December 2, 2022
Here's one you can file under. . .
Nothing Changes More Than The Past
A little over a week ago, I revisited a very familiar historical event: the killing of Jesse James by Robert Ford.
In my YouTube talk I recounted the long-accepted tale that on the day of his assassination, Jesse James was at the breakfast table in his rented house in Saint Joseph, Missouri, reading the newspaper when he spied a headline and said, “Hello, here. The surrender of Dick Liddil.” Jesse, looked up and said to his houseguest, Robert Ford, “Young man, I thought you told me you didn’t know that Dick Liddil had surrendered,” adding, “It’s very strange. He surrendered three weeks ago and you was right there in the neighbor-hood. It looks fishy.... By the way, where is Dick Liddil?”
“I don’t know,” Robert Ford replies.
At this moment, Bob and his brother Charlie know they are dead meat—Jesse is going to kill them. Bob speculates: “I think Jesse would have killed me, then and there, but he did not want to in front of his family.” After Jesse’s wife Zee serves breakfast, Charley and Jesse go to the stable to feed and curry the horses. Bob plays with the kids in the kitchen. Returning from the stable, Jesse walks through the kitchen to the front room, saying, “It’s awfully hot today,” as he takes off his coat and vest, tossing them on the cot in the sparsely decorated room. He opens the front door, then starts to mount a chair so he can dust the pictures. Jesse, afraid the neighbors would see him armed, unstraps his holster in which he carries two .45-caliber revolvers (one a Colt; the other a Smith & Wesson) and puts it on the bed. He returns to mount the chair and raises both hands above his head to take hold of a framed picture of a racehorse named Skyrocket. Bob slips into the front room, carrying the revolver Jesse gave him. He extends his arm and thumbs the hammer. Jesse hears the triple click and starts to turn, but it is too late. The bullet catches him behind the left ear, ranging upwards and lodging in the skull over the left eye.
When the coroner asks Zee her name, she replies, “Howard.” (their alias)
Then, “Who killed him?”
“Two boys named Johnson.” (their alias)
“Where are they?”
“They jumped over the fence and
This has been the accepted historical version of the story for a long time and in my YouTube talk I went on to praise the 2007 movie with Brad Pitt starring as Jesse James and how they duplicated this scene perfectly.
Imagine my surprise when I received the following email:
"I too am a huge admirer of the Brad Pitt movie and it was while watching the tense scene where he reads about the surrender of Dick Liddil on the morning of April 3, 1882 that I realized I had never seen that newspaper. I set about finding it, but found something else instead.
"After Liddil gave himself up, he was far from secretive. He travelled to Liberty, Missouri, 'where, under the name of Joe Anderson, he personated a friend of Sheriff Timberlake, stopping at his hotel until recently, and walked about so freely that his intentions did not remain secret for long.' [The Kansas City Daily Times, April 6, 1882] He was soon seen “on the streets of Kansas City hundreds of times,” and had been spotted “in Independence, and all over this and Clay counties.” [Kansas City Daily Journal, April 1 1882.] On one occasion a relative saw him “coming out of the police station in [Kansas] city” right behind Captain Craig, and another man told a reporter how “Liddil had said to him that he had turned state’s evidence.” [Kansas City Journal, March 30 1882; St Joseph Daily Herald, March 31 1882]
"News of Liddil’s surrender officially leaked on March 27, 1882, eight days before Jesse was killed. Three days later, the Kansas City Journal featured the headline, DICK LIDDLE [sic] OF THE NOTED JAMES GANG – Reported To Have Been Captured And To Have Been Given His Liberty On Turning State’s Evidence, and the St. Louis Globe Democrat reported, JAMES GANG - Dick Little [sic] Surrenders to the Authorities. On March 31, the news appeared in the St Joseph Herald, while the Kansas City Daily Times continued its coverage with, DICK LITTLE [sic] – Surrender of the Notorious Outlaw. When asked, “How did the news that Liddil had surrendered become known at Independence?’ a local officer replied, ‘It came from his own friends.’” [St. Louis Globe Democrat, March 30 1882]
"The fact that Dick Liddil was 'the principal topic of conversation' urged them to question officers on what they thought Jesse’s reaction might be to such sensational news. [Kansas City Evening Star, March 30, 1882] The answer surprised them – “Jesse James and his pals have known for weeks that Little [sic] was in Kansas City in communication with officers.” [St. Louis Globe Democrat March 30, 1882] Aware that Liddil frequented his uncle’s house in Adairsville, Kentucky, Jesse had contacted his cousin, Clarence Hite, with a clear warning. 'He said...that I had better leave home,' Clarence later recalled, 'Dick was in with the detectives and they would soon take me away.' [T.J. Stiles p374] But Clarence was sick with tuberculosis, was unable to travel, and was subsequently arrested at his home on February 13, 1882, the same day Bob Ford surrendered to Captain Craig.
"News of Clarence Hite’s arrest brought with it details of his brother, Wood Hite’s demise. Even the Liberty Tribune, a weekly, managed to remind its readers on March 10 that Wood had been 'killed in this state some weeks since,' and as the Ford’s testified that Jesse regularly read the newspapers, it is impossible he missed the information. [Sedalia Daily Democrat May 20, 1882] By April 1, 1882, details of Liddil’s confession and the deal he had made had been leaked to the press and the murder of Wood Hite was well known. The location had been fixed as a farm just outside Richmond and Liddil was known to have 'killed Wood Hite with whom he had trouble in Kentucky.' [Kansas City Evening Star, March 30, 1882]
"The ‘irony of ironies’ is that, contrary to the apparent need for the Fords to kill Jesse as soon as he discovered the fact that Liddil had surrendered to prevent him from killing them, Jesse invited the Fords into his home already fully aware of that fact. There was no mention of Liddil's surrender in the April 3 papers, it was old news. Ironically, there was a piece on page 8 of the Kansas City newspaper which contained an interview with George Shepherd saying how well informed Jesse always was!
"Hollywood has to entertain and that final scene in the Brad Pitt movie is one of the most emotionally charged scenes I have ever witnessed. But its not true!"
–Michelle Pollard, Hailsham, Sussex, England
Could this be true? It certainly has the ring of truth. When I asked around if Ms. Pollard is legit, I was assured she is one "legit Brit" researcher. So this is nothing short of flabbergasting to me. So, I wanted to know, who started the story about Jesse reading the newspaper on the morning of his assassination? Here's Michelle, once again:
"As far as I can tell it was Finnis Farr, Crittenden's former secretary, who was the first to tell the story in an 1895 interview that Jesse was reading about Liddil's surrender on the morning of Jesse's death and this forced Bob Ford to kill him. It also apparently resulted in Jesse rendering himself entirely vulnerable in front of two men he knew were completely untrustworthy but Legends seldom rely on common sense!"
And, who is this wonderful researcher who put all of this together?
So tell us a bit about yourself
"I live in Hailsham, Sussex and I guess I was bound to 'meet' Jesse eventually as I loved watching programmes about Robin Hood and Dick Turpin when I was a kid. My mum loves Clint Eastwood, so the westerns came next. When I left school, I missed the learning. This was about the time Young Guns II was released. So I read about Billy the Kid for a couple of years before wanting to move on. This was before the Internet made everything accessible but books about Billy were easy to get here, as were books about Jesse James, so he was next. I figured I'd read about him for a few years then move on again but I found him so interesting I stuck around a little longer.
"In 2002, I had the opportunity to visit Missouri and did so thinking that would be the final part of the journey but my interest just intensified, and here I am! Been back eight times! Never get tired of learning more about him and the events going on around him. Never tire of making new friends or going on road trips with firm friends and sharing what we find. Love it!
"I guess I started looking into it about a decade ago; first thinking it would be real easy to find the last thing Jesse read and then realising there was more to the story, as is so often the case. I live in the UK so I began by asking fellow English Westerner, Robert J. Wybrow, if he had seen the newspaper. He said he had not. I then posed the same question to my essential US friends, all amazing researchers: Linda Gay Mathis, Liz Murphy, Chuck Rabas and the late Paul Saeli. None had seen, or could find, the relevant newspaper article and all set about finding why. I remember spending hours in the record offices of St Joe and Kansas City during a visit to Missouri, finding articles about Liddil's surrender but all a week before I'd thought they'd be! The others found the same. I wrote an article about it in 2010 for the Friends of The James Farm."
And what do Jesse James historians think of this new find? Is it, in fact as huge as I suspect it is?
“A lot of people still admire Jesse James, and I wanted to impress on them he really was a psychopath. I wanted to do a kind of character-in-the-round the way Shakespeare does, where you see both his good and bad sides and get to appreciate what draws people to him. He was a star in a lot of ways, and he used it. If he entered a room all eyes would be on him.”
—Ron Hansen, the author of the book the movie is based on
All of this will be covered in a major cover story in an upcoming issue of True West magazine