Debates Was Jesse James Shot to Death in 1882? Part 1

A look at the history of Jesse James who was either shot down in 1882, or lived to over 100 under the name J. Frank Dalton.

Was Jesse James Really Shot to Death in 1882?

THE ESTABLISHED VIEW

Jesse Woodson James, son of a Baptist minister, was perhaps the most legendary American outlaw.

The commonly accepted version of his death, with minor variations, holds that he was shot in the back by Bob Ford, who wanted to collect the $10,000 reward--a tidy fortune in those days. It supposedly happened on Apr. 3, 1882. that morning, according to Ford's testimony, he was at Jesse James's house on the outskirts of St. Joseph, Mo. Ford sensed that Jesse suspected him. "He knew ... that I was there to betray him," said Ford. Then Jesse did something strange. He unbuckled his two gun belts with the four revolvers on them, got up on a chair, and began dusting a picture on the wall, even though "there wasn't a speck of dust that I could see," according to Ford. "If you don't get him now, he'll get you tonight," Ford thought. He aimed his revolver at Jesse, who "started to turn as I pulled the trigger. The ball struck him just behind the ear and he fell like a log, dead."

Ford was quickly brought to trail. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to death. But two hours later, Governor Crittenden's pardon arrived.

THE ANTI-ESTABLISHED VIEW

Was it really Jesse James who was shot, or was it someone else? Rudy Turilli, a recognized authority on James, claims it was an outlaw named Charlie Bigelow. And he has some impressive evidence to back him up. In 1966, in association with the Jesse James Museum of Stanton, Mo., Turilli published a booklet called I Knew Jesse James. In it he reveals how he discovered the real Jesse James, alive though bedridden, in Lawton, Okla.

In 1948, acting on a tip, Turilli went to Lawton and found that a 100-year-old man named J. Frank Dalton was about to reveal himself as the real Jesse James. On May 19 The Lawton Constitution declared in a banner headline: JESSE JAMES IS ALIVE! IN LAWTON. Many suspected a hoax, but the more Turilli talked to the old man, the more he was convinced that Dalton was indeed Jesse James. The physical resemblance--the blue eyes, the facial bone structure--was there all right. But it was the intimate details that only Jesse James could have known that intrigued Turilli most.

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