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The man who shot Jesse James

February 11, 2012
Sue Eckhoff - Grundy County Heritage Museum , Reinbeck Courier

Dressed in his finest Sunday suit, Bob Ford struck a pose, a flash lit up the photographer's studio, and when the smoke from the lens disappeared, a clear view of the outlaw could be seen. He wore a tailor made suit, a brocaded vest, and a diamond stickpin. In his left hand he held the pistol he used to kill Jesse James.

Bob had always boasted about killing Jesse. In less than an hour after the killing, Bob and his brother Charlie sent a message to the governor of Missouri stating, "I have killed Jesse James." The brutal act entitled him to a substantial reward.

Bob Ford grew up in Ray County, Missouri, a troubled youth who wanted nothing more than to be an outlaw. Bob and his younger brother Charlie joined the James gang and accompanied them on several raids. Soon he graduated from robbery to murder.

In January 1882, authorities learned he had shot a fellow gang member and buried his body in a shallow grave. To avoid prosecution, Ford struck a deal with the Missouri governor. Ford would receive a full pardon if he killed Jesse James.

In early 1882, Ford seized the opportunity. Bob, Charlie and Jesse were at Jesse's home discussing a robbery. As Jesse turned his back a bullet from Bob's gun crashed through Jesse's skull.

As the news of Jesse's murder spread, many residents called the boys cowards. It was rumored that Frank James was coming for them to avenge Jesse's death. Charlie was petrified and fled the area trying to avoid the backlash. His nerves got the better of him and he committed suicide.

In spite of threats of death, Bob continued to be vocal about the shooting. He also began drinking a lot, and gambling away his money. He travelled constantly in an effort to outrun anyone who wanted him dead. He finally met his end in Creede, Colorado on June 8, 1892, after he was involved in an altercation with a man he claimed stole a diamond from him. When Bob refused to back down from his accusation, the man shot and killed him.

Ford's body was returned to Missouri and buried. Signs that read, "Here lies the dirty little coward who shot Mister Howard (Jesse's alias) are occasionally propped up against the stone.



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