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he story of Robin Hood from England is considered the best story of gratitude within humanity as well as fairness due to the character making justice by stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. During the later 19th century, America received a similar character representing the same sort of justice.

This legendary character is no other than Jesse James considered the Robin Hood of the Wild West who would rob banks and trains in order to offer the poor population a better life. He is also very well known for committing the biggest train robbery in history. During his actions within William Quantrill’s army, Jesse stole over $3000 and killed over 200 Union soldiers.

The making of the legend

The legend was born on the 5th of September 1837, in Missouri Texas. His father was Robert James, a priest who was well-known within the community of Missouri. His mother, Zerelda James, got divorced from Robert James when Jesse was only five years old.

She got remarried to a rich man who did not like children. Jesse also had an elder sister named Sussan James who was taken by the mother upon the divorce. This is something that significantly affected Jesse as his sister was like a best friend to him. When they became of age they got back together and went to fight for the Confederate State during the Civil War from 1861 to 1865.

During his military career, he was enlisted in William Quantrill’s army. This was like a subdivision of the Confederate army that didn’t attack the enemy directly, but attacked conveys that were supplying the Union. Once the war was over, the soldiers from this army including Jesse were considered criminals for their “unjustified” military actions. Many of them were pardoned whilst some were captured as war prisoners.

After the war, the rise of “Bloody Bill” Anderson came to life. This was Jesse’s idol and after the war, he joined his gang until Anderson was killed by Samuel Cox in 1864.

This is the person from whom Jesse learned how to organize surprise attacks, and how to utilize guns and cavalry to gain the maximum advantage when facing a major attack. Jesse became a favorite of Anderson due to the warfare skills he had acquired during the Civil War. Jesse became so skilled that legend says that he would hold the horse halter with his teeth whilst firing two pistols.

A life of going against the law

The first major incident caused by Jesse which also made him famous in the state of Texas took place in 1869 during a heist with a bank from Missouri. Jesse killed the cashier at the bank thinking he was Samuel Cox, the commander who had killed Bloody Bill Anderson in 1864 but it turned out he was someone else.

Most of the money from the bank robbery was shared with poor people around the country. It is said that Jesse didn’t rob banks or other rich people for the money, but just to go against the system that “killed” his idol. Publisher John Newman Edwards was mailing Jesse who kept sending him stories about his crimes and why he was doing them. Edwards created a portrait of him, presenting Jesse as a Robin Hood figure.

The wanted poster of Jesse James from the 1880s (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The 1870s was a decade of fame for Jesse’s band as they became more and more violent. He would hit bank after bank and leave without a trace. It started troubling the government so much that the state of Missouri put a big bounty on his head of $25,000 (if we take into consideration the inflation, this would be valued today at $765,000).

1882 was the year the legend fell, being stabbed in the back. During the previous years, Jesse had lost a few crew members so he welcomed two new people by the name Robert and Charley Ford, two brothers with a notorious history in crime. Although criminals, Jesse didn’t know that the two had previously spoken with authorities and made an agreement to kill Jesse in order to get their freedom.

The same year, Robert Ford shot Jesse in the back of the head. For years people didn’t believe that the legend died shot in the back as people bought it only as a story for him to go off the grid.

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