Famous Lasts The Last Holdup by Jesse James Part 1

About the famous last holdup by Jesse James, history and biography of the outlaw.


Jesse James's last holdup took place on Sept. 7, 1881, when Jesse, Charlie and Bob Ford, and three other men robbed the westbound Chicago and Alton train at Blue Cut, Mo. Each robber got about $140 for the night's work and participated in a bizarre auction of five watches and some jewelry in the woods after the attack.

At the time this robbery was committed, James's career was already on the wane. During his 15-year rampage, he staged at least 24 holdups and was credited with killing 10 men (although it probably was more). The holdups netted him an estimated $250,000.

Jesse Woodson James was born on Sept. 5, 1847, in Clay County, Mo. He was deceptively gentle in behavior, 5 ft. 11 in. tall, compactly built, with a dark beard and eyes that constantly blinked because he suffered from granulated eyelids. James and his hard-riding gang had terrorized Missouri since the end of the Civil War. Known as "Dingus" to his friends, James liked to justify his outlawry by pretending he was keeping alive the Confederate cause. (Jesse, his brother Frank, and their sidekicks, the dreaded Younger Brothers, had all ridden with Quantrill's Raiders during the war. This bloodthirsty band of thinly disguised profiteers, which was nicknamed the Black Flag Brigade, massacred about 150 residents of Lawrence, Kans., because it was a Union supply center. Yet William Quantrill had once been a schoolteacher.) Certainly it was political tensions in the border states, the distrust of outsiders, and the power of kinship which enabled James and the others to survive for such a long time. They were his "invisible armor" against the forces of law and order.

He was without that armor on Sept. 7, 1876 (by coincidence, the exact month and day of his final holdup), in Northfield, Minn., when his gang raided the First National Bank. Virtually the whole town rode against the gang and cut off its escape. Jesse and Frank made it through the cordon but the Youngers, all badly wounded, were captured. When Cole Younger was brought back to town on a hay wagon with 11 bullets in his body, he struggled to his feet, swept off his hat, and bowed to the ladies in the street. The disaster had begun when the bank cashier was shot for refusing to open the safe. The gunshots had alerted the whole town. Not one of the robbers had noticed that the safe was already unlocked.

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