Tag Archives: assassination

The Plot to Assassinate Jesse James

The Plot to Assassinate Jesse James

By Phil Stewart

             “The Plot to Assassinate Jesse James” first appeared on Stray Leaves in 1999 as part of Phil Stewart’s Article Archive

Jesse James was killed on April 3, 1882. What began as a desire of several neighbors to the fear and killings since the days of the Civil War had developed into a death plot to kill a wanted outlaw. Jesse James was assassinated in every definition of the word.

The plot against Jesse was building. On December 6, 1881, Wood Hite arrived at the home of Martha Bolton. In addition to being a member of the gang, Wood Hite was Jesse’s cousin. Hite’s presence made it impossible for the gang to discuss, plan, or coordinate their assassination efforts. The next day, Dick Liddil and Bob Ford killed Wood Hite.

Henry H. Craig-Police Commissioner when Jesse James was assassinated
HENRY HARRISON CRAIG – Commissioner of Police, Kansas City, Missouri

The first attempt to capture Jesse James occurred on or around December 28, 1881 in Richmond, Missouri. Jesse walked into Cap Ford’s store asking where he could find Dick Liddil and Wood Hite. Cap Ford told him he had not seen Wood at all. The last time he had seen Liddil was at the Bolton home. As Jesse rode out of town, Cap Ford telegraphed Sheriff Timberlake. By the time a posse arrived at the Bolton’s, Jesse had gone.

Two days after the raid on the Bolton home, in the little town of Greenville, just a few miles east of the James family’s farm, James Rhodus was having a New Year’s party for the young people of the neighborhood. One of those who arrived was eighteen-year-old John Samuel, the half-brother of Frank and Jesse. Rhodus wanted no trouble. It became obvious that John Samuel and his two friends had a bottle. They were becoming increasingly boisterous. Rhodus asked them to leave. Young John pointed out that he was the brother of Jesse James. He would not be told what to do by Rhodus or any man. Rhodus simply pushed him out the door and into the January cold. John Samuel began throwing rocks at the door and windows. Rhodus took a pistol, walked out on the porch, and shot John Samuel in the belly. Many believed the young man would not survive.

Rumors spread, that Jesse would soon arrive to avenge his younger brother. Few would have given a plug nickel for the life of James Rhodus. The group of neighbors discussed the situation. Terry Stephenson, who lived less than a half mile east of the Samuel farm, was selected to give Zerelda a message. The message was clear and to the point. If one hair was harmed on the head of James Rhodus, the Samuel home would be burned to the ground. If the family happened to be inside at the time, so be it.

Thomas T. Crittenden preferred to capture Jesse James and not assassinate him
THOMAS T. CRITTENDEN – Governor of Missouri whose family was close to the James in the days of early Kentucky

On  January 6 of the new year, Sheriff James Timberlake was contacted with Dick Liddil’s proposal. Dick would surrender and assist with the efforts to capture or kill Jesse James in return for a full pardon by the Governor and a part of the reward money if the plan was successful. Both Timberlake and Crittenden agreed.

Dick Liddil surrendered to Sheriff Timberlake on January 24, 1882. He met with Governor Thomas T. Crittenden. He received the Governor’s assurance that he would not be prosecuted if he cooperated and provided information that would bring an end to Jesse James. Dick must have sung like a bird. Within a week, a group of Kansas City officers, led by Commissioner Craig, went to Kentucky. Clarence Hite was arrested and returned to Missouri to stand trial for the Winston train robbery, Commissioner Craig gave to Liddil $500 of the $5,000 reward.

Charlie Ford
CHARLIE FORD – Conspirator to assassinate Jesse James

On February 13, Bob Ford “surrendered himself” to Commission Craig in Kansas City. On February 22, the entire group, including Governor Crittenden and Sheriff Timberlake, Commission Craig, Dick Liddil, and Bob Ford, met at the St. James Hotel in Kansas City to finalize plans and agreements. The group now had an “inside man.”

In late March of 1882, there was another bank to rob. Perhaps it would be his last, for Jesse had inquired about a farm that was for sale in Nebraska. His “gang” now consisted solely of himself and Charlie Ford. Jesse wanted one more man to accompany him on the raid. Two men inside the bank and one outside to hold the horses. It was a tried and proven plan. Charlie suggested his young brother, Bob Ford. Bob was a brash little cuss and could be depended upon. Jesse had little choice in the quality of men who rode with him. Bob Ford, the governments “inside man,” would have to do.

On March 30, 1882, Jesse and Charlie arrived at the home of Martha Bolton. He asked if Bob was around. He was told Ford was with his Uncle Cap in Richmond. Showing boldness, of not arrogance, Jesse rode right into Richmond to the home of Cap Ford. Jesse asked Bob if he was interested in a “little job.” Bob agreed to join him. As Jesse and the Ford brothers left town, Cap Ford sent a message to Sheriff Timberlake and Commissioner Craig. The trap was set. Within day, Jesse James would be assassinated by the “inside man.”

Ed O'Kelley
ED O’KELLEY, killed Bob Ford in Creede, Colorado

Following the events on the morning of April 3, 1882, Charlie Ford received as much condemnation for killing Jesse James as his brother, Bob Ford. The evidence indicates Charlie knew nothing about it until the night before Jesse was killed. Sheriff Timberlake stated he knew that Jesse was living in Leavenworth or Atchison, Kansas, or in St. Joseph, Missouri. These are the exact towns Jesse was checked when searching for a home after leaving Kansas City. Cap Ford said he knew Jesse was living in St. Joseph and he had advised Timberlake of the fact. Timberlake did not want the world to know that he knew where Jesse was living. That fact would not only support the position that Jesse James could have been captured.

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RELATED:   More from Phil Stewart’s 1999 Archive

The Plot to Capture Jesse James

The Gad’s Hill Train Robbery

Frank James – Scholar with a Gun

School Time for Jesse James – Part I

School Time for Jesse James – Part II

Jesse James & Half-Brother Perry Samuel

Jesse James Family – Slaves & Servants

Robert Sallee James – Father of Jesse James

Jesse James Myths & Facts

Ron Hansen Revealed

Ron Hansen’s novel The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford was published in 1983. In 2009, actor Brad Pitt turned the novel into a stunning film that sadly flopped at the box office.

Both Hansen’s book and Pitt’s movie are fictional depictions. Yet both survive as the most representative of their genres regarding the accuracy of their subject icon and his factual history.

When writing Jesse James’ Soul Liberty, author Eric James twice attempted to contact Ron Hansen, seeking an interview. Soul Liberty is a history of the James family. Knowing the connections of the James family to the Catholic order of the Jesuits and that Hansen taught at a Jesuit school, the author wanted to compare notes with Hansen about the spiritual life of the James family. No response came from Hansen.

The following video is about the closest Ron Hansen comes to revealing the spirituality that guides his life and connects him to his subject matter.

Watch Catholic Writer Ron Hansen on PBS. See more from Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.

Stalkers of Famous & Infamous Families

Yesterday, on the True West magazine web site where I also blog, there was a shootout. Not with bullets, but with words. The perpetrator was a known stalker of mine, who came gunning for me. The stalker made his violence palpable.

The topic of the blog was titled, “Related to a Historical Person?” (The posting has since been taken down by True West)  I don’t think Walker, the poster of the blog, had any idea what was in store. I humorously chimed in about being a cousin to Sam Walton, but always I’m denied the family discount at Walmart. Randomly, out of nowhere, the stalker appeared under the cover of an anonymous alias to execute the dirty work.

Repeatedly, the stalker badgered me to reveal if I was or was not related to Jesse James. By custom, I do not claim to be related. I know full well the danger it produces and the harm it generates. The stalker furthered badgered me about The James Preservation Trust, founded by myself & the great grandson of Jesse James to address the historical interests of the Jesse James family. The stalker charged me with creating a phantom organization. In fact, the Trust is well documented in the public record & its officers publically identified on Stray Leaves for years. As for me, for the last 55 years I’ve lead a very public life, the information of which anyone can find if they just go looking for it.

My first warning about stalkers came from my mother-in-law in my second marriage. Miss Nancy was the daughter of famed tobacco scion R. J. Reynolds. At first, probing to learn if I myself was a stalker of her daughter, Miss Nancy soon turned in a motherly way to advise me of what I myself may expect. Though she spoke of paranoia, as I could expect to experience it, she also made clear that personal and even physical violence would be an ever constant threat. With that said, she then took me for a ride in her highly polished, black Chrysler that was almost twenty years old. She drove off, leaving her chauffeur standing in the garage.

Miss Nancy was right. My Hollywood marriage to her daughter was littered with a constant litany of worthless sycophants, predatory investment schemers, mongering Scientologists, and the occasional crazed drugee who appeared out of nowhere but required removal from the grounds by police. Living behind closed gates was not sufficient. Nor was it enough to employ three Great Danes, two Bloodhounds, and a St. Bernard in a chronic riot of barking for protection. Every moment you knew that someone was out there, trying to get at you for something, usually having nothing to do with you and everything to do with them.

Even before Jesse James was assassinated, the James family had formed its own defenses. Their common defense was to decompose the family into isolated cells of protective anonymity. Personal identity was surrendered. Surrendered, too, was any sense of common family. For more than 125 years, the James family has endured under its shroud since. One line of the family can’t even recognize the other, and occasionally won’t. My book Soul Liberty, to begin publication next year in four successive volumes, will address the James family condition and their identity lost to a constant state of seeming redemptive purgatory.

Personally, I do not open the door to someone unexpected. Too many come to the door unannounced. I do not pick up the phone of an unidentified caller, or a caller I don’t know. One stalker called me five times a day, every day for three years. I’ve learned to change my unlisted phone numbers often. Like Frank James, who circumnavigated the exterior residence before sitting down to a meal with his back to the wall, I too have event rituals I will not mention. I’ve notified certain individuals, that should I encounter a violent or unexpected or unexplained demise, there is a list of those who authorities should investigate.

I don’t consider myself a hunted man. But I do consider myself haunted. The last time R. J. Reynolds peered down at me was from a tin advertisement for his tobacco, nailed to the rafter of a log cabin gift shop at the Calico Mine in Barstow, California, as I and his granddaughter blithely shopped for souvenirs. The last time Jesse James peered at me was from the grave of his twin children, when I exhumed them in Waverly, Tennessee, to re-inter them with Jesse and their mother Zee James in Kearney, Missouri, per Zee’s lifelong wish, and per the promise she extracted from Jesse Jr., a promise left unfulfilled for too long.

In some way, I both regret and am happy that Brad Pitt’s movie, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, was not as successful as it deserved to be. I got its message in a big way! All it takes is one worthless individual, who is so devoid of self that their own identity must be found by inflicting harm on someone who is better known or recognized.

So, I live more in the virtual world today than in public. More in media, and on the internet, where cyber-stalkers are as real as any true-life physical stalker. Actually, cyber-stalkers are easier to deal with than physical stalkers. When cyber-stalkers appear, I record them, produce the record of their actions against me, and place the record with authorities for any future reference that may be required. It’s far better than living behind electric gates with five barking dogs. And, like Miss Nancy, I’d still get to drive my big, black, 1979 Lincoln Town Car, if I hadn’t sold it when petro-dollars went to four bucks a gallon.

UPDATE

The page for the blog link “Related to Historical People” has since been removed from the True West web site.

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