Year
1882
Month Day
April 03

Jesse James is murdered

One of America’s most famous criminals, Jesse James, is shot to death by fellow gang member Bob Ford, who betrayed James for reward money. For 16 years, Jesse and his brother, Frank, committed robberies and murders throughout the Midwest. Detective magazines and pulp novels glamorized the James gang, turning them into mythical Robin Hoods who were driven to crime by unethical landowners and bankers. In reality, Jesse James was a ruthless killer who stole only for himself.

The teenage James brothers joined up with southern guerrilla leaders when the Civil War broke out. Both participated in massacres of settlers and troops affiliated with the North. After the war was over, the quiet farming life of the James brothers’ youth no longer seemed enticing, and the two turned to crime. Jesse’s first bank robbery occurred on February 13, 1866, in Liberty, Missouri.

Over the next couple of years, the James brothers became the suspects in several bank robberies throughout western Missouri. However, locals were sympathetic to ex-southern guerrillas and vouched for the brothers. Throughout the late 1860s and early 1870s, the James gang robbed only a couple banks a year, otherwise keeping a low profile.

In 1873, the James gang got into the train robbery game. During one such robbery, the gang declined to take any money or valuables from southerners. The train robberies brought out the Pinkerton Detective Agency, employed to bring the James gang to justice. However, the Pinkerton operatives’ botched attempt to kill James left a woman and her child injured and elicited public sympathy for Jesse and Frank James.

The James gang suffered a setback in 1876 when they raided the town of Northfield, Minnesota. The Younger brothers, cousins of the James brothers, were shot and wounded during the brazen midday robbery. After running off in a different direction from Jesse and Frank, the Younger brothers were captured by a large posse and later sentenced to life in prison. Jesse and Frank, the only members of the gang to escape successfully, headed to Tennessee to hide out.

After spending a few quiet years farming, Jesse organized a new gang. Charlie and Robert Ford were on the fringe of the new gang, but they disliked Jesse intensely and decided to kill him for the reward money. On April 3, while Jesse’s mother made breakfast, the new gang met to hear Jesse’s plan for the next robbery. When Jesse turned his back to adjust a picture on the wall, Bob Ford shot him several times in the back.

His tombstone reads, “Jesse W. James, Died April 3, 1882, Aged 34 years, 6 months, 28 days, Murdered by a traitor and a coward whose name is not worthy to appear here.”

READ MORE: 7 Things You May Not Know About Jesse James

Tags
terms:
Jesse James

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us! HISTORY reviews and updates its content regularly to ensure it is complete and accurate.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

President Harry Truman signs Marshall Plan

On this day in 1948, President Harry S. Truman signs the Economic Assistance Act, which authorized the creation of a program that would help the nations of Europe recover and rebuild after the devastation wrought by World War II. Commonly known as the Marshall Plan, it aimed to ...read more

Unabomber arrested

At his small wilderness cabin near Lincoln, Montana, Theodore John Kaczynski is arrested by FBI agents and accused of being the Unabomber, the elusive terrorist blamed for 16 mail bombs that killed three people and injured 23 during an 18-year period. Kaczynski, born in Chicago ...read more

U.S. Secretary of Commerce, Ron Brown, killed in plane crash

Ronald H. Brown, the U.S. secretary of commerce, is killed along with 32 other Americans when their U.S. Air Force plane crashes into a mountain near Dubrovnik, Croatia. Brown was leading a delegation of business executives to the former Yugoslavia to explore business ...read more

Bruno Hauptmann, convicted of kidnapping Lindbergh’s son, executed

Bruno Richard Hauptmann, convicted in the 1932 kidnapping and murder of the 20-month-old son of Charles A. Lindbergh, is executed by electrocution. On March 1, 1932, Charles Lindbergh Jr., the son of the famous American aviator who made the first solo, nonstop transatlantic ...read more

Pony Express debuts

On April 3, 1860, the first Pony Express mail, traveling by horse and rider relay teams, simultaneously leaves St. Joseph, Missouri, and Sacramento, California. Ten days later, on April 13, the westbound rider and mail packet completed the approximately 1,800-mile journey and ...read more

Nixon administration vows to "Vietnamize" the war

Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird announces that the United States is moving to “Vietnamize” the war as rapidly as possible. By this, he meant that the responsibility for the fighting would be gradually transferred to the South Vietnamese as they became more combat capable. ...read more

Texas Ranger “Big Foot” Wallace born

The legendary Texas Ranger and frontiersman “Big Foot” Wallace is born in Lexington, Virginia. In 1836, 19-year-old William Alexander Anderson Wallace received news that one of his brothers had been killed in the Battle of Goliad, an early confrontation in the Texan war of ...read more

"The Louisiana Hayride" radio program premieres on KWKH-AM Shreveport

Even the most ardent non-fans of country music can probably name the weekly live show and radio program that is regarded as country music’s biggest stage: the Grand Ole Opry, out of Nashville, Tennessee. Yet even many committed country fans are unfamiliar with a program that, ...read more

ACLU says it will contest obscenity of "Howl"

The American Civil Liberties Union announces it will defend Allen Ginsberg’s book Howl against obscenity charges. The U.S. Customs Department had seized some 520 copies of the book several weeks earlier as the book entered the U.S. from England, where it had been printed. Poet ...read more

"Annie Hall" beats out "Star Wars" for Best Picture

The rise of the action-adventure blockbuster was on the horizon, but on April 3, 1978, the small-scale romantic comedy triumphs over the big-budget space extravaganza. At the 50th annual Academy Awards, held at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles, Woody Allen’s Annie ...read more

Confederate capital of Richmond is captured

The Rebel capital of Richmond, Virginia, falls to the Union, the most significant sign that the Confederacy is nearing its final days. For ten months, General Ulysses S. Grant had tried unsuccessfully to infiltrate the city. After Lee made a desperate attack against Fort Stedman ...read more

Congress authorizes privateers to attack British vessels

Because it lacked sufficient funds to build a strong navy, the Continental Congress gives privateers permission to attack any and all British ships on April 3, 1776. In a bill signed by John Hancock, its president, and dated April 3, 1776, the Continental Congress issued ...read more