The Jesse Myth
At the end of the war, Edwards chose not to give up the Yankees and fled to Mexico, from where he returned only after the passions had subsided. Having become an influential journalist, he supported James in every way and was the first to print Jesse’s letters in his newspapers, giving him the opportunity to openly express his political views. He is called the man who created the myth of Jesse. As one historian noted: “Without Jesse, John Newman, Edwards probably would not have become the leading newspaper publisher in Missouri, and without Edwards, Jesse James would not have become such a special political hero for the former Confederates.” Edwards’ articles not only gave the gang an alibi after various robberies. Thanks to his efforts, readers fell in love with the James Yangers, considering them to be good people, forced to break the law due to repression of the federal government.
Thanks to Edwards’ help, Jesse has written many articles in which he dismissed charges of robberies of one kind or another. He insisted that he could provide an alibi for every occasion. Sometimes Jesse stated that from 50 to 100 people were ready to confirm his alibi. Did he exaggerate? Not at all. The gang of James-Yangers usually so successfully covered their tracks that the law did not have direct evidence of their guilt. And therefore, Southerners without fear could confirm that they were in completely different places than the legalists claimed.
But Jesse James was not Robin Hood, as they tried to portray him in numerous publications. Stories about how he was distributing money to the poor or helping the unfortunate widow save her farm is a beautiful invention. The legend of a widow with slight variations could be heard in several states at once, and in each of them people were convinced that the “unfortunate widow” lived in their state. Similar stories were fiction. Many knew about it, but did not attach importance. People stood up for Jesse for a completely different reason. After the war, the entire bureaucratic apparatus in the South consisted of Yankee proteges, and the Southerners’ families were persecuted for a long time and causelessly arrested. And although they had to put up with the arbitrariness of the authorities, Jesse gave them the opportunity to laugh at the negligent Yankees, becoming a symbol of freedom, a people’s avenger …
After the robbery of the train to Gads Hill, the Pinkerton detective agency, representing the interests of the railway and the postal service, got down to business. Suspicions immediately fell on the gang of James – Yangers, and Allan Pinkerton immediately sent his agents in search of the alleged bandits. The head of the detective agency believed that they should be sought in their native lands. Joseph Witcher was to find the James, and Louis Lull and John Boyle were to find the Yangers. Witcher never worked on farms or ranches and made the mistake of impersonating someone who was used to such a job. And although knowledgeable people warned him that “if her sons do not, the old woman (Zerelda. – Auth.) Herself will kill you,” he did not listen. The young, ambitious detective hoped to capture James alone. He was found with a shot through his head. A few days later, Lull and Boyle appeared in the vicinity of the Yangers farm, accompanied by assistant sheriff Edwin Daniels. The Pinkies, as the Pinkerton Agency detectives were abbreviated at that time, tried in every possible way to impersonate cattle buyers, but they lacked artistry. John and Jim Yangers dined on Theodor Snaffer’s farm when suddenly the sound of hoofs was heard. The Yangers climbed into the attic, from where, through the gap between the logs, they saw two strangers enter the courtyard. They introduced themselves as cattle buyers, but did not at all resemble those. “Buyers” asked where the house of Jesse James’s mother is. She allegedly advertised for the sale of cattle. Snuffer showed them the way, but the strangers, heavily armed, drove off in a completely different direction. John Younger, suspecting something was amiss, wanted to follow them. Jim did not want unnecessary problems, but Jim insisted. Brothers caught up with “buyers” on a deserted road. They wanted to “ask them a couple of questions.” The result of the conversation was the death of Jim Younger, Joseph Lull and Edwin Daniels.
Having lost three agents, the Pinkerton head became furious. New forces were thrown into the search for the robbers. This, however, did not prevent the James brothers from starting families. Jesse married his cousin Zi Mimms in April, and Frank married Anna Ralston in June. Jesse has been courting Zi for nine years, and their marriage was successful. Zee bore him two children, and after his death she never married again: “There will never be another Jesse,” she said. The brothers lived happily with their wives, but under false names.