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Is Photo of Jesse James with Killer Real?

Is Photo of Jesse James with Killer Real?


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Jesse James had lived through shootouts and two gun blasts to the chest, but ultimately he couldn’t survive a little housekeeping. As the infamous Wild West outlaw straightened and dusted a picture hanging on the living room wall of his rented home in St. Joseph, Missouri, on April 3, 1882, Robert Ford edged up behind him and drew his revolver. A new recruit to the James Gang that had robbed banks, stagecoaches and trains across Missouri and surrounding states, Ford pulled the trigger and fatally shot James in the back of his head.

Now, more than 130 years after Ford betrayed his fellow gang member for the reward money and a gubernatorial pardon, a full-body photograph purported to show James sitting side-by-side with his eventual killer has been authenticated by a renowned forensic artist. The undated tintype photograph was reportedly once in the possession of John and Pauline Higgins, a couple who harbored members of the James Gang in their Cedar County, Missouri, farmhouse during the 1870s. The photograph was handed down through five generations of the family until it came into the possession of 40-year-old Sandra Mills, who lives in rural Washington.

In an interview with the Houston Chronicle, Mills said her grandmother, Isabelle Klemann, told her stories about their ancestors’ connection to the James Gang and kept the tintype wrapped in a handkerchief in her dresser drawer. “This is Jesse James and the coward Robert Ford,” Klemann told Mills of the photograph, which she bequeathed to her granddaughter three years before her 2006 death.

According to Mills, Klemann hoped that her granddaughter could sell the family heirloom and purchase land with the earnings. However, Mills found collectors were skeptical of the photograph’s authenticity. “I’m just a farm girl, so nobody wanted to listen,” she told the Houston Chronicle. “We got no respect from anybody.”

Earlier this year, Mills turned to Lois Gibson, one of the country’s top forensic artists and an analyst for the Houston Police Department, for help. Over her 33-year career, Gibson has worked on more than 4,500 cases, and her sketches based on witness testimonies has resulted in the identification of more than 1,200 individuals. The certified forensic artist has also delved into the realm of history by identifying the sailor who kissed a nurse in Times Square in an iconic photograph at the close of World War II as well as authenticating a rare photograph of another famed outlaw—Billy the Kid.

Mills e-mailed a scan of the tintype to Gibson, who spent a week analyzing the minute details of the two men depicted and comparing them to verified photographs of both James and Ford. When the forensic artist transposed four photographs of James on top of the man in the tintype, she found that all of the facial features—from hairline to nostril shape to the distance between the nose and upper lip—were a match. Gibson even noted that photographs of James show that his left eye is bigger and his left eyebrow is longer than those on his right, and the man in the tintype exhibits the same slight anomalies. “All the features line up nearly perfectly,” Gibson wrote on her Facebook page. “The nose, eyes, lips, forehead and chin are the same size, shape and positioning relative to the other features.”

Gibson also saw a correlation between the tintype and other full-body photographs of James sitting in a chair that went beyond identical shirt and pants styles. “These photos show a remarkably similar hand, arm and leg positioning,” she wrote, noting that photographic subjects in the 1870s and 1880s needed to hold a pose for a full minute. “This natural body position had to be a comfortable one that Jesse James would repeat should he need to hold still so long again.”

The clincher for Gibson was the resemblance between the man sitting on the left in the photograph to the outlaw’s betrayer. “Greatly enhancing the claim that this tintype is truly Jesse James is the fact the man sitting next to him looks remarkably like a known companion in crime, Robert Ford,” she wrote.

Gibson told the Houston Chronicle that the project was the most exciting identification that she had ever done. “This is it, just huge, like finding a T-Rex leg bone,” she said.

It may take more than Gibson’s declaration, however, to convince collectors that this tintype is the real deal, and a great deal of money could be at stake. The only authenticated photograph of Billy the Kid sold for $2.3 million at a 2011 auction, and Bobby Livingston, executive vice president of RR Auction, told the Houston Chronicle that the tintype could fetch a similar price if authenticated. “It’s compelling,” he said of Gibson’s findings, “but I would want to see much more analysis.”

The forensic artist, however, has no doubt about the identity of the man in the tintype. “I know faces inside and out, and I worked exhaustively on this,” Gibson told the Houston Chronicle. “I am positive it’s Jesse James.”

James Family Speaks Out

Eric James is a member of the James family who together with one of the outlaw’s great-grandsons co-founded the James Preservation Trust in 2002. Their mission is to archive and address issues of veracity in regards to the family history and they are among the Jesse James historians who disagree with the authenticity of this photo. He says the tintype is just another in a long line of hoaxes related to the gang leader.

James tells HISTORY the trust receives photograph representations two to four times a month. In a lengthy post on Stray Leaves, the official website of the family of Frank and Jesse James, he says Mills approached him in March 2013 about the tintype reportedly bearing the images of Ford and James, which he found to be “blatantly false. I told her there is no way this would be a representation of either man,” James says.

In disputing Gibson’s findings, James notes the tintype she published is reversed from the image presented to him. “That’s a prime no-no in any scientific authentication,” he says. “You don’t tamper with the image.” James also says some of the photographs Gibson used as a basis of comparison are not at all authentic, including one in which the man put forth as Jesse James “displays a full set of unharmed digits” unlike the outlaw, who had a missing fingertip on an index finger. “She’s just comparing one bogus photo with another,” he says.


Jesse James

Jesse Woodson James (September 5, 1847 – April 3, 1882) was an American outlaw, bank and train robber, guerrilla, and leader of the James–Younger Gang. Raised in the "Little Dixie" area of western Missouri, James and his family maintained strong Southern sympathies. He and his brother Frank James joined pro-Confederate guerrillas known as "bushwhackers" operating in Missouri and Kansas during the American Civil War. As followers of William Quantrill and "Bloody Bill" Anderson, they were accused of committing atrocities against Union soldiers and civilian abolitionists, including the Centralia Massacre in 1864.

After the war, as members of various gangs of outlaws, Jesse and Frank robbed banks, stagecoaches, and trains across the Midwest, gaining national fame and often popular sympathy despite the brutality of their crimes. The James brothers were most active as members of their own gang from about 1866 until 1876, when as a result of their attempted robbery of a bank in Northfield, Minnesota, several members of the gang were captured or killed. They continued in crime for several years afterward, recruiting new members, but came under increasing pressure from law enforcement seeking to bring them to justice. On April 3, 1882, Jesse James was shot and killed by Robert Ford, a new recruit to the gang who hoped to collect a reward on James's head and a promised amnesty for his previous crimes. Already a celebrity in life, James became a legendary figure of the Wild West after his death.

Despite popular portrayals of James as an embodiment of Robin Hood, robbing from the rich and giving to the poor, there is no evidence that he and his gang shared any loot from their robberies with anyone outside their close kinship network. [1] Scholars and historians have characterized James as one of many criminals inspired by the regional insurgencies of ex-Confederates following the Civil War, rather than as a manifestation of alleged economic justice or of frontier lawlessness. [2] James continues to be one of the most famous figures from the era, and his life has been dramatized and memorialized numerous times.


More From Strange Inheritance

But Gibson spotted key similarities between Mills’ tintype and other pictures of James. She focused on James’ philtrum -- the vertical groove between the nose and the top lip.

“I noticed they dented in a certain way,” says Gibson. “Then the top of the lip itself. The shape is like pointy roof peaks. That’s the same as all the known pictures of James.”

Using a computer program, she then overlaid the final shot of James -- dead in his coffin -- atop Mills’ tintype. Bingo.

“I’ll be willing to testify in a court of law,” says Gibson. “It just darn well is Jesse James.”

She also concluded the other figure in the tintype is indeed Robert Ford.

The skeptics didn’t relent, however. If it was James and Ford, Mills should be able to more convincingly explain how her forebears ended up with it.

That’s when author Freda Cruse Hardison stepped up. Her book Frank and Jesse James: Friends and Family used genealogical research to tell the story of the gang responsible for more than 20 robberies and at least 17 murders.

“The name that popped out to me was Pauline Roundtree,” say Hardison.

Mills knew Roundtree was her great-great-great grandmother. Hardison’s database revealed Roundtree was also related to the James family through a previous marriage.

Auctioneer Burley put the tintype up for auction in January 2017. It sold for $35,000.

The buyer, a Texas collector named Terry Verburgt, believes he got a steal.

“I don’t think it will ever be sold that cheap again."

Sandy Mills says she has no regrets about selling her strange inheritance.

“It’s sold and we did good, and it’s out there now. I want it to be in history books.“


Jesse James jackpot: Outlaw photo bought on eBay for $10 could be worth $2 million

An eBay shopper buys an authentic photo thought to be the earliest known photo of legendary outlaw Jesse James at the young age of 14 years old. After authenticating the image, the picture may now be worth thousands or even millions of dollars.

A mysterious 19th-century photograph bought on eBay for just $10 could be worth $2 million after experts identified it as an extremely rare portrait of infamous outlaw Jesse James.

Justin Whiting, who lives in Spalding, U.K., bought the tintype for just 7 U.K. pounds ($10) in July 2017. He noticed a marked similarity between the youth in the picture and a photo of James in a book.

Described as a sort of “19th-century Polaroid,” tintype photos were created by applying chemicals to a thin metal sheet.

“I noticed the picture for sale — it was $10. It was a bit blurry on the site but when I got it, it was a lot clearer,” he said, according to SWNS. “I thought to myself: ‘Gee wizz, this could be a real photo!’ I’ve been obsessed with American outlaws for years and read lots of books and study their faces.”

The eBay listing for the rare Jesse James photo (© Justin Whiting / SWNS.com)

Prompted by friends, Whiting contacted forensic experts in the U.S., who analyzed the picture. The collector, who has been out of work since 2003 as a result of back problems, has been told that the photo could be worth at least $2 million, SWNS reports.

Born on Sept. 5, 1847 in Clay County, Mo., James earned notoriety as a bank and train robber. He was also a Confederate guerrilla during the Civil War. The outlaw was shot dead by Robert Ford, a member of his gang, on April 3, 1882.

California-based 19th century photography expert Will Dunniway studied Whiting’s picture and said that it was a genuine portrait of James taken when the baby-faced outlaw was just 14.

Collector Justin Whiting, who bought the Jesse James picture on eBay (© Justin Whiting / SWNS.com)

“It was an easy match since it was compared to a longtime known image of the young Jesse James at 14,” he told Fox News, via email. “Justin’s image, however, was the same pose taken the same day by the same photographer.”

The Jesse James photo is an “amazing find,” according to Dunniway, who has also worked to authenticate famous photos of Billy the Kid. “There are no others like it,” he said. “A one-of-a-kind original that most likely was handled by the teenaged Jesse James himself.”

The photo was also sent to Los Angeles-based forensic expert Kent Gibson, who confirmed that the image is authentic. “The Jesse at 14 tintype is VERY similar to an image I found on the James Foundation site. I presume taken at the same session," he told Fox News, via email.

The tintype photo of Jesse James (© Justin Whiting / SWNS.com)

There are very few original photos of outlaws in existence, which means that they can command high prices when they come on the market. A portrait of Billy the Kid taken in Fort Sumner in 1880, for example, sold for $2.3 million in 2011.

An unusual 1878 photo of Billy the Kid and his gang playing croquet has also been appraised and insured for $5 million.

Other collectors have hit the jackpot in recent years. A grainy 19th century photo bought at a North Carolina flea market for $10 was found to show both Billy the Kid and his killer Pat Garrett, potentially making it worth millions of dollars. Both Gibson and Dunniway worked on the authentication of that image.

In 2015 a rare photo of James and his assassin Ford surfaced, creating plenty of buzz.

SWNS reports that Whiting has already been in contact with auction house Christie’s about the Jesse James picture.

A Christie’s spokesperson declined to comment on this story, telling Fox News that the auction house “does not comment on anything which is not consigned for sale.”


This Day in History: Outlaw Jesse James Is Killed (1882)

The image above is very interesting. The reason is that it is the only known image of the famed criminal Jesse James (on the right) with his killer, Robert Ford (left). While for years it was impossible to say if the photo was authentic or not, it has been since been scientifically examined. Apparently it is real.

The story of Jesse James is legend. In fiction, James and his gang are idolized as a group of men who turned to crime for reasons beyond their control. As is the case with most fiction, this is highly sensationalized. James and his gang were killers, and stole for no altruistic purpose that we know of.

Jesse James. Wikipedia

On April 3, 1882, James was betrayed by fellow gang member Bob Ford. Ford shot Jesse James in the back, and claimed the reward money from the Missouri state Governor.

The start for Jesse James was as a Confederate fighter in the south. Both he and his brother participated in the killings of settlers and Union troops. Once the Civil War was over, the boys went back to their quiet life in Missouri for small amount of time.

However, they did not find it exciting enough. Their first bank robbery happened on February 13, 1866. Some of the legend of Jesse James that comes from fiction has to do with politics. He joined a gang of former Confederates who would all take part in robberies and assassinations. Most of their targets (at least at the beginning of their crime spree) were owned by northern, anti-slavery, or pro-Union Republicans. Hence the idea that the James gang fought and committed crimes for a more unified purpose outside of just making money.

Over the course of the next 16 years, the gang would peak and fall. In the early years, locals would cover for James and his gang, preventing their capture and arrest. However, as their criminal actions started to affect non-political actors (meaning they started robbing fellow former Confederates), their support dried up, making it easier for the government to pick away at their numbers.

James first became famous, and the leader of the gang when he shot and killed a cashier at the Daviess County Savings Association in 1869. He and his brother Frank had to escape a posse, and they were rewarded with coverage in the newspaper for the first time.

On April 3, 1882, Bob Ford, who had only just joined the dwindling James crew, made a deal with the Governor of Missouri. He and his brother had been living with Jesse James and his wife (who was also his first cousin) while they planned their next illegal escapade. While in the living room of their home, and while Jesse James had his back turned, Ford pulled his revolver and shot James in the back of the head.

It has been postulated that James knew it was coming, and he did have some clue that members of his gang had betrayed him. Whether this is true or not, no one really knows.


New photo proves Jesse James faked his death

For just over two decades my mother, Betty Dorsett Duke had researched her family story in an effort to determine whether or not her great grandfather was truly the Old West outlaw, Jesse Woodson James who faked his death and lived to the age of 97 in Blevins, Texas under the alias James Lafayette Courtney. Several forensic photographic experts had verified that her family photos matched historically accepted photos of Jesse James, Jesse’s mother Zerelda, Jesse’s stepfather Dr. Reuben Samuel and other family members. Evidence was found in census records, birth certificates, newspaper articles from the time, countless books and other sources including Betty’s great grandfather’s diary in which he signed his name Jesse James. She even proved that the 1995 exhumation of the alleged grave of Jesse James in Kearney, Missouri, led by professor James Starrs was tainted and proved nothing.

But, of all her discoveries in her search for truth, one of the discoveries that made her happiest was the photo she liked to call “the eBay photo” which clearly showed her great grandfather Jesse James sitting in his yard in Blevins, Texas next to Annie Ralston and Frank James along with several known family members and close friends standing behind them.’ It was truly an amazing find.

Recently my sister, Teresa Duke, discovered a photo that would have made our mother proud. This photo (courtesy of The Phillips Collection) is titled: Jesse James Funeral and it shows exactly what my mother Betty Dorsett Duke, has been saying all these years: “Jesse James attended his own funeral” and “Wood Hite (Jesse’s cousin) was the one who was killed and passed off as Jesse.”

I contacted the agent of The Phillips Collection and he was very kind and graciously gave me permission to post the photo with the provision that I list who he and his team believe some of the people in the photo are and then I will list who my family and others believe they are. So, I will post the photo with his identities first and I will follow that with the photo listing the identities which we believe to be correct. Below those I will go into more detail with photo comparisons so as to show why we believe as we do.

Now for the corrected version of the photo:

First, I would like to point out that we believe, as do many historians that Zerelda was 6 feet tall. It’s been well documented. At first glance she does appear to be shorter than those around her but if you will notice the ground on which they are standing, it appears to be sloped which is likely the result of soil heaped around the grave. Jesse’s feet appear to be somewhere between 6 to 8 inches higher than Zerelda’s. Jesse was over 6 feet tall (which has also been well documented).

Our team agrees with the Phillips Collection team in regards to the identities of Frank James and Zerelda James Samuel, so there’s no need in my opinion to show their comparisons at this time. So I will get to the comparisons of the two stars of this photo: Jesse James and Wood Hite.

For the first photo comparison I’ll start with Jesse James.

Notice the hair, the shape of his eyes and nose and the high forehead. He has a beard in the funeral photo and of course, he’s younger in the photo to the left but we believe it is Wood Hite in the casket.

Of course, it’s not up to us to prove who is in the casket, Betty Dorsett Duke has already proven who it wasn’t. Jesse James was at his funeral but he wasn’t dead. The funeral photo, courtesy of the Phillips Collection, provides more proof that Jesse James lived & died in Texas at the age of 97.


  • A vintage photo of Wild West outlaw Jesse James is set to sell for thousands
  • It allegedly shows James, 14, two years before he joined the Confederate mission
  • Justin Whiting bought the photo of the Baptist minister's son for £7 off eBay
  • A photography expert from California confirmed the image was genuine
  • Whiting, from Spalding, Lincolnshire, could resell the photo for thousands

Published: 11:47 BST, 19 March 2018 | Updated: 13:06 BST, 19 March 2018

This is thought to be the earliest known photo of legendary outlaw Jesse James at the tender age of 14 years old, when the baby-faced teenager was just a Baptist minister's son from a prestigious farming family in Missouri.

In the Victorian tintype photograph taken around 1961, James stands stony-faced with slicked back hair, wearing a dark suit and leaning against a chair.

Just two years after the photo was taken, a Union militia attacked his family's farm, spurning him to join the Confederate militia in the American Civil War, beginning his transformation into a ruthless killer.

After the Civil War, he turned to a life of crime - robbing banks, stagecoaches and trains before being shot dead by his fellow gang member in 1882 aged 34.

Now, collector Justin Whiting, 45, is set to sell the vintage image for thousands after the 45-year-old, from Spalding, Lincolnshire, bought the photo off eBay for a measly $10 (£7).

Whiting claims the picture is now worth thousands after authenticating the image with a 19th century photography expert and a forensic expert.

This is the earliest known photo of legendary outlaw Jesse James at the tender age of 14 years old, when the baby-faced teenager was just a Baptist minister's son from a prestigious farming family in Missouri.

Just two years after the photo was taken, a Union militia attacked his family's farm, spurning him to join the Confederate militia in the American Civil War, beginning his transformation into a ruthless killer. Pictured: James as an outlaw

The photo of Jesse James (right) and an existing picture of the outlaw at a similar age (left). An expert confirmed the photograph was a genuine portrait of the bank robber and said it taken when the baby-faced outlaw was just 14 years old

Born in 1847, James grew up on a farm in Kearney, Missouri.

His father, Robert S. James, was a slave-owning minister in Kentucky and farmed commercial hemp on a 100-acre farm before moving to Missouri.

James Sr died when James was just three years old. The minister had headed west to preach salvation to gold miners in California.

James' mother, Zerelda, went on to remarry twice and by the time of her third husband, the family had acquired seven slaves.

Missouri was a border state, meaning it was between the free North and slave-owning South. It also neighboured Kansas, known in that era as 'Bleeding Kansas' due to the contested issue if slavery would be allowed.

As the Civil War was beginning to erupt, most of the tensions were coming from the Missouri-Kansas border, where James grew up, between pro-slavery and anti-slavery groups.

In 1863, James' family farm was brutally attacked by Unionist soldiers and he eventually became a part of a guerrilla campaign against the North.

It was during this time he became a folk hero in his home state of Missouri for fighting against Unionists.

Following the war James became one of the most iconic characters of his era, gaining celebrity status by holding up banks, stagecoaches and trains along with his older brother Frank James.

He went into hiding in 1876 after most of his gang members were killed in bank robbery gone wrong in the small town of Northfield, Minnesota.

James spent six years on the run from the law, holing up with trusted gang members Charley and Robert Ford.

But as he went to dust a picture, Ford stood up and shot him in the back of the head before sending a telegram, asking for the $10,000 reward on James' head.

THE LEGENDARY LIFE OF GUNSLINGER JESSE JAMES AND HOW HE MET HIS END

Legend of the West: A young Jesse James, armed with three revolvers, poses of a picture in the late 1800s

He is a Wild West legend and one of the most famous American outlaws of all time.

Jesse James rose to notoriety during the American Civil War when he and his brother Frank led a Confederate guerrilla force against the Union in their home state of Missouri.

After the war they fell into a life of crime - robbing banks, stagecoaches and trains as they rode in different gangs.

Jesse's fate was sealed following a disastrous bank robbery in Northfield, Minnesota, when many gang members were captured or wounded.

They had chosen the Minnesota town because it was small and thought to be peaceable but most importantly there was only one bank. Newspaper stories had reported that a new safe and time lock and two heavy doors for the vault had just been added to First National's building.

But this didn't put the gang off. They reasoned the threat of a gun would be enough to persuade most men to unlock a vault. It just meant that all the money in town was in one place and if there was enough of it to make it worth investing in a such security, there was enough to make it worth robbing.

According to a detailed account of James' life by the historian Mark Lee Gardner, the day they rode into Northfield, September 7, 1876, they were 'at the top of their game.'

But the bank staff resisted. Frustrated, gang member Frank James fired shots above bookkeeper Joseph Heywood's head.

In the smoke and confusion a colleague, though he had been shot, made a run for it, bringing more shots from the robber. Soon everything began to unravel.

The town was alerted to the raid taking place. All of their money was held in that building – and all uninsured. They decided to fight.

The gun battle lasted less than 10 minutes. Panicked, the gang members who had been keeping watch dashed amid bullets as locals fought back.

Historian Mr Gardner stated: 'While the townspeople were shooting to kill, the outlaws' shots were really meant to frighten, to scare away, to buy time – at least in the beginning.'

With a large bounty on his head, Jesse James was eventually shot and killed by Robert Ford, a member of his own gang

Keeping watch outside as panic grew, Cole Younger signalled the retreat: 'For God's sake,' he shouted. 'Come out. They are shooting us all to pieces.'

When it was over robbers Clell Miller and Bill Chadwell lay dead in the street. Bookkeeper Joseph Heywood had a bullet in his head and another local had been killed in the frenzy outside. The gang's haul totalled just $26.60 'in coin and crip.'

Bob Coles had been hit. They left, six men on five horses and for the next 14 days evaded capture in what became the largest manhunt in US history.

More than 1,000 men chased them across marsh and woodland. Cole Younger later recalled: 'We suffered in those fourteen days a hundred deaths.'

Jesse managed to slip away and live in St Jo under a false name, unaware there was a $10,000 bounty on his head.

But one morning, as the 34-year-old Jesse climbed on a chair to straighten a picture, he was shot in the back of the head by his fellow gang member Robert Ford.

Ford shot James down as he stood to adjust a picture in the parlour of his home. James was paranoid after a life on the run and had invited Ford and his brother Charles to live with him and his wife Zee and protect them.

'Meet me in Kansas City tonight or tomorrow. I have my man,' Ford's telegram said to Thomas Crittenden, Governor of Missouri.

Crittenden had placed a $10,000 reward on Jesse, and $40,000 if he was taken alive, but no one really believed Jesse James would be taken alive.

Instead James, the man who had survived shooting battles and daring raids, died as he had lived by the bullet and for bounty.

Now Justin Whiting (pictured), from Spalding, Lincolnshire, could sell the image for thousands of pounds after buying it for a measly £7 off eBay

Collector Jason Whiting purchased the vintage photo of the notorious US criminal in July 2017 and immediately tracked down Will Dunniway, a 19th century photography expert from California.

He was astonished when forensic experts confirmed his picture of the infamous Wild West outlaw was genuine and could sell for thousands.

Mr Whiting said: 'Anything is possible on eBay so I kept buying the odd photograph for a few quid, like other people would buy a lottery ticket.

'I noticed the picture for sale - it was $10. It was a bit blurry on the site but when I got it, it was a lot clearer.'

'I thought to myself: ''Gee wizz, this could be a real photo!'' I've been obsessed with American outlaws for years and read lots of books and study their faces.

'The picture was identical to the one in my book, except it was full length. All my friends said it was the same but I knew I needed to contact experts.

'I didn't dare to believe they would say it was genuine.'

Expert Mr Dunniway confirmed the photograph was a genuine portrait of bank robber Jesse James, taken when the baby-faced outlaw was just 14 years old.

His expert report said: 'The age of this image was about 1861-2 and is correct in every way to this period.'

'When it is compared to the much used comparison image, I believe it was taken on the same day by the same photographer.

'It is very evident by the face, haircut, jacket, shirt and tie that this is the same image of Jesse James at 14 years old. One of the originals.'

Whiting purchased the vintage picture of the notorious US outlaw in July 2017 off eBay (pictured) and immediately tracked down a 19th century photography expert from California

Mr Whiting then sent the 3.5 inches by 2.5 inches Victorian tintype photograph to Los Angeles forensic expert Kent Gibson who has verified evidence for the FBI.

Mr Gibson also confirmed the image was authentic and said: 'All power to Justin. An authentic photograph of outlaw Billy the Kid sold for $5million in 2015 so the sky's the limit.

'Jesse James is a very famous outlaw so this is obviously a valuable image.'

Mr Whiting, who has been out of work since 2003 due to back problems, has already been in touch with posh London auction house Christie's and is looking forward to spending his windfall.

He said: 'I'm definitely selling it. I'll be able to buy my own house and my own car. I can't wait. Good things do happen sometimes.'


Controversy surrounds new Jesse James photo discovery

1 of 29 This is the photo that HPD's 33-year forensic artist Lois Gibson said shows notorious Western outlaw Jesse James and his eventual killer Robert Ford. Now expert debate rages over how to really find the answer. Show More Show Less

2 of 29 American outlaw Frank James (second from left) and others pose over the dead body of his brother, Jesse James at Sidenfaden Funeral Parlor, St. Joseph, Missouri, April 4, 1882. Jesse was shot by Bob Ford, a member of his own gang, after Missouri Governer Thomas T. Crittenden offered a reward for the capture of the James brothers, dead or alive. Authenticated News/Getty Images Show More Show Less

A photo of the purported newly-discovered photo of James besides a rare known photo.

5 of 29 Lois Gibson, a forensic analyst and the head forensic artist for the Houston Police Department, spent one month "exhaustively" verifying a purported photo of legendary American outlaw Jesse James. After her work, she said she concluded that it was him. Experts called the find, if verified, a very big deal. Lois Gibson Show More Show Less

7 of 29 Lois Gibson, a forensic analyst and the head forensic artist for the Houston Police Department, spent one month "exhaustively" verifying a purported photo of legendary American outlaw Jesse James. After her work, she said she concluded that it was him. Experts called the find, if verified, a very big deal. Lois Gibson Show More Show Less

8 of 29 Lois Gibson, a forensic analyst and the head forensic artist for the Houston Police Department, spent one month "exhaustively" verifying a purported photo of legendary American outlaw Jesse James. After her work, she said she concluded that it was him. Experts called the find, if verified, a very big deal. Lois Gibson Show More Show Less

10 of 29 Lois Gibson, a forensic analyst and the head forensic artist for the Houston Police Department, spent one month "exhaustively" verifying a purported photo of legendary American outlaw Jesse James. After her work, she said she concluded that it was him. Experts called the find, if verified, a very big deal. Lois Gibson Show More Show Less

11 of 29 Lois Gibson, a forensic analyst and the head forensic artist for the Houston Police Department, spent one month "exhaustively" verifying a purported photo of legendary American outlaw Jesse James. After her work, she said she concluded that it was him. Experts called the find, if verified, a very big deal. Lois Gibson Show More Show Less

13 of 29 Lois Gibson, a forensic analyst and the head forensic artist for the Houston Police Department, spent one month "exhaustively" verifying a purported photo of legendary American outlaw Jesse James. After her work, she said she concluded that it was him. Experts called the find, if verified, a very big deal. Lois Gibson Show More Show Less

14 of 29 Lois Gibson, a forensic analyst and the head forensic artist for the Houston Police Department, spent one month "exhaustively" verifying a purported photo of legendary American outlaw Jesse James. After her work, she said she concluded that it was him. Experts called the find, if verified, a very big deal. Show More Show Less

16 of 29 Portrait of American assassin Robert 'Bob' Ford (1861 - 1892) showing off the revolver he used to kill outlaw Jesse James in 1882, mid 1880s. Authenticated News/Getty Images Show More Show Less

17 of 29 Outlaw Jesse James home at St. Joseph, next to the filling station. Walter Sanders/Getty Images Show More Show Less

19 of 29 The room in which Jesse James was shot and killed in his own home. Walter Sanders/Getty Images Show More Show Less

20 of 29 A view showing the safe that was once robbed by the outlaw Jesse James. Walter Sanders/Getty Images Show More Show Less

22 of 29 Portrait of American outlaw Jesse James (1847- 1882), late 1870s. He and his brother Frank led a gang of criminals who commited a string of murders and robberies across the Central States after the Civil War. Jesse was shot by Bob Ford, a member of his gang, shortly after Missouri Governor Thomas T. Crittenden issued a warrant for his and his brother's capture, dead or alive. Kean Collection/Getty Images Show More Show Less

23 of 29 The blotter on the man who killed Robert Ford, c1892 (1954). Robert Ford was the man who killed the famous outlaw Jesse James in 1882. He was himself murdered in 1892, shot by Edward O'Kelley. A print from the Pictorial History of the Wild West, by James D Horan and Paul Sann, Spring Books, London, 1954. Print Collector/Getty Images Show More Show Less

25 of 29 Jesse James in death, 1882 (1954). Picture taken just before he was placed in his $500 coffin. A leading member of the James-Younger gang, Jesse James was one of the most notorious outlaws of the American West, robbing banks, stagecoaches and trains. He was shot and killed in 1882 by Robert Ford, a member of the gang intent on claiming the bounty on James's head. A print from the Pictorial History of the Wild West, by James D Horan and Paul Sann, Spring Books, London, 1954. Print Collector/Getty Images Show More Show Less

26 of 29 Jesse James, American outlaw, c1869-1882 (1954). A leading member of the James-Younger gang, Jesse James was one of the most notorious outlaws of the American West, robbing banks, stagecoaches and trains. He was shot and killed in 1882 by Robert Ford, a member of the gang intent on claiming the bounty on James's head. A print from the Pictorial History of the Wild West, by James D Horan and Paul Sann, Spring Books, London, 1954. Print Collector/Getty Images Show More Show Less

28 of 29 Circa 1880: A 500 dollar reward poster for the arrest and conviction of American outlaw Jesse James, placed by the St. Louis Midland Railroad. American Stock Archive/Getty Images Show More Show Less

Expert debate has erupted over a photograph, identified in September by the Houston Police Department's veteran specialist in facial recognition as legendary outlaw Jesse James, seated next to his eventual killer, Robert Ford.

James lived a life on the run from the law, and seldom sat for photos before his 1882 death. An image of him would be an exceptionally rare and valuable find, but would require a meticulous process of verification.

HPD's forensic artist, Lois Gibson, spent a month analyzing facial features of the men in the photo. And last week, a genealogist traced the family of the photo's owner back to the James' community in 19th Century Missouri. But even that is only the start.

Take, for example, a photo of Billy the Kid&mdashanother famed Western bandit&mdashverified Tuesday and expected to sell for millions. Investigators spent more than a year researching the photo, even locating the building pictured in the background and excavating its remains. The process and discovery were notable enough to merit a National Geographic documentary, scheduled to air this month.

The purported Jesse James photo belonged to Sandy Mills, a rural Washingtonian who said she inherited it from her grandmother, who inherited it from her grandmother, who used to tell stories about harboring the infamous outlaw gang in their Missouri farmhouse. Mills sent the photo to Gibson, a Guinness award-winning facial expert, who said in September she was sure it was James. But not everyone agreed.

Eric James, a self-described descendant of the bandit family and a prominent Jesse James blogger, published a scathing rebuttal, calling Gibson a "liar," "con-artist" and a "fraud." He said Mills had previously offered the image to him for verification, but that he deemed it "blatantly false."

"No evidence exists that Lois Gibson performed any scientific authentication of image assessment, or that she in qualified to do so," he wrote, passing off Gibson's eight pages of analytic illustrations as fraudulent comparisons to fake images of Jesse James.

He posted his article via Facebook with Freda Cruse Hardison, 58, a respected historian of the Ozark Region in Arkansas and Missouri. He didn't know that Hardison, who holds a PhD from the University of California, was preparing to publish her new historical novel: "Frank and Jesse James Friends and Family," which details the extended community of the famed outlaw brothers.

So when Hardison learned of the emerging controversy over an image of the Western legend, she figured she could weigh in easily. She'd already spent the last decade assembling a 50,000-person family tree for historical residents of Arkansas and Missouri. She contacted Gibson, plugged in some names and made a discovery.

Mills' great-great-grandmother, Pauline Roundtree, was indeed linked closely to Jesse James&mdashshe was the first cousin, once-removed, of Jesse's sister-in-law, Annie Ralston. For 19th Century towns of the Midwestern frontier, Hardison said, that's a tight connection, and means they plausibly lived nearby.

"It's not hard for me to believe at all that Pauline Roundtree would have been a part of all of that extended family and extended community of the James brothers," said Hardison, who's been cited as an expert on the Travel Chanel's "America Declassified" and in Oxford American Magazine.

It was Jesse James legends like the one Mills' grandma told that inspired Hardison to the topic of her book&mdashstories she heard through years of regional research, about the time when grandpa fed the James brothers, when grandma gave them horses or when the outlaws sought refuge in a local cave. Hardison assumed they were tall tales.

Through investigation, she uncovered records of a great web of community relationships that kept the James brothers safe from the law during their years of banditry. When many local legends proved to be true, Hardison asked why people never told them before. They had, they'd tell her, but no one believed them.

Eric James, reached by email, said Hardison's research was "a hoax."

It's almost impossible to know for sure. Establishing a family link doesn't prove that's Jesse James in the photo. And there are no national standards for consistency and validation in most forensic sciences, including facial recognition, according to a 2009 report by the National Academy of Science, so Gibson could only present a compelling case, not conclusive evidence.

That's why T.J. Stiles, a leading biographer of Jesse James, said he sticks with photographs verified at the time, like a portrait of James in the Missouri State Archives that was signed by his widow.

"We have to assume that he did not have many photographs taken of himself, and that only those closest to him ever got their hands on one," he said. "But we want so much to find that hidden treasure, that rare photograph of the eternal fugitive."


Rare photo of Jesse James sitting beside killer being auctioned in Central Texas

1 of 87 The rare tintype photo of Jesse James sitting beside his eventual murderer, Robert Ford, comes from the estate of San Antonio collectors Tommy and Sara Jane Howell. The lot, touting the prized photo and other antiques, is the second installment sold by Burley Auctions. The loose estimated sales price of the photo is $50,000 to $1 million. Show More Show Less

2 of 87 "Texas in Focus: Early Photographs from the State Archives" — provides an unprecedented look at everyday life during the 1800s in Texas. Texas State Library and Archives Commission Show More Show Less

4 of 87 Edward Burleson, 1/134-10

5 of 87 Portrait of Sam Houston, 1/102-286

7 of 87 1965/087-3 Thurlow Weed on pony, large format card photo

8 of 87 Identified on the back of the print as both J. A. Menchaca and Manchaca, 1/115-24

10 of 87 1963/084-3 Adam Rankin Johnson, cabinet card

11 of 87 Unidentified, 1/115-85

13 of 87 Portrait of an Unidentified Man, 1/102-722

14 of 87 William R. Shannon, 1/115-65

16 of 87 Samuel Maverick, 1/115-23B

17 of 87 Seven Men Who Voted Against Secession, 1966/122-1

19 of 87 Angel Navarro III, 1/115-25A

20 of 87 1964/306-418 R. Niles Graham with banjo, by Chapman, Austin, TX

22 of 87 1/35-32 Peddler, San Antonio, 1880

23 of 87 2011/348-20.99 Albert Wadworth, by Sink, Calvert, TX

25 of 87 2011/348-20.91 Two men with dog, by Robinson, Yoakum and LaGrange, TX

26 of 87 Sam Houston wearing a riding duster, 1/136-1

28 of 87 1981/88: Battleship Texas, coming home from Santiago, 1898

29 of 87 C. Jefferson at the Texas Cotton Palace, 1930/003-15

31 of 87 2011/348-20.95 Child with dog, by Holland, Wharton, TX

32 of 87 Unidentified woman, 1/164-23

34 of 87 1/104-24 Scottish stone cutters, boudoir format card

35 of 87 James Webb Throckmorton, The Texas Album of the Eighth Legislature, 1991/137-32

37 of 87 Mr. and Mrs. George Washington Wright, 1936/010-1 and 2

38 of 87 1981/88: Battleship Texas, coming home from Santiago, 1898

40 of 87 1979/031-4 Anna Boardman, albumen portrait on glass

41 of 87 S.E. Hessor (?) and T.S. Scott, posed portrait, 1/102-710

43 of 87 Edna Johnson, 1946/1-26A

44 of 87 Unidentified man and two boys, 1953/7-1

46 of 87 1975/070-5237 Gregorio Cortez, cabinet card

47 of 87 1964/306-137 Henry Hoxey Ladd, by Journeay, Austin, TX

49 of 87 1/35-25: Alamo Mission, San Antonio, 1880

50 of 87 Unidentified child, 1/164-34

52 of 87 1964/306-399 Carte-de-visite portrait of small child

53 of 87 2011/348-20.92 Children’s recital, by Green Gallery, Matagorda, TX

55 of 87 1/35-31: Mexican market, Military Plaza, San Antonio, 1880

56 of 87 1/25-1 Hood's Brigade veterans, carte-de-visite

58 of 87 Sons of George Kerr, 1957/43-6

59 of 87 Major General Sterling Price, 1953/7-7

61 of 87 Serena Kerr, 1957/43-5

62 of 87 George Kerr, 1957/43-4

64 of 87 Elizabeth Fitzpatrick Elmore and son, 2011/348-8.32

65 of 87 Caleb Brown, 1/147-2

67 of 87 Samuel Waller Cole, 1/134-4

68 of 87 Gem portrait of unidentified woman, 1/134-03

70 of 87 Woman with books, roses, and stringed musical instrument, 1/102-686

71 of 87 Portrait of unidentified man with ring, 1/134-08

73 of 87 San Antonio Street Scene, Soledad Street, 1/134-11

74 of 87 1/25 Old limestone Capitol after fire, Austin, 1881

76 of 87 1/104-214 Big Tree and Satanta, carte-de-visite

77 of 87 13th Texas Legislature, 1873—Liberators of Texas, 1/151-01

79 of 87 Constitutional Convention composite, 1/170-01

80 of 87 2011/348-20.61 Federal revenue tax stamps on reverse of carte-de-visite

82 of 87 Velvet book-style case, 1964/265-2

83 of 87 Samuel and Mary Bewley portrait, 1964/306-1383

85 of 87 Thermoplastic case, 1964/265-1

86 of 87 Velvet case and preserver, 1993/204

At one point in his infamous exploits of murder and robbery, Jesse James sat beside his eventual killer, Robert Ford, for a photo. And on Saturday a New Braunfels auction bidder will take the piece of history home.

The rare tintype photo comes from the estate of San Antonio collectors Tommy and Sara Jane Howell. The lot, touting the prized photo and other antiques, is the second installment sold by Burley Auctions.

Leading forensic artist Lois Gibson positively identified Jesse James and Ford as the two subject matters in the photograph. Ford, a member of James' gang, shot and killed the outlaw in the back of his head in hopes of collecting his bounty in 1882.

Genealogical research conducted by historian and author Freda Cruse Hardison found Jesse James' brother and accomplice, Frank James, as the connection to how the photo was preserved, according to the auction website.

The photo was passed down from a woman named Pauline Roundtree to her great-great-grand daughter Sandy Mills. Roundtree acquired the picture from her first cousin, once-removed, Annie Ralston James, who was the wife of Frank James.

Burley Auctions have provided a loose estimated sales price of $50,000 to $1 million for the photo. Winner of the sale will own the only known photo of the two men together, according to Burley Auctions.


Jesse James: The Birth of a Killer

Guerillas by Andy Thomas captures the ferocity of the Southern bushwhackers Jesse and Frank James rode with against Union troops and Kansas militias in the bloody sectarian border conflicts that defined life in the Missouri-Kansas region before, during and after the Civil War.
– Courtesy Andy Thomas Fine Art –

The wails, the babble of words, the murmuring of the crowd suddenly stopped as two young men appeared. They stepped past the body, approached a town marshal who stood close by, and offered to surrender. They had killed this man, one of them declared, and now they expected their reward. The lawman looked at them in astonishment. “My God,” he said, “do you mean to tell us that this is Jesse James?”

“Yes,” the pair replied in unison.

“Those who were standing near,” the reporter wrote, “drew in their breaths in silence at the thought of being so near Jesse James, even if he was dead.”

Missouri guerilla leader Fletch Taylor (left), who later would lose his right arm, was Frank (center) and Jesse James’s commanding officer in 1864 before the James boys joined “Bloody Bill” Anderson’s bushwhackers. They posed for the rare wartime photo soon after Jesse joined Taylor’s marauders in April 1864.
– All images True West Archives unless otherwise noted–

Robin Hood or Hooded Bandit?

Jesse James was not an inarticulate avenger for the poor his popularity was driven by politics—politics based on wartime allegiances—and was rooted among former Confederates. Even his attacks on unpopular economic targets, the banks and the railroads, turn out on closer inspection to have had political resonances. He was, in fact, a major force in the attempt to create a Confederate identity for Missouri, a cultural and political offensive waged by the defeated rebels to undo the triumph of the Radical Republicans in the Civil War. His robberies, his murders, his letters to the newspapers, and his starring role in ex-Shelby Brigade cavalry Officer John N. Edwards’s Kansas City Times columns all played a part in the Confederate effort to achieve wartime goals by political means (to use historian Christopher Phillips’s neat reversal of Clausewitz’s dictum). Had Jesse James existed a century later, he would have been called a terrorist.

A rare 1863 photograph of three Missouri partisan rangers, l.-r., Archie Clement, Dave Pool and Bill Hendricks, possibly was taken on Christmas Day in Sherman, Texas. Jesse and Frank James both rode with Pool and Clement, who at five feet tall was known as “Little Archie.” Jesse became a great admirer of the vicious bushwhacker.

Terrorist? The term hardly fits with the traditional image of him as a Wild West outlaw, yippin’ and yellin’ and shooting it out with the county sheriff. But he saw himself as a Southerner, a Confederate, a vindicator of the rebel cause, and so he must be seen in the context of Southern “outlaws”—particularly the Klan and other highly political paramilitary forces. Even more important, he was not simply a puppet of John Edwards, but an active participant in the creation of his own legend. Edwards’s glorification of the bushwhacker bandits only began after the publicity-minded James rose to leadership and began to demand attention on his own. An avid student of current affairs, he sometimes outdid his editor friend in his public attacks on the Radical Republicans (to Edwards’s evident alarm). Was he a criminal? Yes. Was he in it for the money? Yes. Did he choose all his targets for political effect? No. He cannot be confused with the Red Brigades, the Tamil Tigers, Osama bin Laden or other groups that now shape our image of terrorism. But he was a political partisan in a hotly partisan era, and he eagerly offered himself up as a polarizing symbol of the Confederate project for postwar Missouri.

Major General William S. Rosecrans’s defeat at the Battle of Chickamauga in Georgia in 1863 led to his reassignment to the Department of the Missouri in January 1864. He soon discovered his much smaller regular army was fighting in a sectarian war of partisan guerillas who were not above killing civilians or unarmed Union prisoners.
– Courtesy Library of Congress –

There remains, of course, the straightforward power of his story. His is a tale of ambushes, gun battles, and daring raids, of narrow escapes, betrayals and revenge. Even his oddly alliterative name seems to have been conjured up by a novelist of overripe adventures. But an accurate understanding of his world can only add to the drama. When we look at his life in its proper setting—if we see it as did that crowd that held its breath around his body on Thirteenth and Lafayette—we see that the life of Jesse James was as significant as it was thrilling.

Clay County Plowboy to Missouri Marauder

It was a savage set of men who returned with Frank that April [1864]. Already hardened by war, they had been blistered by butchery at Lawrence and debauchery in Texas. And Charles Fletcher Taylor, the man who led the small squad that crossed over to Clay County, was one of the hardest. Short, broad-shouldered, sporting a neatly trimmed mustache and beard, “Fletch” had fought with Quantrill from the beginning, scouting out Lawrence before the raid, murdering the innocent in its streets, then riding to Texas. But there he turned against his master, murdering a Confederate officer and resisting Quantrill’s attempt to arrest him. Now he fought (in the phrase of the times) “on his own hook.” Cantering beside him was an even smaller, even more vicious killer: “Little Archie” Clement, a gray-eyed 18-year-old from Johnson County. Barely five feet tall, he looked more like a jockey than a guerrilla. But he was already an experienced gunman, and he would soon win the lasting admiration of Frank’s little brother.

Major John Newman Edwards served as Jo Shelby’s adjutant during the Civil War. Upon his return to Missouri he became an influential newspaper editor and voice of the Confederate wing of the Democratic Party. An unapologetic champion of the Lost Cause and a close friend of Jesse James, he largely shaped the outlaw’s public image and political strategy, spearheading the former Confederate’s rise to political and cultural notoriety in the 1870s.

These were the men who brought 16-year-old Jesse James to manhood. A year after being dragged through the tobacco field by the Provisional militia, three years after Frank first enlisted in the State Guard, Jesse rode to war. Guided by Frank or another Clay County recruit in late May, he would have crept out at night and sneaked down hog trails to the rugged Fishing River, where Taylor and Clement lay hidden. “There seems to be something of the deathlike brooding over these camps,” wrote Sgt. Sherman Bodwell in his diary, after finding an abandoned bushwhacker bivouac. “Always hidden where hardly more than a horse track points the way, in heavy timber and creek bottoms, offal lying about, cooking utensils, cast-off clothing.”

General Joseph O. Shelby emerged from the Civil War as Missouri’s most famous Confederate officer. After the Confederate surrender, he went into exile in Mexico for almost two years. After his return to Missouri he extended personal and political support to the James brothers.

Jesse would have seen a cluster of men gathered around the fire under an awning of low leaves and branches, cooking a meal, drying out socks, cleaning and loading weapons. A strong smell of horses, sweat and waste (human and animal) would have struck him, followed by the dense smoke of burning green wood with undertones of oiled leather and wet flannel. They were all young—some astonishingly young, like Jesse himself. “If you ever want to pick a company to do desperate work,” Frank later mused, “select young men from 17 to 21 years old. …Take our company and there has never been a more reckless lot of men. Only one or two were over 25. Most of them were under 21. Scarcely a dozen boasted a moustache.” Or, as another grizzled veteran put it, almost exactly a century after Jesse crept into that camp, “You’re going to learn that one of the most brutal things in the world is your average 19-year-old American boy.”

William “Bloody Bill” Anderson was a guerilla chieftain whose campaign of terror along the Missouri River in 1864 is widely regarded as one of the most brutal in American history. Jesse James followed him for most of this period, and spoke proudly in later years of the affiliation.

The Making of a Marauder

Now the ritual began. First was the matter of equipment. Either Zerelda or Charlotte sewed a guerrilla shirt for Jesse—a loose pullover with two deep breast pockets for percussion caps, powder charges and .36 caliber lead balls. Then he needed pistols, a horse and a saddle. The revolver was the primary weapon, its rapid rate of fire well suited to guerrilla ambushes. Before the war, Colt’s revolvers had been somewhat uncommon, even in Missouri, and they were hard to get legitimately after the conflict began. But the bushwhackers equipped themselves through smuggling, theft and plundering of the Union dead so if Jesse didn’t have a set, one was given to him. As for horses, he would have been told to steal them.

This last lesson was the start of a much deeper, more lasting education. They were guerrillas. They were not engaged in a war that a colonel of the Army of the Potomac or a general of the Army of Northern Virginia could recognize. They had no lines, no objectives, no strategy, no command structure. Theirs was a purely tactical war, a war to inflict pain, to punish, to kill and destroy. Every barn and brook was a battlefield every civilian, either an ally or a target. By stepping into that brooding, deathlike camp, Jesse James entered a race to find and kill as many enemies as he could.

Wedded to Robert James at age 16, widowed at 25, Jesse’s mother, Zerelda, remarried at age 30 to Dr. Reuben Samuel. She was a dominating figure, a fierce secessionist with steel nerves, a lacerating tongue and a vigorous intellect.

On April 29, 1864, Maj. Gen.William S. Rosecrans telegraphed an alert to Col. James H. Moss in Liberty. The guerrillas were returning, he warned, “to re-inaugurate the scenes of murder and robbery which have desolated your country during the past three years.” Rosecrans, humiliated by defeat at the battle of Chickamauga, had been shifted in January to command the Department of the Missouri, a strategic eddy far from the main channels of the war. The state might have been a backwater, but Rosecrans learned that its currents were swift and unpredictable. Accustomed to wielding brigades, divisions and corps as he marched toward objectives, he now had to weave a net out of slender companies, battalions and regiments as he waded into guerrilla waters. And no units threatened to unravel more quickly than Colonel Moss’s troublesome Paw Paws. “I expect from you and the Enrolled Militia under your command,” he wrote, “such a reception…as will amply vindicate you from all the charges of disloyalty which have been urged against you.” Moss assured Rosecrans that all would be well.

Brig. Gen. Clinton B. Fisk was not so certain. After a military reorganization in January, this stern and voluble officer had assumed command of the District of North Missouri, after serving in the southeastern corner of the state. Fisk had received his rank, in part, through connections in the northern branch of the Methodist Church, an avowedly abolitionist denomination the savagery of the guerrilla war, however, had negated whatever Christian charity remained within him. Rather than rely on Moss, he shifted Capt. William B. Kemper and part of Company K 9th Cavalry Regiment, MSM to Liberty in early May 1864. “Clean out and kill every marauding, thieving villain you find,” he wrote to Kemper on May 15, adding, “Keep your eyes on the Paw Paws.”

The captain needed no instructions to that point: he intended to avoid Moss’s men at all costs as he pursued the bushwhackers. And the guerrillas were back—he could feel it. But every time he sent squads to scout the countryside, they came back emptyhanded. On May24, Kemper changed tactics. After nightfall, he ordered fifteen men to draw rations, mount their horses, and follow him into the country, where he deployed in ambush. After spending a day waiting for the enemy, he gathered his troopers out of hiding and moved on to another spot. Meanwhile, he sent out two spies each night he rendezvoused with them to better plan his trap for the following day.

Before Jesse James joined Frank James’ partisan gang in April 1864, Jesse’s older brother had earned his guerilla-war spurs riding with William Quantrill’s raiders on their infamous murderous raid and burning of Lawrence, Kansas, on August 21, 1863.

Across the Missouri River, the Second Colorado Cavalry employed the same tactics with devastating effect. Kemper, however, had fewer men and experienced opponents. Fletch Taylor and Archie Clement easily slipped past his ambushes to deliver a sharp reminder that there was no line between combatants and civilians. On June 1, they led their Clay County recruits (dressed in captured Union uniforms) to the farm of Bradley Bond. Gathering outside the front door, they asked to see the man of the house. When Bond stepped outside they shot him to death. The next day, they murdered Alvis Dagley in a field not far from the Samuel place, then trotted to his house and coldly told his widow.

Over the next few weeks, the gang killed at least eight Unionist civilians. “Men were slain before the eyes of their wives and children,” one resident wrote, “or else shot down without mercy by the roadside and their bodies left to fester and corrupt in the sun. Property was taken and destroyed on every hand, business of all kinds prostrated, values were unsettled, everything was disturbed.” They killed one slave “for fun,” and they looted as freely as the worst jayhawkers or militia.

The Keenest and Cleanest Fighter

Jesse James never attempted to distance himself from this slaughter in later years, one of his closest friends boasted of how Jesse and Frank went alone to the home of a local Unionist, just after the death of Dagley, and murdered him outside his house. This, then, was his introduction to warfare: not as a gladiator in battle against a tyrannous foe, but as a member of a death squad, picking off neighbors one by one.

Of all the departures in Jesse James’s dramatic life, none would ever be so momentous—or portentous—as this one. …He had violence coaches on every side, from Zerelda (who explicitly praised the worst rebel atrocities) to his brother Frank. After he took to the brush, Taylor and Clement took over as his mentors they mocked him for his boyish diffidence, nicknaming him “Dingus” after a euphemistic curse he once uttered. But once he joined in the killing, they gave him their respect. “Not to have any beard,” one of the deadliest guerrillas supposedly said of him, “he is the keenest and cleanest fighter in the command.” Jesse abandoned all civil norms, even the blunt- instrument morality of a slave-owning culture. He now belonged to a group that believed a man must murder for respect.

“Jesse James: Birth of a Killer” by T.J. Stiles is excerpted from his book Jesse James: Last Rebel of the Civil War (NY: Vintage Press, a division of Random House, Inc.).

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Jesse James and the Road to Gallatin

In 1867, former Confederate guerrilla fighters (l.-r.) Fletch Taylor, Frank James and younger brother, Jesse, reunited in Nashville, where they took time to stand for their portrait at Carl C. Gier’s photo studio.
— True West Archives —

Poor Jesse James might not have been the victim of what amounted to state-sanctioned murder in 1882—or so many bad movies—if he hadn’t made that first career blunder in Gallatin, Missouri, in 1869. But how did the West’s most notorious bank, train and stagecoach robber get to Gallatin?

It starts at the family farm outside of present-day Kearney, Missouri, where Jesse Woodson James was born on September 5, 1847, and where visitors today can tour the museum, farmhouse and Jesse’s original grave at the Jesse James Birthplace Museum.

Jesse’s Kentucky-born dad, Robert James, became pastor at New Hope Baptist Church—now called New Direction Church—in Holt. Things might have turned out differently too, but in 1850, Robert James left Missouri for the California goldfields only to die of fever four months after arriving in present-day Placerville.

Then came the Civil War. Big brother Frank enlisted in the pro-Confederate Missouri State Guard, was captured during the Battle of Wilson’s Creek in April 1861 near Springfield (tour Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield), paroled, then broke parole and joined guerrilla William Clarke Quantrill’s Southern bushwhackers.

On May 23, 1863, pro-Union forces, looking for Quantrill, hoisted Jesse’s stepdad off the ground with a rope to make him talk. Legend says they also whipped 15-year-old Jesse with a rope. That eventually drove Jesse to join the bushwhackers, but the war was lost. When Jesse attempted to surrender in May 1865, he was shot through the lung.

Two men—perhaps, though far from confirmed, Cole Younger and Frank James—entered the Clay County Savings Bank, protected outside by another eight to 10 men “believed…to be a gang of old bushwhacking desperadoes who stay mostly in Jackson county,” according to the Liberty Tribune.
— Photo courtesy of Johnny D. Boggs —

On February 13, 1866, the Clay County Savings Bank in Liberty, Missouri, (visit the Jesse James Bank Museum), was robbed of roughly $60,000 in gold, currency and bonds. The gang of 10 to 12 men also killed a 19-year-old bystander. Years later, the crime was chalked up to the James-Younger Gang.

But could Jesse—still recuperating from a bullet through his lung—have taken part in a robbery during a bitterly cold February day? Some historians put Cole Younger and Frank there, but the fact is we just aren’t certain.

William A. Settle, Jr., author of Jesse James Was His Name (1966), the first serious historical study of the thug, writes: “Actually, identification of the bandits is not simple. Those insiders who knew the facts talked little, and what they said was not always reported exactly. Moreover, people who could remember the events and who talked about them did not always have firsthand information.”

The same can be said for the robbery of the Alexander Mitchell and Company Bank on October 30 in Lexington, Missouri (Lexington Historical Museum), that netted four robbers $2,011.50. “This is quite the coolest and most daring robbery that has happened in this part of the State since the Liberty Bank Robbery,” the Lexington Register reported.

In his 1903 autobiography, Cole Younger wrote that “so far as I know [the Lexington job] was never connected with the Younger brothers in any way until 1880, when J.W. Buel published his Border Bandits.” I haven’t found any mention of Lexington in Buel’s book. Still, most historians don’t link this one to the boys.

The Jesse James Birthplace Museum in Kearney features the most extensive collection of James family artifacts as well as Jesse’s original gravesite. Jesse’s mother had his body buried outside the family home so she could keep a watchful eye on her son, but it was later reinterred at Kearney’s Mount Olivet Cemetery.
— Courtesy Jesse James Birthplace Museum —

Two Missouri bank jobs the following year in Savannah (Andrew County Museum) and Richmond (Ray County Museum), later attributed to Frank and Jesse, probably weren’t committed by any Jameses or Youngers. The M.O. and outcome of the March 2 attempt to rob Judge John McClain’s private banking enterprise doesn’t point to the boys: Five or six bandits ask McClain for the key to the vault. When the judge refuses, he is shot, and the outlaws flee empty-handed.

In The Outlaw Youngers, Marley Brant calls this perhaps “the first ‘copycat’ robbery attempt.” Three ex-bushwhackers were reportedly arrested, including Robert Pope, who was identified as the man who wounded the judge.

Regarding the Richmond job on May 23, Jesse might be thankful that he and the boys weren’t there. The gang, numbering from 11 to 20, took some $3,500 from the Hughes & Wasson Bank. When they rode out, three citizens were dead. By that time, T.J. Stiles wrote in Jesse James: Last Rebel of the Civil War, “authorities were ready to strike when old Quantrill and Anderson men appeared on the list of suspects.”

Eight men were originally charged with the crime. A horse thief named Felix Bradley, who wasn’t charged, was lynched. Dick Burns and Payne Jones, were charged, were captured and were lynched. So was Tom Little. And Andy McGuire. And even Jim Devers, who was later arrested because he might have been involved. Allen Parmer, who was charged, luckily had an alibi.

(Jesse might not have taken part in this robbery, but Richmond’s two cemeteries are home to two important men in Jesse’s life—his Civil War commander Bloody Bill Anderson and Jesse’s assassin Robert Ford.)

The earliest bank job that most likely can be credited to Cole Younger and the two James brothers happened in Russellville, Kentucky (take the downtown walking tour), when five to six men robbed the Nimrod & Co. Bank of around $12,000. The M.O. fit. Frank and Jesse had friends and family in Kentucky. One robber called himself “Thomas Coleman.” Two pals of Jesse and Frank, brothers Oll and George Shepherd, were suspected. George was arrested, identified and sentenced to three years in prison. Authorities shot and killed Oll Shepherd at his father’s house near Lee’s Summit, Missouri.

John Sheets was murdered inside the Daviess County Savings Association in Gallatin, Missouri, in 1869—a victim of mistaken identity. The killer, likely Jesse James, thought he was Samuel P. Cox, commander of the Union forces that had killed “Bloody Bill” Anderson. Sheets is buried in a cemetery across from the First Baptist Church.
— Photo courtesy Johnny D. Boggs —

But it wasn’t until the botched Daviess County Savings Association job that Frank and Jesse were first named as suspects. In Gallatin, Missouri (check out the 1889 Squirrel Cage Jail), two men walked into the bank on December 7, 1869.

Jesse mistook bank president John W. Sheets for Samuel P. Cox, commander of the Union forces that had killed “Bloody Bill.” Being Jesse, he promptly murdered Sheets and wounded another man. Outside, while trying to escape, Jesse was thrown off his horse. His foot caught in the stirrup, and the horse dragged him 30 or 40 feet before he freed himself. Frank rode back, Jesse swung up behind his brother, and the two escaped. But they left that horse behind.

The bay mare was named Kate. She was known to be Jesse’s horse, and although Jesse said he had sold the mare to a Topeka, Kansas, man, Gallatin residents offered a $1,500 reward for the arrest of the James brothers.

From then on, until Jesse’s death and Frank’s surrender, the James boys were wanted men.

Johnny D. Boggs’s latest book, The American West on Film (ABC-CLIO), includes a chapter on the 2007 movie The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.

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Watch the video: The Amazing Story of Outlaw Jesse James (February 2023).

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