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
"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
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
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."