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Old West Legends IconOLD WEST LEGENDS

Jesse James - Folklore Hero or Cold-Blooded Killer?

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Jesse James in 1864

Jesse James in Platte City, Missouri  in 1864

This image available for photographic prints  and downloads HERE!

"Jesse James (partly) turned to crime as a means of exacting revenge on all things Yankee"

-- Time-Life Books' The Wild West.



When Jesse James was still alive, America already loved him, for in him, there was adventure in an otherwise dull, slowly-turning-scientific age. Late in America’s second century, the man rebelled against a society that he didn’t like and became a folk hero. In the mid 1860’s journalists, eager to entertain Easterners with tales of the Wild West, exaggerated and romanticized the gang’s heists. Jesse James was touted as being the modern day Robin Hood because it was said that he robbed from the rich and was kind to the poor.

At the time, his exploits were relished by those who could do no more than fantasize about living such an adventurous life. This obviously remains true today, as thousands of people are intrigued by not only Jesse James, but by the many outlaws who carved out the western frontier.

However, while Jesse was many things, including being a sometimes kind man, a dapper dresser, and a prankish charmer, he was also a cold-blooded murderer, robber, horse thief, and terrorist. He and his gang were very dangerous men.

Jesse James' parents, Robert Sallee James and Zerelda Elizabeth Cole James were originally from Stamping Ground, Kentucky where the two met at a revival meeting. Married on December 28, 1841, Robert James continued his schooling and graduated from Georgetown College. After Robert’s graduation the young family relocated to the Centerville area of Clay County, Missouri. Centerville would later be known as Kearney.

With the help of neighbors, Robert and Zerelda, "Zee”, as she was more commonly known, built a log cabin in the wilderness and began to carve out a farm. Robert became the pastor of a small Baptist Church outside of Kearney. Reverend James was a well-liked and respected man in the community who helped found William Jewel College in Liberty, Missouri. Zee, who stood six feet tall, was known as a hard-working, strong-willed farm woman. Their first son, Alexander Franklin "Frank” James was born at the family farm on January 10, 1843. Three more children quickly followed. Robert James, Jr. was born at the farm on July 19, 1845 but died just 33 days later. Jesse Woodson James was born on September 5, 1847 and Susan Lavenia James was born on November 25, 1849.

In early 1850, the Reverend James was asked to serve as chaplain on a wagon train of local men headed west to California in search of gold. On April 12 he left the farm in Zee’s care and headed west with the intent of preaching to the crowds of gold miners who had gathered there. The minister never made it back to Missouri.

Shortly after arriving in California on August 1, 1850, the Reverend contracted a fever, as a result of drinking contaminated water. On August 18, 1850 the minister died of cholera at a Placerville, California gold camp and was buried in an unmarked grave.


Years later Jesse would go in search of his father’s resting place but was unsuccessful. Zerelda inherited the farm which she continued to own until her own death years later. But for the moment she was a widow, left with three young children. Frank, the oldest one was seven years old when his father died.




Continued Next Page




James Younger Gang - Terrorizing the Midwest

Jesse James Timeline

Jesse James Missouri Attractions

Haunting of the James Farm

Robert Ford - Jesse James' Killer

William Quantrill - Renegade Leader of the Missouri Border War

Quantrill - The Man, the Myth, the Soldier

Zee James - Jesse's "Poor" Wife

The Infamous Younger Brothers

Frank and Jesse James as boys

Frank and Jesse James in Carrolton, Illinois.

This image available for photographic prints  and downloads HERE!

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From Legends' General Store

Old West Books from Legends' General StoreOld West Books - In Legends of America's style, we carry a wide collection of Old West books about the people, places, and events of the Wild West era. See cowboys, trails, lawmen, outlaws, cookbooks, ghost towns, Native Americans, and lots More!  AND, if you love Old West books, you might also want to take a look at our huge collection of Vintage Western Magazines. This is one of the largest collections of vintage Old West magazines on the whole web-wide world, if not the largest, and it's still growing.

Old West Books from Legends' General Store


Out of the frontier West the American character was formed...

-- Dee Brown


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