The Rise and Fall of Jesse James

The Rise and Fall of Jesse James

The Rise and Fall of Jesse James

The Rise and Fall of Jesse James

Synopsis

Jesse and Frank James were household names long before images of America's most wanted were televised. For several decades after the Civil War, they were hunted by hundreds who supposed them to be involved in every bank and train robbery in the Midwest. Trained as guerrilla fighters in the border conflict between Kansas and Missouri, they joined with the Younger brothers in February 1866 to rob a bank in Liberty, Missouri. That was the beginning of a criminal confederation that seemed beyond the reach of the law until the Northfield, Minnesota, raid killed three of them and sent the James brothers into hiding. But they were the objects of posted rewards that proved too tempting in Jesse's case: in 1882 he was shot in the back by Robert Ford of his own gang. The Rise and Fall of Jesse James, by Robertus Love, a newspaperman who knew Frank James, is a pioneering work that plumbs the personalities of the outlaws, looks at their domestic lives, cites many stories about them, and attempts to separate fact from legend in tracking their violent operations. Michael Fellman assesses Love's 1926 book in his introduction to this Bison Books edition.

Excerpt

On September 26, 1872, the Kansas City fairgrounds bustled with ten thousand funseekers. In the midst of the throng three armed men rode up to the ticket booth. One of the men dismounted, grabbed the tin cashbox from the ticket counter, and emptied its contents of $978 into his pockets. When Ben Wallace, the ticket taker, ran out of the booth and tried to wrestle back the money, one of the mounted accomplices shot at him, but, missing him, hit instead the leg of a small girl in the crowd. The three men then galloped off into the nearby woods.

Reporting this event in the next day's Kansas City Times, Major John N. Edwards denounced the crime but lavished praise on its perpetrators. Men "who can so cooly and calmly plan and so quietly and daringly execute a scheme . . . in the light of day, in the face of authorities and in the very teeth of the most immense multitude of people that was ever in our city," he wrote, "deserve at least admiration for their bravery and nerve." Two days later, Edwards wrote an editorial on "The Chivalry of Crime," placing the Kansas City fair robbers in the traditions of heroic Sir Walter Scott characters and legendary European bandits. Just as had heroes of old, these bandits robbed not stealthily but "in the glare of day and in the teeth of the multitude. . . . The nineteenth century with its Sybaritic civili-

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.