Graves · Missouri

The death of Jesse James

April 3, 1882
St. Joseph, Missouri
Outlaw Jesse James is shot in the back by a member of his gang who wished to claim the reward money issued against James

Robert Ford, James’ murderer, was a new recruit to the James gang and had met secretly with the governor of Missouri against James. Ford waited until James’ back was turned as he cleaned dust from picture on the wall, then shot James several times in the back of the head. James’ wounds were so great he had to be identified by previous injuries: two old bullet wounds and a partially missing middle finger.

Ford later stated he believed James had been suspicious of Robert and his brother Charley. James and the Ford brothers had gone out for a robbery whereupon James learned a gang member had confessed to a murder. James became suspicious of the Ford brothers for not informing him of this. Once back at his home, Robert Ford believed James knew he had been sold out and, rather than confronting them, had placed his guns on a sofa before purposefully turning his back to Ford.

The Ford brothers surrendered but were shocked when charged with first-degree murder. They pleaded guilty and were sentenced to hang, but the governor quickly pardoned them, leading many to believe he had been aware James would be brought in dead rather than alive. The brothers received their bounty and began touring to reenact the famous murder.

Charley Ford killed himself in 1884; he suffered from morphine addiction and was dying of tuberculosis. In 1892, Robert Ford was shot in his saloon by his friend Edward O’Kelley. O’Kelley called out “Hello Bob” as he entered the saloon and shot Ford in the neck with a double-barreled shotgun as Ford turned to see who had called his name. O’Kelley was sentenced to life but pardoned after 10 years due to public support and a 7,000-signature petition for his release.

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