Thirty minutes from Kansas City is the town of Liberty, Missouri and the location of the first successful daylight, peacetime bank robbery in the United States. The robbery took place in 1866, during the height of the Wild West days of the Midwest. Today, the building is known as the Jesse James Bank Museum and is one of several sites in Missouri where the outlaw Jesse James and his gang are said to have robbed or pillaged.
Jesse Woodson James was born on September 5, 1847, and died at the age of 34 on April 3, 1882. Jesse James was an American outlaw, bank and train robber, and most known as the leader of the James–Younger Gang.
Out of 26 robberies and killings in which Jesse James is thought to have been involved over 15 years, author Adam Woog, in his book “Legends of the West,” lists this Missouri bank robbery.
About the Building & Bank
At the time of the robbery, it was called the Clay County Saving Bank. Today the museum is a great representation of a bank on the frontier during westward expansion.
The building was built in 1858 and is the only pre-civil war (antebellum) building in Liberty, Missouri. The Jesse James Bank Museum tour of the two-room bank shares the history of banking in the middle 1800s as well as the story of the 1866 bank robbery. Today, the building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The bank is a well-maintained piece of history with sharing photos, artifacts, coins, newspaper clippings, “Wanted” flyers, and facts about that time period.
The Liberty, MO Bank Museum Robbery
The bank was robbed on Tuesday, February 13, 1866, at 2 pm in the afternoon. On this snowy February afternoon, there were two people working at the bank during the robbery; Greenup Bird who was the head cashier, and his son, William.
One story about the robbery is that Jesse and Frank James met with Cole Younger to plan their first bank robbery. Frank James, Cole, and Jim Younger, and nine more members of the gang robbed the Clay County Savings Bank in Liberty, Missouri, of $60,000.
A second story about the robbery says two men entered the bank wearing Union soldier overcoats. They were said to be Frank James and Archie Clement. One of the men laid down a bill and asked the bank teller for change.. William walked toward the man to help him and the two men drew their guns and said they wanted everything in the safe.
Both robbers lept over the counter and demanded all the money in the bank. One robber held Mr. Bird at gunpoint.
The other robber handed William a white sack and told him to open the safe and put all the money inside the bag. The second robber then forced both men into the vault.
As the men made off with their loot, they fired off several rounds to create a diversion. During the escape, they shot and killed a 17-year-old college student, George Wymore.
After the robbers left on that cold, snowy day in February a 100 person posse attempted to chase them until about 2am. Because of the growing snowstorm, the robbers tracks were covered during their getaway.
While the robbers were never caught, the crime was attributed to the infamous James Gang.
The three variables that don’t waiver are that it was a cold and snowy afternoon, it was the first successful daylight peacetime bank robbery, and a 17-year-old boy was killed.
“Little” Arch Clements, who was a known member of the James Gang was said to have fired the shot that killed George Wymore.
How Much Was Stolen in the Robbery?
There are estimates that the robbers got away with between $60,000-$62,000 in gold, silver, bonds and cash, which would be about 4 million dollars today.
- $40,000 in bearer bonds
- $500 in United States Government Revenue Stamps
- $7,000 in gld & silver
- $3,000 in military bonds
- $8,700 United States Greenbacks
At the time of the robbery, there was no type of bank insurance. The bank closed after the robbery.
Did the James Gang Commit the Robbery?
At the time of the robbery, Jesse and his brother Frank James most likely lived on their family farm in Kearney, Missouri, which is a bit less than 10 miles from the bank in Liberty.
Some say there is no verified connection to this bank robbery and the outlaw Jesse James or to the James Gang at all.
Other documentation states the James boys were thought to be among 11 men on horseback who committed the daylight bank robbery.
Regardless, it is still significant as the first daylight robbery of a bank in US history.
“Little” Arch Clements, who was a known member of the James Gang was accused of killing the 17-year-old boy, George Wymore during the robbery.
The Jesse James Bank Museum Tour
The docents are a wealth of information and provide very detailed tours. Tours share details and a synopsis of the events of the day the robbery took place in 1866.
Most of the bank portion of the museum date to circa 1865. The floorboards, baseboards, pressed tin ceiling, distorted glass windows, wood trim around windows, the vault & safe are all original. The counter and large desk are replicas.
Among the furnishings, is a rare Seth Thomas clock, set for the exact time and date of the robbery, February 13, 1866.
Many photographs and other documents are on display for the public to view. A museum store offers many historical books, period style toys and games, and other fun souvenir keepsakes.
Various newspaper articles, advertisements. notices are on display as well as coins used during the Jesse James era.
It’s hard not to imagine how the two bank tellers must have felt, as you peer into the original green vault.
In 1965 a relative of 17-year-old, George Wymore, who was shot and killed during the robbery bought the building with goal of turning it into a museum and honoring their relative. The museum opened in 1966 and today is listed on the National Register of Historic Places in Missouri.
Jesse James Bank Museum Address: 103 N Water St, Liberty, MO 64068
Museum Enterance Fee
Seniors (62+) $6.00
Children (8-15) $4.00
Children under 8: free
Suggested time for visit: 1 Hour
You can also visit the Jesse James Museum in Kearney, which is the farm and home where he grew up and less than fifteen minutes from the bank museum.