James, Jesse – American Outlaw

Jesse Woodson James, American Outlaw

Courtesy of James Julia Auction Company, presented in conjunction with the sale of Jesse James’ personal Colt revolver and holster rig (p4A item # D9737835)

Jesse Woodson James was born Sept. 5, 1847 in Clay County, Missouri. He had an older brother, Frank and a sister. His father, a minister, left soon after Jesse was born to go to California to “minister” to the 49er miners. He died in California when Jesse was three. His mother, Zerelda, remarried to Ruben Samuel with whom she had four more children. At the outbreak of the Civil War the James/Samuel family sided with the Confederacy with Frank soon joining on the Confederate side. Frank became ill early on and returned to Missouri where, after he recovered, he joined a small guerrilla band operating in their neighborhood.

Sometime in 1863 to 1864 the Union Army sent a force to try to capture Frank’s group and came to the Samuel farm searching for them. They briefly hanged Mr. Samuel and allegedly whipped Jesse, to no avail. Frank escaped and in 1864 he and 16 year old Jesse joined the notorious Confederate raider and guerrilla fighter Bloody Bill Anderson. Apparently they didn’t stay with Anderson very long before joining the more notorious William Quantrill. The James Boys, along with three of their cousins, Robert Hudspeth, Rufus Hudspeth & William Napoleon “Babe” Hudspeth all rode with Quantrill until at least January 1865. It is unclear when the James Boys returned home but it is known that in January 1865 the three Hudspeth boys left Quantrill and returned to Missouri. Another cousin, Lamartine Hudspeth maintained a farm in the area of the James/Samuel place and was later to play a role in supplying them with horses and sanctuary.

Frank & Jesse James and Babe & Rufus Hudspeth were with Bloody Bill Anderson at the battle & massacre at Centralia, Missouri on Sept. 27, 1864. That morning Anderson led about 80 guerrillas, some dressed in stolen Union Army uniforms, into Centralia to cut off the North Missouri Railroad. The guerrillas looted the town, blocked the rail line, stopped an approaching train and overran it. There were about 125 passengers on board which were separated into civilian and soldier groups. The soldiers were stripped of their uniforms and when Anderson called for an officer, Sgt. Thomas Goodman bravely stepped forward, expecting to be shot. Instead, Anderson’s men ignored Goodman and shot the others, then mutilated and scalped the bodies. The guerrillas then set fire to the train and sent it down the tracks after which they torched the depot and rode out of town. About 3 p.m. that same afternoon, 155 men of the newly formed 39th Missouri Infantry Regiment (mounted), rode into Centralia in pursuit. This force soon encountered the guerrillas and decided to dismount and fight on foot. The Federal recruits with single-shot muzzle loaders were no match for the guerrillas with their revolvers. Of the 155 Union soldiers in this regiment, 123 were killed that afternoon. According to well-known history, in addition to carbines & shotguns, the guerrillas usually had at least two revolvers and some with as many as four or five on or about their persons most of the time and would have been able to present a formidable wall of lead.

When the Confederacy surrendered Jesse was still riding as a guerrilla under the command of Archie Clement, one of Quantrill’s lieutenants, while Frank had ridden to Kentucky with Quantrill. Clement’s group was apparently trying to decide their next course of action when they encountered a Union patrol and Jesse was severely wounded with two bullets in the chest. Jesse was returned to his uncle’s boarding house where he was attended by his cousin, Zerelda Mimms, who was named after Jesse’s mother. Jesse & Zerelda were later to marry. Jesse recovered from his wounds and, as the saying goes, the rest is history.

Jesse & Frank and the Younger Boys with various other occasional members formed a gang and robbed trains & banks over the next sixteen or so years. After the fiasco at Northfield, Minnesota where the gang was badly shot up with three being killed and the others wounded, only Frank & Jesse escaped the law and the gang was never the same afterward, with the new members they recruited. During the course of the criminal career of Frank & Jesse and various members of their gang, they would frequently stop by various family members’ homes for food, rest or horses. Family history relates that Lamartine Hudspeth, cousin to Jesse & Frank, who owned a farm in the area, always kept fresh horses in the stable should they be needed. Frequently he would come out in the morning to feed the animals and find the fresh horses gone and hard ridden, tired horses in their places. Other members of the James/Hudspeth/Samuel extended family were also frequently called on for food, shelter or horses for members of the gang. As in all things there is an end and so it is with Jesse & Frank James. Jesse was assassinated by Bob Ford on April 3, 1882 in his own home.

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