The James Brothers, Jesse and Frank, were Civil War soldiers who became well known gang members. They were from western Missouri, and served much of their military time in the state. They were Confederate guerrillas, also known as bushwhackers. The bushwhackers typically hid in the woods and fought Union patrols, often by ambushing them or using hit-and-run tactics. During the war, the James Brothers robbed and sometimes murdered Missouri farmers loyal to the Union, while retaining the support of many of the local farmers.
James Brothers robbing train passengers
On July 21, 1873, the James gang carried out its first train robbery near Adair, Iowa. Source: Public Domain/Wikimedia
After the war, the James Brothers robbed banks, stagecoaches, and trains. The motivation for their crimes was a continuation of their wartime service. When they committed what was the first organized bank robbery in America, they were inspired primarily by politics, not acquiring money. They robbed the Clay County Savings Association in Liberty, Missouri, founded by supporters of the North. That robbery was the first daylight bank robbery in the United States. Many of their future crimes were also attacks on what they considered symbols of the evil Union government.
Clay County Savings Association Building
On April 3, 1882, Jesse James was killed by a young member of his gang, hoping to collect reward money. After an unsuccessful attempt by prosecutors to convince juries in three separate trials that Frank was a criminal, he was declared a free man. For thirty years, he worked in a number of legal capacities before retiring to the family farm in Missouri. Frank was the older brother. Frank James died on February 18, 1915 at the age of 72.