Outlaws Frank and Jesse James eluded capture for sixteen years and became folk heroes. In 1882, after Jesse was back shot and killed by Bob Ford, Frank surrendered and faced trial for murder. But how could Missouri convict a man so popular that the governor almost needed an appointment to visit him in jail
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November 05, 2002
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Excerpt from Arm of the Bandit by Johnny D. Boggs
Our usually quiet city was startled last Tuesday by one of the most cold-blooded murders, and heavy robberies on record.
--Liberty Tribune, February 16, 1866
January 28, 1866
Every time he drew a breath, it felt as if coal oil filled his lungs. He lay on his back in the bitterly cold loft, grinding his teeth against the biting pain, gripping a Navy Colt revolver in his right hand, waiting, listening, perhaps dying.
Well, Jesse James thought, if he did die up here, his family wouldn't have to dress him in his Sunday-go-to-meetings. In his black woolen sack suit, best white shirt with paper collar and black ribbon tie, he felt fit for a pine box. Only a few hours earlier he had been baptized and accepted as a member of the Kearney Baptist Church, so he was ready to see those streets of gold. 'Course, that didn't mean he was willing to go peacefully. No, the first Yankee to show his face would get a .36-caliber ball between his eyes, and he would take as many of those cowardly sons of bitches with him as he could. So would Frank.
His older brother sat beside him, hunched over in the cramped confines of the loft, working a quid of tobacco in his mouth and silently spitting into an old Arbuckles coffee can. His brother could chew anywhere, anytime, and never get sick. Dressed in black broadcloth, Frank sat quietly, eyes focused on the light shining through the cracks in the loft floor, index finger caressing the cylinder of the Remington .44 resting on his thigh.
Jesse could hear the commotion in the farmhouse below: bluebellies yelling that the James boys had been spotted in town this morning, so their mother, if she wanted no harm to come to her boys, had better turn the two guerrillas in . . . and old Ma giving them Yanks plenty of hell, saying that it was a pure-dee shame that a God-fearing woman such as herself had to worry over bluecoats tormenting her and her family on the Sabbath, that as far as she knew her oldest sons were down in Texas, living law-abiding lives, and that the Yanks had won the war, almost over a year now, so why must they and scum-sucking carpetbaggers keep pestering her, a weak, old woman?
Old maybe, but Ma had never been weak. Hell, if Captain Quantrill and Bloody Bill had fifty women with Ma's temperament, them abolitionist vermin and Kansas redlegs would have been the ones begging for quarter.
Listening to his mother's pleading above the squawking hens, Yankees cursing and younguns crying below, Jesse felt his hand tighten against the revolver. Just because he had ridden with Quantrill, those bluebellies would never let Frank and him live in peace. They'd hang them both, then laugh at Ma's tears. It wasn't enough that Jesse himself had taken that damned oath of allegiance; now he wished he had never taken the pledge. Back in May, after word came that William Clarke Quantrill had been mortally wounded by federal troops in Kentucky and Bobby Lee had surrendered over in Virginia, Jesse and some of the boys decided it was time to bow to the damnyankees. They mounted up and rode to Lexington, but a bunch of drunken bluecoats opened fire, leaving Jesse to die with a bullet in his lung.