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Jesse James and the Civil War Legacy He Personified

We have just returned from a trip to western Missouri and Kansas.  We took the opportunity to visit the James-Samuel Farm in Kearney, Missouri.  Here is the story we heard.

Jesse James was shot by Bob Ford on April 3, 1882.   He was the son of a Baptist minister who was very well educated for that time and who went off the California gold fields to preach where he died after six months. 

Jesse’s older brother Alexander Franklin “Frank” James was equally literate, could read Greek and Latin and was an avid Shakespearian scholar.  Jesse, although younger, was able to read and write with great facility for that time.

How did this seemingly intelligent man become the globally known outlaw icon? 

Jesse’s family came from Kentucky.  They were slave holders in western Missouri,  religious, educated and having strong family values.  Frank went to join the Missouri State Guard and was wounded at Wilson’s Creek fighting for the sesesh.  He returned to the family farm in Clay County to recuperate.  The local Unionist militia came to the farmstead to find him and in the process Jesse was beaten and their step-father Reuban Samuels was tortured by repeated hangings.  Jesse ran away to join the guerrillas. 

He and Frank served under several noted secesh leaders including George Todd, Bloody Bill Anderson and William Quantrill.  They were well schooled in violence.  The war ended and the James boys continued to rob trains, stagecoaches and banks, in the belief that the prosperous owners of these enterprises were Unionists who had preyed on the poor of their homeland.  The last raid of the gang was to Northfield, Minnesota to relieve the bank there of the funds that they believed were deposited by former General Adelbert Ames. 

Much of the population supported or somehow cheered the exploits of the James gang as retribution for past injuries. at the hands of the Union.  When Bob Ford killed Jesse on that April day, Jesse had been using a feather duster to clean and straighten a picture high on the wall of their meager home.  The picture was of a rendering that said “In God We Trust”.  How ironic!  The well known words commonly found on US currency.  With the death of Jesse James the Civil War was finally over.       

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