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:

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[pictures on this page not from original text]




DURING the war my grandmother, Mrs. Zerelda Samuels, was banished from her home in Clay County by the Home Guards. These Home Guards were Northern sympathizers whose chief business was to harass and torment people living in the same neighborhood who were Southerners. As a sample of the persecutions of these "patriots" I have heard my grandmother tell that once during the war, when my father was with Quantrell, a band of Home Guards came to her home and after plundering the barn came to the house and began nosing around. One of them said to my grandmother:

"Just show me a Southern man and I'll show you a thief."

My grandmother noticed hanging from beneath his overcoat the straps of a bridle of hers that he had just stolen from the barn. She pointed to it and asked sternly:

"What is that you have under your coat?"

"Oh, that is only a bridle that I pressed into the service," he replied.

"Well, will just press you," my grandmother said, and she grabbed him and backed him up into a corner and choked him till he was blue in the face and his tongue hung out. One of his comrades ran to the door and yelled:

"Help! help!"

One of his comrades up by the barn shouted the inquiry:

"What's the matter down there?"

"Mrs. Samuels is choking Sam to death," was the answer.

A month or two after this happened this same soldier returned to my grandmother's house. She saw him coming and threw a shovelful of hot coals from the fireplace into his face, and he ran away.

My grandmother was warned by these Federal soldiers to leave Clay County and to go South, "where she belonged," or she would be killed. She went away but she did not go South. My father told her not to go South, because, he told her, when the war closed times would be so hard she would find it difficult to get North again, and if she did finally get back to Clay County she would find some Kansas Jayhawker squatted on her place. So my grandmother and her family moved North. She was first imprisoned in the jail at Weston for two days. Then she was released on her promise to leave the country. She hired a man to drive her to Nebraska and paid him $1 a mile for eighty-five miles. She and her family went in an open wagon in the bitter winter weather of February. The sleet often froze on her and her two little children as they drove northward. She went to Rulla, Neb., and her husband practiced medicine there.

When my father surrendered at the close of the war so badly wounded with a bullet through his lung that he could scarcely walk, he went on a steamboat from Lexington, Mo., up the Missouri river to my grandmother at Rulla, Neb. Richard West, one of Quantrell's guerrillas went with him and cared for him on the way. He reached Rulla in April. He stayed there with my grandmother eight weeks, and in that time he was often so near death that my grandmother would bend over his bed and put her ear to his heart to see if it was yet beating. One day at the end of eight weeks he drew the face of his mother down to his and said to her:

"Ma, I don't want to be buried here in a Northern state."

"My son, you shall not be buried here," my grandmother told him.

"But, ma, I don't want to die here."

"If you don't wish to you shall not," my grandmother told him, and at once she announced to the members of her household:

"We are going back to old Missouri if the trip kills every one of us. Jesse don't want to die here."

She began preparing immediately for the trip and the very next day my father was put aboard of a boat bound down stream. He was so weak and sick that four men carried him to the boat as he lay on a lounge. He fainted while they were carrying him to the boat, and the people of Rulla tried to persuade my grandmother to abandon the trip. But she would not listen to it. Her son wished to die on Missouri soil and that was enough for her.

On the steamboat my father recovered consciousness enough to ask:

"Ma, where am I?"

"On the boat, honey, going home," my grandmother told him.

"Thank the Lord," he said, and fainted again.

The trip down river seemed to help him a little. He was landed at Harlem, across the river from Kansas City, and was carried to the home of John Mimms, who kept a boarding house there.

He was wounded so badly that for months he could not even sit up in bed. He was nursed by Zerelda Mimms, my mother, and his sister, Susie James. She nursed him from early August till late in October, and then he was strong enough to be moved and he begged to be taken to his old home near Kearney. When he left it was agreed between him and Miss Zerelda Mimms that if ever he recovered, they would be married.

He was carried home in a wagon. When he reached home he could not walk a step. After a week or two of nursing he could walk across the room and he used to say to my grandmother:

"Ma, if I only get so I can walk through the whole house I will be happy."

At that time his wounds discharged so that at stated intervals he had to lean over and allow the pus to drain into a vessel.

He did not tell his mother of his engagement to marry until he was strong enough to ride out a little on horseback. Then he said to her one day:

"Ma, I am going to marry Zee."

My grandmother was opposed to him marrying anyone and she told him so, but he replied in a way that convinced her and silenced all her opposition to it:

"Ma, Zee and I are going to be married."

As soon as my father was strong enough to get around he attended revival services held in the Baptist church in Kearney and was converted and professed religion, and was baptized and joined the church. His was a sincere conversion. No one who is acquainted with the life and doings of my father will accuse him of hypocrisy in this act because a hypocrite is a coward, and even the worst enemy my father ever had never accused him of cowardice. He would not stoop to hypocrisy to convince his enemies that his surrender at the close of the war was sincere, and that his only wish was to live a clean, honest, God-fearing life, and at peace with all the world.

But the hatred of the Southern people that rankled in the hearts of the Northern militia and home guards during the war did not die down at its close. They yet hated the Southern soldiers who had honorably surrendered. Even in his desperately wounded condition my father was not permitted to stay at home. He was warned by friends and threatened by enemies.

One night while he was sleeping upstairs at the home of his mother the family was aroused by the sound of signal whistles outside, as if some one was calling and answering. My father got painfully out of bed and crawled to the window and looked out. He saw six horses tied to the fence in front of the house and he saw that they had on United States government saddles and he divined instantly that they were home guards. He got the heavy dragoon pistols he had carried through the war and came down stairs and said to his mother:

"Ma, the house is surrounded, but don't be scared, I have been in tighter places than this and come out all right. I will fight my way out."

The six men came upon the front porch and demanded the surrender of Jesse James. He asked them through the door what they intended to do with him.

"Hang you, by God," their leader answered.

Thereupon my father, sick and weak as he was, threw open the front door, and, with pistol in each hand stepped out on the porch, and the six armed home guards backed away as the wounded Jesse James advanced, and finally broke into a run, regained their horses and galloped away. One printed account has it that my father killed three or four of the home guards that night, but this is untrue.

My father knew well that after this repulse the home guards would return with a larger gang and would surely kill him if he stayed at home. So that very night he mounted a horse and rode away. There was snow on the ground and it was a bitter cold night. It was the night of February 18, 1867. He made a long ride that night to the house of a friend. His enemies were searching for him everywhere, however, and they kept him dodging around. This caused his wound to open again and he became so ill that he could not be moved. He was hiding in a house in the timber and Dr. Woods attended him and nursed him so well that in the spring he was able to travel to New York City, and there he took steamer and went to California by way of the Isthmus of Panama. He went to the home of his uncle, Woodson James, who owned a hotel near a hot spring of wonderful medicinal qualities and there he stayed for a year, and then returned quietly to his mother's home in Clay County, hoping that in that time the old prejudices and hatreds had died down and that he would not be molested if he stayed close to home and worked the farm for his mother.

But he had been home but a short time when his old enemies, the home guards, smelled him out and came after him again. There had been a bank robbery in Gallatin, Mo., and one of the robbers, in escaping, had narrowly missed being killed, and had left behind a horse that had once been the property of my father. This horse had been sold by my father to James Anderson, a brother of Bill Anderson. But it was identified as having once belonged to Jesse James, and that gave his persecutors a chance to accuse him of the robbery and to swear out a warrant for his arrest. Sheriff Thomason and a posse went to my grandmother's house to arrest my father, who knew full well that if they ever got hold of him they would kill him. Jesse James was at home when the posse came, and saw them in time to get out the kitchen window at the rear of the house and run to the barn for his horse. The posse saw him as he mounted and they chased him up through the pasture. When he thought he had gone far enough he turned in his saddle and shot the sheriff's horse dead and warned the posse that the first man who came a step nearer would be shot in his tracks. They knew he would do as he said and they returned to the house, and Sheriff Thomason took out of the barn my father's favorite house Stonewall, and rode him away. My father returned in a few minutes and when he found they had stolen; his horse it made him very angry. He started after the whole posse but they got away. He rode on to Kearney and there he wrote a letter to the Sheriff and mailed it, telling, him that he did not wish to kill him because he had been a Southern soldier, but if he did not return Stonewall to his stall before the end of three days there would be trouble sure enough. Two days later the horse was returned and Sheriff Thomason never tried to arrest my father again.

This incident forced my father to leave home again. That night he went to the home of General Jo Shelby, in Lafayette County, and stayed there six weeks. At the end of that time he became homesick. General Shelby sent Dave Poole, a veteran ex-guerrilla, to my grandmother's house to test the loyalty of the negro servants and see if it would be safe for my father to return. Neither my grandmother nor the servants knew Poole. My grandmother had two servants, Ambrose, called "Sambo," and Charlotte. Both had been slaves in our families from their birth, and when freedom came to them with the Emancipation proclamation they refused to accept it, preferring to remain at the old home, and they spent the rest of their days there and died there. [As irritating and foolish-sounding as that passage about the ex-slaves may be to read now, it's an enlightening look at the thought-processes and beliefs in the area both post-war and at the time Jesse Jr. wrote. He implies they chose to remain slaves, apparently not understanding that the essential difference between slavery and freedom is that they had the choice of how to spend their lives. As an historical note, the slaves in Missouri were not freed by Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation but by the state of Missouri in 1865.]

Poole came to the house pretending to be a detective. He first went to the barn where Sambo was currying the horses, and shoved a big revolver up against his face, and backing him into a corner demanded:

"Tell me where Jesse James is or I'll blow your damn brains out."

"I can't tell you, boss. I haven't seen him," the negro answered, and he stuck to it.

Poole then went to the house and put a revolver in Charlotte's face and demanded:

"Now tell me where Jesse James is or I'll kill you."

"Why, I haven't seen him since the war," she replied.

Poole went back to General Jo Shelby's and reported that the negroes were true blue. My father went home and almost the first thing he said to my grandmother was:

"Ma, don't ever let Aunt Charlotte or Ambrose want for a thing as long as you have a crust of bread."

Old Aunt Charlotte was a sincere Christian, and the falsehood she had told Poole worried her considerably, and she asked my grandmother if she thought God would mark down the lie against her.

"No, my dear; you will wear a crown in glory for that," my grandmother told her.

My father was home only a short time when the home guards smelled him out again and drove him away. From that time to the day of his death, fourteen years later, he was a hunted and an outlawed man.

As a fitting close to this chapter I will quote again from the book by Major John N. Edwards, "Noted Guerrillas, or the Warfare of the Border." This book was published in 1877, and has long been out of print: It is a graphic and faithful account of the doings of the guerrillas and some of the happenings in Western Missouri immediately after the war. In this book Major Edwards says:

"To the great mass of the guerrillas the end of the war also brought an end to their armed resistance. As au organization they never fought again. The most of them kept the their weapons; a few had great need of them. Some were killed because of the terrible renown won in the four years war; some were forced to hide themselves in the unknown of the outlying territories; and some were mercilessly persecuted and driven into desperate defiance and resistance because they were human and intrepid. To this latter class Jesse James belonged. No man ever strove harder to put the past behind him. No man ever submitted more sincerely to the result of a war that had as many excesses on one side as on the other. No man ever went to work with a heartier good will to keep good faith with society and make himself amenable to the law. No man ever sacrificed more for peace, and for the bare privilege of doing just as hundreds like him had done--the privilege of going back again into the obscurity of civil life and becoming again a part of the enterprising economy of the commonwealth. He was not permitted to do so, try how he would, and as hard, and as patiently.

"Jesse James, emaciated, tottering: as he walked, fighting what seemed to every one a hopeless battle of the skeleton boy against skeleton death--joined his mother in Nebraska and returned with her to their home near Kearney, in Clay County. His wound would not heal, and more ominous still, every once in a while there was a hemorrhage. In the spring of 1866 he was barely able to mount a horse and ride a little. And he did ride, but he rode armed, watchful, vigilant, haunted. He might be killed, waylaid, ambuscaded, assassinated; but he would be killed with his eyes open and his pistols about him. The hunt for this maimed and emaciated guerrilla culminated on the night of February 18, 1867. On this night an effort was made to kill him.

"Jesse James had to flee. In those evil days bad men in bands were doing bad things continually in the name of law, order and vigilance committees. He had been a desperate guerrilla; he had fought under a black flag; he had made a name of terrible prowess along the border; he had survived dreadful wounds; it was known that he would fight at any hour or in any way; he could not be frightened out of his native state; he could be neither intimidated nor robbed; and hence the wanton war waged upon Jesse James, and hence the reason why to-day he is an outlaw, and hence the reasons also that--outlaw as he is and proscribed in county or state or territory--he has more friends than the officers who hunt him; and more defenders than the armed men who seek to secure his body, dead or alive.

"Since 1865 it has been pretty much one eternal ambush for this man--one unbroken and eternal hunt twelve years long. He has been followed, trailed, surrounded, shot at, wounded, ambushed, surprised, watched, betrayed, proscribed, outlawed, driven from state to state, made the objective point of infallible detectives, and he has triumphed. By some intelligent people he is regarded as a myth; by others as in league with the devil. He is neither, but he is an uncommon man. He does not touch whisky or tobacco in any form. He never travels twice the same road. He never tells the direction from which he came nor the direction in which he means to go. There is a design in this--the calm, cool, deadly design of a man who recognizes the perils which beset him and who is not afraid to die. He trusts very few people, two probably out of every ten thousand. He comes and goes as silently as the leaves fall. He never boasts. He has many names and many disguises. He speaks low, is polite, deferential and accommodating. He duos not kill save in stubborn self defense. He has nothing in common with a murderer. He hates the highwayman and the coward. He is an outlaw, but he is not a criminal, no matter what prejudiced public opinion may declare, or malignant partisan dislike make noisy with reiteration. The war made him a desperate guerrilla, and the harpies of the war--the robbers who came in the wake of it, and the cut-throats who came to the surface as the honorable combatants settled back again into civilized life--proscribed him and drove him into resistance. He was a man who could not be bullied--who was too intrepid to be tyrannized over--who would fight a regiment just as quickly as he would fight a single individual--who owned property and meant to keep it--who was born in Clay County and did not mean to be driven out of Clay County and who had surrendered in good faith, but who, because of it, did not intend any the less to have his rights and receive the treatment the balance of the Southern soldiers received. This is the summing up of the whole history of this man since the war. He was hunted, and he was human. He replied to proscription by defiance, ambushment by ambushment, musket shot by pistol shot, night attack by counterattack, charge by counter-charge, and so he will do, desperately and with splendid heroism, until the end."

The foregoing was written by Major Edwards in 1877, five years before my father's death.


return to Chapter 1: Things I Remember of My Father

return to Chapter 2: The Death of Jesse James

return to Chapter 3 - The James Family & Chapter 4 - The Border Wars

return to Chapter 5 - Jesse James as a Guerrilla

return to Chapter 6 - Closing Days of the Border Warfare

go to Chapter 8: Outlawed and Hunted



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