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Wild West Outlaws and Lawmen

Jesse & Frank James




Jesse and Frank James (the James brothers) were two of the most famous outlaws known to the American west.

They hailed from Missouri. Frank lived from 1843-1915 and Jesse from 1847-1882. They had long careers as robbers and murderers. The boys were sympathetic to the Southern cause during the Civil War. Frank joined William Clarke Quantrill's band of guerrillas known as Quantrill's Raiders which operated on the Kansas-Missouri border. It was there that Frank befriended Cole Younger. Jesse, meanwhile, joined "Bloody Bill" Anderson's Rebels. Both groups made raids on anti-slavery towns and Union soldiers and the skills they learned during the war became their trademark tactics in banditry.

Jesse was seriously wounded by Union troops. Upon his recovery, he and Frank robbed the bank at Liberty, Missouri on February 13, 1866 and in the process, killed a bystander. Cole Younger, along with some of his brothers joined the James boys and they became the James Gang. They continued to rob banks from Iowa to Alabama and Texas then in 1873, they add train robberies. They had already been robbing stagecoaches, stores and even individuals.

Soon, the gang became the subject of vivid writers' imaginations and they were presented as folk heroes for readers of adventure stories. They gained public sympathy after some Pinkerton detectives, trying to capture them, threw a bomb into their mother's house. The blast severed her arm and killed Jesse's 8-year old half-brother.

They tried to rob the First National Bank of Northfield, Minnesota in September of 1876. It proved a disaster and Cole, Jim and Bob Younger were all captured and given life sentences. The James boys escaped.

They hit out in Nashville, Tennessee for three years then emerged with a new gang. Their first hit was in October 1879 when they robbed a train near Glendale, Missouri. After more murders and robberies, a $5,000 bounty was placed on each of the brothers' heads for their capture or conviction.

Gang member Robert Ford turned on Jesse and shot him in the head on April 3, 1882 while Jesse stood on a chair straightening a picture on the wall of his home. Months later, Frank surrendered to authorities. But in three separate trials for robbery and murder, they could not get a conviction and so Frank James went free. He lived on the family farm until 1915 and died in the same room in which he was born.

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