Jesse James in an open casket

Richmond Man Shoots Jesse James in St. Joseph

As I promised in the October post, this post returns us back to a popular Missouri resident, Jesse James.  This month I took a trip up I-29 to St. Joseph Missouri where I visited the house where Jesse James was murdered by Bob Ford.  I’ve mentioned before that this topic is personal to me because our house in Richmond, Missouri, where we lived for 15 years, was right next to the cemetery where Bob Ford is buried.  For a quick primer on Jesse James before hearing about where he died, look at my post from July 6th at

The house in St. Joe is directly behind the Patee Museum.  I decided that I would visit both while I was there.  There is a cost to get into the James House ($4) and separate cost to get into the Patee Museum ($8).  They are separate entities, and you must pay the entrance fee before entering each.  The museum, which is housed in an old hotel that served a Union headquarters during the civil war, is very nice.  It has a great deal of history as well as cars, wagons, trains, and other vintage transportation vehicles.  I encourage you to read more about the Patee Museum online because I don’t have room in this post to talk much about the museum.

The James House is very small and is situated on the back corner of the property.  The house is not in its original location as it was moved from 1318 Lafayette St., which is about a block north of the current location.  (See the map).  The house, where Jesse, his wife, Zerelda, or Zee, (Zee was also his first cousin) and his daughter were living in 1883.  The house is only four rooms and does not take long to visit.  Small but interesting.  The images with this post show the room where Jesse was killed, on April 3, 1883, when he turned his back to straighten a picture on the wall that was crooked. 

At the time of murder, Robert (Bob) and Charley Ford, members of the James Gang, were living with Jesse and his family in the house.  After breakfast the men were in the parlor talking about robbing the Platte City bank when Jesse turned to straighten a picture on the wall.  Bob Ford took this opportunity to shoot Jesse in the head, likely killing him instantly.  Jesse James was 34 years old.  From that day forward, Bob Ford would be known as the “dirty little coward who shot Mr. Howard”. (Jesse was living in St Joe under the name of Thomas Howard) 

After the shooting Jesse’s mother Zerelda, his wife, Zee, and two children spent the next two nights at the Patee House, which was then called the “World’s Hotel”.  The family was totally destitute after the murder.  They were forced to auction off most of their belongings, reportedly all the way down to the family dog.  The family was very poor, but Zee never gave into the temptation to sell her story to the media.

Prior to the killing the Ford’s had already agreed to a deal with the Governor of Missouri and agreed to kill Jesse James.  After the murder, Charlie and Bob went to claim their $10,000 reward and were immediately arrested for murder.  The brothers were found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to hang.  Two hours after the sentence was passed down, both men were pardoned by Missouri Governor Thomas T. Crittendon.  The Ford brothers then headed home to Richmond, where they thought they would be welcomed as heroes.  This did not happen as their hometown and the entire nation views the assassination with much distaste.  Not welcome in Richmond, Charley and Bob then headed west to New Mexico and eventually Colorado where they would appear on stage reenacting the murder.  Charley, terminally ill at this point with tuberculosis committed suicide a year after the murder.  Bob owned and operated taverns in Colorado.  Robert Newton Ford was murdered by Edward O’Kelley who shot him at point blank range with a double-barreled shotgun on June 8, 1992.  The “Dirty Little Coward” was 30 years old.  Originally buried in Creede, Colorado, Ford’s remains were later moved to his hometown of Richmond, Missouri, where his grave can be seen today.

There is a hole in the wall supposedly created by the bullet after it had gone through Jesse.  There is controversy in that account as there are other reports that contend that the bullet never left Jesse’s skull.  The hole is much larger now due to vandals who had visited the house since the shooting who would take a chunk of the wall near the hole as a keepsake.  In the museum I learned that one potential reason that in all the images of the handsome Jesse James, you will not see him smile.  This was because he was missing one of the front upper teeth and he didn’t think it was a good look. 

Jesse was originally buried on the family farm, but his body was moved to Mount Olivet Cemetery in Kearney, Missouri.  Jesse’s body was moved to in 1902 to be next to his wife, Zee, who had died in 1900.  There had always been rumors that Jesse faked his death, but science eventually proved that the body in his grave was in fact Jesse based on DNA evidence.  There is a display in the museum that details the exhumation of Jesse’s body in the summer of 1995. 

Make sure and read through the captions on the images that accompany this post as there is more interesting information to be gleaned from those images.

Click on image to read captions