Jesse James was one of the most famous outlaws of the Wild West. As a former Confederate guerrilla, James got his taste for violence during the American Civil War when he would conduct violent raids throughout Missouri. After the war, he continued his violent ways by robbing banks and trains and killing anyone who stood in his way.
The following is a timeline of the life of Jesse James:
On December 28, Reverend Robert James and Zerelda Elizabeth Cole were married in Stamping Ground, Kentucky.
On January 10, Alexander Franklin James is born to Robert James and Zerelda Elizabeth Cole on the James farm in Kearney, Missouri.
On July 19, Robert James is born on the James farm.
In August, Robert James dies.
On September 5, Jesse James is born on the James farm.
On November 25, Susan Lavenia James is born on the James farm.
On August 18, Reverend Robert James dies of cholera at a gold mining camp in Placerville, CA while serving as a chaplain on a wagon train heading to California during the Gold Rush.
On September 30, Zerelda marries local farmer Benjamin Simms.
On January 2, Benjamin Simms is killed in a horse accident.
On September 25, Zerelda marries Dr. Archie Reuben Samuel.
On December 26, Sarah Louisa Samuel is born to Zerelda and Rueben Samuel.
On May 4, Frank James joins the Confederate Army.
On December 25, John Thomas Samuel is born to Zerelda and Rueben Samuel.
In the fall, Frank James joins Quantrill’s Raiders.
In May, Federal militia invade Zerelda Samuel’s farm looking for the location of Quantrill’s camp. Fifteen-year-old Jesse is whipped when he refuses to answer questions and Rueben is repeatedly hanged from a tree in the yard but survives.
On August 21, Quantrill’s Raiders raid Lawrence, Kansas, robbing two banks, looting various buildings and killing more than 180 men, women and children.
On October 18, Fannie Quantrill Samuel is born to Zerelda and Rueben Samuel.
In the summer, sixteen-year-old Jesse James and his brother Frank join “Bloody” Bill Anderson’s guerrilla forces. During a raid that summer, Jesse is shot in the chest but recovers.
At 9am on September 27, Anderson’s group raid Centralia, Missouri, an incident now known as the The Centralia Massacre, during which they killed 24 Union soldiers.
At 3pm on September 27, Anderson and his guerrillas take part in the Battle of Centralia against 146 soldiers of the 39th Missouri Infantry. The guerrillas win the battle, killing 123 of the Union soldiers.
In October, Anderson and his guerrillas are ambushed by Union soldiers at Independence, Missouri. Anderson and several of his men are killed. Jesse James and a few others escape.
In May, Jesse James rides into Lexington, Missouri, waving a white flag in an attempt to surrender to occupying Union troops. He is shot in the chest, which punctures his lung, and he flees.
In February, Frank and Jesse James meet with Cole Younger and make plans to rob a bank.
On February 13, Frank James, Cole and Jim Younger and nine members of the James-Younger gang rob the Clay County Savings Bank in Liberty, Missouri.
On July 26, Archie Peyton Samuel is born to Zerelda and Rueben Samuel.
On October 30, five members of the James-Younger gang rob the Alexander Mitchell and Co. Bank in Lexington, Missouri.
In April, Jesse James and Jim Anderson kill Ike Flannery, nephew of fellow gang member George Shepherd, near Glasgow, Missouri and rob his body.
On March 2, The James-Younger gang rob the Judge John McClain Banking House in Savannah, Missouri.
On May 22, the James-Younger gang rob the Hughes and Wasson Bank in Richmond, Missouri.
On March 20, the James-Younger gang rob the Nimrod Long Banking Co. of Russellville, Kentucky.
On December 7, the James-Younger gang rob the Davies County Savings Bank of Gallatin, Missouri, during which a cashier named John W. Sheets is killed and a clerk named William McDowell is wounded.
Jesse James’ name appears in the newspaper for the first time when news reports naming him a suspect in the robbery are published.
On June 3, the James-Younger gang rob the Ocobock Brothers’ Bank in Corydon, Iowa.
On July 21, the James-Younger gang derail and rob their first train, the Rock Island train in Adair, Iowa. The conductor is killed in the derailment.
On November 22, John Edwards publishes an article in the St. Louis Dispatch, titled A Terrible Quintette, that is based on interviews with Jesse James, Frank James, Cole Younger, John Younger, Arthur McCoy. The article describes the five men as “creatures of the war—three of whom lived upon the border and were tried in the savage crucible of border warfare.”
On January 15, the James-Younger gang rob their first stagecoach near Hot Springs, Arkansas.
On January 31, the James-Younger gang rob the St. Louis Iron Mountain & Southern Railroad train in Gads Hill, Missouri.
On March 10, a Pinkerton agent named Joseph Whicher is dispatched to infiltrate Zerelda Samuel’s farm looking for information on Frank and Jesse James’ whereabouts.
On March 11, the body of Joseph Whicher is discovered on a nearby road, shot at least three times.
On April 23, Jesse James marries his first cousin Zerelda Amanda Mimms in Kansas City, Missouri. They travel to Galveston, Texas for their honeymoon for five months before returning to Kansas City.
In April, a stagecoach robbery in Austin, Texas is credited to the James-Younger gang.
In June, Frank James marries Annie Ralston in Omaha, Nebraska.
On August 30, the Waverly-Lexington Omnibus Stagecoach robbery is credited to the James-Younger gang.
On December 7, the Tishomingo Savings Bank robbery in Corinth, Mississippi is credited to the James-Younger gang.
On December 8, the James-Younger gang rob the Kansas Pacific Railroad in Muncie, Kansas.
Sometime in 1875, Frank and Jesse James move to Tennessee with their wife and children and adopt the aliases, B.J. Woodson and J.D. Howard.
On January 26, six Pinkerton agents surround Zerelda Samuel’s farm, believing the James brothers were hiding out there. The agents toss a smoke bomb into the house to force them out but the family roll it into the fireplace, not realizing it was a bomb, causing it to explode. The blast kills Zerelda’s young son Archie and blows off the lower part of Zerelda’s arm.
On August 31, Jesse Edwards James is born to Zee and Jesse James in Tennessee.
On September 5, the James-Younger gang rob the Huntington Bank in Huntington, West Virginia.
On July 7, the James-Younger gang rob the Missouri-Pacific Railroad train in Rockey Cut, Missouri.
On September 7, the James-Younger gang fail in their attempt to rob the First National Bank of Northfield, Minnesota. Jesse James shoots the clerk when he refuses to open the vault, which alerts the townspeople who open fire on the gang. Charley Pitts and Bill Chadwell are killed and Cole, Jim and Bob Younger are wounded and captured two weeks later. Frank and Jesse James escape unharmed and return to Missouri. The James-Younger disbands.
On February 6, Robert Franklin James is born to Frank and Annie James in Tennessee.
On February 28, 1878, Zee James gives births to twins, whom she names Gould and Montgomery after the doctors who attended her, but the twins are either stillborn or die the same day.
Frank and Jesse form a new gang called the James gang.
On June 17, Mary Susan James is born to Jesse and Zee James in Tennessee.
On October 8, the James gang rob the Chicago, Alton & St. Louis train in Glendale, Missouri.
On November 2, former James-Younger gang member George Shepherd shoots Jesse James in the head at Short Creek, Missouri, in retaliation for the murder of his nephew, Ike Flannery. The bullet only grazes James’ head and he survives.
On September 3, Jesse James and Bill Ryan rob a stagecoach in Mammoth Cave, Kentucky.
On October 5, Jesse James and Bill Ryan rob the store of John Dovey in Mercer, Kentucky.
Charles and Robert Ford meet Jesse James for the first time while he is recruiting new members for his gang. The Ford brothers decide to join the gang.
On March 11, Frank and Jesse James, Wood and Clarence Hite and Dick Liddel rob a bank paymaster as he leaves a bank in Muscle Shoals, Alabama.
In March, Bill Ryan gets drunk and is arrested in a small town in Tennessee. He is soon identified and sent back to Missouri. His arrest prompts Jesse and Frank to move back to Missouri.
On July 15, the James gang rob the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad train near Winston, Missouri. The train conductor William Westfall and a passenger John McMillen were killed during the robbery.
On September 7, the James gang rob the Chicago and Alton train at Blue Cut, Missouri.
In December, two of the gang members, Wood Hite, a cousin of Jesse James, and Dick Liddil, are hiding out at the house of Robert Ford’s sister but get into an argument and fire shots at each other. Robert Ford steps in and shoots and kills Hite. Fearing retribution from James, Ford buries Hite in a shallow grave in the woods.
On January 12, Sheriff James Timberlake detains Ford and questions him about Hite’s death. After learning that Ford is a member of the James gang, Governor Crittenden offers Ford a pardon for Hite’s murder and a $10,000 reward for the capture of either Jesse James or his brother Frank, dead or alive.
On January 24, Liddil surrenders to Timberlake and confesses to his role in Hite’s murder.
On the morning of April 3, Bob Ford and his brother Charles enter Jesse James’ home where James is reading a newspaper article about Liddil’s arrest for Hite’s murder. Jesse takes off his holster and turns to straighten a crooked photo on the wall when Bob, nervous that James suddenly suspects he is involved in Hite’s murder, shoots him in the back of the head, killing him instantly.
From 4pm to 6pm on April 3, a coroner’s inquest is held at the St. Joseph Courthouse during which Zee James, the Ford brothers, Coroner Heddens and others testify about the events of the day.
At 10pm on April 3, an autopsy is performed on the body of Jesse James.
On April 4, the Coroner’s jury review all of the statements from the doctors who performed the autopsy and from those who identified the body and give their verdict that the body is that of Jesse W. James and that he died from a bullet wound in the back of the head.
On April 5, Zee James, Zerelda James, Zee’s children and other family members accompany James’ body back to Kearney on a special train provided by the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad.
On April 6, Jesse James’ body is on public display at Sidenfaden’s Funeral Parlor in Kearney, with two deputies guarding the corpse.
On April 7, the funeral of Jesse James is held at the First Baptist Church in Kearney, Missouri and his body is buried on Zerelda Samuel’s farm near the farmhouse to prevent grave robbers from digging him up.
On April 17, Bob and Charles Ford plead guilty to the murder of Jesse James and are sentenced to hang but are pardoned by Crittendon that afternoon.
On September 30, Frank James sends a letter to Missouri Governor Thomas Crittendon detailing the difficulties of life on the run and asks for amnesty if he surrenders himself.
On October 5, Frank James surrenders to Governor Crittendon for crimes he committed with the James gang.
On August 20, Frank James’s trial begins for the robbery of the Rock Island train at Winston, MO and the murders of conductor William Westfall and stonemason Frank McMillan. Dick Liddell, who is granted immunity in the case in exchange for his testimony, serves as the key witness in the trial.
On September 6, Frank James is acquitted on all charges.
In April, Frank James is tried and acquitted in Alabama for the robbery and murder of a Federal paymaster at Muscle Shoals, Alabama.
On May 6, Charles Ford, who is on the run from Frank James, kills himself in Richmond, Missouri.
Frank James begins selling shoes in Nevada, Missouri.
Frank James works for Mittenthal Clothing Company in Dallas, Texas.
On June 8, Bob Ford is shot and killed by a gangster in a saloon in Creede, Colorado.
Frank James tends horses for Shep Williams in Texas, Louisiana, and New Jersey.
On November 13, Jesse James’ wife, Zee, dies in Kansas City, Missouri.
Frank James works as doorman at burlesque house in St. Louis.
Frank James performs in plays The Fatal Scar and Across the Desert.
On June 29, the body of Jesse James is moved from Zerelda Samuel’s farm to the family plot in Mount Olivet Cemetery. The original coffin had deteriorated so badly it fell apart when it was lifted and the body had to reburied in a new plain black coffin. A funeral is held for James’ reburial.
Frank James and Cole Younger travel with the James-Younger Wild West Show.
On February 10, Jesse’s mother, Zerelda, dies of a heart attack at 86 years old. She is buried at the Mt. Olivet Cemetery next to her sons Jesse and Archie, husband Reuben, and daughter-in-law Zee.
On February 18, Frank James dies at the age of 72.
The house where Jesse James was killed is moved to Belt Highway in St. Joseph, Missouri and opens to the public as a tourist attraction.
Robert Keatley purchases the house where Jesse James was killed and donates it to the Pony Express Historical Association. The house is moved to the grounds of the Patee House Museum on Penn Street in St. Joseph, Missouri and opens as a historic house museum.
In March, Clay County purchases Zerelda Samuel’s farm, originally known as the James farm, where Jesse James was born and originally buried in Kearney, Missouri from Jesse’s grandsons.
On October 14, Jesse James’ original burial site on the James farm is excavated for possible remains of Jesse James left behind when the body was moved in 1902. Four teeth and two hairs are recovered from the grave.
On July 17, due to repeated claims that Jesse James faked his death, James’ body is exhumed from his grave at Mount Olivet Cemetery for DNA testing but it is so badly decomposed that the tests are inconclusive. However, the teeth and hair retrieved in 1978 from James’ original grave on the James farm are positively identified as those of Jesse James.
On October 28, Jesse James’ funeral and reburial is held at Mount Olivet Cemetery.
If you want to read more about Jesse James, check out this article on the best books about Jesse James.
Steele, Philip W. The Many Faces of Jesse James. Pelican Publishing Company, 1998.
Settle, William. Jesse James Was His Name. University of Missouri Press, 1966.
“Mitochondrial DNA Analysis of the Presumptive Remains of Jesse James.” Journal of Forensic Sciences, 46(1):173-6, February 2001, researchgate.net/publication/12120263_Mitochondrial_DNA_Analysis_of_the_Presumptive_Remains_of_Jesse_James
Edwards, John N. “A Terrible Quintette.” St. Louis Dispatch, 22 Nov. 1873.
“Research.” Jesse James Birthplace, jessejamesmuseum.org/research
“Jesse James Home.” St. Joseph, MO – Official Website, stjoemo.info/362/Jesse-James-Home
“Jesse James Reburied.” The Houston Post, 2 July. 1902, newspapers.com/clip/3383422/jesse-james-reburied-july-1902/
“Great Detail on the Jesse James Funeral & Family Particulars.” Timothy Hughes Rare and Early Newspapers, rarenewspapers.com/view/631660
“Daviess County Jury Sides with Frank James.” Daviess County Historical Society, 7 April. 2004, daviesscountyhistoricalsociety.com/2004/04/07/daviess-county-jury-sides-with-frank-james/
“Frank James Trial 15 August 1883.” Newspapers.com, newspapers.com/clip/21244333/frank-james-trial-25-aug1883/