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Jesse James

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Jesse James was born in Clay County, Missouri on the Fifth of September 1847. His parents were Zerelda and Robert James. They were hemp farmers that owned six slaves, but most people wouldn’t know that. They only know him as an outlaw. Nevertheless, the name “Jesse James” is one that almost everyone has heard, even though he has been dead for over one hundred years. (Defeat n. pg.) Now, although Jesse James was a traditional outlaw in many respects, his legend perseveres as an icon of American culture.

When the Civil War began, Jesse had to watch his older brother Frank go off to fight for the rebellion. While Frank was away, he got involved with a group of pro-Confederates “who brought the wrath of Union militiamen to the James family. Jesse was roughed up and his stepfather was tortured for information. This may have been the spark that set off Jesse's flame.”(Death n. pg.)

In the spring of 1864, at the age of sixteen, Jesse James joined a group led by "Bloody Bill" Anderson. They terrorized pro-Union enemies within Missouri. James was still a teenager at the time, and probably very impressionable. He participated in quite a bit of violence with this group, including the notorious “Centralia massacre”, where twenty-two unarmed Union soldiers and a hundred others were for the most part, butchered. It was experiences like this that helped shape the man Jesse James would become. (Notorious pg. na.)

Most of the members in the group returned to a normal civilized life after the war ended. They stopped with the violence and went back to farming and working. Jesse and Frank James could not do the same. The brothers did not feel the same peace as

everyone else. They felt a sense of humiliation from the Confederate defeat. Jesse James felt stronger about it though. He chose to continue fighting. He began targeting banks, and trains. (Defeat n. pg.)

Jesse James made a bank in Gallatin, Missouri as his first target. The man who had killed Bill Anderson, the leader of his old gang, ran this bank. On December 7, 1869, Jesse and Frank rode in during broad daylight, shot an unarmed employee, and left with some worthless paper. They made an escape through the midst of a posse sent to capture them. The brothers later declared that they would never be taken alive. The Gallatin robbery essentially set the pattern for more robberies to come. It was risky, it was daring, and it had a hidden agenda other than simple robbery. In this case it was the killing of the man who had hunted down Jesse's old leader. (Stiles 61)

After that, for the first time ever, the newspapers mentioned Jesse James. He loved the attention. James became involved with an ex-Confederate shortly thereafter. He was also a newspaper editor. His name was John Newman Edwards. Jesse used this to his advantage, making a myth of himself as almost a hero of the South. His myth was very similar to that of Robin Hood. In his case, he was a hero who helped poor Missourians that were hurt by radical Republicans. In letters that Edwards published, Jesse would claim innocence for specific crimes. “We are not thieves,” he wrote, “we are bold robbers. I am proud of the name, for Alexander the Great was a bold robber, and Julius Caesar, and Napoleon Bonaparte.”(Death n. pg.)

Not long after, Jesse James began to commit more robberies in a way that would attract as much attention as possible. He used this publicity to convince a great many people he was performing good deeds for the poor. That later proved to be false. (Fenton, interview)

In June 1871, Jesse and members of his gang robbed a bank in Croydon, Iowa. They arrived during a speech by a man named Henry Clay Dean. The speech had drawn most of the town outside of the local church. This made it very easy to get away with robbing the bank. However, the gang was not content with what they took from the bank, which was $6,000. The bandits went down to the church and “shook the stolen money at the crowd, furious at being upstaged.”(Athearn 93)

Seeking publicity continued as Jesse moved on. It was evident again during a robbery in 1872, this time in Kentucky. “The lead robber walked into the bank, said вЂ?good evening’ to the unarmed cashier, and promptly shot him down. The Kentucky robbery netted little, as the mortally wounded cashier refused to open the bank vault.” Whether or not he made a lot of money, each time he robbed it seemed to give Jesse a need for more. It was becoming an addiction, and 1876, it would lead to his most daring expedition yet. (Stiles 77)

Jesses and his gang of robbers picked a bank for more than money, as they had in the past, this time in Northfield, Minnesota. It was the new home of Mississippi's former Republican governor who was also a former Union general. His name was Adelbert Ames, and he was a major depositor at the First National Bank there. After two weeks of planning, eight bandits rode into Northfield on a September afternoon. (Jesse n. np.)

They split up. Three waited by a nearby bridge, two others guarded the town square, and three more, including Jesse, entered the bank. After they got inside, they climbed over the counter, and ordered the three employees to get on their knees. When the bank’s bookkeeper told them the safe in the vault was some sort of time lock and couldn't be opened, they cracked his skull with a pistol. Citizens outside had noticed the outlaws and began showing up with guns. Shots were fired and Jesse and his gang had to retreat. Some members of the gang were shot down, and others were captured. Before they left the bank, either Frank or Jesse, performed the one act that more



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