Romanticized fact or pure fiction? — Missouri State Quarter Coin

Today, the Missouri State Quarter Coin remembers the bank robbery of 151 years ago.

People believed either Jesse James and the James brothers’ clan robbed the bank or at least planned the robbery.

An excerpt from the book, Train and Bank Robbers of the West, A Romantic But Faithful Story of Bloodshed and Plunder, Perpetrated by Missouri’s Daring Outlaws, published in 1882, provided a romanticized view of Jesse James after the robbery:


On the 14th of February, 1866, while Frank was in Kentucky, still suffering from his wound of the previous July, a great robbery took place at Liberty, Mo., that aroused the greatest excitement through all that western district.

The Commercial Bank of Liberty was robbed of a sum of money close upon $70,000. The names of the James boys were immediately connected with the robbery. And yet there were many who loudly declaiming against them for their deeds of blood, still believed that they were honest men.

Jesse had but recently returned from Nebraska and was still weak and suffering, and could hardly have had any direct hand in the robbery. Still the almost universal opinion was that he had planned the robbery.

And, indeed, it was believed that a good share of the booty secured from the bank found its way to Frank and Jesse James.

For it is clear that for a long time these brothers had had no means, legitimate, or otherwise of filling their purses. However this may be, a company of men, who were stinging from old wounds, determined to put an end to Jessie’s depredations by quietly handing him over to the civil power.

And so four days after the bank robbery at Liberty, they matured their plans. They had no desire to kill Jesse, only to secure him and imprison him.

Accordingly close on the hour of midnight of Feb. 18th, 1866, six well armed, well mounted militia men rode up to the home of Dr. Samuels.

Jesse was suffering from a burning fever and was tossing from side to side when his quick ear detected the sounds of horse’s hoofs crunching the crisp winter snow. In a moment he was on the alert.

His two trusty companions — his revolvers — were under his pillow loaded. The heavy tramp of five men was soon heard coming along the piazza, and knocking at the door with the butt end of their guns, they demanded immediate admission.

Dr. Samuels gained a little time by parleying at the door, telling these midnight visitors to “be patient a moment, there was something wrong with the blamed lock.”

Meantime, Jesse looking through the window and taking in the whole situation, crawled down to the foot of the stairs.

“What shall I do ?” whispered the doctor.

“Open the door the moment I tell you,” Jesse answered in a faint voice, looking carefully at his weapons of defense.

The besiegers grew impatient, and amid muttered curses on the whole family, began to beat in the panels of the door with their guns, demanding that “that murdering thief, Jesse, should come and surrender at once.”

Declaring they would take him either dead or alive. Jesse was ready with the answer. But the answer they got was a fearful one.

The door opened, and, standing half hidden in the shadow of the doorway, Jesse fired with unerring precision, and two of the company fell instantly dead, staining the virgin snow with the crimson torrents of their heart’s blood.

Standing now full in the doorway, the moonlight falling on his pale spectral face, he looked a perfect wraith of slaughter; and before the report of his first shots had fully died away, he fired again, and two more of the squad fell, writhing in agony and pain.

The rest of that blustering blasphemous company fled to their horses and rode away in the moonlight, leaving behind them their dead and dying comrades.

The wounded men were spared. But it was a solemn sight.

The dead men with pallid faces gazing stony gazes, out of sightless eyes, at the radiant moon and patient stars, the pure white mantel of the snow, stained and bedabbled with their blood; while the silence of the night was broken by the discordant groans of the wounded!

An hour ago all was quiet and still!

These dead men were full of life, boastful roistering and merry. Their roistering is over now forever.

It is quiet and still again! But it is the quietness of a sleep in which there is no dreaming and from which there is no awakening.

Weak and feeble as he was, Jesse was wide awake to his peril. The escaped soldiers would bear the tidings of the midnight slaughter to the people all around.

It would be foolish to wait and try conclusions with a largely augmented force; so Jesse, weak as he was, trembling from head to foot with fever, but not with fear, mounted his horse and rode rapidly away in the solemn light of the mellow moon.

The news of this last relentless massacre spread like wild fire. Wearied and worn with the frightful experiences of four years of Civil strife, the Missourians longed for peace.

They did not stop to ask how this last fray at the Samuels’ homestead commenced. Only the dreadful fact that Jesse had killed and wounded four out of six of these soldiers, and had driven the others away in dread alarm, was present to the minds of the people of the neighborhood.

A spirit of grave and awful determination arose amongst them. Jesse James must die!

There had been enough and more than enough of his wild depredations.

Life was so insecure, with his fatal pistol always ready for dread service, that no one knew at what moment — without rhyme or reason — he might find himself the target of Jesse’s unerring aim.

Frank was absent. Where, they knew not, nor cared, so that he spared Missouri the shame and peril of his presence.

But here was Jesse; and if of the two, one was more daring, more deliberate, more cold-blooded than the other, surely it was Jesse.

The death-sentence of the younger of the James brothers was recorded in the fixed purpose of the men of Clay county; and, accordingly, a large crowd, fifty strong, well armed, sought the Kearney farm and demanded that Jesse should be delivered to them.

They swore a solemn oath that they would take him, dead or alive, they cared not which. They had come to take him, and take him they would.

But if they had been fifty thousand strong, instead of fifty, they could not have taken him, for the very simple reason that he had thought it prudent, all things considered, to retire to a more salubrious and less excited district.

So the hunt was up for Jesse James, but it was all in vain. All the most solemn asservations of Dr. Samuels were regarded as so many subterfuges to gain him. The woods, the farms, the barns, the stables, all were searched, but searched in vain.


The Missouri State Quarter Coin shows with an image of Jesse James, circa 1860s.

Missouri State Quarter Coin