Jesse Woodson James 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. Take a look below for 30 more interesting and strange facts about Jesse James.
1. He and his brother Frank James joined pro-Confederate guerrillas known as “buckwhackers” operating in Missouri and Kansas during the American Civil War.
2. As followers of William Quantrill and “Bloody Bill” Anderson, they were accused of participating in atrocities against Union soldiers and civilian abolitionists, including the Centralia Massacre in 1864.
3. After the war, as members of various gangs of outlaws, Jesse and Frank robbed banks, stagecoaches, and trains across the Midwest, gaining national fame and often popular sympathy despite the brutality of their crimes.
4. 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.
5. They continued in crime for several years afterward, recruiting new members, but came under increasing pressure from law enforcement seeking to bring them to justice.
6. 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 and a promise amnesty for his previous crimes.
7. Already a celebrity in life, James became a legendary figure of the Wild West after his death.
8. Despite popular portrayals of James as an embodiment of 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 with anyone outside their close kinship network.
9. Scholars and historians have characterized James as one of many criminals inspired by the regional insurgencies of ex-Confederates following the Civil War, rather than as a manifestation of alleged economic justice or of frontier lawlessness.
10. James continued to be one of the most iconic figures from the era, and his life has been dramatized and memorialized many times.
11. James’ father left home when Jesse was very young to minister to gold seekers out West and died of cholera while there.
12. Residing in Missouri, the James family owned slaves and supported the Confederacy.
13. When Jesse was 15 years old, Union soldiers seeking information attacked the James household, hanging Jesse’s stepfather from a tree, he survived but with mental damage, and roughing up young Jesse.
14. Before he even became an outlaw, Jesse was shot in the chest on two separate occasions.
15. Jesse and other guerrillas might have slaughtered and scalped unarmed Union soldiers.
16. He reportedly earned the nickname “Dingus” after shooting off the tip of his finger while cleaning a pistol. Because he didn’t like to curse, he said, “That’s the dod-dingus pistol I ever saw.”
17. The James gang’s “Robin Hood” image was carefully crafted with the help of editor John Newman Edwards.
18. Jesse loved publicity, and was even known to hand out “press releases” to witnesses at the scenes of his crimes.
19. He once almost overdosed on morphine. Most agree that it was accidental, but there is speculation that it was a suicide attempt.
20. He, or possibly one of his gang members, shot a little girl while robbing the Kansas City Exposition on September 26, 1872. He later wrote, anonymously, in a public letter, “It is true that I shot a little girl, thought it was not intentional, and I am very sorry that the child was shot; and if the parents will give me their address through the columns of the Kansas City Weekly Times, I will send them money to pay her doctor’s bill.”
21. He, along with his gang, robbed a stagecoach while on his honeymoon in Austin, Texas, 1874.
22. Jesse and his brother cost his mother her arm and his half-brother his life. Agents of the Pinkerton Detective Agency, on the hunt for Jesse and his brother Frank, threw an incendiary device into the family home, killing the 4 year old half-brother and causing the mother to need her right arm amputated.
23. Legend says that James jumped a 20 foot gulch on horseback while fleeing a scene, but historians say it probably never happened.
24. His own pistol was used to kill him while he was tidying up his house.
25. Jesse’s son starred in two silent movies about his father’s life, playing the roles of both himself and his father. Both films, “Jesse James Under the Black Flag” and “Jesse James as the Outlaw,” were filmed in 1921.
26. After his death, Jesse’s mother charged tourists a quarter for pebbles taken from his grave.
27. A man named J. Frank Dalton claimed to be Jesse in the late 1940s and early 1950s. However, a DNA test proved that Dalton lied.
28. Historians think that James might have had an eye condition that caused chronic inflammation, called blephartis.
29. He murdered at least 12 people, and claimed to have murdered 17.
30. The Defeat of Jesse James Days in Northfield, Minnesota, is among the largest outdoor celebrations in the state. It’s held annually in September during the weekend after Labor Day. Thousands of visitors watch reenactments of the robbery, a championship rodeo, a carnival, performances of a 19th century style melodrama musical, and a parade during the five-day event.