Ozarks History

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

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Location: Missouri

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.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Assassination of Jesse James

Another chapter in my book, Murder and Mayhem in Missouri, is about the killing of Jesse James by Bob Ford in St. Joseph, Missouri, on April 3, 1882. Obviously this incident did not happen in the Ozarks, but the news of its occurrence reverberated throughout the state of Missouri and clear across the country. In fact, in my book, I call the killing and its aftermath the "greatest sensation in Missouri history," and I do not believe that is an exaggeration.
Part of what made the incident so notorious, of course, was the fact that Jesse James, even at the time of his death, had already established himself as the most noted outlaw in American history. However, what made the incident even more sensational was the method of his death. Not only was he shot in the back of the head by a purported member of his own gang, killed "in cold blood" as many observers said, but the killer, Bob Ford, was working in cahoots with the governor of the state, Thomas Crittenden. Despite his many desperate deeds, James had many people throughout Missouri who were sympathetic to him, some more than others, and some of his more ardent supporters even suggested that Crittenden should be arrested and charged with murder in the case.
One person who did not share such a view was the editor of the Joplin Daily Herald. Responding to an earlier editorial by Joseph Pulitzer's St. Louis Post Dispatch criticizing the governor, the Joplin newspaperman had this to say:
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, with its usual penchant for sacrificing common sense in order to be sensational, makes a villainous attack on Gov. Crittenden for the extreme measures taken to secure the breaking up of the most notorious band of outlaws and murderers that ever disgraced this or any other country. Had the rose-water scented Bohemian who villifies the Governor through his paper, been detailed to arrest Jesse James he would no doubt have armed a posse with bouquets from the vale of Cashmere, and pressed around the fugitive until he was asphyxiated by the ravishing perfume of the offering and then carried the lamblike form to the halls of justice on a silver platter. Pulitzer would be a daisy in the role of bandit hunter. We will wager our reputation for truth against his as a vanquisher of desperadoes, that Mr. James single and alone in his St. Joseph cottage would have routed a whole battalion of such goggle-eyed kangaroos, and considered it rather insipid pastime. Joe knows how to get up a live, readable evening newspaper, but as a capturer of bandits of the Jesse James ilk a whole acre of him wouldn't be worth hell-room.

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