Missouri and Ozarks History

Information and comments about historical people and events of the Ozarks region and surrounding area.

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I'm a freelance writer specializing in the history of the Ozarks and surrounding region. I've written fifteen nonfiction books, two historical novels, and numerous articles. My latest books are Bushwhacker Belles, Wicked Women of Missouri, and Yanked Into Eternity: Lynchings and Hangings in Missouri.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Jesse James

If one were to believe all the legends and folklore about Jesse James that I've heard during my lifetime of living in the Ozarks and especially during my adulthood living in Joplin, one would think that Jesse spent a good deal of time in these parts, particularly the Joplin area. I've found very little documentation, however, to support such a claim. I do know that Fletch Taylor, who led a company of Quantrill's guerrillas during the Civil War that included Frank and Jesse James, moved to Joplin during the 1870s and that a sister of Jesse paid a visit to Taylor here one time around 1880. (Taylor was involved in mining and became a respected businessman in Joplin.)
However, the only time that I know about that Jesse himself was in this area was when George Shepherd, another ex-Quantrillian, tried to kill him near Galena, Kansas, in the fall of 1879. In fact, Shepherd rode into Galena claiming that he HAD killed Jesse. Few people believed him, though, even at the time. Some thought Shepherd was merely a fanciful liar, while others suggested that he was in cahoots with Jesse and the whole incident had been staged to make people think Jesse was dead so the law would quit looking for him.
What is known for sure is that some sort of gunplay between Shepherd and Jesse's gang did occur, and, given the severity of the wounds sustained by both Shepherd and one of the gang members, it seems unlikely that they were participants (at least not willing participants) in a staged event. Although the following possibility was scarcely mentioned at the time, my research has led me to believe that Shepherd sincerely thought he had killed Jesse but that the desperado survived the assassination attempt and seized the opportunity to try to stage his own death.
You can read more about this incident in my book on Ozarks gunfights, which is supposed to be released later this month.

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