Thursday, May 20, 2010

Jesse James Is No Hero

Jesse James is certainly no hero, but American folklore has painted him as an interesting character.  There probably isn't a grown-up person in America who hasn't heard something about his life.   Gangsters, thugs, outlaws and killers have long been the subject of both film and literature.

Although we do not glorify Jesse or his actions, we were still curious and wanted to learn a little bit more about him.  We had taken a short drive up to the town of Liberty, Missouri a few days ago to see the Jesse James Bank Museum.  Liberty was another of those delightful small mid-west towns with small shops, restaurants and beautiful homes to see.  We located the museum on Water Street.

This bank is most famous because it was the site of the first successful daylight bank robbery during peacetime.  On February 13, 1866 the James gang rode up on horses and stopped at the bank.  Two members of the gang entered the bank.  Here is where history gets a little fuzzy.  It isn't known for sure if Jesse James was even there that day.  They know for a fact he wasn't one of the 2 men that entered the bank to rob it.  Jesse had been wounded a few weeks earlier and he may still have been recovering from those wounds ~ or ~ he might have been there but remained outside with the other gang members.

The 2 robbers drew their weapons and ordered the 2 tellers to empty the vault.  They complied and then were shut inside the vault.  The 2 robbers went outside to ride away and, for no apparent reason, one of them shot and killed an innocent young man standing across the street.  All the gang member got away.


In this museum furnishings are period pieces, but nothing original remains except the safe and the vault itself.  The exterior walls of the bank are original and the windows are as well.  The lady working there gave us the whole speech and retold the story in great detail.  We were the only ones there so she really gave us a lot of her time.  There was also a small selection of books and materials relating to Jesse James and his gang, plus a small display of photos and letters to see. 

Inside the bank vault...

In nearby Kearney we could have seen the family farm and birthplace of Jesse and his brother, Frank, but we were too late for that tour.  A couple of days later, before leaving the Independence area we also drove up to St. Joseph and went to the place where Jesse was shot dead by Bob Ford.  That is the museum housed at the Jesse James Home.  This one is located at 12th and Mitchell Streets.  It was moved from the original location which was about 2 blocks north.


Jesse and his family had been living in this small frame house in St. Joseph trying to pass as normal citizens.  He lived in this home with his wife and 2 children.  The lady working here just stayed behind her counter reading a book.  There were a few of us touring the small museum but she offered no information.  However, there was plenty to see and read on our own in this small house.  The sitting room is where Jesse was shot.  Bob Ford, a member of Jesse's own gang, sought a reward of $10,000 so he plotted to kill him.  While Jesse was standing on a chair straightening a picture on the wall, Bob pointed a gun through an open window and shot him in the head.  That was on April 3, 1882.  Jesse James was only 34 years old.

This is a photo of the sitting room in the tiny home and a painting of Jesse James.  The other photo shows where the bullet embedded itself in the wall after leaving Jesse's skull.  The area around the hole had been chipped away by people in the days right after the shooting.  The bullet hole is framed by the smaller frame underneath the crooked needlepoint piece.


Jesse began his life of crime as a Confederate guerrilla during the Civil War.  He continued his criminal ways after the war ended.  He was a notorious outlaw and killer.  The gang was most active from 1866 thru 1876.  There were many documents and photos of Jesse and his brother, Frank, in the small space of this 3 room house.  In one of the rooms was a display of artifacts from his grave.  His body was exhumed in 1995 for DNA testing to see if it was really his body that had been buried.  There was an explanation on how they determined with DNA testing that this was his body and it involved testing blood from subsequent relatives....it was all very complicated.   That ends our story of outlaw Jesse James.

Until next time....so long for now! 

4 comments:

THE BAYFIELD BUNCH said...

Those old wild west stories are always interesting despite being blurred between fact & fiction. We like poking around in the old original ghost towns & cemeteries. Some of those old places are very hard to find & we have had to do a lot of hiking & scrambling to find them. Interesting stuff.

Rick and Paulette said...

Great pics and tour of Jesse James' house. The picture of the James' living room looked exactly the way I've seen it in the many movies I've seen of Jesse James. It's always nice to visit places with a lot of history attached to them.

Jerry and Suzy said...

Third Amigo checking in! No, we don't praise or try to glorify criminals, but they do get the front page and the publicity, so it's only natural that we want to learn more about them. Who will be the folks of our time that later generations will want to learn about?

KarenInTheWoods and Steveio said...

Oh I guess the Bad Boys gotta get their page in our history books too. But I prefer we honor and learn about the heros and the folks who did good things. But it was intereting though. Thanks for sharing!

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