Sunday, July 10, 2016

American Biography: Frank and Jesse James

Jesse James, Civil War
Frank James
Frank and Jesse James weren't ready for the Civil War to end.  There was too much bad blood floating around, and they took up a life of crime, mostly bank robbery as a way to still hurt the North.  Some of their robberies specifically targeted old enemies, who were often murdered during the robbery.  John Edwards, a newspaper man with Southern sympathies found in the James brothers people who could use to promote the South.  Edwards had been a Colonel in the Confederacy.  He helped turn the James Brothers into folk heroes, while he tried to instill pride into southerners.  Although Missouri had officially remained in the Union, many from Missouri fought with the South.  Frank, 21 and Jesse 16 served with William Quantrill's raiders.  This was a guerrilla outfit.  They used ruthless tactics.  Quantrill's men carried off daring raids.  Trying to stop the raids the Union went after those associated with Quantrill.  When some of the wives and women were killed, Quantrill brought all his men together, and launched an attack against Lawrence, Kansas.  A third of the town was burnt down, and over 150 men and boys killed.  Frank James was involved in this massacre.  The Union pursued the raiders, and found Frank James' unit.  Frank escaped, and when he returned Jesse was with him.  Jesse James was involved in a raid on a train.  They captured twenty-two of Sherman's men headed home for furlough.  They were stripped, shot, and their bodies mutilated.
As the war ended, Quantrill was wounded and later died.  The exact history may not be known, but one story has Jesse James trying to surrender.  Under flag of truce, he was shot through the lungs.  His life would hang in the balance for eight weeks.  He was taken home, and he would later marry one of his nurses, Zee Mimms.  Frank James surrendered in Kentucky, and on his  way home would have a gunfight with four Union soldiers, killing two of them.
The James brothers were permanently scarred by the war.  Others also scarred joined them including Cole and James Younger.  Many other raiders stayed together, and began robbing banks.  After a hold up, Arch Clement was found my a militia in a bar and killed.  Several other members were caught and hung, and some drifted away.  However the Youngers and James and a core group continued on.  They were able to get away with tens of thousands of dollars (which would be millions today.)  They moved on to trains, first in Adair Iowa, where they derailed the train, killing the engineer and injuring passengers.  The Pinkerton Detective Agency was formed to pursue the James'  They caught Reuben and Zerelda Samuels, while their nine-year-old son slept.  The surrounded the house and threw in an incendiary device.  When it exploded Zerelda's arm was almost torn off (it was amputated) and Archie was killed.  Eight Pinkertons were indicted for murder, but never tried.  John Edwards continued to promote them, railing at the carpetbaggers and sympathy for the men who fought them.
The James Younger gang erred in going north for a bank robbery, Northfield, Minnesota.  The town was heavily armed, and everyone in the gang was wounded, two were killed.  The three Younger brothers were captured.  Frank and Jesse laid low for three years.  Jesse was the person who got back into robbing first.  He was the leader of the gang now.  His brother initially declined, but eventually joined him.  New blood was needed, and Charley Ford became a part of the gang.  His brother Bob also joined.  However these two were talking to the police, and planning the demise of Jesse James.  When Jesse turned his back to hang a picture, Bob Ford shot him in the back of the head, killing him.  Rather than a $10,000 reward, the brothers received $600,  The governor divided the money between several parties, himself included.  Bob Ford was not seen as a hero, but a coward for having shot Jesse James in the back when he was unarmed.  Frank James arranged his surrender.  He was tried on only two murder-robbery charges, and acquitted in both cases.  He tried his hand at a wild west show with Cole Younger.  He would die of a heart attack.

Based on Bill O'Reilly's Legends & Lies by David Fisher.

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