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The Plot to Capture Jesse James

“The Plot to Capture Jesse James,” from Phil Stewart’s Archive, was first published on Stray Leaves in 1999. 

The Plot to Capture Jesse James

By Phil Stewart

Robert Ford, the "dirty little coward"
Robert Ford, the “dirty little coward”

Bob Ford killed Jesse James with the full knowledge and consent of Sheriff James H. Timberlake of Clay County, Police Commission Henry H. Craig of Kansas City, and the Governor of Missouri, Thomas T. Crittenden. While the James neighbors plotted to capture Jesse James, the government plotted to assassinate Jesse James.

By the fall of 1880, it was nearly impossible for Jesse and his family to justify robberies and murders on injustice and social conditions brought about by the Civil War. There was no place for roaming bands of old guerilla fighters and outlaws. Jesse was bad for business. Land prices in the outlaw’s home county were lower than in other parts of the state. Business and banking interests avoided the area, despite opportunities for growth. Jesse James was an economic liability.

John Watts Shouse, conspirator to capture Jesse James
John Watts Shouse, conspirator to capture Jesse James

A small group of Clay County citizen talked among themselves, although very quietly. Chief among them was John Watts Shouse, a veteran of the Mexican and Civil Wars, and a southerner by birth. Shouse was a no-nonsense man who had organized and commanded on of the first Confederate Home Guards. With him were other prominent citizens: John T. Pettigrew, William Dollis, William Dagley, Riley Henderson, William Wysong, and John Shouse’s younger brother James. Most of the lived in the Bethel community, which also was the home of the Ford and Cummins families, a few miles from James farm.

The neighbors made at least one attempt to convince Jesse’s mother, Zerelda, to speak to her son and convince him to surrender. The feisty, fiery, and protective Zerelda Samuel would not consider surrender. Not Jesse James! Having failed, the group shifted focus to capture Jesse and  turn him over to Sheriff Timberlake for prosecution.

Jim Cummins
Jim Cummins

During the fall of 1881, Jesse came searching for one of his old associates, Jim Cummins. Jesse believed Cummins was about to turn traitor. Jesse already had killed Ed Miller, one of his gang and a neighbor who Jesse no longer trusted.

Jesse arrived in the Bethel community during the first few days of October. Jesse soon learned that Cummins had been seen around the home of Cummins’ brother-in-law, William Ford. Bill For was also an uncle to Robert and Charles Ford. When Jesse arrived at Bill Ford’s home, he found Bill’s wife, and fifteen-year-old son, Samuel. In a scene reminiscent of the time young Jesse James himself was beaten by Union soldier in search of his brother Frank James, Jesse grabbed the teenager. He threatened to kill him if he didn’t “fess up” where Jim Cummins could be found. When the boy would not, or could not, provide the information, Jesse lost his temper. Frustration got the best of him. He began slapping the boy. The slapping became a beating. When Jesse mounted to leave, young Samuel Ford was beaten and bloody.

New of the beating quickly made its way throughout the neighborhood. John Shouse and his group were fed up. Jesse once protected the farmers and resident of the area. Now he was the aggressor and torturer. Time had come to bring the others into the group to plot the outlaw’s capture. Not surprisingly, William Ford eagerly and enthusiastically joined.

Sheriff James H. Tiberlake
Sheriff James H. Timberlake

Dick Liddil separated from Jesse following the beating. Liddil worried about being around Jesse. His boss was increasingly paranoid and irrational. Liddil believed it was only a matter of time before Jesse came after him. Although not quite ready to turn traitor against Jesse, it would not take much to push Dick Liddil to side with the neighbors.

The conspiring neighbors changed focus and makeup. Some now plotted the murder of Jesse James. Not wishing to become involved in planned murder, many of John Shouse’s group departed. Capturing Jesse was one thing, but planned assassination left their mouths bitter. John Shouse himself wanted nothing to do with it. The group was asking for war against the James gang. Shouse had a family to consider. Others soon took his place. A brother of William Ford, Elias Capline Ford known as “Cap,” quietly and cautiously joined the group. The group now comprised of a few silent citizen and several members of the Ford and Cummins families. The conspirators sought someone they could trust inside Jesse’s new gang.

In early November of 1881, William Ford contracted Sheriff James Timberlake. He informed Timberlake that a network was in place. They could inform Timberlake of the comings and goings of Jesse James. They could assist with his capture.

Timberlake was more than enthusiastic. He offered William Ford $1,000 for his assistance in capturing Jesse James. He further assured Ford no members of the group would be prosecuted if the plan resulted in the death of the outlaw.

But they needed the assistance of other agencies. Timberlake, along with Cap Ford, traveled to Kansas City and contacted Police Commissioner Henry Craig who was briefed. Commissioner Craig traveled to Jefferson City to enlist the cooperation of the Governor of Missouri, Thomas T. Crittenden. The Governor had made the subject of Missouri outlaws the main topic of his campaign. He would do whatever possible to fulfill his campaign promises. Rewards were guaranteed and pardons would be given. The plot to assassinate Jesse James was formed.

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RELATED:   More from Phil Stewart’s 1999 Archive

The Plot to Assassinate 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

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Wednesday June 16th, 2021
Stray Leaves

As a 6-year-old boy, Jesse Edwards James Jr. was a witness to the murder of his father, Jesse James. The event impinged on his life forever after. His unruly childhood was brought to heel by both family and community, which included the Crittenden family of Gov. Thomas T Crittenden. It was the family friend Gov. Crittenden who put the bounty on Jesse James that resulted in his killing. Law school and a job in the Crittenden law office directed Jesse Jr. into his future as a lawyer. He did alright until he was solicited into producing a movie about his father. After collecting production money from family, friends, and business associates, the movie flopped. Jesse Jr. assumed responsibility, but he never could never repay the money lost. Severe depression overcame Jesse Jr. He required hospitalization, and then institutionalization. Equilibrium escaped him every living day. He died at age 50 in the care of his loving wife Stella and his four daughters. His grandson Jim Ross, whom he raised with his daughters, became a lawyer and judge. See MoreSee Less

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He has his mother's nose.

That was cool but creepy at the same time. Last photo looked like there was no one home. You can see the change in his eyes.

Monday June 14th, 2021
Stray Leaves

HAPPY 30TH WEDDING ANNIVERSARY to the 2nd great-grandson of Jesse James, David James Ross, and his wife Jessica Lemoine Esq. David & Jessica appear here at their 20th anniversary in Jamaica, and more recently in 2018 supporting their adopted family, the Los Angeles Kings ice hockey team. See MoreSee Less

HAPPY 30TH WEDDING ANNIVERSARY to the 2nd great-grandson of Jesse James, David James Ross, and his wife Jessica Lemoine Esq. David & Jessica appear here at their 20th anniversary in Jamaica, and more recently in 2018 supporting their adopted family, the Los Angeles Kings ice hockey team.Image attachment
Friday June 11th, 2021
Stray Leaves

ZEE MIMMS JAMES AUTHENTIC PHOTOS ANIMATED . . . Zee was named after Jesse’s mother, Zerelda Cole. Zee and Jesse were first cousins. John M. James was grandfather to them both. Despite the strong family tie, most of the family disapproved of their marriage. Their uncle, Rev. William James a Methodist minister and himself a black sheep among the James, married Zee and Jesse. Zee bore Jesse five children. Two lived to adulthood. A set of twins died soon after birth. A fifth child was miscarried. Zee died at age 55 of neurasthenia, a condition characterized by lassitude, fatigue, headache, and irritability, associated chiefly with emotional disturbance.
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Impressive

Eerily Amazing 😳 Thank You

Wednesday June 9th, 2021
Stray Leaves

BOB FORD AUTHENTIC PHOTOS ANIMATED . . . Yesterday, June 8, 2021, was the 129th anniversary of the murder of Robert Newton Ford by Ed O’Kelley in Creede, Colorado. The murder was the retribution of Bob Ford’s assassination of Jesse James on April 3, 1882. History recalls Ford as "that dirty little coward." See MoreSee Less

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