Jesse James My Father

written by Jesse James, Jr.

The First and Only True Story of His Adventures Ever Written



What follows is the text of a book published in 1899 by Jesse Edwards James, son of Jesse James and Zee Mimms James. The first half of the book is Jesse Jr.'s remembrances of his famous father, who he didn't know was the famous outlaw until after his death. He includes all he remembers plus stories told to him by his family. The second half of the book (not to be included on this website) is the story of his own problems being accused of train robbery. Copies of the complete book may be found at ABEBOOKS:

click here




(illustrations on this page not from original book)

The story of the murder of my father and the immediate events that led up to it I have learned since from my mother, my grandmother and others. Ten days before my father was killed, he and Charlie Ford and Bob Ford stayed all night at the home of my grandmother, Mrs. Samuels, [sic: Samuel, spelled with the extra "s" throughout book] near Kearney, Mo. My grandmother had known Charlie Ford for years, but this was the first time she had met his brother, Bob. She did not like the looks of Bob and she told my father that she did not believe Bob Ford was true. Father laughed at her and said

"Mother, I don't set much store by him either, but he has got into some trouble and Charlie wants him to go with us till be can get a chance to leave the country. I'll keep my eye on him."

The last time that my father was at his birthplace was an ideal spring day. The grass and flowers were just coming up green slid fresh, all the leaves were budding on the big coffee bean tree in the corner of the yard where he lies buried now [Jesse James was later reburied in town after his wife's death]. Father was in a good humor that day and he sat all of the after. noon with my grandmother in the shade of the porch and they talked together of old times. While they were sitting there a pretty red-headed woodpecker alighted on a tree fifty yards away and clung to the bark. My father pulled his revolver and said to my grandmother:

"Mother you have heard about my being a good shot, I will show you."

He threw the revolver down on the little bird, pulled the trigger and it fell dead.

My father was a wonderful marksman. I have heard his old comrades tell that seated on horseback, with a revolver in each hand he would ride at full speed between two telegraph poles, or two trees and begin firing at them when he was a few yards away, and before he was more than a few yards beyond them, he had emptied the chambers of both revolvers, and the six bullets from the revolver in his left hand were buried in the pole to the left of him, while the six bullets from the revolver in his right hand were in the pole to his right. I think this story of his marksmanship was true, because several different men in whom I have great faith told me they saw it done more than once. I have heard other stories of his great skill with his revolver that are equally as wonderful as this. I have seen my father at practice shooting with a revolver. That was while we were living at St. Joseph and when be had taken me on a horseback ride to a lonely part of the country. But I was too young then to pay much attention to it, and I recall only that he was shooting at a mark on a tree.

After spending the day at the home of my grandmother my father and the two Ford boys rode away on horseback to St. Joseph. Father carried with him a small dog that was given him by his half-sister as a present to my sister and me. Father carried that dog in his arms all the way to St. Joseph.

The Ford boys killed my father for the reward that was offered for his apprehension. This reward was $5,000 for the apprehension of Jesse James and $5,000 additional reward for his conviction in any court. There has been a great deal of misunderstanding about this reward. It is generally believed that the reward was offered for the capture of Jesse James alive or dead. This was not the case. I have read the proclamation of Governor T. T. Crittenden offering the reward, and it was as I have stated.

The Ford boys had the confidence of my father. Charlie Ford had been with him off and on for year, and father had befriended him, and protected him and fed him when he was penniless. Father had not the slightest suspicion that the Fords meant to harm him. This is proven by the fact that after breakfast that morning; father took off his belt and revolvers and threw them upon the bed and threw his coat over them. He did this because it was a very warm morning, and the belt and revolvers were tiresome to carry. Another reason was that it was necessary to have the doors and windows open, and father thought that people passing the house might be suspicious if they saw him armed.

After my father put the revolvers upon the bed he noticed that a picture on the wall was hanging awry. He place a chair beneath the picture and stood upon it to straighten it and then he started to brush the dust from it. Standing thus, his back was turned to the Ford boys, who were in the room. This was the opportunity the Fords had been waiting for. It was the very first time they had seen him unarmed since they knew him. Bob Ford drew his revolver, aimed it at the back of my father's head and cocked it. Father heard the click of the hammer and made a movement as if to turn around. But before he could do so Ford pulled the trigger and father fell backward dead. The Fords ran out and across the back yard fence, and west down town and surrendered to the authorities, telling that they had shot and killed Jesse James. Years afterward the Fords, who found themselves despised of all men because of this murder, denied that they shot my father for the reward, but that they learned that Jesse James suspected them of treachery and meant to kill them, and they shot him for self protection. That this story was absolutely false is proven by the fact that immediately after the murder Charlie Ford sent the following telegram to the Governor of Missouri:

"I have got my man."

Charlie Ford practically admitted in my presence and hearing that he killed my father for the reward. That conversation was held under the following circumstances:

Nearly three years after the murder, when I was nine years old, I was in Kansas City with my grandmother. We were walking up Main street. I had had hold of my grandmother's hand. Suddenly I saw and recognized Charlie Ford coming down the street toward us. I knew him the instant I saw him, and I was very much excited. I said to my grandmother:

"Here comes the man who killed my father."

It was the first time my grandmother had seen him since that day be was at her home with father, ten days before the murder. The sight of him made her weak and she sat down on a box in front of a shoe store. Ford saw her and went to walk past with his head turned the other way, but she called to him:

"You don't know me, Charlie?"

He stopped and said:

"Yes, I know you. You are Mrs. Samuels."

"Yes, and you killed my brave boy; you murdered him for money. I ought to kill you," she said to him.

Further Reading:


Life, Times, and Treacherous Death of Jesse James

The Life, Times and Treacheous Death of JESSE JAMES, by Frank Triplett (published 1882)


Frank and Jesse James by Yeatman

Frank and Jesse James: The Story Behind the Legend by Ted P. Yeatman


More books & reviews of these...

He threw up both his hands in front of his face and answered: "Mrs. Samuels don't say that. If you only knew what I am suffering, you wouldn't talk to me that way."

"And what have you made me and mine suffer?" she said.

"Mrs. Samuels, I have been in the blackest hell of remorse ever since it was done. But I didn't kill him. It was Bob did it," Ford said.

"Yes, and you knew Bob intended to do it when you brought him to my house. You ate bread under my roof with blackest murder in your heart, and murder for money, too. There will come a day of terrible reckoning for you."

I heard Charlie Ford tell my grandmother in that talk that he did not know that Bob intended to kill my father till they got to St. Joseph, and then Bob told him if he did not consent to it, he would kill him along with Jesse. Ford repeated over and over again, that he was suffering the worst agonies of remorse. The perspiration streamed down his face and there were tears in his eyes. He begged my grandmother to forgive him and she said:

"If God can forgive you, I will."

My grandmother asked him what he did with the $10,000 he got for murdering my father, and he replied:

"Mrs. Samuels, before God, we never got but a few hundred dollars of that reward."

I watched Charlie Ford closely while be was talking. I was only nine years old but I understood it all. I said nothing until he had gone on down the street.

Then I said to my grandmother:

"If ever I grow up to be a man I am going to kill him."

My grandmother said to me: "You'11 never live long enough my son; God will never let an onery man like that live until then."

Eleven months after that day, Charlie Ford committed suicide in Richmond, Mo., by shooting himself. Bob Ford was shot and killed later in a gambling house in Colorado.

A great many persons have asked me in recent years if I would have sought revenge on the Fords if they had lived till I grew up. I have never given a direct answer to that question. I answer it now by saying that I would not have troubled the Fords or sought an encounter with them or any of the other enemies of my father. I realize that the feelings and prejudices of the days of border warfare have almost passed away, that the times and conditions have changed and that it was a certainty that with a price of $10,000 on his head it was only a matter of time till some traitor would kill my father to get it, and that if the Fords had not done it some other would have.

Every member of the James family has proven to the world in the seventeen years since my father's death that they are good citizens, and honest men and women.

The conditions and events and prejudices that led my father to become a member of Quantrell's guerrilla band, and the story of the persecutions and proscriptions that prevented his honorable surrender at the close of the war, and made him an outlawed and hunted man, are told of in the succeeding chapters.

Go to Chapter 3: The James Family and Chapter 4: The Border Wars

return to Chapter 1: Things I Remember of My Father



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