Jesse James : Confederate militia turned outlaw turned legend


Jesse James was from a few miles outside of St. Joseph but he was known to have spend a lot of time in the city. However, he was actually born where Kearney, Missouri is today. It is about 50 miles from the city. He was the son a hemp farmer and a Baptist pastor. His dad also help start the baptist William Jewel University in Liberty. He also had six slaves that farmed over 100 acres of land.

On a mission trip to California, Robert James passed away and his mother remarried twice and got more slaves to harvest the tobacco.

As a young man, Jesse James was impacted by the problems around the Kansas-Nebraska Act that led to open fighting between militia on the Missouri-Kansas border. It really impacted him and how he viewed life, America and just being human in many ways.

There was a raid by Union soldiers after some Confederate loyalists murdered, executed, and scalped some volunteer Union militia. It is believed that Jesse was lashed by the Union in 1863 and this put the nail in the coffin for his distaste for the United States government.

It was during the Civil War that he robbed his first train. It was not to loot it but to murder 22 government soldiers on their way home back east in Centralia, Missouri.


Childhood home of Jesse James

Crime life of Jesse James

It all started in Liberty with Clay County Savings Association and in the getaway from the bank robbery, they shot a student from the very school that his dad help start. Next stop was Kansas City where they would raid the jail to set free some old friends from the Civil War.

It is believed that he made it all the way to Kentucky and Minnesota to perform Bank robberies over the years.

The big event for James was in Gallatin, Missouri when he robbed a local bank. He thought the cashier was Samuel P. Cox who shot his old friend, William “Bloody Bill” Anderson. He was wrong but he shot him in cold blood and now his crime life has really started.

It was around this time that Jesse James began having letters published in the Kansas City Star that would criticize the government and the policies of reconstruction. The newspaper was owned his old friend from the war that was trying to get some Pro-Confederate in power.

He was still robbing banks and about anything else with money from Minnesota to Texas and Kansas to West Virginia. They even robbed a county fair in Kansas City in front of hundreds of people that help give him the legend status.

While he was out robbing trains all over the country, his friend back at Kansas City Star was working to make the robberies look like some type of modern Robin Hood operation to the readers. The problems is there is little to no evidence of this anywhere.

Of all things, the son of Jesse James (and namesake) became a criminal lawyer later.

Death of Jesse James

In 1881, he wanted to move his family to St. Joseph because it was close to the family farm he grew up on. By this point, his brother moved to Virginia to start a new life with the money they had stolen from banks. It is commonly believes that Jesse planned to be a family man at this point and give his life of crime.

As Jesse tried to straighten a picture, Robert Ford shot him dead and he was betrayed by one of his insiders. Expecting a huge payout, the Ford brothers instead got tried, convicted, sentenced to death and pardoned by the governor all in the same day. It is commonly believed that Executive of Missouri conspired to murder a private citizen.

Oddly, a decade later, Ford was in a bar he owned in Colorado where a man walked in, greeted him, then shot him point blank. That man was ultimately pardoned as well for killing the killer of Jesse James.

He is buried near the farm he grew up on and had some of his best memories at in Kearney. His tombstone reads as follows, “In Loving Memory of my Beloved Son, Murdered by a Traitor and Coward Whose Name is not Worthy to Appear Here.”

In 1995, the state of Missouri had his body exhumed so that modern DNA testing could in fact confirmed that Jesse James was shot that day in St. Joseph, Missouri. The testing they was able to do show likeness to the testing of people in the James family tree alive today.

Visiting the Jesse James home

Today, it is a museum on the backside of the Patee House Museum that anyone can go see the home, where he was show and even see the hole in the wall. They have saved everything from that day in 1882.

It is located at 12th and Penn in St. Joseph, Missouri. It is right up the hill from the Pony Express Museum and behind Patee House Museum. This is just about a mile from the place the house stood when he was shot in it. The museum is well taken of by the Pony Express Historical Society.

There is a $4 cost to enter the house and that includes a guide. It does not take a long time to see the house but it is very interesting to walk through and to understand a little bit of the history leading up to the turn of the 20th century.

Jesse James house map



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  1. […] of our history is of train travel. It was part of what Jesse James famous (ok, the robbing them part) it was how people moved around the country for over a century. […]

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