Secrets of the Legendary
Outlaw Jesse James
When we think of the American West, we often envision a cowboy saving the day and riding off into the sunset. Wistfulness often sets in, and we begin to wish for simpler times when the good guys and the bad guys were distinguishable, when everything was so simple. Unfortunately, those times never existed; what remains in our minds is the romanticized version of the American West, synthesized by Hollywood. John Henry, Paul Bunyan, and Pecos Bill are a few examples of these manufactured myths, however, not all of them were tall tales. One of the true legends of the American West was famous outlaw Jesse James. He conquered the hearts of many through his chivalrous deeds as well as his disobedience towards the law. With being involved in so much during a time of great chaos and deception, it is no wonder that even a legend such as his is full of mysterious myths and secrets. Jesse Woodson James was the second son born to a Baptist minister named Robert James and his wife, Zerelda Cole Mimms ("Legend"1). The couple's first-born son was Alexander Franklin James, better known as Frank James ("Legend"2). Frank entered this world on January 10, 1843, and Jesse followed on September 5, 1847 ("Legend"1). His birthplace has become a popular tourist attraction, as well as a state monument. It is the only monument ever given to an outlaw ("Legendary"1).
Robert James died when the boys and a younger sister were still very young; Jesse's mother remarried soon after to a wealthy doctor, landowner, and slave owner named Rueben Samuels ("Jesse"1). Reports state that Zerelda was a tall woman, having blonde hair, blue eyes, and beautiful looks. It was said that she was a woman who wasn't afraid to let people know her thoughts and views as well as her determination and willingness to do what she believed in. They said she was fearless ("Legend"1).
Frank and James learned to ride and shoot extremely well growing up. They knew everything there was to know about their surrounding countryside, every deer trail, road, and river crossing, which eventually came in handy in the future. Many sources give an account of how the boys had no fears, a trait they obviously inherited from their mother ("Legend"3). All in all the boys had what most would consider a normal childhood. They were part of a loving and caring family living peaceful lives. The Civil War would soon change all of that.
At the onset of the war, Frank James joined an elite Confederate military unit known as Quantrill's Raiders, and brother Jesse, who wasn't yet 18 when the Civil War ended, soon followed suit ("Jesse"2). The 200-man force, "led by the homicidal schoolteacher William Quantrill" ("William"3), included an elite sub-group that was led by an even more homicidal William Anderson. Most knew him as "Bloody Bill" Anderson ("William"3). Anderson once reportedly lined up a group of captured Union soldiers and personally executed all twenty-six of them ("Jesse"2). Included in this elite unit were the Cole brothers and of course the James brothers ("William"3). These men, and the rest of the Raiders, made a name for themselves during the war by constantly perpetrating massacres of both soldiers and civilians. The Raiders' most notorious act was the Lawrence Massacre. On August 21, 1863 they burned and pillaged Lawrence, Kansas, and left over 150 unarmed civilian's dead ("William"2). After the war, the James brothers and various others embarked upon a life of crime in the Wild West, robbing banks, trains, and stagecoaches. As a result of their actions the Governor of Missouri put an unprecedented $10,000 reward on the James brothers' heads ("Legendary"1). Soon Jesse was allegedly shot in the back of the head by the Ford brothers, Charles and Robert, on April 3, 1882 ("Legend"18). Frank later then surrendered to authorities and stood trial for his crimes. He was acquitted after promising to never again take...
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