Of all the worlds' legendary characters, few have attracted world-wide fascination like the outlaw, Jesse James. Some call him America's Robin Hood, while others see him as a cold-blooded killer. Perhaps he was all of these things.
Jesse Woodson James was born in Kearney, Missouri on September 5, 1847. His father, the Rev. Robert James, was a Baptist minister who helped found William Jewell College in Liberty, Missouri. Some people say it was the cruel treatment from Union soldiers that turned Frank and Jesse to a life of crime during the Civil War. Certainly during the war years they learned to kill while riding with William Quantrill and Bloody Bill Anderson.
After the war, Jesse was wounded while surrendering. Within a year, Frank and Jesse are believe to have pulled off the first daylight bank robbery in peace time. They made off with $60,000 from the Liberty, Missouri bank not far from their home, and one man was killed.
For the next 15 years, the James boys roamed throughout the U.S. robbing trains and banks of their gold, building a legend that was to live more than a century after Jesse's death.
After the Civil War
Jesse married his own first cousin after a nine year courtship. She was named for his own mother, Zerelda, and he called her Zee for short. They had two children, Jesse Edwards and Mary.
The Pinkerton Detective Agency was called in to help catch the famous desperadoes. Once during a nighttime raid on the family home outside Kearney, Missouri, a firebomb was tossed into the log cabin. When it exploded, it tore off the hand of Jesse's mother, and led to the death of his half brother Archie.
Jesse reached his Waterloo in September of 1876, when his gang, including the Younger brothers, took on the bank at Northfield, Minnesota. Within minutes the town people returned fire. All except Frank and Jesse were either killed or were wounded and captured.