Posted January 23, 2003


The Killing of Jesse James

by John Newman Edwards



[Sedalia Democrat, April, 1882.]

"Let not Caesar's servile minions,

Mock the lion thus laid low:

'Twas no foeman's hand that slew him.

'Twas his own that struck the blow."

No one among all the hired cowards, hard on the hunt for blood-money, dared face this wonderful outlaw, one even against twenty, until he had disarmed himself and turned his back to his assassins, the first and only time in a career which has passed from the realms of an almost fabulous romance into that of history.

We called him outlaw, and he was, but Fate made him so. When the war came he was just turned of fifteen. The border was all aflame with steel, and fire, and ambuscade, and slaughter. He flung himself into a band which had a black flag for a banner and devils for riders. What he did he did, and it was fearful. But it was war. It was Missouri against Kansas. It was Jim Lane and Jennison against Quantrell, Anderson and Todd.

When the war closed Jesse James had no home. Proscribed, hunted, shot, driven away from among his people, a price put upon his head-what else could the man do, with such a nature, except what he did do? He had to live. It was his country. The graves of his kindred were there. He refused to be banished from his birthright, and when he was hunted he turned savagely about and hunted his hunters. Would to God he were alive to-day to make a righteous butchery of a few more of them.

There never was a more cowardly and unnecessary murder committed in all America than this murder of Jesse James. It was done for money. It was done that a few might get all the money. He had been living in St. Joseph for months. The Fords were with him. He was in the toils, for they meant to betray him. He was in the heart of a large city. One word would have summoned 500 armed men for his capture or extermination. Not a single one of the attacking party need to have been hurt. If, when his house had been surrounded, he had refused to surrender, he could have been killed on the inside of it and at long range. The chances for him to escape were as one to 10,000, and not even that; but it was never intended that he should he captured. It was his blood the bloody wretches were after-blood that would bring money in the official market of Missouri.

And this great commonwealth leagued with a lot of self-confessed robbers, highwaymen and prostitutes to have one of its citizens assassinated, before it was positively known he had ever committed a single crime worthy of death.

Of course everything that can be said about the dead man to justify the manner of his killing, will be said; but who is saying it? Those with the blood of Jesse James on their guilty souls. Those who conspired to murder him. Those who wanted the reward, and would invent any lie or concoct any diabolical story to get it. They have succeeded, but such a cry of horror and indignation at the infernal deed is even now thundering over the land that if a single one of the miserable assassins had either manhood, conscience, or courage, he would go, as another Judas, and hang himself. But so sure as God reigns, there never was a dollar of blood-money obtained yet which did not bring with it perdition. Sooner or later there comes a day of vengeance. Some among the murderers are mere beasts of prey. These, of course, can only suffer through cold, or hunger or thirst; but whatever they dread most that thing will happen. Others again among the murderers are sanctimonious devils who plead the honor of the State, the value of law and order, the splendid courage required to shoot an unarmed man in the back of the head; and these will be stripped to their skin of all their pretensions, and made to shiver and freeze, splotched as they are and spotted and piebald with blood, in the pitiless storm of public contempt and condemnation. This to the leaders will be worse than death.

Nor is the end yet. If Jesse James had been hunted down as any other criminal, and killed while trying to escape or in resisting arrest, Not a word would have been said to the contrary. He had sined and he had suffered. In his death the majesty of the law would have been vindicated; but here the law itself becomes a murderer. It leagues with murderers. It hires murderers. It aids and abets murderers. It borrows money to pay and reward murderers. It promises immunity and protection to murderers. It is itself a murderer--the most abject, the most infamous, and the most cowardly ever known to history. Therefore this so-called law is an outlaw, and these so-called executors of the law are outlaws. Therefore let Jesse James' comrades--and he has a few remaining worth all the Fords and Littles that could be packed together between St. Louis and St. Joe--do unto them as they did unto him. Yes, the end is not yet, nor should it be. The man had no trial. What right had any officer of this State to put a price upon his head and hire a band of cut-throats and highwaymen to murder him for money ?

Anything can be told of man. The whole land is filled with liars and robbers, and assassins. Murder is easy for a hundred dollars. Nothing is safe that is pure or unsuspecting, or just, but it is not to be supposed that the law will become an ally and a co-worker in this sort of a civilization. Jesse James has been murdered, first, because an immense price had been set upon his head, and. there isn't a low-lived scoundrel to-day in Missouri who wouldn't kill his own father for money; and second, because he was made the scapegoat of every train robber, foot-pad and highwayman between Iowa and Texas. Worse men a thousand times than the dead man have been hired to do this thing. The very character of the instruments chosen shows the infamous nature of the work required. The hand that slew him had to be a traitor's! Into all the warp and woof of the devil's work there were threads woven by the fingers of a harlot. What a spectacle! Missouri, with splendid companies and regiments of militia. Missouri, with a hundred and seventeen sheriffs, as brave and as efficient on the average as any men on earth. Missouri, with a watchful and vigilant marshal in every one of her principal towns and cities. Missouri, with every screw and cog and crank and lever and wheel of her administrative machinery in perfect working order. Missouri, with all her order, progress and development, had yet to surrender all these in the face of a single man--a hunted, lied-upon, proscribed and outlawed man, trapped and located in the midst of thirty-five thousand people--and ally with some five or six cut-throats and prostitutes that the majesty of the law might be vindicated, and the good name of the State saved from all further reproach! Saved! Why, the whole State reeks to-day with a double orgy-that of lust and that of murder. What the men failed to do, the women accomplished.

Tear the two bears from the flag of Missouri. Put thereon, in place of them, as more appropriate, a thief blowing out the brains of an unarmed victim, and a brazen harlot, naked to the waist and splashed to the brows in blood.



2003 D. H. Rule

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