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Jesse W. James – The Merry Outlaw
On March 9, 1882, a severe winter storm swept over north-west Missouri blanketing the city of St. Joseph with a considerable volume of snow. During this snowstorm, a few young ladies were snowballing each other in the front yard of their house at 1820 Lafayette Street when along came their neighbor, Mr. Thomas Howard. Unbeknownst to the young ladies was that their neighbor was the infamous outlaw Jesse Woodson James. “In a spirit of mischief, one of the ladies molded a snowball and threw it at Jesse, who burst into a hearty laugh, and gathering up a handful of snow began to throw back at his aggressors. With loud screams of laughter, the ladies started to run down the hill, with the domesticated guerrilla and train robber in close pursuit, showering snow on the heads of the fleeing bevy of beauties.”
~ St. Joseph Weekly Gazette, April 13, 1882
Jesse James’ Daring
Some time after Bill Ryan had been sentenced to the penitentiary for complicity in the Blue Cut train robbery, Jesse James conceived the daring idea of coming straight to Jefferson City and having a talk with Ryan. Jim Cummins and others advised him not to attempt anything of the kind, but the bandit was determined, and straightway came to Jefferson City and stopped at the Nichols house.The next day he visited the penitentiary and had a talk with Ryan and left that night. He represented himself as a friend of Ryan’s and conducted himself as any other visitor. Of course, Ryan was surprised to see him, but understood his business well enough to conceal his business. The visit was merely one of daring and friendship. Jesse had no thoughts of attempting Ryan’s release. He said that he wanted to see how Bill was getting along and to take a look at the penitentiary from the inside.
~ Butler Weekly Times, Sept. 3, 1890
Short History of the James-Younger Gang
The James-Younger Gang originated in 1868 with the Russellville, Kentucky bank robbery and terminated in 1876 with a similar caper in Northfield, Minnesota. Pre-1869 hold-ups which have been attributed to the Gang may have had one or more members involved but not the Gang as we know it today. Robberies after 1876 are the work of the James Gang.
Core members of the James-Younger Gang were Cole Younger, John Jarrett and Jesse and Frank James. Gang personnel varied from robbery to robbery. From 1868 to 1881 the membership list is substantial.
The origin of the James-Younger Gang began with the Kansas-Missouri border conflict which preceded the American Civil War. Kansas and Missouri were in contention over the slavery issue. During 1854 – 1861 men from both sides would raid their opponent’s territory to burn, pillage and kill. The Youngers and Jarretts had their homes on this extended battleground, which was, in 1861, engulfed in the grim Civil War.
The Younger boys saw this violence first hand when their father’s mercantile business was robbed on several occasions and he, a pro-Union man, was nevertheless murdered by Union soldiers. Jesse James also witnessed this viciousness when his step-father, Reuben Samuel, was hung by the neck three times in succession to reveal the whereabouts of his step-son Frank James. Fifteen-year-old Jesse was severely whipped on the back to divulge the same information. Dr. Samuel never fully recovered from the hanging.
Many pro-Southern young men who witnessed these outrages joined the Confederate Army. Some of these boys, too young to enlist, opted to ride under Captain William Clarke Quantrill’s guerillas. Among them were Youngers, Jameses, and Jarrett.
At the close of the Civil War Confederate soldiers were required to take the Oath of Allegiance to the United States in order to gain citizenship. Frank and Jesse James took the oath but many of their compatriots, including Cole Younger and John Jarrett, did not.
Those who rode with Quantrill were not well received on their return from the war. Most tried to rebuild their previous lives. However, for a few, this option was rejected and they turned to outlawry. Such was the origin of the James-Younger Gang.