Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Jesse James: Riding Hell-Bent for Leather into Legend

Family Fortunes Look up

Frank James ca. 1863
Frank James ca. 1863

Jesse and his brother (who hated the sissy-sounding Alexander and preferred to be called Frank) grew smart and grew quick and grew tough under Zee's care. They inherited her aggressiveness and her strong will; very little of their book-reading papa rubbed off on them, although both boys did take on some of his dreaming qualities: Jesse was given to flights of imagination at times and Frank possessed a thirst for reading, pouring over the pages of any book he could get his hands on in the wilderness country.

The family's fortunes happily increased in 1855 when Zee met and married wealthy bachelor Reuben Samuels, who was a successful county doctor and owner of a large piece of property adjacent to the James farm. It was an ideal matrimony, for the doctor and the James lads became instant best friends; he was, in effect, the father they never knew. He hunted with them, fished with them and, often in the evenings, spoke to them of the things and experiences that filled their young heads with delightful yet practical images. From this marriage also came a pair of daughters, Fannie and Sarah Louisa, and a son, Archie, who was born retarded.

Of the later, Jesse and Frank protected their half-brother with care and lest any of the community bullies taunt his handicap the perpetrator would earn a set of black eyes and a rump swelled to twice its size.

The Samuels farm prospered. Owning one of the largest land-holdings in Clay County, they found their own labor, even with the children's help, nearly not enough They acquired four slaves to help maintain it. But, it was a suspicious time and place to announce oneself as a slave owner. Now as official practitioners of slavery, the Samuels clan was immediately identified by contentious neighbors as a plutocratic Southern family. Clay County had, over the last couple of years, been fastly splitting down the middle by moral-based politics the traditional believer in slavery residing on one side of the fence and the staunch abolitionist literally on the other.

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