Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Jesse James: Riding Hell-Bent for Leather into Legend

Poetry of Madness

In the bank, unaware of what was happening outside, Jesse argued heatedly with Joseph Heywood, a teller. The latter refused to open the safe, which he claimed was on a time lock. The outlaw knew better, but despite a punch to his ribs and Jesse's Colt barrel stabbing his cheek, Heywood stood staunch. Jesse had never encountered his guts and, frankly, was a little perplexed.

"Forget that n' get the hell out here, Dingus!" a voice interrupted the brujaja with Heywood. Jesse turned away to face a wan Cole Younger, who stood in the doorway of the bank now, motioning the other on. "We have trouble boilin' out here!" Cole's brother, Bob, turned to the window beside him and watched the army of townspeople marching unafraid toward the bank. He confirmed that, "Damn, it's an army! Cole's not kiddin'!"

Jesse slapped Heywood to the floor for his insolence and wheeled towards the street. Bob Ford followed him out. Charley Pitts, who had been guarding the other tellers and customers in one corner of the floor, angered he had ridden all this way from Missouri for nothing, paused on his way out, spun and dispatched Heywood with a bullet through the brain.

By now, Pitts' was just one of tens of guns retorting across the threshold. Jesse saw his brother Frank and the other gang members caught between a violent mob on foot and snipers popping away at them from behind pillars and rain spouts and from dormers overhead. A bullet tore through Jesse's open vest, but miraculously missed his frame. Citizens' bullets whizzed through the air like flies at a corral, keeping the bandits so busy ducking that they didn't have time to return the shots. No, Jesse had never seen anything like this.

Charlie Pitts
Charlie Pitts

To the bank robbers who had expected a town of timidity, this was an off-rhythm poetry of madness. Time seemed to stand still, yet race. Everything looked contrary and misshapen and every noise discordant. They panicked. Shot in the ankle, Charley Pitts stumbled for his saddle horn and pulled himself onto his horse, only to have a shoulder disintegrate by repeated blasts from a merchant with a Remington waiting just beyond. Beside him, Clell Miller's nag fire danced in the center of the street amid the chaos; Miller himself sat stiff in the saddle, his face blown away, still grasping the reins by instinct. Chadwell writhed nearby on the curb, his eyes gone and what was left of his wits screaming to God for mercy. A bit down the street, Frank James bucked his mare in quick, erratic movements to avoid aim, but from one of the shooters in a window, finally caught a slug in the leg.

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