Jesse James (1847-1882) was a nineteenth century outlaw who became a popular figure in American folk legend and folk song. By the twentieth century, film and television joined the earlier oral and print traditions with fictional and documentary renditions of James’s life.
James and his brother Frank fought as Confederate guerrillas during the Civil War. After the war, they repurposed some of the skills they learned and began robbing banks and trains in the American Midwest.
The first train robbery attributed to the brothers occurred in rural Iowa, just west of present-day Adair. Now marked by a historical marker, the Jesse James Historical Site is located on a small hill south of U.S. Route 6. It is adjacent to the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad.
On the evening of 21 July 1873, Jesse and Frank James, along with five others, dislodged a rail on the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad in an attempt to rob a train carrying $100,000 in gold from the West. At 8:30 p.m., the train derailed and killed its engineer. The James gang found no gold when they boarded the train; however, they did rob the train of $2,500 cash. The 1873 event was the first train robbery west of the Mississippi River and it once was commemorated in Adair (pop. 781) by the Jesse and Frank James Museum in a former railroad section house.
© 2013 D.S. Rotenstein