Jesse James Facts

Information about the former Confederate soldier and famous outlaw from the Wild West

Born: September 5, 1847

Died: April 3, 1882

Spouse: Zerelda Mimms

Jesse James summary: Jesse Woodson James was born into a hardworking family. His parents lived in Clay County, Missouri, where Jesse and his two full siblings were born. Robert James, Jesse’s father, was a successful farmer who eventually helped found William Jewell College located in Liberty, Missouri. When Jesse was 3 years old, his father died in California, preaching to those looking for gold. Jesse’s mother remarried.

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During the Civil War, Jesse and his family were dedicated Confederates. When he was 16, his brother, Frank James, had already joined the Confederate Army. As his brother’s company lodged in Clay County, Missouri, Jesse took the opportunity to enlist in Taylor’s company.

In 1864, Jesse and Frank joined Bloody Bill Anderson, the leader of a group of bushwhackers. They had a reputation of cruel and brutal treatment of Union soldiers, and Jesse was identified as one of the members who took part in the Centralia Massacre that left 22 unarmed Union soldiers dead or injured. As punishment, all family members of Jesse and Frank James had to leave Clay County.

Jesse later married his first cousin, Zerelda Mimms, who was named after Jesse’s own mother. They had two children together, Jesse E. James and Mary James Barr.

After the Civil War ended, Jesse and Frank made their living robbing stagecoaches, banks and trains. On April 3, 1882, Jesse was shot to death be a member of his own gang. The lure of collecting reward money was far stronger than any loyalty he had to Jesse James, it appears. Some moviemakers have romanticized Jesse James as taking from the wealthy and sharing with the poor. This is fiction.