The American West (2016), the eight-episode docu-drama series that explored various Western icons between 1865 and 1890, recently concluded its run on AMC. The highlighted figures included Billy the Kid, Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull, General George Custer, Wyatt Earp, and Jesse James. For those new to the story of the Missouri outlaw James, the final episode on July 30th offered a concise assessment of the bandit’s cultural legacy. In the series, Jesse James was well-played by David H. Stevens (see the link Jesse James – Political Snapshot for an analysis of the portrayal).
Following his death by assassination in 1882, Jesse James moved into the realm of legend. Songs were written about him, he would become the subject of dime novels quite removed from the historical record, and eventually numerous films were made. He has often been portrayed as a Robin Hood-like resistance figure against corporations, banks, and railroads that would exploit the common person.
One explanation for that mythic stature is that by the turn-of-the-century many citizens had come to view corporations as an immoral and dominant force in American life. Stories of a Jesse James who attacked banks and railroads gave a hero to oppressed socio-economic groups. That James was assassinated while unarmed and from behind by a member of his own gang only heightened his noble stature while serving the public need for an equalizing hero.
In this clip provided by AMC to monstersandcritics.com, contributors to The American West give their views on the legacy of Jesse James:
Further information about the series can be found at the official link The American West.
(Copyright – Chad Beharriell)