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


pictures on this page not from original text]




My grandfather, Robert James, was a Baptist preacher of wide renown in the early days in Western Missouri. He was born and raised in Kentucky, and was a graduate of the Georgetown, Ky., college. His family was one of the old families of Logan County, Ky. My grandfather was married to my grandmother, Miss Zerelda Cole, one year before he graduated. He was then 23 years old, and she was 17. They met first at a religious gathering and it was a case of love at first sight. My grandmother's people lived in Lexington, Ky., and she was educated in a Catholic convent in that city. The Cole family, of which my grandmother was a member, was of old Revolutionary stock. Her grandfather was a soldier in the war of the Revolution. My grandmother's mother was a Lindsay, of the famous old Lindsay family of Kentucky. Senator Lindsay is a member of this family.

My grandfather and grandmother were married December 28, 1841. The following August they came to Clay County, Ma., to visit the mother of Mr. James, who had married her second husband and was living in that county. He left my grandmother in Clay County and returned to Kentucky. He was to have returned the next Christmas, but the Missouri river was frozen and he had to postpone the trip. He came in the spring. My grandfather liked Clay County and he remained there, settling near Kearney. He combined farming with preaching and was very successful at both. He acquired a large and valuable farm on which my grandmother yet lives, and from the product of this farm he supported his family, because he never asked money for preaching and the good farmers to whom he broke the bread of life gave him very little. He was a great exhorter and a fervid expounder of the Gospel. He founded the Baptist churches at New Hope and at Providence, which are yet in existence. He was a wonderful revivalist and he baptized many of the old settlers of Clay County who are yet living, and many more who are dead. I have had old men and women tell me of seeing him go into the water and baptize sixty converts at one time. At this time when my grandfather baptized sixty converts without leaving the water, my father, Jesse James, was fourteen months old, and he was held up in his mother's arms and saw the ceremony.

Years afterward, when my father had returned desperately wounded from the Border wars, he was baptized not very far from the same place.

In 1851 my grandfather, the Rev. Robert James, went to California. The day he started Jesse James was four years old. He clung to my grandfather and cried and, pleaded with him not to go away. This affected my grandfather very much, and he told my grandmother that if he had not already spent so much money in outfitting for the trip, and if he had not promised the other men who were going with him, he would give up the trip. It was a great desire to get money to educate his children, that led him to undertake the journey to the gold fields of California. My grandmother had a presentiment then that she would never see him again, and she never did. The overland trip from Clay County to California lasted from April 12 to August 1, three months. My grandfather lived only eighteen days after reaching California, and was buried there.

He had preached the gospel for eight years and received in all that time less than $100 for his services. He was a good Christian and a noble man.

The children of my grandfather were:

Alexander James, born January 10, 1844. [1843]

Robert James, born July 19, 1845, died in infancy

Jesse W. James, born September 5, 1847, died April 3, 1882.

Susan L. James, born November 25,1849, married November 24, 1870, to Allen H. Palmer, died 1889.

My grandmother remained a widow for four years [she had a brief marriage in those years]. She married Dr. Reuben Samuels [Samuel] in 1855. The children born of that marriage were:

Sarah L. Samuels, born December 26, 1858, married November 28, 1878, to William Nicholson.

John T. Samuels, born May 25, 1861, married July 22, 1885, to Norma L. Maret.

Fannie Quantrell Samuels, born October 18, 1863, married December 30, 1880, to Joseph Hall.

Archie Payton Samuels, born July 26, 1866, murdered by Pinkerton detectives, January 26, 1875.

My grandmother had eight children. Two of them were murdered.

My grandmother lives yet on the old homestead near Kearney, Mo. Dr. Samuels, her second husband, lives with her, but is old and quite feeble. My grandmother is seventy-four years old, is vigorous and in good health.





QuantrillThe Kansas Jayhawkers and Red Legs made the Missouri guerrilla possible. When the civil war broke out, Eastern Kansas was filled with abolitionists who formed themselves into marauding bands, called Jayhawkers and Red Legs, who invaded Western Missouri, ostensibly in the interests of the Union cause, but really for the purpose of plunder, making war an excuse for robbery. Jackson and Clay Counties were settled mostly by people of Southern sympathies, many of them from Kentucky. The marauding bands from Kansas stole and drove off horses and cattle, enticed negro slaves away, robbed and burned houses, hanged and shot men and insulted women. These outrages led to the organization of the Missouri guerrillas under Quantrell.

Charles William Quantrell was born in Hagerstown, Md., in 1836. In 1855 Quantrell came to Kansas and joined his only brother and they started on a trip overland to California with a negro as cook and hustler. Although there was peace at that time, Western Missouri and Kansas worn at war. Armed bands which called themselves "patriots" roamed over Kansas and made frequent dashes into Missouri. One night in the summer of 1856, when the Quantrell brothers were camped on the Little Cottonwood river, on the way to California, one of these bands of thirty-two armed men rode deliberately up and attacked the little camp. The elder Quantrell was killed instantly and Charles William Quantrell was left for dead. But he did not die. He lay in great agony for two days, scarcely able to move, keeping the coyotes and buzzards from the body of his brother. Early in the morning of the third day an old Shawnee Indian found and rescued Quantrell and buried his dead brother, and nursed Quautrell back to life. [note: This is the story William Clarke Quantrill told his followers. It's untrue.]

The experiences and sufferings of those two awful days and nights made a fiend of Quantrell. When he recovered he taught school long enough to pay the old Indian for his board and then he went to Leavenworth, and, under the name of Charles Hart, he joined the Jayhawkers. He was promoted to the position of orderly sargeant, and held the esteem and confidence of all. But it was revenge he was after, and he bided his time. In the four years he was with the Jayhawkers, he killed thirty out of the thirty-two men who had murdered his brother, and each one of them was shot mysteriously in the very center of the forehead. Quantrell was discovered by his comrades at last and then he fled to Jackson County, Mo., and organized Quantrell's band of guerrillas.

Major John N. Edwards says of Quantrell:

"One-half the country believes Quantrell to have been a highway robber crossed upon the tiger; the other half that be was the gallant defender of his native South; one-half believes him to have been an avenging nemesis of the right; the other a forbidding monster of assassination. History cannot hesitate over him, however, nor abandon him to the imagination of the romancers. He was a living, breathing, aggressive, all-powerful reality-riding through the midnight, laying ambuscades by lonesome roadsides, catching marching columns by the thrust, breaking in upon the flanks and tearing a suddenly surprised roar to pieces; vigilant, merciless, a terror by day and a superhuman if not a supernatural thing when there was upon the earth blackness and darkness."

John N EdwardsMajor Edwards, in his wonderful book, "Noted Guerrillas, or the Warfare of the Border," speaks thus of the men who formed the guerrilla band under Quantrell.

"As strange as it may seem the perilous fascination of fighting under a black flag--where the wounded could have neither surgeon nor hospital, and where all that remained to the prisoners was the absolute certainty of speedy death--attracted a number of young men, born of higher destinies, capable of sustained exertion in any scheme or enterprise, and fit for callings high up in the scale of science or philosophy. Others came who had deadly wrongs to avenge, and these gave to all their combats that sanguinary hue which yet remains a part of the guerrilla's legacy. Almost from the first, a large majority of Quantrell's original command had over them the shadow of some terrible crime. This one recalled a father murdered, this one a brother waylaid and shot, this one a house pillaged and burned, this one a relative assassinated, this one a grievous insult while at peace at home, this one a robbery of all his earthly possessions, this one the force which compelled him to witness the brutal treatment of a mother or sister, this one was driven away from his own like a thief in the night, this one was threatened with death for opinion's sake, this one was proscribed at the instance of some designing neighbor, this one was arrested wantonly and forced to do the degrading work of a menial; while all had more or less of wrath laid up against the day when they were to meet face to face, and hand to band, those whom they had good cause to regard as the living embodiment of unnumbered wrongs. Honorable soldiers in the Confederate army--amenable to every generous impulse and exact in the performance of every manly duty--deserted even the ranks which they had adorned, and became desperate guerrillas because the home they had left had been given to the flames, or a gray-haired father shot upon his own hearth-stone. They wished to avoid the uncertainty of regular battle and know by actual results how many died as a propitiation or a sacrifice. Every other passion became subordinate to that of revenge. They sought personal encounters, that their own handiwork might become unmistakably manifest. Those who died by other agencies than their own were not counted in the general summing up of a fight, nor were the solacements of any victory sweet to them unless the knowledge of being important factors in its achievements. As this class of guerrillas increased, the warfare of the border became necessarily more cruel and unsparing. Where at first there was only killing in ordinary battle, there became to be no quarter shown. The wounded of the enemy next felt the might of this individual vengeance--acting through ;community of bitter memories--and from every strucken field there began, by and by, to come up the substance of this awful bulletin: Dead such and such a number, wounded none. The war had then passed into its fever heat, and thereafter the gentle and the merciful, equally with the harsh and revengeful, spared nothing clad in blue that could be captured."

At the outbreak of the civil war my people lived near Kearney, in Clay County, Mo. My grandmother being a native of Kentucky, was naturally a Southern sympathizer, as was her husband, Dr. Samuels.

In that neighborhood at that time were a great many sympathizers with the Northern cause. Many of these had formed themselves into organizations known as "Home Militia" or "Home Guards," and these often operated in conjunction with the raiders from Kansas, who came into Missouri to pillage and kill. Members of these organizations hated my grandmother because she was a Southern sympathizer and outspoken in her loyalty to the cause of the Confederacy.

The feeling in those days was very intense against Southern sympathizers. Northern spies in Southern uniforms would go to families and get a drink of water or something to eat, and the families would be persecuted for it and sometimes put in jail.

In the spring of 1863 a baud of Northern militiamen came to the home of my grandmother and demanded to know where Quantrell was. Quantrell's band had been in that neighborhood shortly before this, and these militiamen thought, I suppose, that my folks could be frightened into telling where they were, if they knew. My father was ploughing corn with Dr. Samuels when the militiamen came up. They took Dr. Samuels from the plough and drove him at the points of their bayonets to a tree near the barn and put a rope around his neck and hung him to a limb until he was nearly dead. Then they lowered him, loosened the rope, and demanded that he tell where Quantrell was. He did not know, and of course could not tell. He would not have told if he had known. Three times they strung him up to the limb and lowered him. The rope cut into his neck until it bled.

The militiamen drove my father, who was a boy of fifteen, up and down the corn rows, lashing his back with a rope and threatening him with their bayonets. They forced him up to the mulberry tree to witness the cruel treatment of his stepfather.

When they were through torturing Dr. Samuels with the rope, they went to the house and pointing their guns at my grandmother, said:

"You had better tell what you know."

My grandmother answered: "I am like Marion's wife, what I know I will die knowing."

Captain Culver was commanding the squad of militiamen. He shouted to the men under him, who were at the rear of the house with Dr. Samuels:

"Bring him around here and let him bid his wife good bye."

My grandmother asked him what he intended doing with her husband.

"I'm going up here to kill him and let the hogs eat him," was the reply.

They took him away and had been gone a short while, when three shots were heard in the direction they had gone. My grandmother thought they had killed him, and believed so for days afterward. But they did not kill him. They rode with him until midnight and lodged him, hungry and suffering great pain with his neck, in the jail at Liberty.

After the militiamen had gone with his stepfather, Jesse James said to his mother:

"Ma, look at the stripes on my back."

My grandmother took off his shirt, and his back was livid with long stripes. My grandmother wept at the sight and he said to her:

"Ma, don't you cry. I'll not stand this again."

"What can you do?" she asked him.

"I will join Quantrell," he said.

"But they have stolen all the horses, and you have no money," she said,

"Time will bring both," was the reply of my father.

Soon after this my grandmother and her daughter were arrested and taken to St. Joseph and thrown into jail, and kept there twenty-five days. No charge was made against her. She was imprisoned in this shameful way simply because she and her sons were Southern sympathizers. Is it to be wondered at that her sons, beaten, imprisoned, tortured, persecuted at every turn, and driven from home joined Quantrell's avenging band?

That same spring after Jesse James had been beaten by the militiamen, Fletcher Taylor, a member

of Quantrell's guerrillas, and one of the most desperate fighters the world ever saw, came for him and took him to join Quantrell.

The exciting life and the horseback riding with Quantrell agreed with my father. He had been a delicate boy but in one winter he grew so stout and strong that when he returned home the following spring for a short visit, his mother did not know him at first. Fletcher Taylor came home with him on that visit. He said to my grandmother:

"You didn't know the boy, did you?"

"No, I did not," his mother said.

Taylor pointed to my father and said:

"There is the bravest man in all Quantrell's command."

"Yes, anyone would be brave if they had done to them what the militiamen did to him," was the answer my grandmother made to this.

In his book, "Noted Guerrillas, or Warfare of the Border," Major Edwards says of the causes that drove my father to be a guerrilla:

"His mother and sister were arrested, carried to St. Joseph and thrown into a filthy prison. The hardships they endured were dreadful, often without adequate food, insulted by sentinels who neither understood or cared to learn the first lesson of a soldier--courtesy to women--cut off from all communication with the world, the sister was brought near to death's door from a fever which followed the punishment, and the mother--a high spirited and courageous matron--was released only after suffering and emaciation had made her aged in her prime, Before she returned to her home Jesse had joined the dreaded Quantrell.

"Jesse James had a face as smooth and as innocent as the face of a school girl," says Major Edwards in his book. "The blue eyes--very clear and penetrating--were never at rest. His form--tall and finely moulded--was capable of great effort and great endurance. On his lips there was always a smile, and for every comrade a pleasant word or a compliment. Looking at the small, white hands with their long, tapering fingers, it was not then written or recorded that they were to become with a revolver among the quickest and deadliest hands in the West. Jesse's face was something of an oval. He laughed at many things. He was light hearted, reckless, devil-may-care. He was undaunted."

[much of the text in this section Jesse Edwards James got from "Noted Guerrillas" by the man he was named for, John Newman Edwards]

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return to Chapter 1: Things I Remember of My Father

return to Chapter 2: The Death of Jesse James

go to Chapter 5: Jesse James as a Guerrilla



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