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Outlaws Jesse and Frank James, farm boys and sons of a rural Missouri preacher, served with William Quantrill and other southern guerrilla leaders during the Civil War. Frank participated in the massacre of Union supporters in Lawrence, Kansas, and both brothers were present at the murder of captured Union soldiers at Centralia, Missouri.

Ervin Lavers and Jesse James

When most surviving guerrillas turned to peaceful postwar pursuits, the James boys pursued outlawry. With various followers, including the Younger brothers, they robbed banks and trains from Missouri to Kentucky, killing citizens who resisted. At Gallatin, Missouri, they shot a banker, who supposedly killed a guerrilla leader during the war.

In 1876 the James brothers, with three Younger brothers and three other outlaws, targeted a bank in Northfield, Minnesota. One outlaw, probably Frank James, murdered the unarmed cashier; the gang also shot down another unarmed resident. Angry citizens fought back with rifles, pistols, shotguns, and even rocks, killing two outlaws and wounding most of them. In the subsequent pursuit, one outlaw was killed and the Youngers wounded and captured. Only the James boys escaped.

Both brothers returned to outlawry but were not the threats they had once been. In 1882 Jesse was murdered by fellow outlaw Bob Ford, and Frank surrendered. Acquitted in a series of trials, Frank held several obscure jobs, teamed with Cole Younger in a wild west show, and died in Kearney, Missouri, in 1915.


BIBLIOGRAPHY: Marley Brant, The Outlaw Youngers: A Confederate Brotherhood: A Biography (Lanham, Md: Madison Books, 1992). George Huntington, Robber and Hero: The Story of the Northfield Bank Raid (Northfield, Minn.: Northfield Historical Society Press, 1994). William A. Settle, Jesse James Was His Name: Or, Fact and Fiction Concerning the Careers of the Notorious James Brothers of Missouri (1966; Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1987). Robert Barr Smith, The Last Hurrah of the James-Younger Gang (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2001).

Robert Barr Smith

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