Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Jesse James: Riding Hell-Bent for Leather into Legend

To Die at Home

"We should be careful to get out of an experience only the wisdom that is in it and stop there..."

Mark Twain

Jesse's toes were starting to itch. By mid-1879, he had tired of Nashville. Weary watching the sun set without a day's production behind him nor a night's promise of adventure, he longed for action. Missouri beckoned. Zee, even though she had enjoyed her husband home and away from danger (she bore him another child in that time), followed faithfully; as ever, she dismissed the urge to dissuade him. The couple relocated to Kearney as Mr. and Mrs. Howard.

The gunfire at Northfield still burned in his ears, and he hated having retired, even though tentatively, with such a defeat plaguing him. Some of the Northern newspapers yes, and even some of the Southern ones that had always been fair to him had suggested that what had happened in Minnesota had scared the gallantry out of him. For that reason alone, for the name of Jesse James, he was induced to return to the fight.

With the Younger cousins in prison, he scouted for a new gang. Frank rejoined him, equally eager to get going, and equally short on cash; he brought along Jim Cummins, old friend from the Quantrill days. From the criminal circle, Jesse enlisted a number of men whose reputations were trustworthy. They included gunmen, rustlers and safecrackers such as Dick Liddil, Bill Ryan, Ed Miller, Tucker Basham and a neighbor who had always given his band refuge, Wood Hite.

Charley Ford
Charley Ford

As well, he recruited Bob and Charley Ford, two Missourian James Gang wannabes. It was the biggest mistake of his life. He had known the Ford family for some time and they were good people. Charley had been involved in some minor runs-in with the law and he seemed a good scrapper, not one to shrink from duty when the guns started to blaze. But as for Bob, still in his teens, Jesse considered him wet behind the ears and chose to keep him out of the central action until his brother Charley might teach him a few ropes and angles. He would be useful for now, perhaps as a lookout, but not much more. Because of this, Bob Ford proved to be a thorn in the side at the outset, complaining that he was utilized as a sideliner.

Bob Ford, ca 1882
Bob Ford, ca 1882

Jesse kept his mouth shut, let his griping roll off, but kept an eye on him. There was something about Bob he didn't like. Something. He couldn't put his finger on it.

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