Did you know that Jesse James once gave a widow who housed him enough money to pay off her debt collector and then robbed the debt collector as the man left the widow’s home.
Jesse James once sought shelter at a lonely farmhouse. The widow there apologized for her poor hospitality. She said she had very little money and despaired of paying the debt collector, who was coming imminently to demand $1,400.
James gave her $1,400 and told her to get a receipt. Then he hid outside and watched the road. The debt collector arrived, looking grim, and entered the house. A few minutes later he emerged, looking pleased. James accosted him, took back the $1,400, and rode off.
How did Jesse James became famous
Jesse James did not become famous, however, until December 7, 1869, when he and (most likely) Frank robbed the Daviess County Savings Association in Gallatin, Missouri. The robbery netted little money, but it appears that Jesse shot and killed the cashier, Captain John Sheets, mistakenly believing him to be Samuel P. Cox, the militia officer who had killed “Bloody Bill” Anderson during the Civil War. Cox had earlier been a partner of the firm Ballinger, Cox & Kemper with Gallatin businessman J.M. Kemper whose son William Thornton Kemper, Sr. went on to found two of the largest banks headquartered in Missouri (Commerce Bancshares and UMB Financial Corporation) but the business relationship had dissolved by the time of the robbery. James’s self-proclaimed attempt at revenge, and the daring escape he and Frank made through the middle of a posse shortly afterward, put his name in the newspapers for the first time.An 1882 history of Daviess County said, “The history of Daviess County has no blacker crime in its pages than the murder of John W. Sheets.”
Rumors of survival
Rumors of Jesse James’s survival proliferated almost as soon as the newspapers announced his death. Some said that Robert Ford killed someone other than James, in an elaborate plot to allow him to escape justice.
These tales have received little credence, then or later. None of James’s biographers accepted them as plausible. The body buried in Kearney, Missouri, as Jesse James’s was exhumed in 1995 and subjected to mitochondrial DNA typing. The report, prepared by Anne C. Stone, Ph.D., James E. Starrs, L.L.M., and Mark Stoneking, Ph.D., stated the mtDNA recovered from the remains was consistent with the mtDNA of one of James’s relatives in the female line. This theme resurfaced in a 2009 documentary, Jesse James’ Hidden Treasure, which aired on the History Channel. The documentary was dismissed as pseudo-history and pseudo-science by historian Nancy Samuelson in a review she wrote for the Winter 2009-2010 edition of The James-Younger Gang Journal.
One prominent claimant was J. Frank Dalton, who died August 15, 1951, in Granbury, Texas. Dalton was allegedly 101 years old at the time of his first public appearance, in May 1948. His story did not hold up to questioning from James’ surviving relatives.
Killing Jesse James
On April 3, 1882, after eating breakfast, the Fords and James went into the living room in preparation for the trip to Platte City. James had just learned of gang member Dick Liddil’s confession for participating in Hite’s murder while reading the daily newspaper, and grew increasingly suspicious of the Fords for never reporting this matter to him. According to Robert Ford, it became clear to him that James had realized they were there to betray him. However, instead of scolding the Fords, James walked across the living room to lay his revolvers on a sofa. He then turned around and noticed a dusty picture above the mantle, and stood on a chair in order to clean it. Robert Ford then drew his weapon, and shot the unarmed Jesse James in the back of the head. James’ wife Zerelda Mimms ran into the room and screamed, “You’ve killed him.” Robert Ford’s immediate response was “I swear to God I didn’t.”
After the killing, the Fords wired Crittenden to claim their reward. They surrendered themselves to legal authorities, but they were dismayed to find that they were charged with first degree murder. In one day, the Ford brothers were indicted, pled guilty, and were sentenced to death by hanging, but two hours later, Crittenden granted them a full pardon. Despite the deal that was made with Crittenden, the Ford brothers received only $500, a fraction of the money they were originally promised.