On This Day: April 3rd

In 1882 on the third of April the famed outlaw Jesse James was murdered by fellow gang member Robert Ford. He was shot in the back by Robert Ford for a $5000 bounty that was given by Missouri governor Thomas Crittenden with the aid of railroad and express corporations. The killing of James divided opinion as the James brothers had become icons more like Robin Hood than the vicious robbers and murderers they actually were. After the murder the Ford brothers turned themselves in to the authorities and were to their dismay charged with first degree murder, they were indicted, pleaded guilty, sentenced to death by hanging and pardoned by Governor Crittenden within the same day.Robert Ford himself was shot by Edward O’Kelley just over ten years later, O’Kelley was reported to have said “Hello Bob” and as Ford turned around to O’Kelley he was shot and killed.

The life of the James brothers took a turn towards crime when the Civil War broke out, the brothers were part of the Confederacy and joined a guerilla band led by William Quantrill. As guerillas they were involved in raids and general acts of terror including a massacre of civilians in Lawrence, Kansas, which was an abolitionist town. After the war the James brothers along with others they met during the Civil War decided to use the skills they acquired to commit armed robberies.

The brothers were suspects in a number of crimes particularly robberies, but locally the people generally showed sympathy to them due to them having being members of a Confederate guerilla band. Their own bias to fellow southerners was shown in some robberies were they didn’t money or valuables from southerners.

Jesse James was perhaps most notable for the time he spent as part of the James-Younger gang, the gang was Missouri based and came about after the Civil War in the late 1860’s. They became more organised after the finish to the war as the majority were former Confederate bushwhackers, the most notable members were the two James brothers (Jesse and Frank) and the Younger brothers (Cole, Jim, John and Bob), although a number of other former confederates were involved at different times. The gang went on a number of big robberies and raids, they even had their share of close escapes with the law; John Younger was nearly arrested in 1871 but killed two lawmen and escaped, and it grew even more dangerous for the gang when the Pinkerton National Detective Agency became their pursuers and in a standoff John Younger was killed as Jim Younger escaped. The Pinkerton Agency though did end their pursuit after a badly botched attempt to kill the James brothers ended with the amputation of the brothers mothers arm and the death of their half-brother Archie Samuel who was eight years old.

The James-Younger gang fell apart after the botched Northfield bank raid which was located far out of their usual territory. Whilst robbing the bank those outside keeping watch were attacked by armed locals and were all shot at least once, gang members Stiles and Miller were killed as was civilian Nicholas Gustafson by Cole Younger. Inside the bank, the assistant cashier Joseph Lee Heywood was killed for resisting and not opening the safe. With the commotion inside and outside the bank the gang fled, the Minnesotans joined together and set up pickets to try to trap the James-Younger gang members. The gang didn’t make much progress in the face of the unrelenting chase pursuing them. They eventually split off the Younger brothers and Pitts remained on foot and fled west, they were eventually cornered in a swamp and further wounded with Pitts being killed, the James brothers secured horses and fled south-west and despite the nationwide alert and hundreds of pursuers the James brothers did escape. However the James-Younger gang as it was, was finished.

James did re-organise with a number of new gang members including the Ford brothers, it was believed the Ford brothers disliked Jesse and him being their leader. Jesse supposedly knew the disdain they held towards him and that Robert was set to betray him. It came to a head on April 3rd when Jesse James was detailing his plans for their next robbery, he had set his guns aside already and turned to adjust a picture on the wall. This moment was the on that the traitor Robert Ford chose to shoot Jesse James and end the life of the violent, and famous outlaw.

He was originally buried on his family property, his tombstone read,  “Jesse W. James, Died April 3, 1882, Aged 34 years, 6 months, 28 days, Murdered by a traitor and a coward whose name is not worthy to appear here.”




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