Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Legends of the West: Jesse James

Legends of the West: Jesse James

Aaron Frisch
For ages 12 and up
The Creative Company, 2006   ISBN: 978-1583413388

Jesse James, his brother Frank, and his sister Susan were raised on a farm in Clay County, Missouri. When he was still a boy trouble began to brew in Missouri and Kansas over the issues of slavery and states rights. The James' had slaves and naturally they felt that no one had the right to tell them that they could no longer own these people. Violence broke out between apposing militias. Those in favor of slavery were called bushwhackers and when the Civil War began in April of 1861, the bushwhacker groups joined the Confederate cause. Frank soon joined the bushwhackers and Jesse, for a time, stayed home to take care of the farm. After he and his step-father were cruelly treated by Union soldiers, a furious Jesse went and joined his brother and soon the two were traveling around the country with the bushwhackers leaving burned buildings and bodies in their wake.

When the war ended Jesse accepted a general amnesty that had been offered to Confederate guerrillas but he could not settle down to a quiet life on the family farm. He wanted excitement in his life, and he also wanted revenge on those he still considered to be the enemies of the south. So Jesse and his brother, along with others who had been bushwhackers before and during the war, began a life of crime. They robbed their first bank in January of 1866 getting away with $60,000 in cash and bonds. One bystander was killed during the robbery.

More robberies followed in the coming months and soon it was known that the leader of the gang was Jesse James. The authorities did their best to catch Jesse but he had learned how to hide himself well. In addition many of the local people helped him and Jesse became something of a hero to those who liked to read about his exploits and who admired the way in which he snubbed his nose at the authorities.

It is easy to see, as one reads this biography, how Jesse James came to take up the life of an outlaw. In some ways he was molded by the events which shook his world and in the process he became the stuff of myth and legend. The author of this excellent title has managed to unravel the fiction from the fact and he presents us with an interesting portrait of both a man and of a time. Photographs, illustrations and informative boxes help to set the scene for a gripping story.