What Benign Act Got Jesse James Killed?

Jesse James was an infamous bank robber, train robber, and murderer during his time (mid-1800’s), and was romanticized afterward.

Apparently even outlaws have homes. Jesse James was fixing a crooked needlepoint hung on the wall and an eager beaver seeking the $10,000 reward for his killing shot him through the window above the door.

Let’s assess all the factors that seem contrary to what you’d expect from a scoundrel like Jesse:

  • he lived in a house
  • he had a wife and two kids
  • he had a needlepoint
  • he noticed that the needlepoint was crooked
  • the needlepoint was hung way too close to the ceiling–that has nothing to do with him being a criminal, it just shows poor decorating ability that ultimately led to his demise: he had to stand on a chair to fix it.
Needlepoint in home where Jesse James was killed

The thing under the needlepoint is the bullet hole.
Photo courtesy of Bing.com

Good Grief

In 1995 his body was exhumed to prove that he didn’t fake his death. DNA from the grave was compared to known descendents. There was no hanky panky.

How do I know all of this? I went to the house where he died, which is in St. Joseph MO.

Life in the 1800’s

Next door is the Patee House, which served many functions, but the most exciting of which is that it was the origin of the Pony Express.

The building is a candy store of 1800’s history. Replica pharmacy, post office, general store, dentist’s office (Walter Cronkite’s father was from St. Joseph). They have a train engine, carousel, stage coach. It’s delightful.

What intrigued me the most were the collections: scissors, inkwells, tea spoons that are actually for tea–with strainers in them, spittoons, lamps and lanterns. Sadly, no photos to share: the glare off of the protective cases ruins the picture. So use your imagination!

Someone had a wonderful time putting together this museum. It’s vibrant and thoughtful and full of life.


If the government gave the general population the go-ahead to kill a communal threat, would you take up the task?

I’ll answer this one – I’d be on the lookout and call the authorities, but I wouldn’t do anything myself.

Disclosure: Thank you to the Missouri and St. Joseph Tourism Bureaus for facilitating my complimentary visits to these museums.

6 Responses


Complex questions. I started to respond “No”, especially since I don’t know how to use and don’t own a gun or other weapon, but if someone hurt my family…not robbery but physical harm…a life sentence would not satisfy me.

Your question is raising issues for me; I do believe a proven-without-a-doubt murderer should not live. If the death penalty were invoked…and in a timely manner….would we have less violent acts? Today’s criminals may go to jail, but they don’t fear death. So we pay for the incarceration, multiple trials and reviews, and the victim’s rights for justice are never fully realized.

Whew. Ask a light question next time, please.


Well not for the reward. But would I hunt him down in his house and kill him? While he was adjusting the God Bless our Home artwork? EEhhh, not sure.

Oh, wait: change the name from Jesse James to Osama bin Laden, and it feels different.


I knew it! Bad interior design CAN kill you! Very interesting story. Actually, pretty poetic.

Mandi – Classic!


Wow -that was a lot of money back then. Did the person actually get the reward?

Jef – there’s only evidence that they got $1,500 of it. They aren’t sure why they only got that part of it. And ultimately there was a big ruckus about the killing bc he shot James with his back turned – not manly. He eventually committed suicide from the harrassment about it.

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