James Gang’s Loss
April 3, 1882: Jesse Woodson James dies. Jesse was born in 1847 in Kearney, Missouri. He had two full siblings, Alexander Franklin (Frank) and Susan Lavenia. Their father was a farmer and Baptist minister in Kentucky and moved the family to Clay County Missouri after he married. He helped found the William Jewell College in Liberty, Missouri. He was a prosperous man and owned six slaves to help with his 100 acre farm. He left for California when the Gold Rush began to minister to those seeking gold. He died there when Jesse was three. His widow remarried twice and had four more children with her third husband. He had moved to the James farmstead and bought seven slaves to run the farm, now growing tobacco.
As tensions rose over slavery, Clay County whose population was 25% slave (Missouri itself was only 10% slave) was in turmoil. Violence between pro- and anti-slavery groups escalated. The American Civil War began in 1861 and guerrilla warfare in the region, between the secessionist bushwackers and the Union forces of local militia groups called jayhawkers, was bitter. Jesse fought with the bushwackers. He was said to have been involved in the Centralia Massacre where 24 unarmed Union soldiers were captured and executed. After the War ended, Missouri was divided between three different groups. There were anti-slavery proponents, segregationist conservatives, and pro-slavery followers still aligned with the Confederacy.
Jesse had been wounded during the war and lived at his uncle’s boardinghouse while recovering from a chest wound. His cousin helped care for him and they began a nine year relationship. They would eventually marry. The bushwackers of the war were kept together by Archie Clement. Their goal was to harass the Republican authorities. They were the first to commit a daytime bank robbery during peace time on February 13, 1866. They became adept at robbing banks and added stagecoaches and other venues to their repertoire. As their fame grew, legends grew up around them. They were the Robin Hood of the day although there has never been any evidence that they gave any of their stolen goods to anyone outside the gang.
With fame came greater scrutiny and more law officers attempting to stop the gang. By 1882, with most of his gang gone, Jesse trusted only Charley and Robert Ford. Charley had been on raids with Jesse; Robert was a newcomer. Robert had secretly negotiated with Thomas Crittenden, the governor of Missouri, to help bring in the famous outlaw. There was a $5,000 reward for Jesse’s capture. On this day, as the Ford brothers and Jesse James prepared to go out on another raid, Robert shot Jesse in the back of the head. Instead of collecting a reward, both brothers were charged with first degree murder and sentenced to death. Governor Crittenden stepped in and granted them a full pardon.
Television is of great educational value. It teaches you while still young how to (a) kill, (b) rob, (c) embezzle, (d) shoot, (e) poison, and, generally speaking, (f) how to grow up into a Wild West outlaw or gangster by the time you leave school. – George Mikes
I felt something shift to murder in me. I felt … that I was an outlaw, a psychic outlaw, and I liked it. – Norman Mailer
Civilization may be said indeed to be the creation of its outlaws. – James Joyce
The lyricism of marginality may find inspiration in the image of the “outlaw”, the great social nomad, who prowls on the confines of a docile, frightened order. – Michel Foucault
Also on this day: A new boxing record set – In 1936, a new record for shortest fight.
Cunard Line – In 1929, the shipping company announced a new ship to be built.
Speedy Snail Mail – In 1860, The Pony Express began service.
Old Smokey – In 1936, Bruno Hauptmann was executed.
Marshall Plan – In 1948, President Truman signed the Plan into law.