Thursday, 20 March 2014

Jesse James robs a bank

20th March 1868

This day in history...Jesse James and the James-Younger Gang rob a bank in Russellville, Kentucky, taking $14,000 

Today's blog looks at Jesse Woodson James (Sep 5 1847-1882): the notorious American outlaw, gang leader, bank robber, train robber, and murderer. He is basically the ultimate gangster, especially for the 19th Century. He is the most famous member of the James-Younger gang and his celebrity status that he had when he was alive, has transformed him into a legendary figure, immortalising him. In order to give today's event of robbing the Southern Deposit Bank some context, we must look at the life of Jesse James.

Image retrieved from Google. Will remove at owner's request.
Jesse James - young and old
Jesse James - A brief history:Jesse and his older brother Frank James were raised in an educated and prestigious family of farmers. The brothers father died when Jesse was just 3 years old, which meant that their mother Zerelda remarried several times, giving birth to several half siblings for Jesse and Frank. In the summer of 1863, the James farm was brutally attacked by Union Soldiers as the Civil War was currently taking place. Jesse was just 16 when he and Frank became Confederate guerilla soldiers. They were in favour of the southern attitudes and of slaveholding, whilst the north were strongly against it, amongst other differences. During the civil war, atrocities were committed on both sides; Unionists enforced martial law, raided homes, arrested civilians, executions and banishment; Guerrillas, like Jesse and Frank, murdered civilian Unionists, executed prisoners and scalped the dead. Not a pretty sight.

Image retrieved from Google. Will remove at owner's request.
Jesse and Frank James
Following the civil war the brothers married, but continued to live the guerilla lifestyle as outlaws. The harsh postwar civil legislation caused them to rebel and they took the law into their own hands. They began robbing trains, stagecoaches and banks that were owned or operated by Northern institutions. They have been compared to Robin Hood, stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. The likely hood is, however, that they kept the money for themselves. They did however protect their gang members and family, who had grown and changed over the years. From 1860 to 1882 the James Gang was the most feared of all outlaws in American History, responsible for more than 20 bank and train robberies and the murders of countless people who had stood in their way. It is estimated that they stole a total of $200,000, which is a substantial amount even now, let alone in the 19th Century. 

Image retrieved from Google. Will remove at owner's request.
Jesse and Frank James robbing a train, 1860s
Today's event: March 20th 1868, 8 members of the James-Younger Gang (Younger being two other brothers), rode into Russellville, Kentucky and went to the town's bank. Four of the men dismounted (Jesse and Frank James, Cole Younger, John Jarrette), whilst two stayed mounted in front of the bank (George and Oliver Shepard), and two others on the outskirts of the town (Arthur McCoy and Jim White). The James' brothers and Cole Younger entered the building, whilst Jarrette went round the back.There were three people inside the bank and on entering Cole pulled out his pistol and shot the cashier, who managed to get away. The gang ordered the other two men to fill wheat sacks with as money as possible, whilst holding them at gunpoint. When the sacks were full, the outlaws began riding out of town, firing their guns in the air. 
Image retrieved from Google.Will remove at owner's request.
Downfall and Death: Following this event, some of the gang members were caught and arrested, which only started the downfall of the gang. By 1876, nearly all gang members had either been caught or killed, really only leaving the James brothers.  Frank settled down, whilst Jesse remained restless starting other gangs here and there. By this time the brothers had such a large bounty on their head, dead or alive, that things started to get complicated. Jesse grew paranoid about his gang members and was believed to have scared them away and even kill one of them. The only people Jesse could trust were Charley and Robert Ford. For protection, Jesse asked the brothers to move in with him. This was a mistake. Robert Ford had conducted secret negotiations with Thomas T. Crittenden, the Missouri governor, to bring in the famous outlaw and receive his $5,000 - $25,000 bounty money for each James brother. On April 3rd 1882, just after finishing their breakfast, Jesse noticed a dusty crocked picture on the wall, he stood on a chair to clean and adjust it, which was the perfect opportunity for Robert Ford. He shot Jesse in the back of the head, killing the 34 year old instantly. 

Image retrieved from Google. Will remove at owner's request.
Robert Ford shooting and killing Jesse
Image retrieved from Google. Will remove at owner's request.
Wanted Poster for Jesse and Frank
The death was a national sensation. The Ford brothers were also met with a charge of first degree murder instead of a bounty reward. So any Jesse James fans out there, you'll be happy to know his killer was caught...but then shortly let go with a small portion of the reward. The Ford brothers didn't have much luck though and in 1884 Charley Ford committed suicide after suffering tuberculosis, and Robert Ford was shot in the throat, dying instantly. 

Image retrieved from Google. Will remove at owner's request.
Jesse James in his coffin, 1882
There has been some speculation about there being a living line of descendants all named Jesse James. The current 'Jesse James' alive today is an American television personality. His claim to the legacy of the original Jesse James is that his great great grandfather was cousins with the original. There is however, no evidence to support this claim and is most likely just an American TV star trying to get an even bigger claim to fame. The legacy of Jesse James has lived on through films, books, music, radio shows, TV programmes, comics, museums, festivals and even heritage celebrations. You want to know more about Jesse James? I'm pretty sure you'll find something to suit your taste.

Image retrieved from Google. Will remove at owner's request.
Today's Jesse James, US TV personality
Don't forget to follow @Ydaysnews for more historical events each day!

1 comment:

  1. Were you guys even allowed to post this on the internet