The Many Faces of Jesse James

Table of Contents 

Preface     11

Chapter 1 – The Life and Images of Jesse James     17

Chapter 2 – The Death of Jesse James     55

Chapter 3 – Image Indentification Techniques     69

Chapter 4 – Jesse James Imposters     85

Chapter 5 – Portraits of Jesse     99

Bibliography     115

Index     119




            Those who share your authors’ sincere interest in exploring the true story of Jesse James will hopefully find this text helpful in separating the facts of his life from the volumes of fiction created about him by early newspaper and dime novel writers.  The real and only Jesse Woodson James, robber of banks, trains, and stagecoaches without ever being arrested, died more than 112 years ago, yet his story remains fresh and new to millions around the world.  One might assume that after all of this time and his story having been told in thousands of articles and books, little else is left to write about.  Yet, new facts, photographs, and details about the life and times of Jesse James are still emerging and will most likely continue to do so.


            The simple fact that the name Jesse James is perhaps the most recognized of any individual in American history is in itself phenomenal.  Numerous reasons for his popularity as an American Folk hero exist, but the main reason seems to be that he stood for a cause and resisted the tyranny and injustices that were brought to bear against those who had supported the South during the Civil War.  Not only had their life-style and homes been destroyed, those who had ridden with the Quantrill guerilla forces during the war were stripped of all their rights as American citizens.



Jesse James Imposters


            Jesse James had become a favorite personality of dime novel, police gazette, and newspaper readers long before that fateful morning of April 3, 1882.  It was, therefore, a natural reaction for his admirers to disbelieve the newspaper headlines announcing the death of this notorious outlaw through out the nation.  The fact that their beloved Jesse James had survived the outlaw trail for some seventeen years through his extreme caution made the story of being shot from behind while unarmed simply unacceptable.  Certainly this bold leader of the James-Younger gang would not have placed himself in such a position.  Had Jesse been brought down in a hail of bullets from a lawman’s posse or while escaping from a bank or train robbery, his admiring public would have found the story of his death more believable.


            Furthermore, this was not the first time newspapers had reported that Jesse James was dead.  George Shepard had left the James-Younger gang shortly after Jesse James shot and killed his nephew, Frank Shepard.  George then married a Widow Maddox and attempted to live an honest life for some thirteen years, although he continued to be extremely bitter over the death of his nephew.  Major Liggett, a Kansas City marshal, was aware of this bitterness and succeeded in convincing Shepard to become an informer.


            The first such hoaxer seems to have been one John James.  Little is known of this man’s origins.  He first became acquainted with the Reverend Robert E. Highley while, using the name Jesse James, he performed rope tricks on stage in small California towns.  James apparently somehow convinced Highley that he truly was Jesse Woodson James. 


            John James later shows up operating as a horse trader in Illinois in 1926.  He borrowed fifty cents from a twenty-two year-old Charles Shelton.  A few days later, Shelton asked for his money back and made public threats to the then seventy-nine-year-old gentleman.  John James then shot and killed Shelton with a .38 caliber revolver.  The murder charge against James was reduced to manslaughter.  James pleaded guilty and received a one year-to-life sentence in the Menard, Illinois, prison. After serving one year, he was paroled to a Kentucky parole officer who later reported that James disappeared after having visited him as scheduled for eight times.


            Apparently, John James read extensively about Jesse James during his year in prison, because soon after his parole, he once again assumed the name of Jesse James.  He perhaps even began believing that he truly was Jesse and created a most intriguing story about how he had faked his death.



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