On the 3rd April 1882, the American outlaw Jesse James was shot dead by fellow gang-member Robert Ford.  His death became a national sensation – James had been a famous Confederate guerrilla fighter during the Civil War, and had become America’s most wanted criminal in the years since.

As a train robber, James and his gang rarely robbed passengers.  This may have led to their popular association with the legend of Robin Hood – stealing from the rich to give to the poor.  However, there is no evidence that the James gang actually shared their loot with anyone but themselves.

Despite their early success, by 1881 the gang was falling apart.  Many members had fled, or been killed or arrested, and so Jesse James was forced to ally with new gang members.  In January 1882 one of his new associates, Robert Ford, met with Missouri Governor Thomas T. Crittenden and agreed to kill James in return for a full pardon for his own crimes and a $10,000 reward.

On the morning of April 3rd, shortly before leaving their safe house to rob the Platte City bank, James noticed a dusty picture on the mantelpiece.  As he stood on a chair and turned to clean it, Robert Ford shot him in the back of the head.  He presented himself to the police where, on the same day, he was charged with murder, pled guilty, sentenced to death by hanging, and then granted a full pardon by Governor Crittenden.

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© Scott Allsop