Jesse and Frank James Still Fascinate Travelers 140 Years Later
The James Gang along with their buddies in the Cole Younger gang were alleged to have robbed banks, trains, and stagecoaches in six Midwestern states.
Jesse and Frank James were born on the family farm near Kearney, Missouri just north of Kansas City. Forty of the original 200-acre farm where Frank and Jesse James were born to remain intact and the house has been authentically restored. The museum features the world’s largest collection of James family artifacts including guns, saddles, boots, and quilts.
The James Gang made history on February 13, 1866, in nearby Liberty when they pulled off the first daylight bank robbery in the United States, making off with about $60,000 and killing a William Jewell College student in the process. Today’s 30-minute tour of the bank “tells the real story, not the Hollywood version, and people find that most fascinating,” said Michelle Poynter, a historical interpreter at the museum.
Jesse James House in St. Joseph, Missouri
Jesse and his wife, Zee, and their children moved often, living for a while in Nashville, TN, and in several locations in Kansas City, always under an alias. But it was just before Christmas 1881 that they rented a little white house with green shutters and a white picket fence on Lafayette Street in St. Joseph.
It was here on April 3, 1882, while Jesse was standing on a chair straightening a picture, the coward Robert Ford, his cousin and member of his gang shot him in the back of the head.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Jesse James Home has since been moved a few blocks to sit directly behind the Patee House hotel, where Zee and Jesse’s children stayed following the murder. The Patee House was also home to the Pony Express and is now a museum chronicling many events in the history of St. Jo.
Today’s visitors to the house can still see the bullet hole in the wall where Jesse was standing. Perhaps the most fascinating exhibit, however, is that documenting the 1995 exhumation of Jesse that put an end, through DNA testing, to decades of rumors that Jesse had lived out his life incognito in other parts of the country. The exhibit includes hardware from the original casket, a casting of Jesse’s teeth and skull, and the bullet that had remained in Jesse’s lung after a skirmish with Union forces near Lexington, MO in August 1865.
Jesse James Burial Site
Jesse was buried under a coffee bean tree on the farm in Kearney, where his mother sold tickets to tour the house and stones from Jesse’s grave. In the 1930s, his body was moved to the Mount Olivet Cemetery. The simple grave is in the northeast corner of the cemetery, next to that of his mother, stepfather, and other members of the James family. Frank James is buried in Independence, Missouri.
The city of Kearney hosts an annual Jesse James Festival each September. The event, held in Jesse James Park, includes a barbecue cook-off, rodeo, dancing and crafts.