Hite was born in 1850 in Logan, Kentucky to Major George Burns and Nancy James Gardner Hite. His mother was the sister of Robert Sallee James, Frank and Jesse’s father.
Though he was very young at the time, he rode for “Bloody Bill” Anderson’s raiders during the Civil War. Hite was described as being between 5’8″ and 5’10” tall, with dark sandy hair, a light complexion, a prominent Roman nose, decaying front teeth, and stooped shoulders that made him always appear slouched.
When the James-Younger Gang broke up after the disastrous Northfield Minnesota raid in 1876, Jesse needed new gang members and Wood and his brother Clarence joined the newly established James Gang. Wood was thought to have participated in the Blue Cut, Missouri train robbery on October 8, 1879, the hold up of the Riverton, Iowa bank on July 10, 1881, and the Glendale, Missouri train robbery on September 7, 1881.
Because of his appearance, he was easily recognized and was forced into hiding after he was identified following some of the robberies. He then fled to back to Kentucky where he stayed with his father in Logan County. He wasn’t there long when he killed a black man named John Tabor. His stepmother witnessed the killing, reported it and a warrant was issued. Hite was then arrested and jailed in Adairville. However, he soon bribed a guard with a $100 bill and escaped.
He then went back to Missouri where he was hiding out at the home of Robert Ford’s widowed sister, Martha Bolton, in Ray County, Missouri. Also staying there were other James Gang members, Bob Ford and Dick Liddil. Both Hite and Liddil had affections for Martha Bolton and on the one morning of December 4, 1881, they began to argue about it. As the discussion became more heated, guns were drawn and Liddil shot Hite in the right arm, while Hite sent a bullet into Dick’s leg. Lookin on, Robert Ford then drew his pistol and shot Hite in the head. That night, they Robert and his brother, Charley Ford, wrapped Hite’s body in an old horse blanket and buried him about a mile from the house.
Afterward, Liddil turned himself in for the killing and Ford was arrested. The entire affair would lead to Jesse James death when Ford made a deal with Governor Thomas T. Crittendon that he would be pardoned for the murder of Hite if he were to capture or kill James.
By Kathy Weiser-Alexander, updated December 2018.