**Born in Clay County, Missouri, on September 5, 1847, Jesse Woodson James was the son of Kentucky native Zerelda Cole James and her husband, Robert James, a Baptist minister and slave-owning hemp farmer who assisted in founding William Jewell College in Liberty, Missouri.
*In 1863 Union soldiers visited the James farm. They were seeking information about Confederate guerrilla bands. The soldiers hurt and threatened Jesse James and his family.(** In May 1863, while at his family’s farm, a teenage Jesse was ambushed and his stepfather hung from a tree
(he survived) by Union militiamen seeking the whereabouts of Frank and his fellow insurgents.) Shortly after this incident, James joined his brother, Frank, and a guerrilla unit led by
William “Bloody Bill” Anderson.
James adapted quickly to a lifestyle that would set the pattern for the rest of his life:
plan and attack, flee and hide.
**During the 1869 bank robbery in Gallatin, the incident that first brought Jesse public notice as an outlaw, he shot and killed the bank’s cashier in an act of revenge,
thinking the man was Samuel Cox, commander of the pro-Union militia troops who had murdered guerilla leader Bloody Bill Anderson in October 1864. (In fact, the slain cashier turned out not to be Cox.) After the deadly heist, an influential pro-Confederate newspaper editor in Missouri, John Newman Edwards, befriended Jesse and went on to promote the former bushwhacker as a hero and defiant Southern patriot of the Reconstruction era. James himself wrote letters to newspapers in which he defended his actions. Through his articles and editorials, Edwards was responsible for helping to create the image of Jesse James as a Robin Hood figure who robbed the rich to give to the poor, an image that historians say is a myth.
**Catching the James became a personal mission for Allan Pinkerton,
Pinkerton was an abolitionist who had aided slaves on the Underground Railroad, uncovered a plot to assassinate President-elect Abraham Lincoln and gathered military intelligence for the federal government during the Civil War.
**Shortly after midnight on January 25, 1875, a group of Pinkerton agents, acting on a tip that Jesse and Frank were at their mother’s farm (in fact, they were no longer there) carried out a raid on the place. The agents threw an incendiary device into the farmhouse, setting off an explosion that fatally wounded Jesse and Frank’s 8-year-old half-brother and caused their mother, Zerelda, to lose part of her arm. Following the raid, public support for Jesse and Frank increased, and the Missouri state legislature even came close to passing a bill offering the men amnesty. The James brothers also launched an intimidation campaign against their perceived enemies near Zerelda’s farm and in April of that year one of their mother’s neighbors, a former Union militiaman who had assisted the Pinkerton agents in preparing for the raid, was shot to death.
Allan Pinkerton never pursued his hunt for Jesse and Frank any further.
**Rather than dying in a hail of gunfire while robbing a bank or train, the legendary Jesse James was brought down while dusting a picture on the wall of his rented home in St. Joseph, Missouri,
On April 3, 1882. His wife and two children were in another room at the time. James’ assassin, who shot him in the back of the head, was Bob Ford, a new recruit into his gang. Also in on the shooting was Bob’s older brother Charley, a James gang member. Earlier that year, Bob Ford had arranged with the governor of Missouri to take down Jesse in exchange for a reward. After the Fords announced to authorities they’d killed the infamous outlaw, they were convicted of murder and sentenced to hang; however, the governor quickly pardoned them.