Last updated on November 20th, 2022 at 05:56 am.
This article lays out a three-day road trip through Missouri that will take you to the most interesting and significant historical locations associated with Jesse James and the James Gang in the Show-Me State. So saddle up, and don’t forget your hat, because it’s time to hit the dusty trail. Here are the 11 most interesting stops along the Jesse James trail.
Jesse James is undoubtedly one of the most famous figures of the Wild West. Along with his elder brother, Frank James, he led a career of daring robberies, cunning heists, and ruthless murders with the James–Younger Gang.
Disclosure: Before you travel, please check what’s open and be sure to follow all local guidelines to keep yourself and others safe! Please know that ads are how we pay our bills and keep our blog free for you to enjoy. We also use affiliate links; if you make a purchase through them, we may receive a small commission at no cost to you.
In his time, he was probably the most infamous and feared outlaw in the United States, and after his death, he became a legend, appearing in nearly 60 movies and countless books. Today, James is remembered as the archetypical outlaw, an anti-hero, the first of the so-called “bad men.”
Exploring the Jesse James Trail in Missouri (3 Day Road Trip)
Born near Kearney, Missouri, in 1847, James’ outlaw career spanned from 1869 to his assassination in 1882 at the age of 34. His criminal activities took him across the Midwest, robbing banks and trains and always managing to evade the law and live to rob another day. However, many of his most memorable crimes and significant life events occurred in Missouri.
As difficult as it may be to believe due to his larger-than-life legend, James was a real person, and many of the most important locations associated with his life and career can still be visited today.
In The Footsteps Of The James Gang: The Great Jesse James Road Trip
This Jesse James trail road trip is not created in chronological order as it would create a lot of backtracking and a lot of additional hours of drive time. We have included a list of the events in chronological order at the bottom of the article for you to check out.
Of course, feel free to reverse the order of the road trip if it makes more sense from your starting point. And if you are truly a die-hard, feel free to organize the James Gang road trip in the order in which the events happened.
The entire Jesse James Missouri road trip is 420 miles and 8 hours of driving time.
Jesse James Trail: Day 1
Total Drive Time Day 1 = 2 hours | 77 miles (if you are starting from Kansas City, it will add another 9 miles day one).
On this first day of the Jesse James trail trip, you’ll cross paths with some of the important places in the life of Jesse James and his brother Frank and ponder the very beginning and the very end of Jesse James’ life and career.
Kansas City is a great location to stay the night before you begin the Jesse James road trip. While there are no existing locations to visit, Jesse spent quite a bit of time in Kansas City. For example, on September 26, 1872, Jesse and Frank James, and one other member of their gang robbed the Kansas City Exposition Ticket Office at the fair of $8,000 (the equivalent of $194,628.20 in 2022). One girl was shot during the robbery.
If you set aside time for Kansas City, it offers way too many activities and historic accommodations to list them all here.
As a starting point, check out the National WWI Museum and Memorial, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, and the Arabia Steamboat Museum.
Stop #1. 1859 Jail Museum – Independence, MO
10 miles from Kansas City, the historic Independence Missouri Jail Museum was built in 1859 and allows visitors to walk through the holding area (where the prisoners lived) and the front house (where the jailers and their families lived).
Frank finally turned himself into the Governor of Missouri, Thomas T. Crittenden in Jefferson City, Missouri, six months after the death of Jesse James.
After his surrender, Frank James, a member of the James Gang and elder brother of Jesse, was imprisoned here for six months before being moved to Gallatin to remain incarcerated for a further year before ultimately being acquitted. At this stop, you will be able to see the very cell that served as Frank James’ temporary home.
- Time for a visit: 1–2 hours
- Cost: Adults $6; Seniors 65+ $5; Children 6–16 $3; Children under 6 free
- Address: 217 N Main St, Independence, MO 64050
Stop #2. Jesse James Bank Museum – Liberty, MO
Travel time from Stop #1: About 20 minutes
The Jesse James Bank Museum in Liberty, Missouri, purports to be the target of the first daylight peace-time bank robbery in the U.S., perpetrated by none other than Jesse James and his gang.
The museum preserves a number of artifacts and documents from the time period.
It should be noted that there is some controversy with regard to whether Jesse James himself actually participated in this robbery, and it has been said that the body of evidence is insufficient to definitively place him at the scene of the crime or to totally rule him out.
Historians agree that the robbery was perpetrated by 12 members of the notorious gang of outlaws from the James-Younger gang including Frank James, Cole, and Jim Younger, and nine more.
- Time for a visit: <30-45 minutes
- Cost: Adults $6.50; Seniors 62+ $6; Children 8–15 $4; Children under 8 free
- Address: 103 N Water St, Liberty, MO 64068
Stop #3. Jesse James Birthplace + Museum – Kearney, MO
Travel time from Stop #2: About 20 minutes
This stop is the pinnacle of the Jesse James history experiences—the very house where he was born and spent much of his early life and sets the stage for the rest of the trip. The Jesse James Farm and Museum is absolutely bursting with history.
Not only was Jesse James born here, but it was also the site of some important experiences in his life. He and his step-father were interrogated and tortured by soldiers in pursuit of his older brother, Frank, and in 1875, Pinkerton agents tossed a bomb into the house that killed his half-brother and severely wounded his mother (and Jesse wasn’t even home!).
The site also has a long history of use as a museum—in fact, it was Jesse James’ mother, Zerelda, who first began giving tours of the house after Jesse’s death.
Although the site is now owned by a non-profit called Friends of the James Farm, it continues to operate as a museum, featuring an educational film about Jesse James and an astonishing catalogue of artifacts from his life. If you can only visit one stop on this trip, make it this one.
- Time for a visit: 1–2 hours
- Cost: Adults $9; Seniors 62+ $8; Children 8–15 $5.50; Children under 8 free
- Address: 21216 Jesse James Farm Rd, Kearney, MO 64060
Stop #4. Jesse James’ Gravesite – Kearney, MO
Travel time from Stop #3: About 10 minutes
This stop is a fitting end to day one of the Jesse James road trip—the final resting place of the man himself.
Where is Jesse James buried exactly? When you are at the James Home Museum ask for a map, which is very helpful in finding the plots.
When you visit his grave, you will be standing just six feet above the remains of one of the great legends of the Wild West and one of the fiercest outlaws to ever roam the United States.
Jesse James’ wife, Zerelda Mimms, his mother, Mrs. Zerelda Samuel; step-father, Dr. Ruben Samuel; & half-brother, Archie Payton Samuel are all buried in the west end.
- Time for a visit: As long as you’d like to ponder the life and death of an outlaw.
- Cost: Free
- Address: Mount Olivet Cemetery, 201 State Rte 92, Kearney, MO 64060
Drive to St. Joseph to stay the night
Travel time from Stop #4: About 1 hour
Your best bet for hotels for night one is in St. Joseph, which is where day two begins.
For St. Joseph lodging, the Whiskey Mansion Bed & Breakfast, and the Shakespeare Chateau Inn & Gardens Bed & Breakfast are great choices for those looking for a historic vibe (which you most likely are, considering you’re on a Jesse James Road Trip).
Jesse James Trail: Day 2
Day two of the Jesse James Missouri road trip continues with several stops, but don’t worry as many will be quick. Today’s highlights are learning about how and where Jesse James was shot and murdered and checking out the original casket he was buried in as well as a nice long drive (it is a road trip, after all!).
So make sure to get up early and grab breakfast at one of St. Joseph’s down-home restaurants. Betty’s Cafe is a local favorite. They are quick to bring coffee and are known for the #2 special, biscuits and gravy with eggs and bacon.
After you’re done exploring today’s attractions, St. Joseph has plenty more to offer and is worthy of additional exploration. If you choose to stay another day in St. Joseph, The Patee House Museum resides in a luxury hotel built in 1858 that once served as the headquarters of the famous Pony Express mail service. With other attractions including the Glore Psychiatric Museum, the Remington Nature Center, and Krug Park, there is a lot to explore in St. Joseph.
Stop #5. Jesse James’ Home Museum – St. Joseph, MO
The Jesse James Home Museum will most likely be your longest stop on today’s itinerary, so make sure to ask the docent to share their Jesse James knowledge.
This is the home where the living legend of Jesse James came to an end when he was shot in the back and killed by the “coward Bob Ford,” a member of his own gang, in 1882. The assassination took place in the main room of this house, which has since been converted into a museum.
This museum features a variety of artifacts related to Jesse James, including some morbid ones related to his death. This includes a framed spot on the wall showcasing the bullet hole from the shot that killed him.
Forensic analysis has allowed the museum to boast among its collection a real bullet removed from James and a casting of his skull that shows the hole left by the bullet that killed him.
- Time for a visit: 45 Minutes – 1 hour
- Cost: $4
- Address: 1201 S 12th St, St Joseph, MO 64503
Stop #6. Heaton Bowman Smith Funeral Home Museum – St. Joseph, MO
Travel time from Stop #5: 5 minutes
This stop is a small, one-room museum inside a funeral home in Saint Joseph. The museum has a variety of displays that illustrate the history of the mortuary profession as well as some interesting Missouri newspapers that cover major historic events. In addition, this museum has the corpse basket of Jesse James—the actual basket used to carry the dead Jesse James from his home where he was murdered to this very funeral home (although it operated out of a different building at the time).
The casket includes photographs and other Jesse James artifacts. The museum also includes one of two known ice caskets still in existence. The Smithsonian tried to sway the funeral owners to part with it, but they’ve declined.
If someone from the staff is available, they will be happy to answer any questions about the displays and provide extra information.
Interesting fact: Jesse James was interred and exhumed several times before finally being moved to Mount Olivet Cemetery in Kearney, Missouri, just a short drive from his birthplace (stop #4 on the trip).
- Time for a visit: 30 Minutes
- Cost: Free
- Address: 3609 Frederick Ave A, St Joseph, MO 64506
The drive to the next stop in Winston clocks in at 4 ½ hours, so crank up the cowboy tunes and hit the road!
Stop #7. The Winston Train Depot – Winston, MO
Travel time from Stop #6: 45 minutes
The 1871 Winston Train Depot is the site of one of the James Gang’s most famous Missouri crimes—the 1881 robbery of a Kansas City–Chicago passenger train. The robbery took place just beyond the train station as the train departed for Gallatin.
According to the account published in the Gallatin North Missourian newspaper, this was a classic, Hollywood-esque train robbery in which the members of the James Gang, in disguises of fake beards, held the passengers up at gunpoint, shot the conductor and a number of other men, and made off with an estimated $4,000 (over $100,000 today) after forcing the engineer to take the train further up the tracks to where their horses were hidden.
At the time of this writing, the train depot is available by appointment only, so check the status before you go. However, the outside can always be viewed, and the robbery took place outside, after all.
- Time for a visit: <1 hour
- Cost: Free
- Location: Junction of Highway 69 and Route Y
Stop 8: James Gang Horse Tie Up
Travel time from Stop #7: 10 minutes
Quick Stop: East of Winston on the north side of Hwy 69 is the stone culvert where some say the James gang tied up their horses prior to the robbery.
Stop 9: Gallatin
Travel time from Stop #8: 5 minutes
10 miles from Winston is the tiny town of Gallatin, where there are several sites to visit, most notably the 1889 Squirrel Cage Jail.
Gallatin was the site of the James Gang’s first confirmed robbery, in which Jesse and his associates knocked over the Daviess County Savings Association and murdered its cashier, Capt. John W. Sheets.
Although the building that was robbed and the original jailhouse have been demolished, the die-hard Jesse James fan may wish to see the town where the ruthless robbery took place on that fateful day of December 7, 1869.
In addition, Frank James stood trial at the city opera house in 1883, about ½ block NW which was the only building large enough to accommodate the crowds. It was considered the most famous trial of the Old West.
Jesse James’ older brother Frank was also imprisoned in Gallatin for a year after his surrender.
1889 Squirrel Cage Jail
The jail serves as the Visitors Center with exhibits on the trial of Frank James, and his brother Jesse. The Squirrel Cage Jail is one of only three of its kind in the U.S. and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
- Time for a visit: <1 hour
- Cost: Free
- Address: 310 W. Jackson Street
Drive to Stanton to stay the night
Travel time from Stop #9: 4.5 Hours
The drive to finish day two clocks in at 4 ½ hours, so crank up the cowboy tunes and hit the road!
Your best bet for hotels for night two is in Stanton, Missouri which is where day three begins.
For lodging, consider the Meramec Campground (which has cabins to help you get into the spirit of the Old West) and the host of rustic guest houses and getaways on offer in the lovely small town.
Jesse James Roadtrip: Day Three
The last day of the Jesse James Road Trip takes us to Stanton, Missouri where you will come face to face with Jesse James himself (or at least a convincing replica) and explore caverns that once served as a hideout for his infamous gang.
Grab breakfast at one of Stanton’s charming restaurants, like Clark Street Café & Bakery.
After checking out the two stops below, be sure to explore some of the many other activities Stanton has to offer, including the Riverside Wildlife Center, Wild Animal Adventure, and canoeing on the Meramec River.
Stop #10. The Jesse James Wax Museum – Stanton
Travel time from downtown Stanton: 1 minute
The Jesse James Wax Museum in Stanton, Missouri, is a charming experience in the tradition of American roadside attractions. The museum features wax figures, of course, but also touts the only live footage of Jesse James ever recorded, a collection of photographs, artifacts, and firearms valued at $100,000, and a gift shop.
- Time for a visit: <1 hour
- Cost: Adults $12; Military $11; Children 5–11 $6; Children under 5 free
- Address: I-44 – Exit 230 Stanton, MO 63079
Stop #11. The Meramec Caverns – Stanton
Travel time from Stop #10: 7 minutes
The Meramec Caverns are a large network of underground caves featuring some of the largest and rarest mineral formations in the world. A severe drought in the summer of 1941 revealed previously inaccessible chambers of the cave in which artifacts attributable to Jesse James and his gang were discovered.
Since this remarkable discovery, this section of the cave has proudly claimed the moniker of the “Jesse James Hideout.” Exploring the caverns on a guided tour may make you feel like an Old West highwayman seeking a safe place to hide away from the law while you plan your next robbery.
- Time for a visit: 2+ hours
- Cost: Adults $26; Military $23; Children 5–11 $14; Children under 5 free
Chronological Order of Events in the Jesse James Trail Road Trip
- Jesse James Home Museum; Jesse was born on September 5, 1847
- The Liberty Bank robbery was February 13, 1866
- The Gallatin robbery was December 7, 1869
- The James Gang used the Meramac Caves during the early 1870’s as a hideout (no exact dates are known)
- The Winston train robbery was July 15, 1881
- St. Joseph House; Jesse was killed on April 3, 1882
- Heaton Bowman Smith Funeral Home Museum (casket location)
- Mount Olivet Cemetery (Jesse was first buried in the yard of his family home in Kearney).
- Independence Jail Museum; Frank James arrived at the 1859 Jackson County jail on October 6, 1882, and served 112 days
- Gallatin City Opera House trial of Frank James took place from Aug. 20 through Sept. 6, 1883.
- The Wax Museum opened in 1964
Fascinating Facts About the Legendary Jesse James & The James Gang
Hitch the horse and kick off your boots—you’ve come to the end of the Jesse James Road Trip. From the beginning of his life to its end, from bank heists to train robberies, we’ve traced some of the most important Missouri locations in the career of the famous outlaw. While you sip your whiskey and count your riches, wind down with these fascinating facts about the legendary Jesse James.
- Frank and Jesse James’ father was a preacher—ironic, considering his son’s decidedly un-pious future.
- Jesse James had two children with his wife (and first cousin) Zerelda, who was named after his mother.
- Jesse James’ nickname was “Dingus,” allegedly derived from an incident in which he shot off the tip of his finger while cleaning a gun, remarking “that’s the dod-dingus pistol I ever saw.”
- Jesse James and his gang are reputed to have stolen upwards of $200,000 (the equivalent worth of $6,823,172.41 in 2022)
- Jesse James took an active hand in his own publicity, often sending letters to law enforcement officials and newspaper writers to help spread his fame. The inaccurate perception of James as a Robin Hood figure is largely inspired by deliberate efforts to change the public’s perception of him despite the fact that there is no evidence he ever shared his ill-gotten gains.
- Bob Ford, the man who killed Jesse James by shooting him in the head while his back was turned, was a newly recruited member of his own gang. Ford was seeking to collect a $10,000 bounty on James’ head and immunity from prosecution.
- Jesse James was pro-Confederate and anti-abolition, and the James family owned slaves. He and his brother began their career in a guerrilla band that raided Union and abolitionist strongholds, killing and mutilating men and children alike.
- Jesse James allegedly robbed a stagecoach while on his honeymoon.
- Jesse James’ son turned actor after his father’s death, portraying both himself and his father in two silent films.
- Jesse James’ official kill count is at least 12, but the outlaw claimed to have murdered 17.
- Frank James surrendered to the law not long after his brother’s death, but he was acquitted and lived out the rest of his life in peace on the family farm. In fact, he died in the very same room in which he was born.
- On July 21, 1873, the Jesse James Gang committed the world’s first robbery of a moving train in Adair, Iowa, a small town in the western part of the state.
- Clell Miller (1849 or 1850 – September 7, 1876) was an outlaw with the James-Younger Gang who was killed during the gang’s robbery at Northfield, Minnesota.