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Missouri State Archives
Frank and Jesse James Court Documents from Daviess County

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Jesse James

Introduction

The question of whether slavery would be expanded from Missouri into neighboring Kansas set in motion a bloody and violent "border war" between Kansas and Missouri. Roving bands of Missouri bushwhackers and Kansas jayhawkers crossed the state line looting, lynching, and committing other atrocities. Frank and Jesse James witnessed many of these acts near their family's home in Kearney, Missouri.

Descended from a slave-owning family native to Kentucky that sympathized with the South, the James brothers supported the Confederacy and the bushwhackers when the Civil War came to Missouri. Frank joined the secessionist Missouri State Guard and fought at the Battle of Wilson's Creek. He left the military after a bout of the measles caused him to be left behind and captured by Union troops. Although he promised not to fight again, Frank joined a guerrilla band operating out of Clay County, and briefly teamed up with William Clarke Quantrill before joining William "Bloody Bill" Anderson. His younger brother, Jesse, also rode with Anderson's guerrilla forces. Both brothers took part in Anderson's raids, including the September 1864 massacre of Union troops at Centralia, Missouri. Their actions as guerrillas led to their family being exiled from Missouri.

After the war, Frank and Jesse James, with fellow bushwhackers Cole Younger and his brothers, operated arguably the most famous outlaw gang in American history. The James-Younger gang plundered their way from Texas to Minnesota and from Missouri to West Virginia in a criminal career that spanned almost two decades. Generating a legendary reputation, the gang alternately terrorized and fascinated the general populace and infuriated law enforcement agencies.

Despite numerous manhunts and a $5,000 reward offered for his capture by Missouri Governor Thomas Crittenden, Jesse James was never apprehended. He was killed in his St. Joseph home by fellow outlaw Robert Ford on April 3, 1882. Ford and his brother, Charles, were charged with first degree murder and sentenced to hang but were pardoned by Crittenden. Frank James turned himself in to authorities six months later but was acquitted after being tried twice. After working a variety of jobs, he returned to farm life. He died on February 18, 1915.

James Documents

The only known civil case against Frank and Jesse James, filed in the Common Pleas Court of Daviess County in 1870, was recently discovered by Daviess County Circuit Clerk Sue Bird. In the case, Daniel Smoote sought $223.50 from the James brothers for a horse, saddle, and bridle stolen as the brothers fled the robbery of the Daviess County Savings Bank in Gallatin, Missouri on December 7, 1869. During the hold up, John Sheets, the bank owner and cashier, was murdered by Jesse James who misidentified Sheets as Samuel P. Cox, the man responsible for killing William "Bloody Bill" Anderson. The James brothers denied the charges, claiming they were not in Daviess County on the day of the robbery. When the James brothers failed to appear in court, Smoote won his case of attachment against them.

In addition to the Smoote case, Sue Bird provided all surviving county records relating to the James brothers to the Missouri State Archives Local Records Preservation Program for review, scanning, and preservation microfilming. These papers and other Daviess County records from the 1880s reveal many of the James brothers' activities during the late nineteenth century. The documents include several indictments for crimes ranging from grand larceny to murder; arrest warrants and the sheriffs' written return responses; witness subpoenas; pleas for bail; and writs of attachment.

Rights and Reproductions

Any use of the scanned images should cite the Daviess County Circuit Court, Gallatin. Please see the Missouri State Archives website for specific citations [http://www.sos.mo.gov/archives/resources/citations.asp].

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