Jesse James, the Outlaw
In the Robber's Nest
Bang! Ping; A bullet whistled by my left ear.
Bang! Ping! Thud! Another whistled by my right ear, clipping a lock of hair,
and burying itself in the stalk of the heavy blacksnake whip that I was
flourishing aloft at the time.
"Curse you! Won't you stop now?" shouted a voice behind me, to
which I had thus far given no heed.
"War, yes, stranger," I drawled, reining up, and wheeling my horse
imperturbably, "I reckon I will this time, since you insist on it so
Three horsemen approached me. They were rather suspicious than angry, and
they had just ridden out of the gate of a lonely farmhouse that I had jogged
leisurely but observantly by a few minutes before.
I knew them instantly, though, very fortunately, they didn't know me in the
disguise, half clerical and half agricultural, that I then wore. They were three
daring Chicago detectives in the disguise of horse-traders -- Hawes, Jewell,
and Whittaker by name. They were on the lookout for Jesse and Frank James, the
noted trainrobbers and bandits, and had just visited old Mrs. James' farmhouse,
in the hope of finding the dreaded outlaws there, and worming themselves into
their confidence, with a view to their ultimate capture. Ten thousand dollars
reward was the stake. I, William Lawson was on precisely the same "lay."
I was, however, wholly on my own hook, didn't admire their mode of procedure,
and proposed to go about the dangerous job in my own way.
There you have the whole situation in a nutshell.
"Who and what are you, old man?" inquired Hawes, eyeing my curious
rig in a half-amused way, as did his companions; "and why didn't you rein
up when we first called out to you?"
"Last question first. I didn't rein up because I'm neither a darky nor
a Chinaman, to be ordered about by you or any one else," I replied, with
rustic indignation. "And first question last. I am a medical man, of
Booneville, on my travels. Now, sir, who in thunder are you? I mean to have the
law on you, if there's any in Missouri."
The three detectives burst into a loud laugh.
"Do you know who lives in that house that we've just quitted?"
said Hawes, without replying to my question.
"No, I don't; and, moreover, I don't care," said I, still in a
Not the less, however, as I spoke, did I furtively look back at the
farmhouse, and notice that the Widow James was peering out of the porch. It
pleased me mightily, however, to know that she remarked the altercation we were
having in the road.
"Don't be mad," said Hawes, laughing. "Are you riding toward
Independence? If you are, we may all take dinner together at the hotel."
I pretended to be reluctantly mollified, and we all four turned our backs on
the farmhouse, and walked our horses together down the wild, rocky road. The
three detectives talked together, chiefly about horses and horse-trading, as we
proceeded. Their object, I saw, was to keep themselves in practice as to the
assumption of their fictitious characters by blinding even such-a harmless old
lunkhead as I appeared to be.
In fact, their braggadocio in firing their bullets after me as they had done
had been in keeping with the same plan. They were anxious to appear in the light
of murderers, dare-devil Missourians, at any cost. Nevertheless, I knew them to
be really daring men at heart, each one of them an excellent shot, and all
conscious of the fact that they were carrying their lives in their hands in the
desperate enterprise upon which they had entered.
"I'm sorry we've been unable to see Jess James as yet," said
Jewell. "I know he could put us on the track of some good bargains in
"Maybe our pardner, Langman, was in better luck with looking up the
James boys," said Whittaker.
"The widow was mighty close-lipped about the boys," said Hawes,
whipping up his nag. "I s'pose she's got to be, in view of --"
He suddenly paused, reining up, and half-wheeling his horse.
"Holy smoke!" he exclaimed, altogether thrown off his guard. "Here
are Jess and Frank James now, right upon us."
He spoke truly. Two horsemen, followed at a short distance by a third, had
followed us noiselessly on the soft, turfy ground at the side of the rocky road,
and were now within a few paces of us.
Hawes' astonished exclamation was a dead "give-away" as to the
real character of himself and associates, for they had just pretended at the
widow's an entire ignorance as to the James boys' personal appearance.
"Throw up your hands, curse you!" thundered Jesse James, with a
terrible oath, covering us with his revolver, as we all came to a startled halt.
His companions did the same, while motioning me to one side, as a person too
insignificant to be mixed up in the quarrel.
"Throw up your hands," echoed Frank James, in an equally
Paralyzed with sudden panic, Jewell and Whittaker obeyed at once.
Hawes, however, saw that the game was up, surrender or no surrender. He
resolved to die hard, if die he must.
"Not if I know it!" he growled, whipping out his revolver and
firing with the rapidity of thought.
His bullet passed through the neck of the James' confederate -- a
train-robber, named Curly Pitts -- who thereupon tumbled from the saddle, after
firing his own pistol in the air.
At the same instant Hawes fell dead, with Jesse James' bullet in his heart.
Then the defenseless Whittaker went down, shot through and through by
simultaneous shots from the robber brothers.
Jewell, at this, suddenly wheeled his horse, and took to flight at a
tremendous pace. Then I took up my cue, horrified as I was, and began emptying
my revolver at his
retreating form, while Frank James spurred after him in hot pursuit.
"Who are you?" said Jesse James, eyeing me with a sphinxlike look,
that would be either murderous or agreeable, as the case might be.
"I am a doctor of Booneville," said I, "and, if you are the
redoubtable Jesse James, I bring you a message from a dying woman -- Blanche
He started, seeming to change countenance even under the iron mask of his
"Dying -- Blanche Rideau!" he muttered. "However, there's no
time for softness now. If you're a doctor, see what you can do for my friend
Curly yonder. In the meantime, I must examine the effects of these fellows. I
suspected them as detectives all the while they were 'talking horse' to my
mother, and the single exclamation of one of 'em a moment ago was enough."
I at once dismounted, and began to examine the hurts of the fallen robber.
Jesse James, at the same time, turned over the dead bodies of Hawes and
Whittaker, his magnificent sorrel horse meantime following him about with the
intelligence of a spaniel.
While we were thus engaged, Frank James came galloping back, cursing
bitterly because of Jewell's escape.
"Never mind, Frank," said Jesse. "You should have let me go
after the cuss on Dancer there, then we'd have bagged the whole gang. Look! A
pretty brace of horse-dealers these!"
He held up some documents that he had just rifled from the dead bodies.
"Correspondence with our worst enemies at Kansas City, by Jupiter!"
exclaimed Frank, after snatching and scanning one of the papers. "Thank
fortune, we've wiped out the whole five of 'em, with the exception of the one
hound that escaped!"
"You bet! or will have done so before another hour's passed,"
said Jesse, exchanging a meaning glance with him. "How's Curly?" he
added, turning to me. "Hello! on his feet again?"
"Why, old chap, you're a trump!" said Frank, meaning to compliment
me. "I thought Curly Pitts was done for, sure!"
In the meantime I had succeeded in resuscitating Curly Pitts. He was white
and scarcely able to speak, but was even remounting his horse with my
"No," said I; "the bullet only passed through the muscles and
flesh at the back of the neck. I've stanched the flow of blood, but, if the
wound can be properly attended to without delay, he will be all right."
"Mother will attend to that," said Jesse James, springing into the
saddle. "Come, boys, we can risk an hour's rest at the house before
cutting and running on account of this affair. Mister, you'll go with us."
"There's nothing I would like better, Mr. James!" said I, gravely;
and I also resumed the saddle.
The way in which I said "Mr. James" caused both brothers to laugh
So we moved away up the road, leaving the dead men lying where they had
fallen, but leading away their horses with us.
Upon reaching the porch of the lonely farmhouse, two silent-looking negro
boys came from the direction of the barn. They took our horses as we dismounted.
Then the Widow James, a tall, masculine-looking old
woman, with her face expressive of much fearless strength of character, made
her appearance. Jesse nodded significantly to her, while motioning me to follow
him. As I did so, Frank James supported the wounded Pitts into the house.
Jesse James led me to a little rocky nook behind the barn. The wild forest
was on one hand, the barn on the other. Deserted as seemed the spot, I soon
became aware that armed men were on the constant lookout at different parts of
"Now, stranger, for your story," said Jesse James, seating himself
on a fragment of rock. "I needn't warn you that it'll be better for you to
be truthful to the letter."
"I know that," said I, seating myself, and secretly studying him
with devouring curiosity. "A tremor of untruthfulness would mean a bullet
in my heart, so you can rely upon exactitude."
He was a man of magnificent proportions, with close clipped, reddish beard,
handsome, stern features, and a steely blue eye, whose penetrating glance might
have pierced a three-inch plank.
"I am a medical practitioner of Booneville, whither I came from St.
Louis less than six months ago," said I.
"Only six months ago?"
"Yes. Let me go on. Notwithstanding my brief practice there, I have
already secured the confidence of some of the best families. Among others that
of Judge Rideau. His beautiful daughter, Miss Blanche, was a patient of mine. I
was also honored with her confidence. Just before she died -- "
"Died?" almost shouted the outlaw, springing to his feet, with a
terrible alteration of countenance. "You didn't say before that she was
dead. You only said she was dying. Oh, great God! Look you, stranger," he
added, in a sudden fury. "See to it that you substantiate what you say, or
He half-drew one of his revolvers.
"Just before Blanche Rideau died," said I, imperturbably, "she
told me the story of her miserable love. She also made me swear that I would
seek you out, Jesse James, even at the cost of my life, and that I would give
I handed him, as I spoke, a small packet, tied with blue ribbon.
He snatched it from me with a sort of groan. Tearing open its contents --
apparently some time-yellowed letters and other little things -- he turned his
back upon me. I heard him breathing hard, and then a half-stifled sound as
though he were kissing the packet.
I at that moment had him at such a disadvantage as probably no man ever
before had had the dreaded Jesse James. I could easily have shot him dead then
and there, and thus have rid the world of perhaps the most successful, murderous
and desperate bandit who has ever luridly illuminated the pages of American
criminality. But I have never been an assassin, even in dealing with assassins.
Moreover, my object was to devise means for the capture of him and his brother
alive, and on this I was staking my all.
When he again turned to me, he had thrust the packet of tokens in his bosom,
and thoroughly recovered his selfcontrol.
"Stranger, put it there!" said he, extending his hand with real
I instantly placed my hand in his broad, open palm -- though not without an
inward shudder -- and he griped it hard.
"Listen to a few words, doctor," said he. "Though married now
to a woman whom I have learned to adore, there's no disloyalty to her in my
speaking them. Six years ago Blanche Rideau and I were engaged. We loved each
other madly. Had the course of that love been uninterrupted, the world would
today behold me a reformed man -- perhaps, also, a useful citizen, instead of
the red scourge that I am, tracked everywhere by the bloody footprints of my
career. It was interrupted. I am -- what the world has made me."
"It was not Judge Rideau's fault, surely," said I.
"No; it was the fault of his brother, Blanche's uncle -- Henry Rideau
-- a million curses on his head!" growled the outlaw between his clenched
teeth. "He was the marplot! 'Twas he that ruined all by reporting my
accursed antecedents to Blanche and her old father. He's a rich bank president
somewhere up in Minnesota now, but I'll get even with him yet -- curse, curse,
For a moment his passion was ungovernable. When it had passed, he said,
suddenly, in a changed voice:
"Did -- did any message accompany the packet, doctor?"
"Yes; she bade me to seek for your reformation -- for your return to
the paths of virtue -- if this is not beyond the bounds of possibility."
The outlaw burst into a frightful laugh.
"Look at me, doctor!" he exclaimed, towering to his full stature,
with either hand resting on the butt of a revolver. "Here I stand, Jesse
James, the outlaw! All the world's hand is against me, my hand is against all
the world in retaliation. Let them send their detectives after me in droves, if
they choose. Ay, let them send constables' posses, and even Government troops,
if they will. But let them get the drop on me -- let them come and take me if
His words were no more desperate and ferocious than his manner, as he spoke.
Being a disguised detective myself, I could not refrain from an inward shudder,
but I preserved my outward calm.
"With half the country people for your well-wishes, Jess," said I,
"you doubtless stand a pretty even chance."
He gave a short laugh.
"Come with me, doe," said he. "In fact, you can't do
otherwise now. It's one of our rules never to allow a newcomer to go out of our
company, after having once admitted him, until dead sure of his good faith. You
shall accompany our band while we remain in this part of the country. You can
then judged whether or not there's any likelihood of your reclaiming me even in
accordance with the dying prayer of poor Blanche Rideau."
I followed him to the house. When we entered its great, rude, old-fashioned
kitchen and dining-room combined, we found a plentiful repast awaiting us, with
the Widow James and her two negro servants in attendance. We sat down to it with
Frank James, Curly Pitts, and two other men whom Jesse James roughly introduced
to me as Charley Miller and Hank Burke.
After dinner, Jesse hurriedly showed me over the house, which I found to be
constructed both above and below, very much after the manner of a rude fort.
"We don't often venture to stop here, but, when we do,
it's well enough to be prepared," said he, as we returned to the main
room. "Come, boys, up and away's the word! There are two dead men out
yonder on the road that may yet cause us trouble if we linger."
In a few minutes we were all six in the saddle, and on the move, both Frank
and Jesse kissing their mother goodby before mounting.
We did not at once take to the road again, but, gaining a broad forest
bridle-path from the rear of the farmhouse, were soon galloping freely through
the woods. It was the autumn of the year and magnificent weather.
In about an hour we neared a high road, and here, at a signal from Jesse, we
halted in a beautiful little glade, through which a stream of bright water was
meandering. Not a word was spoken while we waited. It was easy to see that Jesse
James was the natural leader of the wild crew, to whom the most implicit
obedience was paid.
Presently a whistle sounded from somewhere away far off in the forest on the
opposite side of the road. Jesse James responded to it. Then there came three
notes in swift, sharp succession.
"Good!" said Jesse, with a grim look. "They've got their man.
I reckon those Chicago detectives, at all events, will give the James boys a
wide berth in the future.
Then we saw two young fellows riding across the road toward us. They were
rough, farmer-looking lads, but well armed and mounted, and with a certain
recklessness of aspect whose significance there was no mistaking. They led a
horse, upon whose back was a man with a gag in his mouth, his arms pinioned
behind him, and his ankles made fast under the animal's belly.
To my secret horror and commiseration, I recognized in this man, Langman,
the fifth Chicago detective, whose cooperation poor Hawes and Whittaker had
alluded to but a few minutes preceding their own assassination. Of course, I was
not recognized in my turn, and, of course, a sense of selfpreservation now held
me speechless and motionless.
"Did you track this one as I ordered, Cutts?" said Jesse, as the
new-comers came to a halt in our midst.
"Not all the way to Independence, but the Lamb here did," said
the young man addressed, with a gesture toward his companion.
The latter, as I afterward learned, rejoiced in the appellation of Larry the
"I tracked him to the telegraph office in the town, Jess," said
the latter. "He sent off two dispatches to Chicago, one to the name you
said to be on the lookout for. An hour later we knocked him from his horse, and
-- well, here he is, Jess!"
At a gesture from the outlaw leader, Cutts and the Lamb dismounted. They cut
the thongs at the prisoner's ankles, took him from his horse, and, in a few
minutes, had him bound upright with his back to a tree by the roadside.
In this position the wretch faced the whole party with eyes that were wide
and haggard, but in whose hopeless depths, I am happy to say, there seemed not
an atom of cowardly fear.
At another gesture from the leader, the horsemen then ranged themselves
abreast of the prospective victim, at a distance of about twenty paces.
At another gesture, each man drew his revolver, their trained horses in the
meantime standing motionless, with the rigidity of statues.
"Ungag him, Cutts," called out Jesse.
Then, turning to me, he added:
"You can draw back and shut your eyes, if you choose, doe. This ain't
no funeral of yours."
I had already drawn back from their deadly, murderous line, but I could not
close my eyes. I could not even turn my back on the awful tragedy that was about
to be perpetrated. It attracted me with a sort of horrible fascination.
"Got anything to say, Chicago?" called Jesse James, when Cutts
had removed the gag and stepped back.
"It would do me no good in the presence of such fiends as you are,"
said Langman, with the courage of despair. "My blood be on your heads!"
Jesse laughed his remorseless laugh.
"One!" said he, at the same time shooting the victim through the
"Two!" said Frank James, who was the next on his left hand, the
pistol accompaniment speaking with equal precision.
"Three!" called out the next in the line, putting in his shot.
So they kept on coolly counting and shooting, emptying revolver after
revolver, until, incredible as it may seem, one hundred shots had been emptied
into the defenseless body, and it hung a limp and bleeding mass, for the
observation of whatsoever horrified wayfarers might chance along the broad and
Then the band began hastily to reload their revolvers, with the exception of
Jesse James, who coolly began to scrawl something on a fragment of paper with a
lead pencil. This he presently handed to Cutts, with a significant gesture
toward the mutilated body on the tree.
"Yonder's a likely signpost, Cutts," said he. "Label it with
this, that all may know what it means."
The piece of paper, with which the young desperado then placarded the gory
bosom of the corpse, was rudely inscribed as follows:
LET DETECTIVES TAKE WARNING!
The James Brothers
This having been accomplished, the outlaw leader gave the signal' and we all
galloped up the road at the top of our speed.
The country grew wilder and wilder through which we passed.
Presently, upon coming to a fork in the road, there was a division made in
our number. Cutts and the Lamb rode off in one direction; Pitts, Miller, and
Burke in another; while I alone accompanied Jesse and Frank James up into the
depths of a gloomy forest by-road, that seemed to lead away into a veritable