Jesse James Writes a Denial

This is an example of the letters Jesse James submitted to newspapers for publication, seeking public support by claims of being falsely accused of various charges made by law authorities. This letter is recorded in the 1882 History of Daviess County (pp. 316-17), reprinted here as follows:

“Will you permit me a little space in your columns to say a few words in my own behalf, and in that of my brother Frank. I know that we are outlaws, and that there is big money on our heads, but even though we were to be hung tomorrow, a newspaper that wanted to give a man a fair chance to put himself right before those who cared for him, and whom he cared for, would not hesitate to let him print the truth.

“I see from the newspapers of Missouri that one of the Jameses was recognized with the party who robbed the store in Cass county some weeks ago, and that later, at Monegaw Springs, when the prisoners were captured, a James said to be a prisoner, ‘don’t look at me, d –n you, for if you go away and report on me I will follow you up and kill you, if it takes me a year.’

“Perhaps nothing I might say in the way of denial would change any man’s opinion of me, either one way or the other; but I do say, that neither Frank nor myself has been in Missouri since the third day of October, 1873, nor any nearer Missouri than Denver City. Neither one of us was in Cass county at the time mentioned or at any time during the past year. I am guiltless of this Cass county store robbery as a child unborn, and knew nothing whatever of it until I saw it in the newspapers. This proposition, however, I do make, and will stick to it: I made it to McClurg when he was Governor, and he said it was fair and manly, although he did not pay any attention to it, and I know make it to Governor Woodson, who has offered a large reward for my head. If he will guarantee me a fair trial, and Frank also, and protect us from a mob, or from a requisition from the governor of Iowa, which is the same thing, we will come to Jefferson City or any other place in Missouri, except GALLATIN,, surrender ourselves and take our trial for everything we have been charged with. I do not know that Governor Woodson can do this thing, but if he can, and will, we are ready to surrender ourselves. All he will have to do is to give us his word that we shall not be dealt with by a mob, as we would most certainly be if the militia of Daviess county could get their hands upon two of Quantrell’s and Anderson’s best men, or if the Iowa authorities could get us for a crime that we never committed.

“If everything said about a man who had a positive character was true, all the jails and penitentiaries in the country would be full. We have many enemies in Missouri because of the war – many who want to see us killed if they can get other people to do the killing; but for all that, if the governor of our State will guarantee us a fair trial, we will surrender. If we do not then let public opinion bran us as highwaymen, and do it truthfully, for I will never again write a line to defend myself. But surely we should have a little credit in trying to put ourselves right, and in seeking to have protection while doing it. We have been charged with robbing the Gallatin Bank, and killing the cashier, with robbing the gate at the fair ground at Kansas City, with robbing a bank at Ste. Genevieve, with robbing a train in Iowa and killing an engineer, with robbing two or three banks in Kentucky, and killing two or three men there; but for every charge, we are willing to be tried, if Governor Woodson will just promise us protection until we can prove before any fair jury in the State that we have been accused falsely and unjustly. If we do not prove this, then let the law do its worst. We are willing to abide the verdict. I do not see how we could offer anything fairer. We do not mean to be taken alive and those who know us will believe this, even if we do say it ourselves; but we would delight in having a fair trial, and in having this long and sleepless vigilance on our part broken up. Any communication addressed to me at Deer Lodge, Montana Territory, will be attended to.

Jesse W. James”

This letter is accompanied by the following statement in the 1882 History of Daviess County (P. 317):

“This letter had no effect upon Governor Woodson, and Jesse’s flattering opinion of the people of Daviess county only made them more anxious to get hold of the now famous, or infamous, outlaws, but they still live, or are supposed to live, and so receive all the credit of the Winston tragedy and the Blue Cut, Jackson county, train robbery. It is also believed that they were the head and front of the Iron Mountain train robbery in Arkansas, scooping the latter as they were on their flight from the Blue Cut affair. While the officers were scouring the hills and ravines in Jackson, Clay and Lafayette (They had decoys carefully arranged to keep the officers in search in that quarter), they were making time, carefully disguised, toward their southern haunts.