Jesse James was one of the most successfull bank and train robbers in the history of the United States. His criminal career lasted about 15 years and caused panic among the population. His bloody achievements slowed the economy development growth of the State of Missoury pretty much, in the hard years after the American Civil War.
Allegedly Jesse James was a son of a baptist priest from Kentucky, while his mother was born in Missoury. His family was exceptionally southern oriented so it’s not a surpise that Jesse and his brother Frank served in the confederation army during the American Civil War as guerrila fighters, before they started with all the roberries and other criminal activities. Jesse remained racist until the end of his life.
After the war, along with his brother Frank and his cousin Cole, they formed the gang known as “James – Younger”. After their first robbery on February 13th 1886, when they robbed the bank in the small town Liberty, Missoury, where they looted a huge sum of $15.000 dollars, (which is roughly $332.000 dollars today), the banks and railroad companies hired special agents that chased them down the entire time, but without success. Jesse and his gang were one step ahead of the law. As years passed, Jesse continued robbing banks and authorities were helpless to stop them.
It is believed that Jesse and his brother Frank stole over $200.000 dollars at that time (or $4.400.000 dollars todays currency value).
State of Missoury authorities were frustrated by the capabilities of Jesse to always escape them in front of their eyes, so they decided to offer a $10.000 dollars bounty to Robert Bob Ford – a friend of Jesse and former member of the gang – to liquidate him.
Ford and his brother went to visit Jesse. They waited for the moment when Jesse will be unarmed and that happened when Jesse looked at a dusty picture on the wall. He climbed on a small chair to dust the picture, and at that moment Bob Ford took his chance. He shot the 35 year old Jesse James in the back.
This murder in a cowardly manner rouse to a national sensation. Huge masses of people came to see the dead body of the former criminal. At first the Fords becomes a celebrity, but soon after, people disliked the way that Jesse was murdered in the back and unarmed. Since then, the story of Jesse James takes proportions of a myth as he slowly turns into a legend.
In the modern popular interpretations Jesse James is often depictured as Robin Hood, a man that robs the rich and shares his fortune with the poor — even though there are no evidence for this claim.
An important role for the creation of the fact that Jesse James is a fearless hero, was the journalist and author John Newman Edwards, yet another from the fighters of the army of the South. Edwards published Jesse’s letters in “Kansas City Times” in which, Jesse was talking about his life and activities, presenting him as a symbol of the resistance of the system.
The songs on his behalf take the credit for his glory, especially the “The Ballad of Jesse James” that appeared right after his murder. Woody Guthrie wrote “The Ballad of Jesse James” during the great depression at the late 1920’s, and that song became a kind of anthem for the poor and underprivileged workers. Later on there were also many other remakes and versions of that song. One of the better ones is the one from Bruce Springsteen.
The 2007 movie “The assassination of Jesse James by the coward Robert Ford” by australian director Andrew Dominic, starring Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck was nominated for two Oskars. The Jesse James descendants say that this is the most correct version of his life.