The son of the outlaw Jesse James, Jesse Edwards James, is an interesting historical figure in his own right. Born in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1875 while his Missouri-born father hid out in Tennessee during his outlaw career, the younger Jesse would be known as “Tim” while his father was alive so as to conceal the family’s identity. As he grew into adulthood, he became friends with Thomas T. Crittenden, Jr., the son of the very Missouri governor that had colluded with Bob and Charley Ford to bring about the death of the elder James. The outlaw Jesse James would be pursued by legal authorities throughout his adult life while his son became a lawyer and practiced law in Missouri, which had been nicknamed the “robber state” due to his father’s actions.
A previous post on Westernsreboot.com discussed the brief acting career of Jesse Edwards James, in which he played his father in two silent films. Given that he was present as a six-year old boy when his bandit father was assassinated by Bob Ford in a rented Missouri home in 1882, it is perhaps not surprising that during the filming of the assassination scene it was reported that Jesse Edwards fainted twice.
One similarity between father and son is that they both would be accused of train robbery. In what could be described as charges led by a career-minded prosecutor, Jesse Edwards James was tried in 1899 for the robbery of a Missouri Pacific train – he was acquitted.
In that same dramatic year, a book written by Jesse Edwards was published. Jesse James, My Father was the son’s effort to describe the individual humanity of his father and share his own childhood recollections. It was 115 years ago today, June 1st, 1899, that Jesse James “Jr.” dated the following introduction for his book:
“My object in writing this book is twofold. Thousands have asked me why I did not write such a book, and promised to buy one if I did write it. If all of these keep that promise it will have been a good business venture for me. One of my objects, then, in writing this book, is in the hope that it will bring some money for the support of my mother. My other object in writing it is to do something to correct the false impressions that the public have about the character of my father. Others may differ from me on this point, but I believe it my duty to the memory of my father that the truth about him be told.
I make no claim to literary merit in this book. I have had little time in my life to go to school. In the years that boys usually spend in school I was at work earning wages for the support of my widowed mother and the education of my fatherless sister. I have tried to make this book a straightforward account of the things I write about, as I see them.”
(JESSE JAMES, Jr. Kansas City, Mo., June 1, 1899.)
Jesse Edwards James married in 1900 and would have four daughters. He would later move to Los Angeles and die there in 1951.
(Copyright – Chad Beharriell)