Saturday, September 5, 2009

Jesse James

Today is the birthday of Jesse James, born in 1847 in Clay County, Missouri. When he was 15 he rode with Quantrill's Raiders in a raid on the abolitionist settlement of Lawrence, Kansas, during which one hundred and fifty men, women and children were murdered. Shortly after the Civil War he and his brother Frank joined up with the four Younger brothers to form a gang. They robbed banks, businesses and trains across Texas, Missouri, Kansas, Iowa, Tennessee, Kentucky and West Virginia, shooting bank clerks, bystanders, children and horses who got in the way.

In September 1876 they rode north into Minnesota to rob the bank in Northfield, but the townspeople shot back, killing two of the bandits and wounding the rest. The robbers shot the bank clerk dead as they escaped. 1876 is considered the high water mark of the Wild West. That same summer, Wild Bill Hickock was gunned down in Deadwood, South Dakota and George Armstrong Custer died with all of his men at Little Big Horn.

Jesse James was shot to death by one of his criminal associates, Bob Ford, in 1882. He was 34. The Robin Hood image attached to James grew after his death, but there's no evidence he shared any of his loot with the poor or with anyone. Tyrone Power, Robert Wagner, Robert Duvall, Rob Lowe, Colin Farrell and Brad Pitt are among the movie idols who have played him in more than twenty five films. Jesse James appears three times in A Book of Ages.

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