History of Jesse James
Many people are familiar with the Jesse James story. How at the time of the Civil War, along the border between Kansas and Missouri, the conflict was bitter and intense. When many Southern sympathizers in Missouri, the James family among them, were victimized, terrorized, and robbed of all their material possessions in the name of the Union by the Federal militia. Countless small landowners saw their farms, including the James-Samuel farm, raided and their crops burned, their farmhands beaten, their children abused and their womenfolk molested by Federal militiamen. The James family, often the most outspoken for Southern rights, bore the brunt of these vicious Federal militia raids. Frank, as so many young Southerners did, took up with Quantrill, the fiery guerrilla leader, and Jesse while still in his teens joined the band of William "Bloody Bill" Anderson, to strike back at the North and what they had done to his people.
CRIMES COMMITTED AGAINST
JESSE W. JAMES: AN INQUIRY
Jesse and his brother Frank James spent their formative years astride fast horses, a blazing revolver in both hands, as they and their companions mauled the Union troops whenever the opportunity presented itself. Jesse and Frank, surrounded by men who faced death daily, lived the life of hunted men, and suffered many privations including wounds. Jesse and Frank became accomplished horsemen as well as deadly shots.
The losses and humiliation suffered during the war by the Union militia were not forgotten after the war. Grudges and hatreds flourished along the border. The victor was in the driver's seat, visiting harsh treatment to the vanquished. Former Quantrill guerrilla fighters, relatives and friends, were systematically targeted for retribution. Consequently, when the war ended, the guerrillas were not treated as former soldiers and permitted a dignified return to their wives and families. Rather, they were branded as common criminals, and deprived of the rights that had theretofore and always subsequently been accorded a vanquished foe.
Stripped of their civil rights, turned into second class citizens almost overnight, many moved away to escape further victimization. But the James boys stayed, unwilling to submit to such injustice, they remained faithful to the cause for which they fought and stayed on the land they loved so well. Being hunted, shot at and discriminated against persuaded them that the war would never end for former guerrillas, and so they returned to their previous mode of life and continued their war against the North by robbing from its financial sources -- primarily banks and railroads.
These former guerrilla fighters were military men, not bloodthirsty barbarians as some believe, who planned and executed their raids with military precision, bringing off each raid like clockwork, whenever problems occurred was when orders were not obeyed, or associates outside of their former guerrilla friends were allowed to ride with them. They were intelligent men, married good women, raised loving families, and were held in high esteem by their friends and neighbors. Even the best efforts of the authorities over sixteen years failed to result in their capture. Remember, it was only the assassin's bullet that killed Jesse, and the voluntary surrender of Frank James ended their careers as outlaws.
The Jesse James story reveals a Middle America nightmare. The James family, a microcosm of Middle-class Missouri farmers, caught up in a whirlwind of hatred that the Civil War generated. Yes, the swirling winds caught the James boys, dashing them against the rocks of misunderstanding and prejudice. In my own mind, Jesse and Frank were more sinned against than sinners, desiring to be more law-abiding than the pursuers that hounded them day and night.