Jesse James

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There is a rumour in North Kerry that Jesse James’s Great Grand Father was an Asdee man, and a bit of a character he was too at that time. Now I cannot prove this and they can certainly tell a few tales around Asdee, like the tips I got in The Jesse James Tavern one night during the Listowel Races, but that’s beside the point, here is the story of an Asdee decendant “Jesse James”.

Amongst the most notorious outlaws of the American West, bothers, Frank and Jesse James, engaged in bank, stagecoach and train robberies, that typified the hazards of the frontier during the 19th century.

The eldest of the two brothers, Frank James was born in Clay County, Missouri, in 1843 to Baptist minister Reverend Robert James. The oldest of three children, Frank’s dreams of becoming a teacher were shattered when his father left home in search of gold in California, leaving himself and his mother to raise his younger sister, Susan, and brother Jesse.

In 1861, when the American Civil War began, the James family were owners of slaves and supported the Confederate Army. In 1862, William Quantrill established a band of guerrilla fighters and Frank and Jesse joined the gang.

Cutting their teeth as Confederate guerrillas, the James brothers attacked Union troops, robbed mail coaches, murdered supporters of Abraham Lincoln and persecuted communities in southern states that the gang considered to be anti-Confederate.

Gaining a reputation for murdering soldiers of the Union Army that the gang had taken prisoner, they committed one of the worst atrocities of the Civil War on August 21st. 1863, when they attacked the town of Lawrence and killed 150 inhabitants and set fire to over 180 buildings.

After the War, and reeling from the South’s defeat, the James brothers became outlaws and established a gang that included Bill Chadwell and Charlie Pitts. Over the next few years the James brothers roamed from Iowa to Alabama and Texas and took part in twelve bank robberies, seven train robberies, four stagecoach robberies and various other criminal acts that included robbing shops and any unlucky passers-by. Sadly, their crimes also led to the death of at least eleven innocent civilians.

One of their biggest heists came in 1866 when the gang managed to pull off the first known daylight bank robbery and ride away with $58,000. Despite the death of a bystander, the post-war South viewed the James brothers as patriots and generally ignored their violent crimes by offering awilling home for the gang to hole up in. 

Having murdered and plundered the West for over ten years! the James gang was sensationally decimated during an attempted robbery of the First National Bank, Northfield, Minnesota, on September 7th, 1676. During the raid, one of the gang callously shot and killed the cashier Lee Heywood.

Incensed by the murder, members of the town decided to fight back and they opened fire on the gang, killing Bill Chadwell and Charlie Pitts, while another three members of the gang were also wounded and captured.

Frank and Jesse James were also wounded in the gunfight, but managed to escape from Northfield. Deciding to go into hiding in Nashville, Tennessee, the brothers began to recruit for their new gang that included Robert Ford and Charlie Ford.

By the winter of 1879, the gang had stolen $6,000 after holding up the Chicago and Alton Railroad at Glendale, Missouri. However following another raid at Blue Cut, Missouri, which resulted in the death of the conductor and a pensioner, the governor of Missouri Thomas   Crittenden, responded by offering a reward of $10000 for the capture of Jesse James.

Contacting Crittenden, Robert Ford offered his services to gain the reward. On April 3rd, Ford visited Jesse James in his home and when James stood on a chair to straighten a picture on the wall, he shot him in the back of he head.

Although arrested, found guilty of murder and sentenced to death, he was pardoned by Crittenden two hours later   and was given his reward.

Aware that he would also be target of an assassination attempt, Frank James surrendered to the authorities.   Despite incriminating evidence linking James to the murder of a passenger during a train robbery in Winston, a fearful jury refused to convict him and he walked free.

Not wanting to return to a life of crime, Frank James attempted to make an honest living working on the stage and in a variety of jobs that included being a shoe salesman. In his final years, he returned to the family farm and turned it into a museum from where he charged visitors 30 cents to see the grave of his brother, Jessie.

As for Robert Ford, he fled to Colorado from where he opened a saloon. On June 8th. 1892, a man named Edward O’Kelly loaded a double-barrel shotgun and entered Ford’s saloon and said “Halo, Bob’ before shooting him in the throat and killing him instantly.

The James brothers become popular legends and were romanticised in literature with their characters   appearing in many Western novels and comic books, In Charles Portis`s 1968 novel, True Grit, U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn is described fighting with Frank and Jesse James during the Civil War.

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