Jesse James (photo copied from Biography.com)
Although Jesse James does not appear in my upcoming novel, he had strong ties to Missouri and St. Joseph.
Jesse James was born on September 5, 1847 in Clay County, Missouri. His parents were Robert and Zerelda Cole James, both were from Kentucky. Jesse James grew up on his family’s farm, which was run by slave labor. He was popular in the community and outwardly religious, until the Civil War.
As slave owners with southern roots, the James family supported the Confederacy during the Civil War. Missouri was a border state with supporters of both sides. Therefore, some violent battles war started by both the Union militia and Confederate raiders. Civilians were also hurt or killed in these battles, and the battles seriously weakened Missouri’s economy.
Jesse’s brother, Frank, fought with the Confederacy at the Battle of Wilson’s Creek. Afterward, he joined a group of Confederate Guerillas and raiders.
In 1863, Union soldiers visited the James’s farm seeking information in regard to the Confederate Guerillas. They hurt Jesse and his family. Not long after that, Jesse joined the same guerilla unit Frank was a part of. In this unit, Jesse learned to plan and attack, then flee and hide. This would become the pattern Jesse would follow for the rest of his life.
After the Civil War, Jesse James began his life as an outlaw. In 1868, he and his brother, Frank, helped rob a bank in Kentucky, and in 1869, Jesse’s name was published in newspapers for the first time. At this time, Jesse had a gang, and seeking revenge, he killed a man.
Jesse liked the attention his actions drew and began writing letters to the editor of the “Kansas City Times”, John Newman Edwards. In his letters, Jesse either claimed his innocence or explained his deeds, and Edwards published Jesse’s letters.
Jesse and Frank joined Cole Younger and his brother and became the James-Younger gang. They robbed banks, stagecoaches, and a fair in Kansas City. In 1873, they changed to robbing trains, choosing to rob the train safes instead of the passengers.
Jesse James married Zerelda Mimms on April 24, 1874. They had four children, but the twin boys, they had in the middle, died in infancy, leaving the oldest, Jesse James, Jr. and the youngest and only girl, Mary.
The James-Younger Gang attempted to rob a bank in Northfield, Minnesota on September 7, 1876. The Younger Brothers were caught and sent to prison. Jesse and Frank James escaped and settled in Nashville, Tennessee under assumed names, Jesse became “Thomas Howard” and Frank became “B. J. Woodson”.
By 1882, Jesse moved his family back to St. Joseph, Missouri.
Resource: The State Historical Society of Missouri: Historic Missourians
Be sure to stop by next week, for the rest of Jesse’s story.