When I planned my visit to the Jesse James Museum, one of the first thoughts that came to mind was the Brady Bunch episode when Bobby becomes obsessed with Jesse James. In Bobby’s mind, Jesse James is a cool outlaw, and his parents, Mike and Carol don’t approve of his new hero.
As the episode moves on, Bobby has a nightmare where the entire Brady Bunch clan is murdered during a train robbery by Jesse James and he comes to grips with the idea that being a wild west outlaw isn’t something to glorify. In hindsight, murder is a bit of a dark theme for the Brady Bunch.
My memory of the episode got me thinking about the Outlaw Jesse James and when I did a bit of research before my visit to the museum, I found that one of the top questions asked about him on Google is if Jesse James was a real person.
WHO WAS JESSE JAMES?
Jesse James was a real person, who was born and raised in Missouri and fought in the Civil War, and later became one of the most feared and most wanted outlaws on the American frontier in the mid to late 1800’s.
Known by most as the Outlaw Jesse James, he was the son of Kentucky native Zerelda Cole James and her husband, Robert James, a Baptist minister and slave-owning hemp farmer. Jesse James was an American outlaw, bank and train robber, and leader of the James–Younger Gang. A celebrity during his lifetime, James became a legendary figure of the Wild West after his death.
Learning about Jesse James is a lesson in Americana, American history, the Civil War, slavery, and the Wild West. It incorporates the good, bad, and ugly of 1800’s America and the museum does a great job educating visitors about Jesse James, the James Family, and how Jesse and his brother Frank went from fighting in the Civil War to notorious outlaws.
jesse james museum
The Jesse James Farm and Museum is located in Kearney, which is just under an hour from Kansas City.
The Jesse James Home Museum is divided into three parts for visitors to learn about Jesse, his older brother Frank and their parents.
First is a 20-minute movie sharing family history, how Jesse and his brother Frank were involved in the Civil War, and their lives as outlaws.
After the movie, visitors can explore the museum’s three galleries that display the world’s largest collection of James family artifacts including the boots Jesse was wearing when he was murdered, the bullet that killed Jesse, and Frank’s surrender letter.
Artifacts like Jesse James riding gloves, boots, and shotguns are on display in the museum.
Jesse James was originally buried on the house property and there is still a marker for his original gravesite.
On display, in the museum is the original casket Jesse was buried in. Jesse was later moved to Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Kearney where his mother, his wife, stepfather, and stepbrother are also buried.
The museum also shares a good bit of history about Jesse’s mother Zerelda, who lived quite a tumultuous life. She lived until the age of 86 and offered tours of “the house where Jesse James was born” for many years after his death as well as selling souvenir rocks from Jesse’s original gravestone for twenty-five cents.
The James House is the third part of the experience. A short walk from the museum takes you to the James farmland and the James House, which is registered as a historic landmark and on the National Register of Historic Places.
jesse james birthplace
Jesse James was born in Kearney, Missouri in 1847 in this farmhouse. The Jesse James House Museum is the house and farmland where he was raised with his older brother Frank, younger sister Susan, and additional half-siblings.
jesse james home
The James farm is located in Clay County, Missouri, and has been in their family for over 230 years. Jesse James’ grandparents originally built the log cabin on this land in 1822.
Jesse and Frank’s parents moved to the farm in the 1840’s. The house had no running water or electricity at the time it was built or during the years Jesse lived on the farm.
The mother of Jesse and Frank, Zerelda lived in the house until her death in 1911. Frank lived in the house until his death at the age of 72 in 1915. Frank’s wife Annie lived in the house until her passing in 1944 and their son, Robert lived in the house until his passing at the age of 81 in 1959.
In 1978 Jesse James’ grandsons sold the farm to the county with the original furnishings and it was then turned into a museum.
The farmhouse is small and takes only a brief amount of time to visit. The fireplace where the bomb exploded that killed Jesse’s brother and maimed his mother is intact.
Jesse’s father was a slave owner and they had slave quarters on their property. The building below is a reconstruction of their slave quarters.
Missouri was a border state during the Civil War. It was one of the slave states that didn’t leave the Union. It was also a divided state with many siding with the Confederates and many siding with the Union. The James family sided with the confederates.
jesse and frank: The James Brothers
Jesse James and his older brother Frank served for the Confederate Army before embarking on criminal careers in the Old West.
From 1860 to 1882, the James Gang was the most feared band of outlaws in American history. They were responsible for more than 20 bank and train robberies and the murders of countless individuals who stood in their way. They stole an estimated $200,000 during their outlaw years.
$200,000 may not sound like a tremendous amount of money today. But $200,000 in 1860 is worth $6,337,686.75 in 2021.
jesse james outlaw years
Jesse James was one of America’s most successful bank robbers and sucessefully eluded authorities for nearly 15 years.
The first robbery where Jesse was publicly linked was also America’s first daytime bank robbery during peacetime and happened in Liberty, Missouri in 1866.
But, outlaws Jesse James, his brother and other’s in the gang didn’t come to notoriety until the 1869 bank robbery in Gallatin. Jesse is said to have shot and killed the bank’s cashier in an act of revenge towards the Union soldiers and sympathizers.
Many celebrated Jesse James as a Robin Hood figure who was thought to steal from pro-Union militia troops to help fund the Confederate supporters.
It seems that the “Robin Hood” angle came from an influential pro-Confederate newspaper editor in Missouri who promoted Jesse as a hero and defiant Southern patriot of the Reconstruction era and helped create the image of Jesse James as a Robin Hood figure. Many historians have said this is a myth and there is no proof that any monies went beyond Jesse and the other gang members.
For nearly a decade following the Civil War, the James-Younger Gang was among the most feared, most publicized, and most wanted confederations of outlaws on the American frontier. Though their crimes were reckless and brutal, many members of the gang commanded notoriety in the public eye that earned the gang significant popular support and sympathy.
The gang’s activities spanned much of the central part of the country; they are suspected of having robbed banks, trains, and stagecoaches in at least eleven states: Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Alabama, and West Virginia.
Jesse James may have taken part in as many as 19 robberies including banks, trains, and stagecoaches from Mississippi to West Virginia to Minnesota.
where is jesse james buried?
Jesse was murdered in 1882 at age 34 by Bob Ford in his home in St. Joseph, Missouri. Ford shot him from behind with his own pistol while he was dusting a picture on the wall. Bob Ford killed him for the $10,000 reward.
Jesse was originally buried in the southwest corner of the yard at his childhood home; the Jesse James Farm & Museum.
Jesse’s body was moved in 1902. The Jesse James grave is located in the Mt. Olivet cemetery, just a few miles from his childhood home in Kearney.
films about jesse james
There are at least 58 movies made about the life of Jesse James. The first film about Jesse James was a silent movie from 1909 titled The James Boys in Missouri. The movie, “Under the Black Flag” starred Jesse’s son playing his father.
The most recent film made is from 2007 and titled The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, with Brad Pitt, with Casey Affleck. This film is considered one of the most historically accurate portrayals of Jesse James and Robert Ford.
Billie the Kid is the only outlaw with more movies made about him.
10 Facts about jesse james
- Jesse James was a preacher’s son.
- Jesse James was a Confederate guerilla in the U.S. Civil War.
- The James-Younger Gang was among the most feared and most wanted outlaws on the American frontier between 1868-1876.
- Jesse James married his first cousin, Zerelda (Zee) Mimms.
- Jesse James had four children.
- Residing in Missouri, the James family owned slaves and supported the Confederacy.
- Before he became an outlaw, Jesse was shot in the chest on two separate occasions. Once in 1864 while trying to steal a saddle from a farmer and once by Union soldiers.
- He, along with his gang, robbed a stagecoach while on his honeymoon in Austin, TX, 1874.
- Jesse’s son starred in two silent films about his father’s life, playing the roles of both himself and his father. Both films, “Jesse James Under the Black Flag” and “Jesse James as the Outlaw”, were filmed in 1921.
- After his death, Jesse’s mother charged tourists a quarter for pebbles taken from his grave.
Directions to the jesse james farm
The James Farm is located at 21216 James Farm Road Kearney, Missouri 64060.
The James Farm museum is located off Interstate 35, about 25 miles northeast of Kansas City.
From Kansas City take exit 26 from 35N. Make a right onto Route 92. Turn left on Jesse James Farm Road and drive about 1.8 miles and until you see the sign for The James Farm. Turn left and follow the dirt road to the Jesse James museum entrance.
Plan at least 2 hours for the museum and house tour.