1318 Lafayette Street - Site of the Crime
Living at 1318 Lafayette Street in a small white house with green trim overlooking St. Joseph since December of 1881 are the members of the Howard Family ... 34-year-old horse breeder Thomas Howard, his 36-year-old wife Josie, their children, 6-year-old Tim and 2-year-old Mary, and Mr. Howard's two young cousins, the Johnsons, 20-year-old Robert and 24-year-old Charles. A typical frontier family that is something much more ... Charles and Robert are actually the Ford Brothers, petty criminals from Missouri looking for a $10,000 pay day, and Thomas Howard is the most wanted man in the United States ... bank robber, rustler, train robber, stage coach outlaw, and multiple murderer, Jesse Woodson James.
Jesse Woodson James - 1881
Almost ready to retire from a life of violence that began in 1864 when he joins the Confederate guerrillas of madman Bloody Bill Anderson (just in time to participate in the Centralia Massacre in which 23 Union soldiers taking a train home for leaves, after surrendering without a fight, are shot down, butchered, and scalped), James is in the process of putting together one last robbery, a take down of the Platte County Bank. He has a problem though, after the ill fated raid on Northfield, Minnesota, most of the men James can trust are either dead or in jail (his brother Frank is hiding out as a farmer in Virginia) ... and so ham-and-egger bandits are elevated into the gang with disastrous and often fatal results.
Dead Bloody Bill - October, 1864
New members of the gang include:
*Clarence & Wood Hite, cousins of Frank and Jesse
*Dick Liddil, a former Quantrill raider during the Civil War
*Ed Miller, the younger brother of former gang member Clell Miller (killed during the Northfield raid)
*Tucker Bassham, the younger brother of a guerrilla that rode with the James boys during the Civil War
*Bill Ryan, a drunken trouble-maker lacking any redeeming features
*Charles and Robert Ford, wannabe bandits that have wanted to ride with Jesse for years
Bob Ford Charlie Ford
From the first the new group shows it is lacking the abilities of the original James-Younger Gang. Almost as soon as the group comes together they begin falling apart, butchering robberies right and left ... a hit on the payroll of the Dovey Coal Mine in Kentucky gains the men only $15, a train job is aborted because of a flood through the region the outlaws were unaware of, another train job is sunk when the outlaws fail to board in time, and in their last bit of thievery, the gang attacks the wrong train of two, and rides away with paydays of only $140 per outlaw. Worse though, unlike the first band of brigands, the new group soon turns on itself ... led by the example of their leader, Jesse.
Riding home from a job with Ed Miller, James and Miller get into a heated argument about who was responsible for the death of Clell Miller during the Northfield Raid, so heated that Miller pulls his pistol on James and fires ... knocking the bandit's hat from his head. One chance only, James is more deliberate with his gunfighting and his first and only shot drills Miller between the eyes. A bad example for the rest of the gang, they now know that they could all become corpses for crossing Jesse ... and cross him them they do, by killing his best friend, his cousin, Wood Hite.
Miller & Chadwell After Northfield
A regular stop for the bandits as they move from job to job and hide from the authorities is the home of widow Martha Bolton, the sister of the Ford Brothers. Good looking and loose with her charms (Jesse is said to have sampled her charms from time to time), a problem develops when both Dick Liddil and Wood Hite fall in love with her. Tensions building for weeks, an argument at Bolton's home finally turns violent. Pistols pulled, in the exchange of gunfire that takes place, Hite is struck in the arm, while Liddil takes a round through his leg. Out of ammo, Liddil is about to be plugged in the head by Hite when Bob Ford joins the fray. Pulling his revolver, Ford comes up from behind Hite and shoots the outlaw in the back of the head. Die cast, the men hide the body and then discuss their options and come to the agreement that if Jesse finds out he will kill both of them ... so they had better kill Jesse first (with the added incentive that they can be pardoned for the death of Hite, and various other crimes, and get a payday from the betrayal from the reward money on James' life).
While this is going on, the governor of Missouri, Thomas T. Crittenden, enraged that the depredations of the James Gang are still going on, works with various railroad companies to increase the reward on the outlaws head (Missouri law does not allow the governor to come up with a reward on his own) ... getting the total up to $5,000, dead or alive, for either Jesse or Frank. And he secretly negotiates with Liddil and the Ford Brothers to take out the bandits, particularly Jesse.
And so the days pass with the Fords looking for the opportunity to kill Jesse ... which presents itself on the morning of 4/3/1882.
After a large breakfast on a sweltering morning, while his children play outside and his wife cleans the dishes, James and the Ford Brothers move into the front parlor where Jesse removes his coat, and not wanting neighbors to potentially see that he is armed to the teeth, removes his shoulder holsters containing his Colt Single Action Army revolver and Smith & Wesson American. Then, seeing the sampler his mother made for him (it states "In God We Trust") is hanging slightly crooked, he grabs a straight back chair he steps on to right the picture and give it a quick dusting. Unarmed and his back turned, the vipers don't miss their chance and both brothers pull their pistols. Hearing the distinctive sound of revolvers being cocked, Jesse begins to turn back towards the brothers but it is too late. Bob fires a round (intimidated by Jesse's reputation despite the outlaw being unarmed, Charles never fires, claiming he could tell his brother had already killed James) that goes through James' occipital bone behind the right ear, upward, coming to rest above the outlaw's left ear ... a bullet that shatters Jesse's skull and causes a piece of shattered bone to split his cerebellum in two. The outlaw is dead before he hits the floor and begins spreading a pool of blood over the floor.
Like It Says - Dead
Barely cold, a crowd soon gathers at the house as word spreads through the city that Jesse James has been killed (his tearful wife Zerelda finally admits who her husband was to authorities questioning her about the incident ... an identification confirmed by the corpse being the right size, coloration, and age of James, and missing the tip of a middle finger and bearing two grievous chest scars from Civil War bullets). Not wanting the corpse to go ripe in the days before refrigerators and air conditioners, James is taken to the Sidenfaden Funeral Parlor in town for burial prep ... and some posing. Young photographer J. W. Graham gets permission to take pictures of the body, so James is tied to a wooden board and propped up for photos
... which soon are selling like hot cakes!
Lets Go See The Corpse!
Eventually buried near a coffee bean tree on the James-Samuel farm, James rests beneath a tombstone put up by his mother (it requires replacement several times as a result of souvenir hunters knocking off pieces of rock) that reads: "Devoted Husband and Father - Jesse Woodson James - Sept. 5, 1847 - murdered Apr. 3, 1882 by a traitor and coward whose name is not worthy to appear here."
On the Farm
Of course though that isn't the end of the story ... the Fords do not have great lives after their big moment in history. Though they feel the killing was justified, most of the public disagrees and the two men are arrested for the murder ... and have quite a day. In a 24-hour span they are indicted for murder, plead guilty, are sentenced to be hung, and then two hours later, receive as promised, a full pardon from Governor Crittenden. What they don't receive is most of the cash they thought would be heading their way, pocketing only $500 to be split between them (the rest of the cash is awarded to local lawmen or simply vanishes into pockets unknown to this day). Haunted by the killing and terminally ill with tuberculosis, Charles becomes addicted to morphine and commits suicide (a bullet to the brain again!) in 1884 at the tender age of only 26. Bob however goes out almost as treacherously as Jesse did. Drifting through the West, Ford finally settles in the silver mining town of Creede, Colorado, where he opens a popular tent saloon ... and it is there where he dies. Clashing with a local named Edward Capehart O'Kelley (a distant relative of the Younger Clan) over a stolen diamond ring (Ford has called O'Kelley the thief) and the affections of a dance hall girl, on June 8, 1892, Ford is readying the saloon for opening when O'Kelley walks into the tent with a shotgun, calls out, "Hello Bob," and then empties the weapon into the face and neck of his opponent ... a surprise instant death, just like Ford had given Jesse James ten years before (O'Kelley is given a life sentence for the crime, that is reduced to 18 years, and pardoned from the Colorado State Penitentiary at Canon City 8 years after blowing Ford to Kingdom Come ... and like the rest of the characters in this American drama, O'Kelley himself is killed by a policeman in a drunken brawl in 1904 in Oklahoma City)! Ford is 30 years old at his leaving.