Jesse James
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Jesse James is a character based upon the real-life outlaw and folk hero who led the notorious James-Younger gang and lived from 1847-1882. Jesse James has been portrayed most recently in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.
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Born: September 5, 1847 in Clay County, Missouri, USA

Died: April 3, 1882 in St. Joseph, Missouri, USA

The real Jesse James was the son of Robert James, a pro-slavery Baptist preacher, and Zerelda (called Zee) James. The couple had three children, Alexander Franklin "Frank" James, Jesse, and a girl, Susan. Robert James went to California in the gold rush and died of cholera there when Jesse was three. Zee remarried a doctor named Rueben Samuel and together the couple turned to growing tobacco and raising an extended family. The farm was prosperous, supported by the labor of seven slaves.

This put the Jameses squarely on the side of the South during the Civil War. As the war drew to a close, with the Confederates on the losing side, Jesse, then seventeen, joined the mangled guerilla outfits, known as bushwhackers, the only remaining southern resistance. After the war was over Jesse continued to ride with his former compatriots and was shot through the lung by Union soldiers for his affiliations. He was nursed back to health by his first cousin. She was also named Zee, indeed it was after his own mother. They began a nine-year courtship which resulted in their marriage.

In December of 1869 Frank and Jesse attempted to avenge the killing of the leader of their guerilla unit, by murdering the man they believed had tracked him down, now a bank manager in Gallatin, Missouri. Their daylight raid yielded no money and they killed the wrong man. But they got their names in the paper for the first time, affiliated, albeit loosely, with a Confederate cause.

A bitter, drunken editor and former Confederate, John Newman Edwards, championed the Jameses as dashing, latter-day Robin Hoods, a mantle the brothers and their gang readily accepted and even promoted. Edwards portrayed them as kind, Christian, daring men who had challenged the carpetbaggers and Republicans who had overtaken Missouri and much of the South. The Jameses were joined by another desperate set of brothers, the Youngers, and various other rotating members.

Throughout the 1870s the James-Younger gang was aided and abetted by their Confederate neighbors across the South. They gave them safe harbor and provisions, making them nearly untouchable. Meanwhile Jesse had married his cousin, Zee, and she gave him a son, Jesse Jr.

The railroads and express companies engaged Allan Pinkerton's detective agency to track down the gang. After the first agent who paid a call to the James's homestead ended up dead Pinkerton sent a raiding party to the house. The Pinkerton agents later stated that they threw a mere smoke bomb into the house but the device exploded, killing Frank and Jesse's disabled, younger half-brother and blowing their mother's right arm off. Frank and Jesse were nowhere to be found. Public support swung over to their side even more.

Though they were offered potential amnesty by the governor of Missouri Jesse was far from through. He took the gang nearly 500 miles to the north to Northfield, Minnesota to take the bank there. But the townsfolk quickly routed the gang, killing two of them. Lost in the Minnesota woods the Younger brothers surrendered. Only Frank and Jesse escaped, somehow eluding capture. They settled in Tennessee, forsaking their former occupation. Jesse took the name J. D. Howard. Frank called himself B.J. Woodson. Zee had another child. Frank also began to raise a family.

But Jesse was running out of money and missed the limelight. He moved back to Missouri and formed a new gang, though this time it was not composed of former soldiers, but a rag-tag collection of petty thieves and killers. They raided trains and payroll offices, murdering more people in cold blood. But now public opinion had turned against him and he had a $10,000 reward on his head. Jesse became even more paranoid, killing one member of his gang and hunting another. Meanwhile Robert and Charley Ford, members of Jesse's newly formed gang, conspired with the governor to bring Jesse down, seeking amnesty for themselves and the full reward sum. On a hot day on April 3,1882 Jesse doffed his coat and his gun holsters, something he never did, and climbed on a chair to dust a picture. Robert Ford shot him in the back of the head.

Jesse's death only increased his celebrity. His mother had her son buried in her front yard to prevent desecration of his grave but was soon taking admissions and selling the pebbles from the site. His wife Zee wrote an autobiography. His brother Frank later joined with Cole Younger and toured in a Wild West show. Robert Ford found himself vilified as the "dirty little coward who shot Mr. Howard" in a popular song. He was shot by another man, largely because the assassin wanted to be known as the man who shot the man who shot Jesse James. Jesse became even more of a folk hero in death. The cruelty of his crimes forgotten he became a symbol of the anti-capitalist, anti-government, little man waging a losing battle against the coming 20th century.

Jesse James (1939)

In the 1939 film, Jesse is portrayed as a decent Missouri farm boy, pushed into a life of lawlessness by the actions of an unscrupulous railroad industry in collusion with the local law enforcement.

As played by Tyrone Power. Jesse is working the family crop when the unscrupulous representatives of the St. Louis Midland railroad arrive on their homestead. Their lead agent, Barshee, attempts to strong-arm Jesse's mother (Jane Darwell) into signing a deed that gives their land over to the railroad at a loss. When Jesse's brother Frank (Henry Fonda) beats Barshee in a fair fight Barshee comes at him with a scythe. Jesse shoots the man in the hand thus turning the "two little farmer boys" into fugitives from the law. Jesse tries to organize the local farmers who too have been bullied by the railroad but the agents, with the corrupt law enforcement in tow, come to arrest them.

Jesse and Frank take to the hills but the railroad agents, unaware they've gone, try to route the James from their house by throwing a small bomb (a "mushmellon") into their farmhouse. The resulting blast kills their poor mother outright.

In revenge Jesse shoots Barshee and earns a $1,000 reward on his head for what the railroad dubs the murder of their agent.

This raises the ire of Major Rufus Cobb (Henry Hull), the editor of the Liberty Weekly Gazette. His pretty niece, Zerelda 'Zee' Cobb (Nancy Kelly), is in love with Jesse and Cobb runs editorials decrying the unfair characterizations of the James boys.

Frank and Jesse decide to continue their fight against the railroad and their first train robbery is aboard a run that carries the managers of the St. Louis Midland. During the holdup Frank genteelly thanks the passengers for their cash ("no jewelry, please") and reminds the passengers to sue the railroad for everything that they've lost. The only shots they fire are at the lights. Thereafter the reward for jumps to $5,000 and Jesse starts to sport a mustache as well as a pseudonym, Thomas Howard.

Jesse is pursued by the honest Marshall Will Wright (Randolph Scott), who is also in love with Zee.

Zee warns Jesse that shooting and robbing will get in his blood eventually until his fight with the railroad is secondary to his instinct to steal and to kill. Though he's offered a minimum sentence and fair trail by Wright Jesse can't imagine himself in prison. James marries Zee and finds he has become a folk hero to everyone in the community, including the preacher that marries them. Jesse thereafter turns himself in to the Wright, who has promised him he'll get only a few years for his crimes.

The district of Liberty is put under Martial Law pending the trial of James. Wright discovers that the railroad intends to hang James. When Frank James sends a written notice stating that he'll break Jesse free at 12:15 the railroad authorizes more than a dozen men to be deputized. McCoy, the president of the railroad, unknowingly deputizes two of James's men, allowing them to infiltrate the prison where Jesse is being held and free him.

A $25,000 reward now exists for Jesse with Frank's at $15,000.

Jesse settles down with Zee but he becomes suspicious and paranoid. Zee and Jesse begin an itinerant lifestyle, moving from town to town, under Robert Howard. James isn't even around for the birth of his child. Zee can't take any more of the animalistic existence and she heads back to Liberty, begging Jesse not to follow her.

After Zee leaves Jesse becomes reckless, going after one impregnable bank after another. When his own gang questions his escalating suicidal tendencies Jesse dismisses them, resulting in a confrontation between Frank and his brother. Jesse realizes his error and asks them to join him in one last job.

A daring plan to raid on the Northfield bank, some 450 miles away from the gang's hideout, ends up in disaster for the gang. Jesse is wounded badly and Frank forces them both to take a daring leap from a cliff. Jesse is presumed dead and even his old admirer, Sheriff Wright, says that he has turned into an animal and that "Everybody that liked him, he's done wrong to."

When Jesse finds Zee he meets his son for the first time and James shows all the remorse of a loving parent. He asks if his son knows anything about his past. Zee tells him he does not and Jesse decides to leave his life of crime.

As they pack for California his old gang member, Robert Ford (John Carradine), and his brother Charles (Charles Tannen) arrive. Robert says Frank has sent them and that he wants him to pull one more job. Jesse turns them down flat but becomes tempted by the lure of easy money and the chance to go the coast with some liquidity. Jesse goes outside to help his son who is being bullied by the neighbor boys. They're playing Jesse James with the other boys, shooting his son with imaginary guns. Jesse goes back in to tell Bob that he's not going in for the last job and he sees them outside with his best wishes. He goes to remove a picture from the wall, "God Bless Our Home," when Robert Ford sneaks back into the room and, his hand quavering, shoots Jesse in the back, then the chest.

At his funeral Rufus Cobb gives Jesse's eulogy:

"There ain't no question about it, Jesse was an outlaw. A bandit. A criminal. Even those that loved him ain't got no answer to that. But we ain't ashamed of 'im. I don't know why. I don't think even America is ashamed of Jesse James. Maybe it's because he was bold and lawless, like we all of us like to be sometimes. Maybe it's because we understand a little that he wasn't all-together to blame for what his times made him. Maybe it's because for ten years he licked the tar out of five states. Or maybe it was because he was so good at what he was doin'. I don't know. All I do know is he was one of the doggonedest, gawl-dingedest, dad-blamedest buckaroos that ever rode across these United States of America!"

The True Story of Jesse James (1957)

In director Nicholas Ray's The True Story of Jesse James it isn't the railroad but the North that drives Jesse (Robert Wagner) into a life of crime.

The film opens with the last job of the gang, the Northfield Bank raid in Minnesota, September 7, 1876. Most of the rest of the film is told largely in flashback, first from the viewpoint of his mother (Agnes Moorehead).

To her Jesse is still a gentle Missouri farm boy, so kind that she recalls when he found a bird fallen from the nest he wouldn't rest until the creature was given a Christian burial.

She recounts that during the war Frank James (Jeffrey Hunter) fights for the South, with the famous Southern raider, Quantrill, a treasonous act in Missouri. When the Northern army rides on to the family farm the boy's mother says that if she was a man she'd fight with them. Jesse is captured and whipped by a neighbor who has sided with the North. Shortly after the war Jesse is shot by guerilla soldiers fighting for the North even as he and Frank carry a white flag of surrender.

With their farm burned and Jesse badly wounded the James family takes refuge in the home of a reluctant and mean former Confederate commander, Major Rufus Cobb (Frank Overton). Also under the same roof is Zee (Hope Lange), the sister of the Cobb's wife. She nurses Jesse back to health after the war.

Jesse marries Zee and they have several children. Things seem peaceable but neighbors, Northern sympathizers, attack their farm, burn their crops, and hang a farm hand. Around the hand's neck is a note saying that the James boys are next. Jesse and Frank, with Jesse presiding, hold a small meeting in their barn--not to form a collective--to create a band of men who will hit the North-owned banks, railroads and express runs.

The gang exceeds at their work, turning to robbing trains after they hit the banks. Jesse is a perfectionist, nearly executing a member of the gang for not cutting the telegraph wires and striking another for drinking on the job.

With their success comes fame. Jesse's reputation is already solidified; he's the subject of dime novels and his gang laughs as they read that he's just misunderstood and that he gives his money to the poor. Jesse is also quite full of himself. Cole Younger (Alan Hale Jr.) tricks Jesse into paying off the entire $600 mortgage of a woman who puts the gang up by playing to his ego. Jesse's so brash he attends the trial of Bill Ryan, the first member of his gang apprehended.

In this version it is Remington of the Remington detective agency, not representatives of the railroad, who makes the assault on the James matriarch. The bomb kills their nephew, Archie, and injures their mother. The locals are appalled at the attack and plea to the governor to give the boys amnesty. But when Jesse discovers that the same neighbor who betrayed their mother is the one that whipped him years ago Jesse shoots the farmer in the back in his field. The act destroys an offer of freedom that the governor had attempted to get through the legislature.

Jesse is still outraged at the attack and plans the ill-conceived Northfield raid. He shames the rest of the gang into participating stating dismissively, "I could snap my fingers and get ten men to replace you right now."

After the raid fails Jesse and Frank nearly kill each other but manage to just part ways. Frank makes it back safely to the homestead but Jesse is presumed dead.

He finally staggers back home, injured but alive, and ready to give up the whole criminal enterprise for good. Jesse and Zee prepare to move to Nebraska. The laconic Robert Ford (Carl Thayler) and his brother Charlie (Frank Gorshin), who appear to be hanging around the Jameses for no apparent reason, agree to help them move.

As Jesse reaches to remove a picture, "Hard Work Spells Success," from the wall, Robert Ford shoots him in the back. Ford runs down the street boasting that he has shot Jesse James. With Zee, Frank and his mother around him, Jesse dies. Frank admits he'll probably turn himself in to the authorities as a minstrel sings of "the dirty little coward, who shot Mr. Howard, that laid poor Jesse in his grave."

The Long Riders (1980)

In director Walter Hill's The Long Riders, Jesse James (James Keach) is a quiet and cool character. He has a steely, practical resolve. In his younger days he is clean-shaven with a Dutch boy haircut. In his later years he sports long mutton chops that connects to a goatee.

The film opens in the middle of a James-Younger bank robbery where Ed Miller (Dennis Quaid), a rash member of the gang, shoots an unarmed man, causing Jesse to later expel him from the group.

They're a man short and Charlie Ford (Christopher Guest) and his little brother Bob (Nicholas Guest) are unshaven bumpkins who try to take Ed's place. They approach the gang at the wedding reception of Jesse and Zee (Savannah Smith Boucher). After Charlie and Bob lie, poorly, to Jesse, Frank (Stacy Keach) and Cole Younger (David Carradine) about their exploits, they are dismissed by the gang.

Meanwhile the Pinkerton Agency is engaged to bring the James-Younger gang in. Two agents stop Jim Younger (Keith Carradine) and a cousin on the road. A firefight ensues, killing the cousin. The Pinkertons later throw a smoke bomb in the shack of the James boys' mother, killing their simple-minded half-brother, Archie, when the bomb lands in the fireplace and explodes.

The gang, in revenge, catches the two Pinkerton agents responsible in town and riddles them with bullets.

The James-Youngers then hold out in a pig farm until the Pinkertons track them down. The agents shoot the farmer that is harboring them and all his pigs but miss all the Youngers' and the Jameses who escape out the back of a barn.

With such an intense manhunt coming after them the gang breaks up, dispersing across six states. They come together again, though, when Jesse suggests raiding a bank in Northfield, Minnesota.

Jesse has become a religious man in the interim, taking offense to comments that Cole makes about Zee, and reading the Bible on their train ride to their last job. But Jesse has also become rasher, barely planning the job and rushing into the town of Northfield without scouting it out.

After the disaster in Northfield, where the Youngers are shot to pieces, Jesse leaves them to be picked up by the posse.

Later, we see Jesse, Zee, and the Fords at a peaceful Sunday dinner in James's house. The Fords bring up another job, the Platte City bank, but Jesse tells them not to talk about business at the table.

Bob and Charley see Jesse's guns still in the holsters that hang on the coat-rack and begin to work up their nerve. Jesse absent-mindedly notices a plaque that reads "God Bless Our Home" that is crooked on the wall. As he straightens it Bob shoots him in the back.

Afterward Frank makes a deal with the Pinkertons. He agrees to turn himself in on the condition that he'll be allowed to bury his brother. "And if I don't agree to your terms?" asks the agent. "I'll kill ya'," says Frank. Frank is last seen with the Pinkerton agent on a train carrying Jesse's body. As the locomotive moves through a rural stretch, a local on the tracks doffs his hat in respect to the passing legend.

Frank & Jesse (1994)

After being forced to swear an oath of loyalty to the Union Jesse (Rob Lowe) and Frank James (Bill Paxton) return to Kearney, Missouri. As they hove a stump Jesse admits he hates farming and misses raiding. He's married, however, and Frank, the thinking brother (apt to quote Shakespeare), actually likes farming.

When a Lone Rider (Luke Askew) from the Rock Central Railroad comes to their farm he shoots Frank without provocation. Heading on to the main house he offers the James's father a $1 an acre for their land. When he turns them down the rider shoots their father and blows up their homestead, killing their younger brother, Archie.

Jesse tracks down the rider in the town and they trade gunfire. Jesse is wounded but he kills the agent. Union soldiers see the shoot-out and, when they approach Jesse, they're shot by Frank.

Jesse recuperates at the home of a woman who gives them shelter. She, however, is harassed by a posse of bank collectors. Jesse and Frank discover the bank is also owned by the Rock Central Railroad and that the lead agent, Mr. Sheets, ordered the attack on their former Southern commander, Bloody Bill Anderson.

Jesse and Frank form a gang with their fellow Confederates including Cole Younger (Randy Travis), the mute Bob Younger (Todd Field) to hit the bank in Gallatin. Inside Jesse confronts Mr. Sheets, who is the bank manager. Jesse admits his real name and Sheets recognizes him as someone who rode with Anderson. Jesse shoots him in the mouth. Ouside a fierce gun battle enrupts between the James-Younger gang and Union soldiers with the former quickly gaining the upper hand.

After a series of robberies, and an incident where a railroad agent shoots their mother's arm off, the head of the railroad engages Allan Pinkerton (William Atherton).

Pinkerton is onboard a train with his nephew, new to the Pinkerton Agency when the James-Younger gang robs it. Jesse inspects the hands of the passengers. When he sees calluses on one man's hands he refuses to rob him. Jesse comes face to face with Allan Pinkerton, but lets him go. The gang leaves at the sound of the safe being blown but Allan Pinkerton shoot Charley Ford, capturing him.

Jesse returns to life with Zee, who reveals she is pregnant. When Pinkerton's nephew tries to apprehend Jesse during a ferry crossing Zee is forced to shoot him.

Meanwhile the Youngers run into the Pinkerton men on the road. John Younger, a boy of fifteen, instigates a firefight wherein he is killed.

Jesse gets increasingly paranoid, even doubting Frank's loyalty to him.

The birth of Jesse's son seems to promise peace and the whole James and Younger clan get together for a family get-together. A reporter arrives (Sean Patrick Flanery) who tells Frank that the Legislature is working on a general amnesty for the gang if they can agree to halting their crime spree.

Pinkerton, who is appalled by the possibility of amnesty for the gang, has the ferryman (who had witnessed Zee's killing of the Pinkerton's nephew) murdered, framing Jesse James. He also fetches Charlie Ford, who has been moldering in a communal prison, to apply pressure to him.

Pinkerton is successful, the amnesty bill dies and Charlie Ford emerges from prison and rejoins the gang. Jesse wants to have a big score and proposes they hit the bank in Northfield, Minnesota.

The raid is a disaster. The Youngers are shot numerous times, with Jim Younger dying in town. Cole, Bob, Jesse and Frank escape but Bob is badly wounded. Cole stays behind with him and dispatches him as he reads from Bob's diary.

Frank announces he's done and he's moving to Texas to start a new life. Jesse admits he can't stop.

Pinkerton is pleased with the results of Northfield, which he credits to the advance information from Charlie Ford. But he also gives Charlie an ultimatum: Bring Jesse and Frank in and they get amnesty and the reward money. Fail to do so and they swing from the gallows.

It's 1882 and Charlie and his quiet brother, Robert (Jim Flowers), visit Jesse at suppertime. They tell Jesse they've seen Frank in Alabama. Jesse, knowing where Frank lives, calls them liars, throws his steak knife into Charlie's chest and hits Bob with a candelabra The commotion causes Zee, who is upstairs with their son, to call down to Jesse to ask what is the matter. Jesse, his traitorous visitors bested quickly runs up the flight to see his wife tucking his son into bed. He goes back down and asks the Fords who sent them. When they tell him that Pinkerton sent them, to get he and Frank, but that Pinkerton would probably stop if he only got Jesse, Jesse has an idea.

With tears in his eyes he lays his gun in front of Bob Ford and goes to straighten a "God Bless Our Home" picture on the wall. Bob picks up the gun but goes to leave. Charlie stops him and goads him. In almost a Messianic manner Jesse waits for his execution. Bob Ford reluctantly shoots him in the back four times.

At the capitol Frank surrenders peaceably though he punches Allan Pinkerton in the mouth before he goes to trial. In voiceover Cole Younger relays that Frank was acquitted three times, Pinkerton had a heart attack during his third trial and died and that both he and Frank ended up working the vaudeville circuit for many years.

American Outlaws (2001)

Director Les Mayfield's film begins in the middle of a Civil War battle. When the Younger brothers get pinned down behind some railroad ties by the fire of cannon and a Gatling gun it's up to the sure-shot Frank James (Gabriel Macht) and the reckless youth Jesse (Colin Farrell) to get them out. Jesse mounts a horse and charges an entire field of Union soldier with the reigns in his teeth, pistols blaring. Frank picks off the soldiers manning the Gatling gun one by one.

Jesse is grazed by a bullet shot by a young Union soldier but, once he gets the drop on him he lets the nearly prepubescent boy go. Their company wins the day but discovers that General Lee has already surrendered at Appomattox. Once the war is over the boys return to Missouri as Jesse just wants to return to his farm.

Upon returning to Liberty, Missouri gang discovers that Union soldiers are garrisoned there. They are informed that the general amnesty extended to soldiers at the end of the war does not extend to those who were in guerilla units. Worse yet the Jamess have a farm and the railroad has been offering to buy land but, if the owner refuses, the Union Army comes in and hangs the farmer as a traitor. Jesse swears that he'll go to war with the railroad if they try to take his land.

The Youngers make haste for home but, before Frank and Jesse can go home, they have to inform a Dr. Simms (Ronny Cox) of the death of his son. Jesse finds that Doc Simms's daughter, Zerelda Zee Simms (Ali Larter), has turned into a fiery young woman in the years that he's been away at war.

Frank and Jesse reunite with their Rebel-Yell mother (Kathy Bates) but their homecoming is interrupted when Roland Parker (Terry O'Quinn), a representative of the railroad, and Alan Pinkerton (Timothy Dalton) appear. They try to force their mother to sell their land for a pittance or lose it to eminent domain. Frank and Jesse pull guns on the agents, telling them they won't sell.

Jesse and Doc Simms try to organize their neighbors. Their meeting is interrupted when a battered Bob Younger (Will McCormack) is brought in. He tells them that the railroad men had come to their house too and that their little brother Jimmy had been pistol-whipped. Cole Younger (Scott Caan) then killed two of the agents in retaliation. Because the railroad men are backed by the Army, Cole is sentenced to hang.

The next day, as Cole has the noose tightened around his neck, Jesse and the gang stampede horses into the middle of the proceedings. Jesse cuts Cole free but is shot by Pinkerton just before he runs the detective down with his horse.

Frank and Cole brings a wounded Jesse to Doc Simms. When the Union Army comes to the house searching for him Zee climbs into bed with the seemingly catatonic Jesse, pulls the sheets up, and pretends she's alone when the soldiers burst in. Jesse stirs to consciousness and Zee notices his hand moving around under the covers.

The Army moves on from the post at Liberty. It leaves, as Thaddeus Rains, the president of Rock Northern Railroad says, "a power vacuum," one to be filled with his appointed goons. But the Army's departure also allows Cole Younger to come out of hiding in the woods and Jesse, now healed, to leave Doc Simms's care. Before he leaves, however, Jesse asks the father if he may take his daughter out.

At a dance that night all are having a good time as Jesse and Zee sneak out to profess their love for one-another. Back at the dance agents from the railroad come through and set off a bomb in a barn. Realizing that their mother is in danger Frank and Jesse ride home just in time to see their homestead explode. Their mother dies shortly after.

The next day it's discovered that everyone's homes were destroyed. Jesse rationalizes that if it's a war that they should approach it the way they did against the North, hitting their railroads, their supply lines.

It's during their first robbery that they announce that they're the "James-Younger gang." They also face their first sheriff in the street, and, once they've convinced the man he's hopelessly out-gunned, act civilly towards him.

As they divvy up their shares that night Jesse suggests that they give some of the money back to the folks that are hurting in Liberty. Frank agrees, saying that it will foster goodwill and help them dodge the law. Cole dislikes Jesse's bravado and his attempt to lead the gang but Frank, who is really the brains of the outfit, says that both Jesse and Cole run the gang.

The next day the paper says that 20 men (it was more like 8) in the James-Younger gang hit the bank stealing $50,000 (it was more like $8,000) and wounding the sheriff in the process. Jesse vows that for the next job they'll make sure they set the record straight. True to his word after the gang hits a railroad payroll office Jesse and Frank send in a romanticized version of the robbery to the paper.

Rains, who is losing millions of dollars and months of construction progress, demands to know why Pinkerton, now recovered, isn't dealing with "these farmers." Pinkerton counters:

Farmers? Hardly farmers. Each one of these men has four years of bloody fightin' experience behind 'em. They are disciplined and have a charismatic leader. If I were to design the perfect outlaw band. This is the gang I'd create.

In the ensuing months the robberies increase. The James gang also increases their generosity, giving away enough money in Maddox, MO to build a school. Their celebrity also increases. Children ask Jesse for his autograph. Bob Younger, whose likeness on a wanted poster is very poor, demands to be front and center in their next bank robbery so that he'll stick out in people's minds.

But Jesse is the star and Cole resents it so much that he plans a job on his own, after reading about the Hyperion Bank in the paper. Jesse, who thinks it's too easy rejects the idea. He soon finds that the rest of the gang, tired of being eclipsed by him, are going along with Cole. Cole and Jesse fight and draw guns on each other, only putting them down when Jesse agrees to the job.

Hyperion is indeed a trap. The bank is full of armed men and the safe is empty. But for some reckless action by Jesse the entire gang would have died. As they ride out a town Jimmy takes a bullet in the back killing him. His death causes Jesse and Frank to quit. Cole intends to keep on robbing, as does the rest of the gang. Jesse returns to Zee and asks her to marry him. They go down to Florida and, in an act of daring, Jesse signs his real name to the marriage documents.

On their honeymoon Zee reads one of the dime novels about her new husband, particularly his popularity with the ladies. To distract her Jesse asks her to go for a swim. As he and Zee cavort in the ocean the Pinkertons, from seemingly nowhere, surround and arrest him.

Back in Missouri Bob accuses Cole of turning information about Jesse's whereabouts to the Pinkertons. Cole denies it.

Later, in jail, Pinkerton tells Jesse that it was only Rains and the railroad men who burnt down the homes (though he had no moral objection to it, he just happened not to have been involved).

Jesse faces Rains as he's about to be put on the train to Washington to face trial. Rains sees that Jesse notices his pocket watch. He explains that his father, who started the railroad, gave it to him and that he will give it to his son. He says that it's his kind that will rule the West, not Jesse's.

Jesse promises Rains, who is traveling in the same car, that he'll pay him a visit during the trip. In a boxcar in the back Jesse enacts a miraculous escape only to be pinned down on the roof by two groups of railroad men and Pinkerton's agents. Suddenly a canon blast explodes the train's engine. Zee, Frank, and Cole are on the tracks in front of the train. "Go get my husband," says Zee.

A firefight ensues between the soldiers and agents in the train and the large band of men that Frank and Cole have brought with them, with the former losing quickly. Jesse leaps from the roof of the train onto Pinkerton, shoots Parker and takes Rains's watch. He tosses it in the air and blows it to pieces with one shot.

Jesse empties Pinkerton's gun and hands it back to him. Pinkerton tells him that Tennessee has no railroad interests thus he won't pursue him if he lives in Tennessee.

Now free Jesse reunites with the Youngers, embracing Cole. He tells them he can't lead the gang again but intends to take up farming in Tennessee. Frank says he intends to join them and Zee and Jesse ride off together.

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)

In The Asssassination Jesse James (Brad Pitt) is a world-weary man at the end of a long career. He is both smitten by his celebrity and desperately trying to shake himself loose from it.

The film starts on September 5, 1881, just prior to the Blue Cut Train Robbery, the James gang's last train heist. The Younger brothers are all in jail so Frank and Jesse have to make do with inexperienced locals who are used to smaller, meaner work and who yearn to have an association with a real life celebrity.

One of these locals is 19-year-old Robert, or Bob (Casey Affleck) Ford, a shrinking, mumbling toady who has grown up reading the Jesse James mythology. Indeed he even has a box full of dime novels about Jesse. Robert, the brother of a standing member Charley Ford (Sam Rockwell), is a stark example of how far the fortunes of the gang have fallen. Frank James (Sam Shepard), is unnerved by the new recruits to the gang, and tells Robert he doesn't have the ingredients to be an outlaw. In an act of prescience Frank quits Jesse and outlawry and disappears back East.

In the aftermath of the robbery the remaining members of the James gang hold out in a remote cabin in the Ozarks. Jesse gets increasingly moody and paranoid. He visits former associates from the Blue Cut robbery and kills them including Ed Miller, whom he'd ridden with for years. Jesse proves himself to be descending into a kind of psychopathic, even suicidal spiral.

Jesse tries to return to his domestic life with his wife, Zee (Mary-Louise Parker), and their children, but he keeps reminders of his infamous past hanging around like mementos, including Robert. He both needs and needles Bob, asking him the pointed question, "You want to be like me, or you want to be me?" Jesse seems to be inviting Bob to dispatch him, allowing him to get close, tolerating his irritating sycophantic ways and presenting him with new firearms. Robert, meanwhile, is tired of his rough treatment by his former idol, aware that Jesse is very apt to kill them next, and greedily eyeing the reward money posted for the capture of Jesse. He even demands an audience with Governor Chittenden (James Carville) and, in an audacious move for a public official, the governor assents to be a party of the assassination by agreeing to give Robert clemency and the reward money to kill James.

Robert shoots Jesse, out of fear, out of greed, out of rejection, and expects to be branded a hero, to hear applause. He is, perversely, branded the coward of the title. He remains in the shadow of Jesse James, reenacting his role as Jesse's Judas for a Wild West show in New York (with Charley playing the role of Jesse). Robert is doomed to relive his act until he is shot to death by the same kind of fame-seeking nobody as him.

"The Brady Bunch: Bobby's Hero"

In the Brady Bunch episode "Bobby's Hero," Jesse James is the object of the youngest Brady's admiration. His principal, Mr. Hillary, reads Bobby's essay, "''My Hero,' by Bobby Brady" to his flabbergasted parents, Mike (Robert Reed) and Carol (Florence Henderson) Brady: "My hero is a very famous man, just like Robin Hood and the Three Musketeers. He was a great American and his name was Jesse James." Mr. Hillary says that the paper may not have come to his attention had not Bobby (Mike Lookinland) also brought a cap-gun to school and pretended he was Jesse James on the playground, shooting his classmates.

Mike and Carol plan to disrupt Bobby's idealized image of the outlaw by allowing him to watch a particularly violent film about Jesse James, airing on TV that night, wherein he kills some 45 people. Much to their dismay the film has been edited for television in such a way to give the impression that James is indeed a heroic figure, cutting away from moments of cowardice, murder, and cruelty.

After Mike Brady reads a book, "The Real Jesse James," he convinces the writer, who happens to live nearby, to come to talk to Bobby. He tells Bobby that Jesse James was a "mean, dirty killer" who had shot Mr. Collins's father, an unarmed man, in the back as his arms were raised.

Bobby has a dream that night wherein a leering Jesse James (Gordon Devol), decked out in black leather, announces that he's the most famous outlaw in the west and grins as he shoots the rest of the Brady clan in the back. Bobby awakes now convinced that Jesse James is no hero.