ford as a way to successfully give up the outlaw life. Pulling the wool over the eyes of the government officials and railroads who hunted him. It would have been the perfect coup, if true. And if anyone could have done it it would have been Jesse James, but no one knows for sure what really happened on that fateful day. We are only left to wonder?

Legend of Jesse James and his gang

This story is fiction based on facts, written purely for entertainment and I make no claims to it being historically accurate.

Thank you for reading this story and I hope you enjoyed it.

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Would you like to think that Jesse was murdered or staged his own murder?

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© 2015 Randy Hirneisen

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Comments 2 comments

MHiggins profile image

MHiggins 22 months ago from Michigan

Great hub! I grew up in in western Missouri where the James' and Youngers used to hide out. The history is interesting. Great presentation of facts. Very enjoyable hub. Voted up!


Randy Horizon profile image

Randy Horizon 22 months ago from Philadelphia Author

Thank you MHiggins for your nice and encouraging comment. It was great fun to write, as I've always been interested in Jesse James and that period of history.

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