Year
1847
Month Day
September 05

Outlaw Jesse James is born in Missouri

Seen by some as a vicious murderer and by others as a gallant Robin Hood, the famous outlaw Jesse Woodson James is born on September 5, 1847, in Clay County, Missouri.

Jesse and his older brother Franklin lost their father in 1849, when the Reverend Robert James abandoned his young family and disappeared forever into the California gold fields. Their mother, Zerelda, quickly remarried, but rumor had it that their new stepfather treated Jesse and Frank poorly, and a third husband soon followed. Perhaps it was a violent and unstable family life that led the young Jesse and Frank into lives of crime. Regardless, it is certain that the brothers first learned to kill during the Civil War. As Confederate sympathizers, both Jesse and Frank joined William Quantrill’s vicious Missouri guerilla force, and Jesse participated in the cold-blooded murder of 25 unarmed Union soldiers in August 1863.

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

When the war ended, neither man felt any enthusiasm for the drab life of a Missouri farmer-earning a living with their guns seemed easier and more exciting. Joining a motley band of ex-soldiers and common thieves, Jesse and Frank staged the first daylight bank robbery in U.S. history on Valentine’s Day in 1866, making off with $57,000 of the hard-earned cash of the citizens of Liberty, Missouri. For the next decade the James Gang would steal many thousands more from banks, stores, stagecoaches, and trains.

The boldness of their crimes and the growing resentment among westerners of big railroads and robber barons led some to romanticize Jesse and Frank, a process that was encouraged by the authors of popular dime novels who created largely fictional versions of the James brothers as modern-day Robin Hoods who stole from the rich to give to the poor. In reality, the James brothers’ crimes preyed as much on the common folks as on the very rich, and they did little to spare the lives of innocents caught in the crossfire. The Robin Hood myth conveniently ignores the little girl shot in the leg during a botched robbery at the Kansas City Fair, the train engineer killed when the James Gang derailed his locomotive, or the dozens of other innocent bystanders murdered or maimed by Jesse, Frank, or their gang. Nonetheless, the myth that Jesse James was a good-hearted hero of the common folk remains popular to this day. Robert Ford shot James in the back of the head, killing him on April 3, 1882.

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

Sioux military leader Crazy Horse is killed

Oglala Sioux leader Crazy Horse is fatally bayoneted by a U.S. soldier after resisting confinement in a guardhouse at Fort Robinson, Nebraska. A year earlier, Crazy Horse was among the Sioux leaders who defeated George Armstrong Custer’s Seventh Cavalry at the Battle of Little ...read more

Sam Houston elected as president of Texas

On September 5, 1836, Sam Houston is elected as president of the Republic of Texas, which earned its independence from Mexico in a successful military rebellion. Born in Virginia in 1793, Houston moved with his family to rural Tennessee after his father’s death; as a teenager, he ...read more

First Continental Congress convenes

In response to the British Parliament’s enactment of the Coercive Acts in the American colonies, the first session of the Continental Congress convenes at Carpenter’s Hall in Philadelphia. Fifty-six delegates from all the colonies except Georgia drafted a declaration of rights ...read more

French general gives order to attack at the Marne

On the evening of September 5, 1914, General Joseph Joffre, commander in chief of the French army during World War I, readies his troops for a renewed offensive against the advancing Germans at the Marne River in northeastern France, set to begin the following morning. With the ...read more

U.S. forces launch last major American operation of the war

The 101st Airborne Division (Airmobile), in coordination with the South Vietnamese (ARVN) 1st Infantry Division, initiates Operation Jefferson Glenn in Thua Thien Province west of Hue. This operation lasted until October 1971, and was one of the last major large-scale military ...read more

Lt. William Calley charged for My Lai massacre

Lt. William Calley is charged with six specifications of premeditated murder in the death of 109 Vietnamese civilians at My Lai in March 1968. Calley, a platoon leader in Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry, 11th Infantry Brigade (Light) of the 23rd (Americal) Division ...read more

Massacre begins at Munich Olympics

During the 1972 Summer Olympics at Munich, in the early morning of September 5, a group of Palestinian terrorists storms the Olympic Village apartment of the Israeli athletes, killing two and taking nine others hostage. The terrorists were part of a group known as Black ...read more

Gerald Ford survives first assassination attempt

September 5, 1975, President Gerald R. Ford survives an attempt on his life in Sacramento, California. The assailant, a petite, red haired, freckle-faced young woman named Lynette Fromme, approached the president while he was walking near the California Capitol and raised a .45 ...read more

Katie Couric makes historic network anchor debut

On September 5, 2006, Katie Couric makes headlines—and TV history—with her highly publicized debut as the first female solo anchor of a weekday network evening news broadcast, CBS Evening News with Katie Couric. Couric, who served as co-anchor of The Today Show from 1991 to 2006, ...read more

Arab terrorists take Israeli hostages at the Munich Olympics

In the early morning hours of September 5, six members of the Arab terrorist group known as Black September dressed in the Olympic sweat suits of Arab nations and jumped the fence surrounding the Olympic village in Munich, Germany, carrying bags filled with guns. Although guards ...read more

“Doctor Zhivago” is published in the U.S.

Boris Pasternak’s romantic novel, Doctor Zhivago is published in the United States. The book was banned in the Soviet Union, but still won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1958. Pasternak was born in Russia in 1890, and by the time of the Russian Revolution was a well-known ...read more

The New York Times gives “On the Road” a rave review

On September 5, 1957, New York Times writer Gilbert Millstein gives a rave review to “On the Road,” the second novel (hardly anyone had read the first) by a 35-year-old Columbia dropout named Jack Kerouac. “Jack went to bed obscure,” Kerouac’s girlfriend told a reporter, “and ...read more