Jesse Woodson James was viewed in two ways; a modern Robin Hood and a killer. He was born in Kearney, Missouri on September 5, 1847. Some people say it was the cruel treatment from Union soldiers that turned Frank and Jesse to a life of crime during the Civil War. During the Civil War, at age 15, he joined Quantrill’s Raiders, a group of pro-Confederate guerillas. He was part of the Centralia massacre in 1864. He is also known to have been a spy for the rebel army.
Jesse was wounded while surrendering. He took a bullet through one of his lungs. He was nursed back to health and within a year, Frank and Jesse are believed to have pulled off the first daylight bank robbery during peacetime. They made off with $60,000 from the Liberty, Mo. bank and one man was killed. For the next 15 years, the James boys roamed throughout the U.S. robbing trains and banks of their gold, building a legend that was to live more than a century after Jesse’s death. Jesse married his own first cousin after a nine-year courtship. She was named for his own mother, Zerelda. They had two children, Jesse Edwards and Mary.
Frank and Jesse had talked about forming a gang with Cole Younger, but Jesse was not with them when they committed their first robbery in February of 1866. Jesse joined in October. It wasnt until March 1867 that they pulled their first job together. They tried to rob a bank at Savannah. All three aimed at the bank president, but all were bad shots and only one bullet barely touched him. This job was not successful. Two months later a man and his fifteen-year-old son were found dead and the blame was placed on Jesse. He was very attached to his mother and usually hid out at her house after pulling a job.
The Pinkerton Detective Agency was called in to help catch the James/ Younger Gang. During a nighttime raid on the family home a firebomb was tossed into the log cabin. The explosion tore off the hand of Jesse’s mother, and killed his half- brother. One of their most famous rides was in September of 1876. Jesses gang tried to take the Northfield, Minn. Bank. The town people fired at them and all except for Frank and Jesse were killed, wounded or captured.
In the winter of 1882 Jesse wanted to buy a small farm in Nebraska, but in April he did not have enough money. The rest of his gang was either dead or in prison so he turned to Bob and Charlie Ford. The Ford brothers help rob the Platte City bank. Bob and Charlie turned on Jesse because of the $10,000 reward on Jesses life. While Jesse stood on a chair in the family home, to straighten a picture, the Fords drew their guns. It was Bob Ford who put the bullet into the back of his head on April 3, 1882. The Ford brothers attempted to collect the reward. Instead, they were charged with murder. They were sentenced to hang, but were pardoned by the Governor. Two years later Charles Ford committed suicide and Bob Ford was himself killed in a bar fight in 1892.
The Long Riders, does not display good historical accuracy. For instance, when the Pinkerton’s throw the bomb into the James; home, it comes through the front window and not the back door. Archie, the half-brother, is seen as a simple-minded teenager, instead of a normal nine-year-old boy. Frank did not surrender to the authorities in order to bury Jesse, but actually held out for several months.