Jesse James was one of the most famous outlaws of the American West. Young Jesse learned a lot about guerrilla activities during the U.S. Civil War, fighting and sabotaging the Union army in the cause of the Confederacy. After the war, Jesse formed a gang of outlaws, which included his brother Frank James and the brothers Cole and James Younger. In 1866 they began an on-again, off-again crime spree that lasted for 15 years. The James-Younger gang robbed banks and trains throughout the Midwest and the South, eluding law enforcement and gaining a popular following and mythic stature, although their fame soured a bit as they turned increasingly violent in later robberies. James was finally betrayed by one of his own gang, Robert Ford, who shot him to death in Missouri 1882.
James’s story has been retold in many films with long names, including The True Story of Jesse James (1957, with Robert Wagner as James), The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid (1972, with Robert Duvall as James), and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007, with Brad Pitt as James)… The 21st-century mechanic and TV star Jesse James has claimed to be a distant relative; his Discovery Channel biography reported that “his great-great-grandfather was the famous outlaw’s cousin”… Another famous outlaw, Billy the Kid, was killed in 1881, the year before James.