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Frank and Jesse James: The Story Behind the…

Frank and Jesse James: The Story Behind the Legend (2000)

by Ted Yeatman

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The literature on Jesse James is vast. The fact content is trivial.

Only in the last few decades has there been a real attempt to sort out the truth from fiction. The first real attempt was William A. Settle Jr.'s 1966 volume Jesse James Was His Name. This volume is probably the most worthy successor.

An ideal biography possesses three attributes: depth, accuracy, and readability. This book has all three. It appears to be the fullest biography of the James Brothers now available -- and, yes, it's about both Frank and Jesse, not just Jesse, so it extends well beyond the death of the younger brother. The documentation is meticulous -- 76 pages of footnotes and 11 pages of bibliography. And yet, it is clear, readable, and easy to follow. What's more, it included all information available up to the time it was published, such as the 1995 exhumation of James.

What it does not have is the hagiography of the earlier biographies. Jesse comes off as a very damaged young man -- one must suspect post-traumatic stress from his years as a guerilla. Frank is much saner than his brother; he eventually managed to settle down. But even he was a bit of a trickster to the end, betting visitors about the reading of a sign by his gate.

To summarize, this is a very good book. If you want a romance about nineteenth century outlaws, or ex-confederates, this book is not for you. But if you want an excellent study of two less-than-excellent brothers, this will serve very well. ( )
  waltzmn | Mar 16, 2012 |
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By some intelligent people they are regarded as myths; by others they are in league with the devil. They are neither, but they are uncommon men.

John Newman Edwards


If the incidents seem to the reader at all marvelous or improbable, I can but remind him, in the words of the old adage, that "Truth is stranger than fiction."

Alan Pinkerton
To the memory of two pioneers in the quest for

the truth behind the James legend:

Dr. William A. Settle Jr.,


Professor Emeritus of History,

University of Tulsa,

and author of
Jesse James Was His Name


Milton F. Perry,


Director of Clay County Historic Sires

and restorer of the James farm
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Preface -- I first began this study of the story of Frank and Jesse James in January 1975 to track down all the information I could find on the outlaw brothers' residence in Middle Tennessee from 1877 to 1881.

Gads Hill

It was a crisp Saturday morning, about 10:10, when train No. 7 of the Saint Louis, Iron Mountain and Southern -- the Little Rock Express, as it was known -- pulled out of the Plum Street Station in Saint Louis and headed south.
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Cumberland House

An edition of this book was published by Cumberland House.

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