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    Perry spent nine months studying the slug and historical documents before releasing his conclusions in an interview this week.

    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.