On Dec. 7, 1869, Frank and Jesse James rode into Gallatin, Mo., tied their horses outside of the Daviess County Savings Bank and went inside. They asked the cashier, Capt. John Sheets, if he could change a $100 bill and demanded a receipt for the exchange. So, Sheets sat down to write out the piece of paper. Jesse had that cold look in his eyes as he studied the man right good. He turned briefly and muttered something to Frank then took out his revolver and without warning coldly fired two slugs into Captain Sheets, one through the heart and the other through his head. The poor man was dead before he could hit the floor.
A horrified bank clerk quickly ran out the front door screaming that Captain Sheets was dead and the bank was being robbed. The townspeople started reaching for their guns and heading toward the bank. Jesse grabbed what money he could from the cash drawer and stuffed it into his grain sack. Both men ran outside as the approaching crowd began shooting. Frank was returning their fire as he galloped down the street heading for the edge of town. He glanced back only to realize Jesse was in trouble.
Jesse’s horse had bolted when the gunfire erupted and his foot got tangled in the stirrup as he was mounting and the horse was dragging him down the street while the crowd was taking pot shots at him. Frank doubled back under heavy fire as Jesse fought to free himself, caught him by the arm and swung him up behind on his own horse. They safely made it out of town and even borrowed some poor sucker’s horse to speed their retreat.
They had maybe $700 in the grain sack, but Jesse learned later that he had actually mistaken Captain Sheets for another man. He had vowed to avenge the death of his comrade, Bloody Bill Anderson, and Jesse thought he was shooting a Major Cox, the man responsible for the death of Bloody Bill.
A posse set out in hot pursuit, but as usual they got nowhere. The bandits disappeared into the brush. Back in town, however, they had captured Jesse’s horse that had given him such a bad time in front of the bank. Frank and Jesse were always known for riding the finest horses and a good horse is recognizable and remembered anywhere around the neighborhood. Within a week the animal was positively identified as belonging to Jesse James. If the James Boys had merely been suspected in previous holdups, they now had hard proof. For the first time, they had a price on their head of $3,000.
Deputy Sheriff Thomason and his son, joined by a posse, rode to the James farm in Clay County to collect on the reward, but they were no match for Frank and Jesse. The posse surrounded the farm house and decided to just wait for them to come out. They didn’t have to wait long though, the barn doors flew open and the boys rode out with blazing guns right through the middle of the lawmen, jumped the fences and disappeared.
The deputy jumped off his horse to take aim with his rifle and the horse took off, leaped the fences, and galloped off right alongside Frank and Jesse. An irritated Jesse turned and put a bullet through the horse’s head.
Years later, the deputy’s son was herding cattle in Texas when he encountered Frank and Jesse around a campfire. They immediately recognized each other.
“How much do you figure that horse of your father’s was worth?” Jesse asked.
“About fifty dollars, I guess.”
Jesse handed him fifty dollars, then he and Frank road off in a cloud of dust.
Reference: “Wanted! Frank & Jesse – the Real Story” by Margaret Baldwin and Pat O’Brian.
On March 19 at 7 p.m., re-enactor Gregg Higginbotham will present a free program on the exhumations of Jesse James body during the 1970s and 1990s during the Independence Civil War Study Club meeting at Southview Manor Apartments, 2600A Hub Drive, near 23rd and Missouri 291 in Independence.
To reach Ted W. Stillwell, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 816-252-9909.