Jesse James, the Outlaw
A Bold Raid -- Jesse
Three or four days after this, we detectives were gathered together in a
small saloon in the town of S-- , anxiously awaiting news from George Sheppard.
At about the same time of day -- say ten in the morning -- Jesse and Frank
James, Jim Cummings, Dick Little, Wood and Jeff Hite, and Ed Miller, all veteran
desperadoes, accompanied by George Sheppard, approached the neighboring town of
Empire City, by the wild, hilly country from the northeast. They were all more
or less disguised, though they wore no masks; Jesse James' boast to me of never
under any circumstances wearing a disguise having been a piece of empty
braggadocia entirely devoid of truth.
This party of scoundrels halted at an exceptionally lonely point on the
road, within less than a mile of the town. Then George Sheppard was sent forward
to reconnoitre. He was instructed to take his time, and return with a report as
to the number of armed men, if any, to be seen about the streets, and especialy
as to the character of the bank's interior, the number of officials, the number
of customers likely to be met with by a raiding party, and the like.
But Jesse James did not yet thoroughly trust Sheppard. Shortly after the
latter had set out upon his mission, Ed Miller was dispatched to track and watch
him. His orders were to leave his horse at the entrance of the town, and thence
to follow up Sheppard's movements secretly. In case of any symptoms of treachery
he was to hurry back with his report, so as to precede the return of Sheppard,
who, in that case, was to be put to death as soon as he should again show up.
Ed Miller was trusted implicitly. He was a veritable enthusiast in his
iniquitous career. The service assigned to him was faithfully performed in less
than an hour. He then returned to the rendezvous with convincing proof of
Sheppard's treachery. The latter had been closely shadowed from place to place
in the town. He had at last been seen to send a telegraphic dispatch to S-- ,
after which he had sauntered away and entered the bank building.
Miller, a few minutes later, had ascertained at the telegraph station that
Sheppard's dispatch had been ad
dressed to "G. H. Timberlake," at S-- . This was enough.
Miller had hurried back to his comrades with this momentous piece of news.
But before they could recover breath from the momentary excitement into which it
had thrown them, George Sheppard appeared on the road in his turn, riding
directly toward them.
"Shut up, all of you!" called out Jesse James, in a hoarse
whisper. "Try to look careless till we get him in our clutches. Don't let
him dream that we suspect him."
But Sheppard, though only one-eyed, was as wide-awake as Jesse himself. He
had already perceived that something was wrong, and had, consequently, come to a
halt within a couple of hundred yards of the band.
"Why don't you come on?" at last shouted Jesse, himself first
losing his self-control in his thirst for revenge. "What are you afraid of?"
Then Sheppard was morally certain that his doubledealing had been found out.
So, before wheeling his steed to become a fugitive, he leveled his revolver,
drew a steady bead, and fired.
He paused long enough to see Jesse James clap his hand to his neck and reel
in his saddle, and then dashed away at a break-neck gallop. Part of the band
pursued him for a considerable distance, but without success, and the ex-robber
succeeded in reaching the shelter of the town in safety, and in giving timely
warning to the bank officials.
It was in consequence of these happenings that we, at S- , received two
telegraphic not)fications from George Sheppard, about half an hour apart:
The first read as follows:
EMPIRE CITY, --- , 10:40 A. M.
"G. H. TIMBERLAKE: -- Gang are waiting my report on road about a mile
away. From what I shall report to them, they will doubtless make the descent
some time this morning. If you don't hear again from.me within an hour, come
right on, blocking up the road leading to the northeast.
The second dispatch, received just as we were getting out our horses, was as
EMPIRE CITY, --- , 11:20 A. M.
"G. H. TIMBERLAKE: -- Gang have shadowed and found me out. Have just
shot Jesse James off his horse, with a bullet in the neck. Sha'n't dare to leave
this place without your escort. Come right on. Suppose gang has scattered.
Timberlake had no sooner read the last dispatch to himself than he threw up
his hat and cheered. Then, after he had read it aloud to us, we also threw up
our hats and cheered. However, notwithstanding my first feeling of keen
disappointment, I at once began to have my doubts as to the certainty of
Sheppard having "done for" Jesse James.
"Hooray!" shouted Timberlake. "Whether we bag the rest of
'em or not, Jesse James, the head devil of the game, is no more. That ought to
satisfy us. Come on. We'll ride over to Empire City and see Sheppard safe out of
We rode out of S-- together. Timberlake's exuberance seemed to be shared by
all the rest, myself alone excepted. But why they should all so suddenly jump to
the conclusion that Jesse James was dead, when he might only have been wounded,
was more than I could understand. Perhaps it was explained by their all wanting
him dead so badly that the wish was father to the thought.
Soon after we had taken our leisurely way toward Empire City, we met a large
drove of lean, widehorned Texas steers that were being driven across the State.
Not long after they had passed we heard a great shouting and bursts of
coarse laughter up the road. Five or six rough-looking horsemen, wearing dusky
blouses and huge slouched hats, apparently Texan cowboys, and drunk at that,
were gathered about a madly-plunging steer, which had been made temporarily fast
with ropes, while they likewise seemed to be tying something on its back.
The meaning of the odd scene was soon explained to us.
We had just time to shrink back to either side of the road when the suddenly
liberated steer came charging down the road in the direction of S-- . The cowboys
were behind in full career, yelling, cursing, and screaming with brutal
laughter. Blood was in the steer's, eye, frenzy in his tossing horns; and,
firmly lashed to his back, kicking, writhing, and shrieking piteously, was a
poor devil of a Chinese basketpeddler, who had thus been pinioned to make a
"Cl'ar the track!" shouted one of the ruffians, as he dashed by us
with his comrades in pursuit. "How's this for a Chinese Mazeppa, hey?"
"An infernally cruel piece of sport!" exclaimed Timberlake,
following the steer and horseman with his eyes.
"A mild enough one, though, for Texas drovers to engage in," said
Craig, with a laugh. "Come, let's ride back and see the upshot of it.
There'll be a healthy excitement as they pass through the long main street of
As he suited the action to the word, and the distance was not great, we
We reached the crest of a rise in the road overlooking the town, and not far
from it, just as the steer dashed into the main street, with the ruffians in
"Hello! Cruel or not cruel, it's a jolly row they're kicking up,"
cried Craig, who had been a Texas boy himself in his day. "Lord, look at
the people scatter! There's an apple cart upset, and now the bull is charging
its tormentors in his turn. What life there is in the Chinaman! How he kicks
and squirms! Hallo! There's one of the cowboys unhorsed! No; he's up and away
again! There go the big horns through a showwindow. Now he's charging across the
street again. By Jupiter! By Jupiter! but he can't be going through there, and
with those screaming devils after him. But he is, though, and no mistake! Come
along, boys, we must see the end of this. Some of the bank officials may be
hurt. This is pushing a mad game too far."
We at once galloped after him down the hill. His last expression had been
called forth by the maddened steer disappearing into the wide doorway of the
National Bank of S-- , followed by his yelling pursuers, one after the other.
As we approached the bank building, a few minutes later, we heard a couple
of shots, and made sure that the steer had been shot down somewhere in among the
desks and money counters.
Then, with some difficulty, by reason of the excited crowd in the street, we
approached the doors. As we did so, we heard the shouting cowboys galloping away
by another street, or lane, having made their exit from the bank by a back
A scene of woeful havoc and confusion presented itself as we dismounted and
pushed our way into the bank.
The steer had fallen from exhaustion at the farther end of the broad passage
reaching around the desks and counters, with the Chinaman, now in a faint, still
fastened to his back, and was frothing at the mouth, while still swaying his
great breadth of horns to and fro defiantly. The glass doors were smashed front
and back, one of the counters overturned, and the blackwalnut panels of the
partition broken through in places.
But worse than this, the floor inside of the partitions about the open doors
of the money-vault, was strewn with a confused litter of torn documents,
tattered packages of bank bills, rifled tin boxes, and even scattered gold coin.
Worse still, amid this litter, supported by two bystanders, lay the
unconscious form of a whitehaired, venerable gentleman, with the blood rushing
from a ghastly pistol-shot wound in the breast. At the foot of a near desk, amid
the remains of a shivered high office stool, lay another unconscious figure --
that of a bookkeeper -- senseless from a terrible blow, doubtless with the butt
of a revolver, on the top of the head; while another and younger clerk was still
cowering underneath a desk a little farther off, though more frightened than
"Great Lord!" exclaimed Timberlake, in a bewildered, stupefied
tone, as we all took in this scene of destruction and horror at a glance. "Can
this have been the work of these cowboys?"
"Cowboys!" sneered one of the bystanders, with an oath. "A
sweet-scented lot of detectives you are, the hull lot of you! Couldn't you
tumble to the trick they were playing you and the rest of us, with the wild
steer and the Chinaman? Cowboys! Bah! They were the James boys and their
gang, in disguise -- that's what they were! And they're off now, with ten
thousand dollars out of that vault in their saddlebags, leavin' the old cashier
shot through the heart, and the bookkeeper with a fractured skull."
"Quick, boys! To horse, and after 'em!" yelled Timberlake,
making a break for the door.
Scarcely less mortified than he, we followed. A moment later we were in the
saddle, galloping madly in the direction the bank robbers had taken, and
heedless of the townspeople's jeers that greeted our departure.
Our pursuit was not continued long, however, before we were convinced that
there was no chance of its success. The robbers had gained the broken country to
the south of the town, and the hills might as well have swallowed them up, for
all the opportunity that was afforded us for overtaking, or even getting sight
We returned to S-- , crestfallen and broken-spirited in the middle of the
afternoon. It was to find the bank cashier dead, and the bookkeeper in a
critical condition by reason of his wounds. An examination of the bank's funds,
however, had been made by several of the directors, showing that the robbers had
carried off between fifteen and eighteen thousand dollars.
We questioned several persons who had a good look at the robbers, and who
were familiar with the personal appearance of the James brothers. All these
witnesses concurred in assuring us that Jesse James was not
among the gang who had effected the robbery, though they had all fully
identified both Frank James and Jim Cummings as prominent participants in the
This would seem to support Sheppard's declaration that he had succeeded in
giving the redoubtable Jesse James his quietus. Sheppard stoutly reiterated his
assertion when we saw him at Empire City, on the evening of that same eventful,
disastrous day, and he gave us the succinct account of his own adventure with
the outlaws with which this chapter was opened.
I will not dwell needlessly on the added blaze of excitement which this bank
robbery created in Missouri and the adjoining States.
For the ensuing month, or more, the dreaded band kept so quiet and invisible
that they were thought and hoped by many to have permanently quitted the State.
In this impression some of the detectives and officers, perhaps the majority,
concurred, while others did not. I was among those who did not think so.
A still larger majority believed in the report, soon widespread, that Jesse
James, the robber chief, had been killed. Ford, Gorham and I were about the only
detectives who refused to take any stock in the report.
During that month, or six weeks, of apparent inactivity, we occupied
ourselves with hunting down and bringing to justice the greenhorns who had
participated in the Winston train robbery. In this connection, Sheppard and I
were used to advantage as witnesses for identification. Upward of thirty arrests
were made. They were made from among farmers' and townspeoples' sons who had
been more or less distinguished for fastness and dis-orderly lives, many of them
well-to-do and of good early training. Of this number, eight were brought to
trial and conviction, with State prison sentences for long terms.
They were nearly all very hardened, though. Confessions as to their own
guilt were not exceptions, but not one of them could be brought to "give
away" the whereabouts of the veterans of the gang, or divulge anything else
that might lead to pursuit and capture. They all, likewise, seemed to believe in
Jesse James' death, some of them even shedding tears, as for the death of an
ideal man. Indeed, he was their ideal, and men sincerely mourn such a loss, be
it that of saint or thief, a noble patriot or a soulless, crimesteeped robber.
However, soon after the last of these minor convictions had taken place,
Charley Ford came to me in Kansas City and said:
"There's a big thing over at headquarters, Lawson. Two young fellows
have brought in a corpse, which they say is Jesse James', and for which they
claim the 'dead or alive' rewards."
I looked up, incredulously.
"Fact!" he continued. "They claim that Sheppard's bullet in
the neck only proved fatal yesterday; that they nursed him in a lone cabin up in
the Blue Hills up to the moment of his death. Just before it occurred, they say,
Jesse, out of gratitude for their kindnesses, told them to take the steps they
were now taking with his dead body, in order to secure for themselves the heavy
This part of the news touched me "on the raw," so to speak, and I
started to my feet.
"Come on over," resumed Ford. "All our crowd are
there, including the sheriff and the police commissioner. They all take
stock in the young fellow's statement, too. They are waiting for you to identify
the remains as Jesse's before giving the lads the certificate on which to claim
I regarded the story as preposterous. But, eager as I was to prove it so, I
hated to spare the time just then. I had got what I thought was a clew to judge
Rideau's grandchild, which I had been on the point of following up when Ford
interrupted me. However, I accompanied him at once.
"Either you or Sheppard could identify the corpse, if it is really
Jesse James', as well as I," I suggested, on the way.
"Sheppard might, but he's up-country just now," was the reply. "As
for me, when I last saw Jesse he hadn't grown the beard that he's been credited
with since. I can't be certain, but the face staring up out of the pine coffin
over yonder looks wonderfully like Jesse's would, if dead instead of alive."
This answer shook my unbelief more than anything else he had said.
A great crowd was gathered about headquarters as we approached. There was
also at the entrance a mudsplashed team and wagon, by which the lads had come in
from the hills with their melancholy freight.
The large, bare room back of the office was crowded with citizens and
policemen as Ford and I made our way into it. They were pressing around a rude,
rough-board coffin that lay upon trestles in the center. The coffin had been
uncovered. Near its head stood the beardless but hard-looking young men who had
brought it there. Timberlake, Craig, Masters and others of my profession were in
"Room there for Bill Lawson," cried Craig, as I approached. "Here's
the man who can and will identify this dead face as Jesse James', if any one
The crowd made way for me. As I approached the open head of the coffin, I
steadily studied the faces of the two young fellows. Neither recognized me. I
hadn't taken the trouble to inquire what names they had given themselves,
feeling sure that they had made use of aliases.
Then, amid a general hush of expectancy, my eyes rested upon the inanimate
It was but for an instant. I raised them again, with a contemptuous laugh.
"Hello! What's up?" cried Timberlake. "Ain't the body Jess
"Not a bit of it, though there's a slight resemblance," I replied.
"The outlaw is in a new role when he tries to sell his own corpse to the
authorities. How are you, Master Cutts? How are you, Master Larry the Lamb?"
The persons addressed were, indeed, none other than the young desperadoes I
had named, the former still looking thin and worn, as though but recently
recovered from my bullet through the body.
They turned pale at my offhand recognition, and seemed to be gathering
themselves together for a rush through the crowd; but I had them covered with my
revolver in an instant, and they were at once seized and handcuffed.
"Look out!" I shouted, while the utmost excitement for a moment
took possession of every one in the room.
"Jesse James may be here among us at this very instant!"
"Ha, ha, ha!" hoarsely laughed a big, uncouth-looking fellow, with
his face nearly concealed by the brim of a huge soft hat, as he slouched
carelessly toward the door. "Trick or no trick, it was one that none but a
bold cuss would have tried."
I recognized the voice, in spite of his attempt to disguise it.
"That's Jess James!" I shouted, springing forward, pistol in
hand, with my comrades at my back. "Seize him! Shoot him down!"
"Come on!" replied the outlaw, dashing off his hat and
brandishing a revolver, while he backed through the door. "Come on, if you