Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Jesse James: Riding Hell-Bent for Leather into Legend

First Contact with the Enemy

The James/Samuels home, Kearney Missouri
The James/Samuels home, Kearney Missouri

Zerelda remained in the open doorway watching steely-eyed as the Union detachment dismounted. She didn't like the way the troopers sneered at her, a lady, and made undignified signs; they whooped and hollered with expletives. Then she saw the torches being lit. The men, carrying them, fanned out across her property towards the barn, the sheds, the cribs and other outbuildings.

Jesse, at the window, cried, "They're going to burn us down!" His step-sisters began to weep. Sarah cried, "Where's Poppa? Oh. I wish't he'd git home from his calls."

"Well, he's not here," Jesse explained, "he's tending to the sick, so somebody's gotta fight back!" With every bone in his body demanding "Go get'em," he whipped towards the front door. Zee wrenched his shirtsleeve, begging, "Please, Jesse, no! Oh! Where's Reuben? He'd talk to'em!"

"Talk to'em! Talk to'em???" Jesse had never heard anything so ridiculous; he was surprised to hear such nonsense coming from his usually sensible mother. "Mama, we don't talk to the devils!" With that, he broke free from her and, musket outstretched, headed into the huddle of Yankees haranguing outside. "Git off our property!" he ordered. But one man, who seemed to be their captain, laughed aloud.

"Didn't I tell you this was one of them?" he side-mouthed to his comrades, who grinned back. "You Frank James' little brother?"

"Yes, I am!" Jesse answered, proudly.

"Well, he's riding with the rebel Quantrill and we've been ordered to lay flame to every scum family who has joined hands against the Union. And that means" he glanced at a scroll of names in his hands "the Samuels family, or James, or whatever the hell your name is! So, sonny boy, put your pop gun down and get out of our hair and leave us to our business. Otherwise, we'll burn your damn house, too, and you and your damn family along with it! Scoot!"

Jesse saw sparks in his head. He may or may not have heard the last few words the captain exhaled, for his hand had slapped the man's blue kepi from his head and now both his fists clubbed the Yankee's thick skull. Zee, from the door way, screamed; around her, her daughters hopped on their tiny feet and shouted in mixed degrees of alarm and encouragement.

But, the fight was brief. Too many Yankees upon Jesse, they dragged the Tartar off their leader and, in almost orderly fashion, proceeded to hold him spread eagle onto the ground while various boot toes kicked and various boot heels crushed him under. The pain was excruciating, but it numbed as the world turned dark and their scorn faded into silence.

He awoke that night, first conscious of his step-dad over the settee where he lay, administering something stinging to his face blisters. Lights were low and the doctor performed his care by the meager glow of one kerosene lamp. Zee's eyes peeked concernedly over her husband's shoulders. "Easy, son, lie still," came the soft, calming voice of Reuben. "You're lucky to be alive, them hellish assassins!"

"Did they did they?" Jesse started, but, damn, it hurt to talk.

Reuben nodded. "Yes, son, burnt it all. But they left you alive that's all that matters."

Jesse relaxed, closed his eyes, and shut up for the rest of the night. But, his mind chugged full steam ahead. Yes, the Yankees left me alive. And that is all that matters. 

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