James Viewed as Gallant Man
Neosho, Missouri  June 20, 1982

    KEARNEY, MO - Although Jesse James made a living robbing banks and trains, most everyone at a James family reunion Saturday was more inclined to view him as a gallant man of boundless fortitude.
   
    "I don't believe in stealing and killing, but he had some awfully good qualities as fas as I can tell," said Pauline James Lewis, a distant cousin who lives in Donna, Texas.  "I've always heard he was a very nice man, despite his temper."

    "Jesse James is one of the gods in the American Olympus," said Phillip A. Shreffler, an English professor at St. Louis Community College.  "We've elected him."

    "His reality -- the killing and all -- has become more than softened over the years," said Shreffler.  "It's almost forgotten."

    About 200 people from as far away as California and New York gathered at the farm on which Jesse grew up.

    He was murdered April 3, 1882, at his house near St. Joseph, Mo.  He was shot in the back, apparently for a $10,000 reward, by Bob Ford.

    From 1866 to 1882, Jesse and his gang robbed nine banks, eight trains, four stagecoaches, the box office of the World Agricultural Exposition in Kansas City and a government paymaster, said William Settle, a retired history professor who has spent most of his life studying the James boys.  Thirty-two people died as a result, including 15 gang members and four Pinkerton agents.

    "People have sort of forgotten about all that," explained Settle, who drove in from Tulsa, Okla., for the reunion.  "It's the Robin Hood mystique.  Just romanticized folklore, I guess, that keeps him so popular."

    Jesse's grandson, Lawrence Barr, said he once was ashamed of his bloodline to Jesse James.  No more, however.

    "I'm older and less sensitive," said Barr, 79, of Overland Park, Kan.  "And I know now that a lot of what they say he has done isn't true.  Why, back then anytime a bank was robbed everyone would say, 'Jesse James did it!'"

    Others at the reunion tracked down missing genealogical links and swapped stories, many untouched by fact.

    One of the more popular tales has Jesse, brother of Frank and the gang stopping off for dinner at a Missouri farmhouse after robbing a bank. While the woman of the house was cooking the meal, she began to sob.

    "What's wrong?" Jesse asked.

    "My husband was killed in the Civil War and a mean ol' banker's coming to the house later to collect $200 for the mortgage," the woman explained.  "I'll lose the house if I don't pay."

    Jesse pulled out $200 and gave it to her.  She thanked him, and he and his outlaws left -- but not before they got a description of the banker and his carriage.

    The story goes that, several hours later, the banker came to the house, collected the money and went on his way.

    He hadn't gotten far, however, when some men jumped out from bushes, pointed their guns and shouted, "Stand and deliver."

    He did.