People move to St. Joseph for various reasons. It could be to help educate the students at Missouri Western State University or to bring their medical expertise to Heartland Health. Some may move from smaller towns nearby to enjoy the greater amenities that St. Joseph stores and businesses offer. Others want to move back home to be closer to their family.
For one man, none of these reasons really fit. Some would say he moved here to “hide out,” while others say he moved here to clean up his life and start it anew. The mystery is still out there about Jesse James.
On September 5, 1847, Jesse Woodson James was born in Kearney, Missouri. Fifty miles away from St. Joseph, James and his brother, Frank, began their rampage of robbing banks and trains in the towns surrounding them. Within a year after the Civil War ended, the James brothers rode to Liberty and stole $60,000 in their first bank robbery. For 15 more years the brothers spent their lives as outlaws and the law offered a $10,000 reward to capture Jesse James.
Eventually, both boys married and slowed their outlaw ways. In 1881, Jesse moved his family to St. Joseph in an attempt to take on a new identity and remain safe with his family. In his own outlaw protection program, he assumed the name of Tom Howard and carried on like any other pioneer citizen who happened to root themselves in St. Joseph. Accounts from St. Joseph citizens claimed that he seemed to be a good husband and a good father to his two young children. People saw him in church on Sundays.
Jesse’s lack of employment put a financial strain on the family and he soon chose to get money the way he had always taken it, robbing banks. With the help of Bob and Charlie Ford he robbed the Platte City bank in order to get some money to relocate to Nebraska. Unfortunately, the Ford brothers were more interested in the $10,000 reward and chose to assassinate Jesse in his own home as he turned his back to them to adjust a picture on the wall.
Today, visitors from all over the country come to see the little house that the James family originally owned at 1318 Lafayette Street. The house was moved a few blocks away and is now located between the Pony Express Stables and the Patee House Museum.
Since the death of Jesse James in 1882, people have been divided on their opinion of him. Outlaw or reformed good citizen? But, in 1881 in St. Joseph, Missouri, Tom Howard was just another member of the community looking for a new beginning.