Jesse James

Jesse Woodson James (September 5, 1847 April 3, 1882) was an American outlaw and the most famous member of the James-Younger gang. He became a figure of folklore after his death. He is sometimes labeled a gunfighter, mostly inaccurately.

In 1866, James gang conducted the first armed robbery of a US bank in post-Civil War times. They staged several more robberies over the next few years. In robbing a bank at Russellville, Kentucky the daring escape he made through the middle of a posse shortly afterward put his name in the newspapers for the first time. The robbery marked James's emergence as the most famous of the former Confederate guerrillas turned outlaw.

On September 7, 1876, the James-Younger gang attempted their most daring raid to date, on the First National Bank in Northfield, Minnesota. The robbery was thwarted when an employee refused to open the safe even as they held a bowie knife to his throat and cracked his skull with a pistol butt. The citizens of Northfield had taken notice and were arriving with guns.

When the bandits exited the bank, they found the rest of their gang dead or wounded amid a hail of gunfire. The gang barely escaped, leaving two of their number and two unarmed townspeople (including Heywood) dead in Northfield. A massive manhunt ensued. The James brothers eventually split from the others and escaped to Missouri. Except for Frank and Jesse James, the James-Younger Gang was destroyed.

With his gang depleted, Jesse thought he had only two men left whom he could trust: brothers Bob and Charley Ford. On April 3, 1882, as James prepared for another robbery, he climbed a chair to dust a picture. It was a rare moment, he had his guns off. Seizing the opportunity, the Ford brothers drew their pistols. Bob was the fastest, firing a shot into the back of Jesse's head, killing him instantly.

The assassination proved a national sensation. The Fords made no attempt to hide their role and surrendered to the authorities, pleaded guilty and were sentenced to hang. However, they were promptly pardoned by the governor.