Home of Jesse and Frank, When Missouri Was the Western Frontier
by Don Yoest
Rural Electric Missourian, November 1967
PLATTE CITY - A small farm near Kearney was the
scene of conflicts which rocked Missouri and much of the
Middlewest. Two boys born and reared on this place wrote their
names on the pages of history with blood and the thunder of gunfire
during the late 1800s.
This small northwest Missouri farm was the homeplace of Frank and Jesse James.
The small log cabin where Frank and Jesse were born
still stands and the land is still in the James family. The cabin
and a later frame addition are served by Platte-Clay Electric
The James family history at their Missouri home is
sketchy and hard to define. In 1842 a minister named Robert James
and his wife Zerelda moved from Kentucky and settled on the land.
The Reverend James soon helped to organize three congregations in the
He was a leader in the founding of William Jewell
College at nearby Liberty and served on the college's first board of
trustees. By 1850 the farm was doing well and the James' had
three children - Frank, Jesse and Susan.
Robert James left his family to go West when Frank
was 7, Jesse 2, and Susan not yet a year old. Many reasons have
been given for his departure but it is generally believed that he went
to preach to the 49'ers of the California gold rush.
He died there. Later his widow married Dr.
About this time the issue of slavery was being
hotly contested in the counties along the Missouri-Kansas border.
Border fighting had begun the strife which was not to end in the area
until after the Civil War.
On May 4, 1861 a company of Home Guards was formed
at Kearney and Frank James enlisted as an 18-year-old private.
Soon Frank was fighting with Quantrill's Guerillas
and at other times with Confederate General Jo Shelby's men. When
Southern forces left the area the guerillas continued the fight in
Before Jesse was old enough to join the soldiers he
and his mother carried messages for the guerillas. Legend has it
that Union militiamen visited the James farm to apprehend the Southern
On one occasion they found Dr. Samuels at home and
hanged him from a tree in the yard four brief times in an effort to
obtain information. They abused Jesse's mother and gave Jesse a
In the summer of 1964, while fighting with the
guerillas, Jesse suffered a severe chest wound during a skirmish in
Carroll County. He was able to ride again by September and fought
in the Centralia Massacre, where he killed a Union Major in
battle. He was only 17.
The war finally ground to a halt and the
guerilla fighters returned home. Jesse, now 18 tried to surrender
at Lexington in May, 1885 by riding to the courthouse with a white
flag. He sustained a second serious chest wound for his
trouble. Legend says that a group of drunken soldiers shot and
chased him into a forest, where he narrowly escaped by hiding.
He was nursed back to health by his cousin Zerelda
Mimms. Zee, as she was called, and Jesse were betrothed and later
Frank and Jesse lived on their mother's farm for
four years after the war. It was during this time, with
lawlessness common in Clay county, that the James Brothers started
along the crooked path which was to lead them, their family name and
homeplace, to lasting notoriety.
No one seems to know why the Jameses chose their
life of crime. Perhaps it was a carryover from the violent days
of border warfare. Perhaps it was rebellion against treatment the
family had received at the hands of established order.
Whatever the reason, it started with the daring
daylight robbery on Feb. 13, 1866 of the Clay County Savings and Loan
Bank of Liberty -- just ten miles from home. The loot was over
This robbery launched a career spanning 16 years and
two months of organized gang robberies by the Jameses. Rash,
reckless Jesse and cool, Shakespearean-quoting Frank roamed the Midwest
and made headlines as far away as Europe with their daring bank and
Back at the James Farm, Mrs. Samuels was busy
proclaiming the innocence of her sons. She made many trips to
nearby Kansas City to editors and other influential people.
Mrs. Samuels was often visited by her sons during
their careers as highwaymen and these visits to the farm eventually
On the night of January 26, 1857
the Samuels were awakened as something ablaze hit the floor of their
home. As they got up to put out the fire another fireball was
thrown through the window.
The second missile exploded, mangling Mrs. Samuels
right arm and killing her son Archie Samuels. The other members
of the household were injured and Mrs. Samuels' arm was later amputated
at the elbow.
A revolver found outside the house cast suspicion on
Pinkerton Detective agents as being responsible for the night
raid. The state legislature discussed the bombing issue and
passed a resolution asking the Governor to investigate the incident.
Beginning of the End
The investigation concluded what the press had
been telling people over the state for weeks -- that the bombing had
taken place after a special train had stopped outside of Kearney and
discharged a force of men and horses, apparently in search of the James
In 1881 Missouri Governor Crittenden posted a $5,000
reward for Frank or Jesse James, dead or alive, which ended their
After the unarmed, unsuspecting Jesse was shot from
behind for the reward, with a pistol he had given Bob Ford, Frank James
surrendered his gun to the Governor at the State Capitol. He was
tried on several charges over the state but was never convicted.
Mrs. Samuels had Jesse's body buried in her front
yard in fear of grave robbers. In 1883 she began to charge
admission of the thousands who came to see Jesse's grave and the James
After 1901 Frank James spent most of his time of the
farm with his wife Annie. He died there February 18, 1915.
This historic farm which spawned so much of the
Show-Me State's wild west history and legend his still owned by the
James family. It has a tainted story -- but an interesting
one. And it is there to be relived by sightseers who may usually
tour the grounds for a modest fee.