Says Bullet One That Wounded Outlaw
Neosho Daily News August 2, 1979
KANSAS CITY, Mo. - A Jesse James
expert says a bullet unearthed during an excavation at the James farm
last year is the slug that wounded the outlaw after an aborted bank
holdup in Minnesota 103 years ago.
"Jesse was carrying this bullet in his leg the day
he was murdered - five years after the holdup," said Milton Perry,
superintendent of historic sites for Clay County in Missouri.
The slug was uncovered by archaeologists digging
into Jesse's original grave nearly a year ago and has been a point of
controversy since. Some said it could be the bullet that killed
Jesse in 1881; others said it could not.
Perry spent nine months studying the slug and
historical documents before releasing his conclusions in an interview
The nine-member James Gang ventured out of its usual
territory in 1876 to rob a bank in Northfield, Minn. But the
citizens there organized quickly when the strangers arrived in town.
A hail of gunfire greeted gang members when they
stepped out of the bank. Three were shot to death in the street
and five others surrendered or were captured a short time later.
Only Jesse and his brother Frank escaped.
Perry says historical accounts indicate the James
brothers tried to steal a horse from a Minnesota farmer a short time
after the holdup. But the farmer fired at the brothers. The
bullet passed through Frank's leg and struck Jesse's leg.
"It remained in his body, but that's not unusual,"
Perry said. "The evidence indicates Jesse was walking with a limp
five years later, shortly before he was killed."
Until the slug was found last year, it was generally
accepted that the Old West's infamous bank and train robber was killed
with a .44-caliber bullet.
The chief forensic firearms examiner at the Regional
Criminalistics Laboratory in Independence studied the bullet and
concluded it was "consistent with other bullets which have penetrated a
victim's skull." He said it could have been the fatal bullet, a
statement that was challenged by historians in northwest Missouri.
Perry says the coroner's report at the time of
Jesse's death indicated the fatal slug was removed during the
autopsy. Its precise whereabouts is not known, although a
descendant of the coroner has said he remembers the slug once held a
place of honor on the family mantle.
The slug uncovered last year was found near bone
fragments from Jesse's right foot that had fallen back into the ground
when the outlaw's body was removed at the turn of the century.
Perry says the bullet was fired from a Smith & Wesson pistol which
first went on the market a year before the Northfield holdup.