Historian challenges Jesse James' image as a folk hero

  • Article by: Jeff Strickler , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 5, 2013 - 9:38 AM

Long romanticized for his daring exploits, the real Jesse James was a coldhearted killer, a historian argues.

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Kathy_BrandtSep. 4, 13 6:00 PM

It was Robert Ford, that dirty little coward, I wonder how he did feel, For he ate of Jesse's bread, and he slept in Jesse's bed, Then he laid poor Jesse in his grave.

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joespookSep. 4, 13 7:51 PM

This is an old story. Up North hes a criminal. Down South hes a hero. He was in reality a civil war hero helping the poor mothere s and there children so they could EAT. ptsd MAYBE? it was the only way to go at the time the GOV in DC helped no one. lalalalala

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lumpermanSep. 4, 13 9:13 PM

Fabulous reenactment! They do a great job! Although you can tell the actors are true kids at heart, ( what grown man would not want to play cops and robbers with real horses and real guns? ) And they are trying to teach a lesson to children! Stand up for what is wrong! There is power in numbers and the James gang was crooks and they were indeed defeated! Go see it, spend a couple bucks for a bleacher seat and enjoy! Fun for young and old. Northfield is a GREAT place to visit, from the smells of the the cereal factory to the rush of the the Cannon River. It is a true hidden gem of a town.

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ajnaguySep. 5, 13 6:45 AM

James WAS a terrorist (or, as they called them at the time, 'guerilla') during the Civil War, as has been well-documented. Like Custer, who made a reputation on his recklessness and audacity in battle, the Civil War seems to have brought out the character of James. He lived and died according to that character -- as did Custer.

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noggnbloggnSep. 5, 13 7:03 AM

It was called 'Jesse James Days' before the townsfolk discovered political correctness ('Defeat of Jesse James Days' does not refer to his boots). More like 'rarget practice' by the townsfolk -- a reminder of why the 2nd Ammendment exists, and should respectfully remain.

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Kathy_BrandtSep. 5, 13 9:00 AM

I don't know who gave me thumbs down on my comment. Those are the words of an old folk song about Jesse James. Yes, he WAS an outlaw and deserved what he got. But the song is part of our folklore. There is a farm northwest of Jeffers, MN that has a sigh on a fence stating that Jesse and Frank James slept in their barn on their flight from the battle near Madelia (actually it is outside of the tiny town of LaSalle, there is a marker there). Also, MY family folklore has the James brothers sleeping in my great-great grandparents' barn over by Pipestone/Holland area before they lost the posse at what is now Palisades State Park just across the South Dakota border. I grew up at Chandler, and there was a local legend that the Jsmes brothers buried some of their loot in the hills and ravines of Lost Timber, just northwest of town. No one has ever found anything though.

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stupid03Sep. 5, 13 9:50 AM

there's a brady bunch episode about this. pretty well done, actually (for a brady bunch episode)

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decembersueSep. 5, 1310:04 AM

I think the brad pitt film pretty much ended any romantic image of Jesse James in popular culture. "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" portrayed James as a cold-hearted killer surrounded by lost souls.

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jcobolSep. 5, 1310:22 AM

"As through this world I've rambled I've seen lots of funny men, some will rob you with a six-gun, and some with a fountain pen. But as through this world you ramble, as through this world you roam, you won't ever see an outlaw drive a family from their home." --Woody Guthrie "Pretty Boy Floyd"

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dahutysSep. 5, 1310:50 AM

@Kathy_Brandt: I suspect you got many thumbs-down because quoting a song about "poor Jesse" gives the impression that you completely missed the point of the article.

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