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Jesse James
Jesse james portrait.jpg
James c. 1882
Born (1847-09-05)September 5, 1847
Died April 3, 1882(1882-04-03) (aged 34)
St. Joseph, Missouri, U.S.
39°45′28″N 94°50′39″W / 39.757813°N 94.844087°W / 39.757813; -94.844087 (Site of fatal shot killing Jesse James)
Years active 1866–1882
Zerelda Mimms
(m. 1874; died 1882)
Children 2, including Jesse
Relatives Robert S. James (father)
Zerelda Cole James (mother)
Frank James (brother)
Zerelda Mimms (cousin)

Jesse Woodson James (September 5, 1847 – April 3, 1882) was an American outlaw, bank and train robber, guerrilla, and leader of the James–Younger Gang. Raised in the "Little Dixie" area of western Missouri, James and his family maintained strong Southern sympathies. He and his brother Frank James joined pro-Confederate guerrillas known as "bushwhackers" operating in Missouri and Kansas during the American Civil War.

After the war, as members of various gangs of outlaws, Jesse and Frank robbed banks, stagecoaches, and trains across the Midwest, gaining national fame. The James brothers were most active as members of their own gang from about 1866 until 1876, when as a result of their attempted robbery of a bank in Northfield, Minnesota, several members of the gang were captured or killed.

They continued in crime for several years afterward, recruiting new members, but came under pressure from law enforcement seeking to bring them to justice. On April 3, 1882, Jesse James was shot and killed by Robert Ford, a new recruit to the gang who hoped to collect a reward on James' head. Already a celebrity in life, James became a legendary figure of the Wild West after his death.

Despite popular portrayals of James being like Robin Hood, robbing from the rich and giving to the poor, there is no evidence that he and his gang shared any loot from their robberies. James continues to be one of the most iconic figures from the era, and his life has been dramatized and memorialized numerous times.


Museums and sites devoted to Jesse James:

  • James Farm in Kearney, Missouri: In 1974, Clay County, Missouri, bought the property. The county operates the site as a house museum and historic site. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972, with a boundary increase in 1978.
  • Jesse James Home Museum: The house where Jesse James was killed in south St. Joseph was moved in 1939 to the Belt Highway on St. Joseph's east side to attract tourists. In 1977, it was moved to its current location, near Patee House, which was the headquarters of the Pony Express. The house is owned and operated by the Pony Express Historical Association.
  • The Jesse James Bank Museum, on the square in Liberty, Missouri, is the site of the first daylight bank robbery in the United States in peacetime. The museum is managed by Clay County along with the James Farm Home and Museum outside of Kearney.
  • First National Bank of Northfield: The Northfield Historical Society in Northfield, Minnesota, has restored the building that housed the First National Bank, the scene of the 1876 raid.
  • Heaton Bowman Funeral Home, 36th Street and Frederick Avenue, St. Joseph, Missouri: The funeral home's predecessor conducted the original autopsy and funeral for Jesse James. A room in the back holds the log book and other documentation.

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