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
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
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.
early 1850, the Reverend James was asked to serve as chaplain on a
wagon train of local men headed
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
Shortly after arriving in
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,
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.