Bad Boy for Life: The Criminal Career of Jesse James
Bad Boy for Life: The Criminal Career of Jesse James

Bad Boy for Life: The Criminal Career of Jesse James

Patrick Lynch - July 21, 2017

Bad Boy for Life: The Criminal Career of Jesse James
Bob Ford. Pinterest

Evading the Pinkertons

In early 1874, the famed Pinkerton National Detective Agency was hired by the Adams Express Company to capture the James-Younger Gang. However, as the gang still had the support of many former Confederates, they managed to frustrate their pursuers. One of the Pinkerton agents, Joseph Whicher, was murdered by the group. On March 17, 1874, another agent died at the hands of the gang but not before he killed John Younger.

By now, the head of the agency, Allan Pinkerton, became involved and pursued a vendetta against the James-Younger Gang. On January 25, 1875, he raided the James family farm and threw an incindiary device into the house. It killed Jesse’s half-brother Archie and blew one of his mother’s arms off. Residents were so outraged that a bill was introduced to the state legislature to offer amnesty to the gang; it was narrowly defeated. On April 12, 1875, Daniel Askew was murdered by Jesse or another member of the gang for supposedly helping the Pinkertons. Allan Pinkerton gave up his pursuit of the gang soon afterward.

Mistakes, Treachery & Death

While the James-Younger Gang was finally free of Pinkerton pursuit, it overreached on September 7, 1876, in a bank robbery that spelled the end of the gang. They targeted the First National Bank of Northfield, Minnesota because they believed it contained $75,000. During the heist, three gang members went inside and demanded that the cashier open the safe, but he refused. Meanwhile, the townspeople heard rumors of a bank robbery (it was 2 pm) and began shooting at the gang members still in the street. Two gang members died in the melee, and all of the surviving Younger brothers were captured a couple of weeks later.

The James brothers escaped and laid low for a few years. However, they could not hide their nature forever, and in 1879, they formed a new gang and started a fresh spree of robberies with Charley and Bob Ford two of the main gang members. After a few successful years, the James brothers were once again the main target of Crittenden. Although the law barred him from placing a large bounty on the head of the brothers, he convinced corporations to put up a total of $10,000; $5,000 for each brother.

On June 3, 1882, in St. Joseph, Missouri, Jesse read the paper and learned that a gang member named Dick Liddil had confessed to murder. He was suspicious that the Fords didn’t tell him about the news and eventually believed they had betrayed him. He was correct as the Fords wanted the money and were prepared to kill to get it. The story goes that Jesse laid his guns on the sofa, went over to a picture and stood on a chair to clean the dust off it. Bob Ford saw his opportunity and shot Jesse in the back of the head.

The Fords were initially tried, found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to die. However, they were pardoned and fled the state after only receiving a small portion of the reward. After spending his life coming face-to-face with death on numerous occasions, Jesse James died with his back to his killer in comfortable surroundings. His brother Frank was acquitted and avoided prison. He died in 1915. Charley Ford committed suicide in 1884 and ‘the coward’ Bob Ford was shot dead by Edward O’Kelley in 1892.