More About the Legend

Frank James also married, and their wives tried to get them to take on a more normal life. With a $10,000 reward on his head, Jesse moved to St. Joseph, Missouri with his family in the fall of 1881 to hide out.

On Christmas Eve, Jesse and Zee moved their family into a small house atop a high hill overlooking St. Joseph. Living under the assumed name of Tom Howard, Jesse rented the house from a city councilman for $14 a month. He attended church, but did not work for a living.

During the winter of 1882, Jesse tried to buy a small farm in Nebraska, but in April he was short of cash. All of his earlier gang members were either dead or in prison, but Jesse recruited Bob and Charlie Ford to help him rob the Platte City bank. The Ford brothers posed as cousins of Jesse James, but actually were not related to Jesse at all.

Legend's End

The $10,000 reward on Jesse proved too appealing. While Jesse stood on a chair in the family home at 1318 Lafayette Street in St. Joseph to dust and straighten a picture, Bob and Charlie Ford drew their guns. Bob Ford put an end to the James legend with a single bullet to the back of the head on April 3, 1882. The Ford brothers attempted to collect the reward. Instead, they were charged with murder. They were sentenced to hang, but were pardoned by Governor Tom Crittenden.

Two years later, Charles Ford committed suicide and Bob Ford, the dirty little coward who shot Mr. Howard and laid poor Jesse in his grave, was himself killed in a bar room brawl in Creede, Colorado in 1892.

Jesse James was a moral paradox. He was a good father and family man, and was religious in his own way. Whether he stole from the rich and gave to the poor, or just kept it all, has never been decided.

Jesse James died in 1882, but the legend of Jesse James continues more than a century beyond his death. Today, Jesse and Frank James are among the best-known Americans in the world.