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Heroes, Outlaws and Other Folk Part IV

Updated on September 9, 2014

Jesse James Farm

creative commons attribution share alike 3.0 author Americasroot
creative commons attribution share alike 3.0 author Americasroot

Authors note

These articles were originally in my hub Heroes, Outlaws and Other Folk. I realize that hub was way to big. Therefore I am transferring some of it to new hubs and enhancing .

I hope more people will be incline to read them now.

Jesse James

this song was made by Billy Cashade
as soon as the news did arrive

from folk song “Jesse James”

I’ve always been taken by what might be called a signature line in this song. Back in the days when folk music was something we all thought we had discovered and before public television replaced Educational television we had a channel in Minneapolis devoted to education and had some courses from the University of Minnesota. One of the courses that I liked was a series of lectures on folk music by a young teacher named Gene Bluestein. Mr. Bluestein explained that singers, minstrels and songwriters would add a line like the above to take credit for the song since the songs were passed on from singer to singer through the oral tradition. Sometimes the songs were printed in “Broadsides.” It’s much the same as a painter putting a signature on a painting

Bluestein died in 2002. There is still a website maintained by his family for anyone interested . . .


The following verse shows a Robin Hood image of Jesse.

Jesse was a man, a friend to the poor
he never would see a man suffer pain,

In addition to songs Jesse James was often made to be a hero in TV and movies. Back in the 1950's or 1960's I remember seeing a TV movie about Jesse James and dramatized Robert Ford’s killing of Mr. Howard, which was the alias used by the Jesse James at that time. A minstrel, who was probably Billy Cashade, sang the song.

In reality, Jesse seemed to be more blood thirsty than than Turpin ever was. There seems to be very little real life evidence that Turpin helped anyone but himself and friends. According to Wikepedia Frank and Jesse James followed Quantrill (different sources spell it Quantrell) to Kentucky and Jesse went to Texas under the command of Archie Clement. Other sources indicate both brothers were with Quantrill. In his book OUTLAWS, Kenneth Wyatt places both brothers with the confederate guerrillas in a raid in Centrallia, thirty miles North of the Missouri river. Jesse killed eight men there. The James-Younger gang “had all the hallmarks of getaways made by Quantrill’s raiders.”

Jesse and his friends robbed trains and banks and murdered people. So why was he made a hero? One explanation is that the banks and railroads were viewed as organizations that people thought oppressed them. and which people felt helpless in defying. With Jesse, it seems that he had an ally in John Newman Edwards, the editor and founder of the Kansas City Times who published letters from Jesse James. according to Wikepedia historians and biographers debate the extent that Jesse James had in enhancing his own public profile.

The gang met a major defeat in Northfield, Minnesota where the townspeople turned the tables on the gang, stopped the robbery, killed two members of the gang and drove the rest out of town.

The Pinkerton Detective agency made a bungled attempt to capture Jesse but only managed to kill Jesse’s young half-brother and seriously wounding his mother. This added further public sympathy for Jesse.

Jesse’s gang was reduced to himself and the Ford brothers. Robert Ford was a new member On April 3, 1882 after breakfast they were getting ready to depart for another robbery. Jesse took off his coat and guns. He noticed a picture on the wall and on impulse stood on a chair to clean it. Robert Ford took advantage of the situation and shot Jesse in the head.

It was on Saturday night, Jesse was at home
Talking to his family brave
Robert Ford came along like a thief in the night
And laid poor Jesse in his grave.

The song does not quite reflect the facts but we get the general idea, allow poetic license. Whatever the case it made a martyr out of Jess.

Billy the Kid

Public domin in United States
Public domin in United States

Pat Garrett

Public domain in US
Public domain in US

Billy the Kid-the boy bandit king

Fair Mexican maidens play guitars and sing
a song about Billy, the boy bandit king
Ere his young manhood reached 22
for 20 men dead, he’d a notch on his gun

Billy the Kid, version sung by Oscar Brand

Billy the Kid, born as William H. Bonney II was born in New York City in 1859 and was shot by Pat Garrett in 1880. He was said to have shot his first man when he was 12 years old and had one man killed for every one of his twenty-one years.

In the book Outlaws by Kenneth Ulyatt Billy, more than 500 books were written about him and present an amazing picture of a boy who was adept at cards at the age of eight, killed a man when he was twelve . . . was a bold, handsome fellow who dressed neatly, and who laughed a lot. None of which was true, according to the author, except the part about laughing a lot. According to Pat Garrett, Billy laughed when he ate, when he drank, rode, talked and killed.

Anyone who has seen a picture of Billy, knows he was anything but attractive, yet he seemed to attract women, especially the Mexican maidens mentioned in the song. He was also noted as a good dancer.

He was involved in range war known as the “Lincoln county war” and like most such things, it is hard to tell who was right and who wasn’t. He generally stole, rustled cattle and lived an outlaw life.

What facts there are seemed to point to Billy as not only a badman, but a very bad man. However, biographies and movies have so romanticized him, it is hard to separate fact from fiction.

The verdict of the folk seems to be that of hero and sang tolerantly of his misdeeds.

Ballad of Jesse James


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    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Thanks for commenting. I guess they have that in common.

    • Robwrite profile image


      8 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      Ah, Jesse James and Billie the Kid. Two of the great ones of the wild west. And both ended up getting shot in the back.

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      I was always struck by how often Billy the Kid was referred to as handsome and Hollywood portrayed him that way. I was a kid when the movie "The Outlaw" came out and was highly advertised. Jane Russell was the costar and Billy's girl. It was a daring movie for the times.I saw a rerun awhile back. The plot is meager and the only real interest is Jane Russell.

      I don't know about Sandra Bullock's Jesse.

    • billyaustindillon profile image


      8 years ago

      Another great read in your outlaw series. I had to laugh at your comment about BIlly the Kid being the ugliest. I guess women were attracted to the bad man persona. Talking about descendants doesn't that Jesse James who cheated on Sandra Bullock claim he a descendant - makes perfect sense the way he carried on in that marriage :)

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Rod Marsden,

      My father was left handed. It seems that a lot of left handed people are creative.

      I did write about Quantrill but in breaking up these hubs to make them smaller it ended up on a different hub.

      I'm from Minnesota so the Northfield Bank incident was part of local history.

      Thanks for your comments.

    • Rod Marsden profile image

      Rod Marsden 

      8 years ago from Wollongong, NSW, Australia

      I have noticed that most dramatized films on the James boys tend to steer clear of what they did during the American Civil War. Quantrill's Raiders had a bad reputation for out and out butchery. The James boys, or at least Jesse, was one of them. Wearing the gray and being part of a more honorable outfit would have been the better way to go. Still Jesse was young at the time. I am glad you mentioned Quantrill.

      I have a book at home titled The Pinkerton Story in which the James boys get more than a footnote. The Pinkerton Detective Agency out of Chicago had men spying for the north during the Civil War. At least one was caught by the south and hung as a spy. I doubt if there was any love lost between the Pinkertons and the James gang even before the incident that hurt the mother of Frank and Jesse and, as you say, killed their half-brother. Some people in the south saw the James Gang as heroes because of their attacks upon the railroad. The trains were bringing the carpetbaggers from up north.

      Billy the kid I can have a soft spot for because he was known as the left-handed gun. I, too, happen to be left handed.

      A good read dahoglund.

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Thanks very much for reading these hubs. I'm glad you liked them. When I first started I was trying to write like these were blogs and kept adding to the same hub. Now I'm trying to make them more manageable.

    • Gawth profile image

      Ron Gawthorp 

      8 years ago from Millboro, Virginia

      I have loved and read the entire series. Great stuff

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids


      It's been some time since I saw some of these theories. I think I'll have to do some research in order to connect the dots, so to speak. I might have to add something about it to this hub.

      Thanks for the comment.

    • Tom Whitworth profile image

      Tom Whitworth 

      8 years ago from Moundsville, WV


      They got the DNA sample from Jesse's reputed gravesite in New Mexico.

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids


      There have been theories that Jesse James lived longer. I think some other outlaws as well. Jesse James was married at the time he was supposed to have died and he probably had mistresses, so I am not sure what the existence of a descendant would prove.

    • Tom Whitworth profile image

      Tom Whitworth 

      8 years ago from Moundsville, WV


      I just saw a show on the History Channel about a week ago. On this show they showed a young man who was the spitting image of Jesse James. They did DNA testing and it showed a very high liklihood that this young man was Jesse's great-great grandson. If this is the case Jesse didn't die as believed but died much later in New Mexico after a long life.

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Thanks for your comments. I am still puzzled by Billy the kid. He was attractive to women, at least in Mexico. But if you look at his picture he seems to me as about the ugliest person out west.

    • Coolmon2009 profile image


      8 years ago from Texas, USA

      Another interesting article. I knew that Jessie James was viewed as kinda a Robin Hood to the people of the late 19th century, but I didn't know about the raid that resulted in his mother being injured and the death of his half-brother at hands of the Pinkerton's. I enjoyed reading your thoughts on Billy the kid too. Good article!


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