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 Cooperative here.
    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 area.
    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. Reuben Samuels. 
    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 Western Missouri.
    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 sympathizers.
    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 thorough lashing.
    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 married.
    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 $60,000.
    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 train robberies.
    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 brought tragedy.
    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 gang.
    In 1881 Missouri Governor Crittenden posted a $5,000 reward for Frank or Jesse James, dead or alive, which ended their outlaw reign.
    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 home.
    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.