Jesse Woodson James is one of the most famous outlaws from the American Wild West. As a notorious outlaw during the 19th century, he was a robber with his brother and their gangs, taking on the American Frontier until his death. He soon became a public outlaw during the 1800s and continues to live on as a legend demonstrating what the Wild West was like in the United States.
Let’s take a look at 8 of the most interesting facts about Jesse James.
Jesse James Facts
1. Jesse was beaten by Unionist jayhawkers which may have influenced his criminal career.
During the Civil War, Jesse James and his family were on the Confederate’s side. After 1861, guerrilla warfare took place in Missouri. This involved fights between jayhawkers on the Unionist side and the bushwhackers for the Confederates. Frank James, Jesse’s brother, was part of the bushwhackers, which led to a raid on their family farm.
Jesse refused to tell the militia looking for the bushwhackers where they were located. As a consequence, as a young boy, he was beaten. They even tortured his stepfather in the process. Frank was able to escape during a gunfight that broke out. But the brother did say that Jesse was ‘out for blood’ as those events that took place. Indeed, this may have influenced his criminal career.
2. The picture of Jesse James becoming the ‘Robin Hood’ of the Wild West is likely a myth.
A lot of people refer to Jesse James as Robbin Hood. In other words, he was someone that robbed from the rich and gave to the poor. However, despite the many fantasy stories like this, there is little evidence that this is true. The money and loot he received from robbing banks, trains and stagecoaches were taken by his gang and shared with some of the associates. There is no evidence to suggest that the gains he made were given away to anybody else, an interesting fact about Jesse James.
3. Jesse Became a public outlaw after the 1869 bank robbery in Gallatin.
Jesse James gained public notoriety after staging a well-known robbery on Davies County Savings Association on December 7, 1869. This crime took place in Gallatin Missouri, with Jesse working with his brother, Frank. This was not a robbery that made the brothers rich. In fact, it is believed there was little money to be gained from the crime. Their aim was thought to be targeting Samuel P. Cox, a militia officer known for killing ‘Bloody Bill’ Anderson back in the day of the Civil War. However, Jesse James was mistaken and actually killed the cashier. Afterward, the James brothers escaped from a posse and this made front-page news. He was labeled an ‘outlaw’ for the first time and referred to as a survivor of the bushwhackers.
4. He carried out around 19 robberies on banks, trains and stagecoaches from 1869 to 1881.
Jesse James had a busy criminal career, robbing and looting from many states over the map. This included crimes in Minnesota, West Virginia, Texas and Iowa. He began with the James-Young gang, made with his brother, Frank and joining the Younger brothers and other ex-Confederates. Jesse was thought to be the leader. He also created another gang years later. An interesting fact about Jesse James is that in total, it is believed that the outlaw took part in around 19 robberies. This included robbing banks, trains and stagecoaches. Around 20 people died during these crimes, including members of his gangs.
5. Jesse and his brother were the only gang members to survive a failed bank robbery.
On 7th September 1876, the James-Younger Gang, as well as three associates, planned to rob the First National Bank of Northfield in Minnesota. They split into two groups and it was not long until problems started to arise. Citizens of the town soon began to learn about the bank robbery and they started to shoot at the gang members that were outside. This was thought to be the Younger brothers. Eventually, they were captured and the other associates were killed. Jesse and Frank James were able to escape during the gunfight and were not caught.
6. He assumed a fake identity in Tennessee and then recruited a new gang.
After Jesse James and his brother escaped from the failed robbery, it was time to lay low for a while until the dust settled. They spent the next few years after 1876 assuming a new identity and living a new life in Nashville, Tennessee. He and his brother were called Thomas Howard and B.J. Woodson, an interesting Jesse James fact. In 1879, Jesse wanted to resume his lawlessness ways and created a new gang. Their first crime involved a train robbery in Glendale, Missouri.
7. In the end, he was killed by a member of his own gang.
Most people would expect that Jesse James would die in a bank or train robbery gone wrong. In fact, he was killed by a member of his own gang in his home. The outlaw had trusted the Ford brothers who were part of the new gang. They were asked to move into his home for security. Unfortunately, they were not to be trusted after agreeing to kill Jesse James during a deal with the Missouri Governor. Bob Ford shot Jesse James in the back of the head when he was cleaning a wall picture on April 3, 1882.
8. There were rumors he faked his own death.
When Jesse James died in 1882, rumors started to circulate that the outlaw was not really dead after all. Instead, different people claimed to be him, as well as others believing that somebody else was buried in his grave. In particular, it became a famous story that Robert Ford had murdered another man to allow Jesse James to escape. The speculation lasted for many years without any answers. That was until his body was exhumed from Mt. Olivet Cemetery, Missouri in 1995. An extensive DNA testing was carried out and found that it was the outlaw buried in the grave. The rumors that his death was fake were found to be untrue.
I hope that this article on Jesse James facts was helpful. If you are interested, visit the Historical People Facts Page!