10 Lesser Known Secrets From the Life of Notorious Outlaw Jesse James
Jesse James, a captivating figure in American history
On July 21, 1873, a brazen act of robbery unfolded in Adair, Iowa. The notorious outlaw and American folk figure, Jesse James along with his infamous posse, the James-Younger Gang embarked on their first train heist, per WhizzPast. In a daring move, they used stolen tools to alter the train tracks, causing a collision as the train rounded a blind curve. Dressed in white Ku Klux Klan masks, they ransacked the train in search of gold bullion but found only a meager $2,000 so they robbed the passengers of valuables. The looted amount is equivalent to $50,000 today. This robbery marked the beginning of Jesse James's infamy, as he continued to lead a life filled with crime and controversy.
Jesse James remains a captivating figure in American history, often romanticized as a type of Robin Hood or folk hero despite his ruthless actions, including the loss of innocent lives. Let's delve into ten lesser-known secrets and intriguing facets of Jesse James's life.
1. A minister's son
Jesse James's upbringing was far from the lawlessness he would later embrace. His father, Robert S. James was a Baptist minister and a hemp farmer. However, his father's quest for gold out West led him away from home and he eventually succumbed to cholera. This early loss left young Jesse without a paternal figure.
2. Ties to slavery and the Confederacy
The James family resided in Missouri, a state divided by the Civil War. They owned slaves and supported the Confederacy. Jesse's upbringing was steeped in the values of the South during this tumultuous period.
3. Traumatic Union encounter
At the tender age of 15, Jesse James and his family faced a traumatic encounter with Union soldiers seeking information. The soldiers hung Jesse's stepfather from a tree and he suffered severe mental trauma though he survived the ordeal. This incident ignited a fire within Jesse, eventually leading him to join the Confederate guerrillas.
4. Brush with death
Before he gained notoriety as an outlaw, Jesse faced death twice. In 1864, he was shot in the chest while attempting to steal a saddle from a farmer. The following year, Union soldiers shot him once again. These early brushes with mortality foreshadowed his tumultuous life ahead. He was later killed by Rober Ford, a fellow gang member on April 3, 1882.
5. Allegations of brutality
Jesse's time as a Confederate guerrilla fighter is shrouded in controversy. Some accounts suggest that he and his comrades may have been involved in the gruesome acts of slaughtering and scalping unarmed Union soldiers. However, the veracity of these claims remains a subject of debate among historians.
6. A controversial marriage
Jesse James raised eyebrows with his choice of a life partner. He married his first cousin, Zerelda "Zee" Mimms, who shared the same name as Jesse's mother. This unconventional union added to the intrigue surrounding his personal life.
7. The "Dingus" nickname
Jesse was often called "Dingus." This nickname stemmed from an incident where he accidentally shot off the tip of his finger while cleaning a pistol. Rather than using profanity, he quipped, "That's the dod-dingus pistol I ever saw."
8. Shaping the Outlaw Legend
The James gang's reputation as modern-day Robin Hoods owed much to the efforts of newspaper editor John Newman Edwards. Edwards penned favorable articles that painted the gang as noble figures, writing lines like "[the James gang are] men who might have sat with Arthur at the Round Table, ridden in a tourney with Sir Lancelot, or won the colors of Guinevere" in the Kansas City Times in 1872.
9. A love for publicity
Jesse James had a penchant for publicity. He was known to distribute "press releases" at the scenes of his crimes. One such release exaggerated his feats and declared, "The most daring robbery on record." This calculated manipulation of the media added to the mystique surrounding his outlaw persona.
10. An unintentional tragedy
Perhaps one of the darkest secrets of Jesse James's criminal career was his involvement in an accidental tragedy. During the robbery of the Kansas City Exposition on September 26, 1872, a little girl was shot. Although it was unintentional, Jesse later penned an anonymous public letter expressing remorse and a willingness to cover the child's medical expenses.
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