Debates Was Jesse James Shot to Death in 1882? Part 3

A look at the history of outlaw 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?

So what really happened on Apr. 3, 1882? John Pierce, 95 years old, testified in 1950 that he was working near the James house that morning. When a shot rang out, he ran to the house and "saw the prone body, dead, of a man well known as Charlie Bigelow." Pierce was not surprised; he had known the day before that a man named Charlie Bigelow would be shot. Hours later Jesse told Pierce that "the job had been done." Disguised, Jesse James sang at his own funeral, then left for South America. He came back a year later and lived under various aliases, according to several affidavits Turilli has on file.

Trammell, the gang's black cook, also testified that minutes after the shooting he saw Bigelow, not Jesse, on the floor. When the body was shown to Jesse's mother, she unwittingly blurted out, "No, gentlemen, that is not my son." But she quickly changed her mind. Sixty-seven years later Jesse James, alias Dalton, chuckled, "Mama just wasn't briefed well enough on the situation and she nearly gave the whole plan away." Coincidentally, Charlie Bigelow vanished after that fateful morning.

The hoax, known to the James family and the gang, was perpetrated because once the $10,000 reward was put on his head, Jesse knew his days were numbered. It was high time to go underground. Charlie Bigelow was killed instead, because he had "squealed" to the law and looked astonishingly like Jesse James. In fact, Bigelow often passed himself off as Jesse. Bob Ford, of course, knew of the hoax, as did his brother, Charles, and Governor Crittenden, who Turilli claims was an old friend of the Jameses. All three shared the $10,000 reward.

Turilli discovered that Bob Ford was Jesse James's first cousin. And in families where blood most certainly ran thicker than water, it is inconceivable that one cousin would have shot another, says Turilli. He also found that Jesse's brother, Frank, later helped Bob Ford set up a saloon in Creede, Colo. Turilli says it's hardly possible that Frank James would associate with, let alone help, the "dirty little coward" who killed his brother. M. E. Till Baldwin, who grew up with the James boys, sat up with the body before the funeral and swore that it was not Jesse's. Frank James told him that "if Bob Ford had shot Jesse James, he wouldn't have lived till sundown."

All those involved in the hoax took an oath not to reveal anything until their 100th birthday. By the time Jesse James, alias J. Frank Dalton, reached his, there was nothing to lose. The man who claimed to be the real Jesse James died on Aug. 16, 1951, just short of his 104th birthday. He lies buried in Granbury, Tex.

Rudy Turilli's $10,000 offer still stands.

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