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Book Review – The Trial of Jesse James Jr. by Laurie Ann Little

BOOK REVIEW: The Trial of Jesse James, Jr.: The Son of An Outlaw Stands Accused, adapted by L. A. Little, (Vintage Antique Classics Publishing Co. 2012), 201 pp., soft cover, $14.99.

By Nancy B. Samuelson

The Trial of Jesse James, Jr. book

This book opens with a short section, “Beginnings” which gives a bit of the history of Jesse James Jr. (Jesse Edward James). This tells how Jesse Jr. applied for a job as office boy to Thomas T. Crittenden Jr., the son of the Governor who was responsible for the death of the outlaw Jesse James. Young James and young Crittenden became lifelong friends. Young Jesse met many influential friends in the Kansas City area. He was a well liked and had a reputation as a hard-working, honest young man.

The bulk of the book is a series of newspaper articles from The Kansas City Journal. These begin in September 1898 after the robbery of a Missouri Pacific passenger train near Leeds, Missouri. Jesse James Jr. was soon accused of taking part in this robbery. The newspaper articles continue through early March 1899 when Jesse was acquitted of all charges.

These articles tell about the accusations of W. W. Lowe, a suspect himself, and a switchman at the Santa Fe Railroad switch yards. There were other suspects as well including Andy Ryan, the brother of Bill Ryan of the old Jesse James gang, and Jack “Quail Hunter” Kennedy, who was suspected of a number of crimes.

Jesse Jr. maintained his innocence and had a wide circle of friends who stood by him during the trial for this robbery. He had four defense attorneys and they were able to get a new Judge to try the case. Affidavits were submitted to show that Judge Wofford was prejudiced against Jesse Jr. Wofford was replaced by Judge W. D. Shackelford of Boonville, Missouri. The Prosecuting Attorney was James A. Reed, later a U. S. Senator and a presidential aspirant. Reed had six other attorneys assisting in the prosecution.

The articles give a good look at some of the police procedures at the time. Suspects were detained but not arrested for some time. There is discussion of “Sweating” prisoners as well. Jury selection is discussed and a lot of testimony from witnesses is included in a number of the articles.

The trial ends in acquittal of Jesse Jr. on all charges. The jury was out for about one hour and only one ballot was needed to make the decision. The Prosecuting Attorney then dismissed the charges against the other suspects.

Frank James attended the trial and he is mentioned several times. Mrs. Samuel, grandmother of Jesse Jr., and other family members were present and testified in Jesse’s behalf.

One additional newspaper article appears near the end of the book. This is in February 20, 1910. W.W. Lowe, who was the primary accuser of Jesse Jr. admitted he lied about James’ involvement in the robbery and said his story was a frame up.

The book has a one-page epilogue about the later life of Jesse Jr. The last section of the book is a reprint of the first four chapters of Jesse James, My Father, written in 1899 by Jesse Jr.

The book is nicely produced and easy to read. The front cover has a nice photo of Jesse Jr. There are a few illustrations from the newspapers throughout the book. There are no notes nor is there an index.