Jesse Woodson James (September 5, 1847 – April 3, 1882) was an American outlaw, gang leader, bank robber, train robber, and murderer from the state of Missouri and the most famous member of the James-Younger Gang. Already a celebrity when he was alive, he became a legendary figure of the Wild West after his death. Scholars place him in the context of regional insurgencies of ex-Confederates following the American Civil War rather than a manifestation of frontier lawlessness or alleged economic justice.
Jesse and his brother Frank James were Confederate guerrillas or Bushwhackers during the Civil War. They were accused of participating in atrocities committed against Union soldiers, including the Centralia Massacre. After the war, as members of various gangs of outlaws, they robbed banks, stagecoaches, and trains. 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 their loot from the robberies they committed.
The James brothers were most active with their gang from about 1866 until 1876, when their attempted robbery of a bank in Northfield, Minnesota resulted in the capture or deaths of several gang members. They continued in crime for several years, recruiting new members, but were under increasing pressure from law enforcement. On April 3, 1882, Jesse James was killed by a member of his own gang, Robert Ford, who hoped to collect a reward on James' head.
By Dean Hanley
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