Jesse James Death Photo Biography
Born: September 5, 1847 in Clay County, Missouri, USA
Died: April 3, 1882 in St. Joseph, Missouri, USA
The real Jesse James was the son of Robert James, a pro-slavery Baptist preacher, and Zerelda (called Zee) James. The couple had three children, Alexander Franklin "Frank" James, Jesse, and a girl, Susan. Robert James went to California in the gold rush and died of cholera there when Jesse was three. Zee remarried a doctor named Rueben Samuel and together the couple turned to growing tobacco and raising an extended family. The farm was prosperous, supported by the labor of seven slaves.
This put the Jameses squarely on the side of the South during the Civil War. As the war drew to a close, with the Confederates on the losing side, Jesse, then seventeen, joined the mangled guerilla outfits, known as bushwhackers, the only remaining southern resistance. After the war was over Jesse continued to ride with his former compatriots and was shot through the lung by Union soldiers for his affiliations. He was nursed back to health by his first cousin. She was also named Zee, indeed it was after his own mother. They began a nine-year courtship which resulted in their marriage.
In December of 1869 Frank and Jesse attempted to avenge the killing of the leader of their guerilla unit, by murdering the man they believed had tracked him down, now a bank manager in Gallatin, Missouri. Their daylight raid yielded no money and they killed the wrong man. But they got their names in the paper for the first time, affiliated, albeit loosely, with a Confederate cause.
A bitter, drunken editor and former Confederate, John Newman Edwards, championed the Jameses as dashing, latter-day Robin Hoods, a mantle the brothers and their gang readily accepted and even promoted. Edwards portrayed them as kind, Christian, daring men who had challenged the carpetbaggers and Republicans who had overtaken Missouri and much of the South. The Jameses were joined by another desperate set of brothers, the Youngers, and various other rotating members.Throughout the 1870s the James-Younger gang was aided and abetted by their Confederate neighbors across the South. They gave them safe harbor and provisions, making them nearly untouchable. Meanwhile Jesse had married his cousin, Zee, and she gave him a son, Jesse Jr.
The railroads and express companies engaged Allan Pinkerton's detective agency to track down the gang. After the first agent who paid a call to the James's homestead ended up dead Pinkerton sent a raiding party to the house. The Pinkerton agents later stated that they threw a mere smoke bomb into the house but the device exploded, killing Frank and Jesse's disabled, younger half-brother and blowing their mother's right arm off. Frank and Jesse were nowhere to be found. Public support swung over to their side even more.
Though they were offered potential amnesty by the governor of Missouri Jesse was far from through. He took the gang nearly 500 miles to the north to Northfield, Minnesota to take the bank there. But the townsfolk quickly routed the gang, killing two of them. Lost in the Minnesota woods the Younger brothers surrendered. Only Frank and Jesse escaped, somehow eluding capture. They settled in Tennessee, forsaking their former occupation. Jesse took the name J. D. Howard. Frank called himself B.J. Woodson. Zee had another child. Frank also began to raise a family.
But Jesse was running out of money and missed the limelight. He moved back to Missouri and formed a new gang, though this time it was not composed of former soldiers, but a rag-tag collection of petty thieves and killers. They raided trains and payroll offices, murdering more people in cold blood. But now public opinion had turned against him and he had a $10,000 reward on his head. Jesse became even more paranoid, killing one member of his gang and hunting another. Meanwhile Robert and Charley Ford, members of Jesse's newly formed gang, conspired with the governor to bring Jesse down, seeking amnesty for themselves and the full reward sum. On a hot day on April 3,1882 Jesse doffed his coat and his gun holsters, something he never did, and climbed on a chair to dust a picture. Robert Ford shot him in the back of the head.
Jesse's death only increased his celebrity. His mother had her son buried in her front yard to prevent desecration of his grave but was soon taking admissions and selling the pebbles from the site. His wife Zee wrote an autobiography. His brother Frank later joined with Cole Younger and toured in a Wild West show. Robert Ford found himself vilified as the "dirty little coward who shot Mr. Howard" in a popular song. He was shot by another man, largely because the assassin wanted to be known as the man who shot the man who shot Jesse James. Jesse became even more of a folk hero in death. The cruelty of his crimes forgotten he became a symbol of the anti-capitalist, anti-government, little man waging a losing battle against the coming 20th century.