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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Hundred of different books have been written and published about Jesse James, and what is commonly known as "The James Band." Many of these books were false from cover to cover. A few had in them a grain or two of truth upon which were strung whole chapters of untruths. I have read them all, and there is not one of them that did not do cruel injustice to the memory of my father and to his family. In none of these books, and in none of the thousands of newspaper articles that have been written about him, have I seen him credited with having in his nature any of the human attributes of kindness, charity or honesty of purpose. In all of these writings his true character is entirely lost sight of and distorted into that of a veritable Frankenstein who slew mercilessly and robbed for the mere love of adventure.

This is because those writings were done by those who never knew my father. I defy the world to show that he ever slew a human being except in the protection of his own life or as a soldier in honorable warfare. His only brother, whose name was linked with his in all the years of his life, is a free man to-day, acquitted of all crime.

There were lovable and noble traits in the character of my father, else why was it that for sixteen long years, when there was a price on his head that would have made his betrayer rich, not one could be found who would betray him? Did ever a man live who had such staunch friends, many of whom were persecuted and made to suffer because of the steadfastness of their loyalty to him? Is it possible that an ignoble character could win and hold such friendships?

My object in writing this hook in two fold. Thousands have asked me why I did not write such a book, and promised to buy one if I did write it. If all of these keep that promise it will have been a good business venture for me. One of my objects, then, in writing the book is in the hope that it will bring some money for the support of my mother. My other object in writing it is to do something; to correct the false impressions that the public have about the character of my father. Others may differ from me on this point, but I believe it my duty to the memory of my father that the truth about him be told.

I make no claim to literary merit in this book. I have had little time in my life to go to school. In the years that boys usually spend in school I was at work earning wages for the support of my widowed mother and the education of my fatherless sister. I have tried to make this book a straightforward account of the things I write about as I see them.


Kansas City, Mo., June 1, 1899.





I was born August 31, 1875, in Nashville, Tenn. I recall with vivid distinctness an incident that occurred in Nashville, when I was about five fears old. At that time my father, Jesse James, was away from home. Dick Liddill was staying at our home during the absence of father. It was the night of St. Valentine's day. While mother and myself and sister and Dick Liddill were at home there was a sound as if someone was throwing rocks against the front door. Dick started to open the door, but mother suspected that it was someone who had discovered who we were and were trying to entice Dick out to capture or kill him. She would not allow him to open the door. Dick then got my father's shot gun from a closet. Both of its barrels were loaded heavily with buckshot. Before my mother could interfere to prevent it, Dick aimed at the door and fired the charge of buckshot, tearing a great hole through the door panel and splintering it. Dick rushed to the door and threw it open and ran out on the porch. In the darkness he saw a man running around the corner. Dick fired the second barrel straight at him, barely missing him, the charge rattling against a lamp post on the street. We lived in the suburbs, and a great crowd that had heard the shots gathered to see what was the matter. Dick told them simply that he had shot at a burglar.

We never know positively who the mysterious one was that had frightened us so that night, but my father always thought it was a friend of his, who lived near us. Liddill had the reputation of being somewhat scary, and my father believed this friend threw the rocks at our house with the intention of playing a practical joke on Liddill, and to see how he would act. The theory seems all the more plausible because this friend came to our home very early the next morning and his face was unusually long and solemn. Whoever it was who threw the rocks, had a narrow escape from being killed.

This dramatic scene of the shot fired through our door so suddenly and unexpectedly that night, will never fade from my memory. It is one of the earliest recollections of my life.

Further Reading:


Jesse James Was His Name,

by William A. Settle, Jr.


Jesse James by Brant

Jesse James: The Man and the Myth



Outlaws Illustrated

Outlaws : The Illustrated History of the James-Younger Gang

both by Marley Brant


Frank and Jesse James by Yeatman

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


Life, Times, and Treacherous Death of Jesse James

The Life, Times and Treacheous Death of JESSE JAMES, by Frank Triplett


In the Shadow of Jesse James
by Milton F. Perry (Editor), Stella Frances James

Stella James was the wife of Jesse Edwards James (Jesse Jr.)


More books & reviews of these...

The first remembrance I have of my father, was after we had moved from Nashville to Kansas City, a short time after this adventure of Dick Liddill's. We lived in Kansas City on East Ninth street, between Michigan and Euclid; on Troost Avenue, between Tenth and Eleventh and on Woodland Avenue, between Twelfth and Thirteenth streets. I remember those different homes in an indistinct way, although I have often visited them since I grew up.

I remember very distinctly when we first came to Kansas City, we lived for a short time with Charles McBride, who was married to my mother's sister. At that time there was a large reward for the capture of my father, and I suppose he thought it unsafe to leave us at McBride's on account of the well-known relationship; and that detectives might take a notion to look there for him. My father came one day, I remember, and moved us away. I asked him where we were going and he said, "to another town." We went to the Doggett House, at Sixth and Walnut, and engaged rooms. We had been there only two or three days, when, as I was playing on the street in front of the hotel, I saw my uncle, McBride, pass on horseback and I shouted to him.

"Hello, Uncle Charlie! how did you get to this town?"

He spoke to me and rode on. When I went home and told my father about it, he at once paid his bill and took us away from there.

I have heard my folks tell since, that while we lived on Woodland Avenue, in Kansas City, there was a vacant lot behind our house, and the father of Con. Murphy, the County Marshal, lived on the other side of this lot. At that time Marshal Murphy was very anxious to capture my father and nearly every night a posse would gather at Murphy's house and start out for the country around Independence and in the "Cracker Neck" district in search of members of the James band. My father used to walk over to Murphy's house in the evening when the posse would be starting out, and talk to them about their plans, and wish them good luck on their trip. I told Mr. Murphy recently about this and he laughed heartily at it.

I remember seeing my father walking with a cane and limping, while we lived in Kansas City. I have been told since, that he did this, not because he was lame, but to help disguise himself.

My strongest recollections of my father are of the times after we moved to St. Joseph, Mo. We went from Kansas City to St. Joseph in a covered wagon or "prairie schooner," drawn by two horses, and another horse, always saddled, leading behind. Charlie Ford drove the team. I sat most of the time on the seat with him, and father stayed inside the wagon until we were well out of Kansas City. We crossed the network of railroad tracks in the West Bottoms of Kansas City and drove up through Leavenworth and Atchison, Kan. It was my father's intention, when we started, to stop in Atchison and rent a house. When we reached Atchison we drove through the town and unhitched the horses at the edge of the town. Father and Charlie Ford rode back through the town to see if they could find a house for rent. They came back very soon and said the people were watching them suspiciously, so they hitched up again and drove on toward St. Joseph. This suspicion of my father's was probably unfounded. He and Ford were undoubtedly stared at with the same degree of curiosity that any strangers on horseback would have been looked at. But at that time there way a big price on my father's head, and it would be strange if he was not suspicious. In St. Joseph we lived first in a house, the location of which I have forgotten. From there we went to the house on the hill where my father was killed.

It was while we lived in this house on the hill in St. Joseph that I best remember my father. I was then six years old. I remember my father as a tall, rather heavily built man, with a dark sandy beard. He was very kind to mother and to sister and to me. I remember best his good humored pranks, his fun making and his playing with me. I did not then know his real name or my own. I did not know that he was concealing anything from the public or that he was in danger of capture. He was living then under the name of Thomas Howard. My name was Charlie Howard, but my father and mother always called me "Tim." Father never called me by any other name than "Tim." Charlie Ford, who was at the house a good deal of the time, went by the name of Charles Johnson. They claimed to be cousins.

In those days in St. Joseph, father always kept at least two horses in the stable back of the house. Father was heavily armed at all times. In the house he kept a double barreled shot gun loaded with buckshot, a Winchester rifle, a 45-calibre Colt's revolver, a 45-calibre Schofield revolver, and three cartridge belts. He never left the house without both of the revolvers and the three cartridge belts loaded, and some cartridges in his pockets. That was the way he armed himself when he went down town. When he went away to be gone any length of time he carried in addition to this, a small valise full of cartridges. When on a trip he carried his Winchester strapped on the inside of a large umbrella.

After my father's death we sold a great many of those things at public auction. The little cartridge valise brought $15. We did not sell the revolvers or cartridge bolts. T. T. Crittenden, Jr., has one of the revolvers now, which I gave him as a token of my friendship for him. My uncle, Frank James, has the other revolver. Two of the cartridge belts were stolen from the house by the people who crowded in after my father's death. The third cartridge belt I have now and I shall always keep it in remembrance of my father.

At this same auction sale after my father's death we sold a little cur dog for $15. I felt the loss of the dog very much. The dog was given to my father by his half-sister, Mrs. Nicholson, when my father last visited my grandmother's home a short time before his death, and father brought the dog to St. Joseph with him. He rode in his arms on horseback.

My father was a great deal of the time at home while we lived in St. Joseph. He often took me with him for rides on horseback when the weather was fair. I generally rode in front of him, sitting astride of the horse's shoulders, and clinging with both hands to the mane. Sometimes I would ride behind him and hold on to his coat. These horseback trips led away out into the country beyond sight or hearing of the town. I recall very distinctly that on one of these trips he sat me up on top of a rail fence, where I hung on by the stakes, and then he rode away and showed me how he used to charge the enemy when he was a soldier under Quantrell [sic: Quantrill-spelled this way throughout the book]. With the bridle rein in his teeth, and an unloaded revolver in each hand snapping the triggers rapidly, he charged toward me on the gallop, and I thought it was great fun.

One day the home of a preacher who lived in the suburbs of St. Joseph burned down, and the next day my father took me over on horseback to see the ruins. He talked quite awhile with the preacher and his wife. We found out after my father's death that this preacher used to live in Liberty, Mo., near the home of my people, and that both he and his wife recognized my father. But they kept the secret well. They could have earned the $20,000 by betraying my father, but they were loyal, as all friends of our family were in those days and in the trying times since then.

The spring my father was killed there was a great parade in St. Joseph in celebration of some public event. My father rode on horseback, with me in front of him, with the parade over its whole route. Leading the parade was a platoon of mounted police, and father rode right behind them.

One forenoon while my father was sitting at the window with me on his lap he saw the chief of police of St. Joseph, and four men coming up the hill toward the house. Father got up hastily and sat me in a rocking chair, and told me to be very quiet. He ran out to the barn, and in a moment had his horse saddled. Then he came back into the house, and said a few words hurriedly to my mother while he put on his cartridge belt and revolvers, watching out of the window all of the time. He brought his Winchester rifle out of a closet and stood with it at the window, just far enough back so that the chief of police could not see him. The chief stopped in front of the house and put one foot and hand upon the fence as if to come in, and I saw my father take aim at him with the rifle. Then the chief evidently changed his mind and went away. In a moment more he would have been killed. My father thought of course that the chief had discovered who he was, and was coming after him. We learned after my father's death that the chief was simply showing some strangers over the city, and had brought them over the bill on which our house stood, because it overlooked the whole city.

My father used to hold me on his lap and talk a great deal to me about his adventures in the war. He used to talk to me about the James boys, and would read to me the accounts of their adventures that were published in the newspapers. He used to read to me from Major Edwards's book, stories about Quantrell's band of guerrillas, and show me the pictures. I have only hazy recollections of these things, of course, but I remember that once he showed me a picture of one of the members of the guerilla band who was living then, and said laughingly, that he had a good long neck to hang by.

In days that father was lounging around the house he often took the cartridges from his revolvers and buckled one of them around me, and strapped one with a handkerchief around my sister's waist, and would say that I was Jesse James and that my sister was Sam Hildebrand. I remember well the name Sam Hildebrand, but I have never learned who he was, or if such a person ever lived.

My father was always heavily armed, and he told me that all men went armed the same way. I thought that was true because all the men I ever saw at our home were as heavily armed as he.

The morning my father was murdered we had just finished breakfast. I heard from the front room the loud roar of a shot. My mother rushed in and screamed. I ran in after her and saw my father dead upon the floor, and my mother was down upon her knees by his side and was crying bitterly. My father was killed instantly by the bullet that Ford shot into the back of his head. He never spoke or breathed after he fell.

Soon after the murder of my father a great crowd gathered outside the house. My childish mind imagined that these were responsible for the murder, and in great anger I lugged from its closet my father's shot gun and tried to aim it at the people outside, but my mother took it from me.

go to Chapter 2: The Death of Jesse James



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