Country Facts and Folklore
By Andy Reddick

Jesse James Legends

There were many legends about Jesse James, even when he was alive, including those when he allegedly crossed Van Buren County.

There are reports that he spent time with the horse thieving ring that existed west of Keosauqua, during one of his escapades through the state of Iowa.

I remember my grandmother saying that women in Douds hid in their basements one day when Jesse James rode through town, in 1881.

Jesse was only 34 years old when he died. His father was a Baptist minister, a hemp farmer who helped found Liberty, Missouri in Clay County. Hemp is the raw material used in making rope.

Jesse Woodson James, born September 5, 1847. He had an older brother Frank and sister, Susan. Clay County, Missouri was in “Little Dixie” and the family owned six slaves. The war ripped the state apart.

Jesse was an outlaw. He became involved in bank robberies and rode with train theft gangs and became wanted for crimes from Minnesota to Texas. Jesse married his cousin, had twins that died in infancy, but Jesse Jr. (born 1875) and Mary Susan (born 1879) survived.

Ironically, Jesse was shot in the back by a person whom he thought was a trusted friend. Of the Ford brothers whom Jesse had chosen to live with him for protection, Charley committed suicide and Bob was killed by a shotgun blast in a saloon a few years later.


Jesse James Festival

The Jesse James Festival gets into full swing at the festival grounds in Kearney, Missouri with a carnival, rodeo, historic reenactments and of course, a parade. They also have a teen dance and a barbecue cook-off as part of the celebration.

Kearney is Jesse’s hometown, or rather his boyhood home. They are as much into celebrating the dark side of their infamous hero as Hannibal is into celebrating their ornery little Tom Sawyer-Huckleberry Finn "brats".

The infamous character has entered the ranks of the famous cowboys, war heroes such as Audie Murphy, and musicians--not only in terms of legends, but in terms of celebrations, and even in songs and stories written about them. Between 1921 and 2007 at least 21 films have dealt directly with Jesse James. In many other movies and TV shows there is mention of him or his gang. For example, in an episode of The Twilight Zone, called “Showdown with Rance McGraw” that aired February 2, 1962, Jesse James is played by Arch Johnson and Bob Kline plays an actor playing Jesse James for TV.

In some TV series, such as The Young Riders (1989-1992), Jesse James is portrayed before he becomes an outlaw. It is interesting that Jesse James Museums dot the Midwest in many of the places that he robbed. 

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Contributed to the Van Buren Co. IAGenWeb Project by Andy Reddick