JESSE JAMES by John Ernst


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In a final chapter Ernst comes down strong on the famous outlaw, asserting that there is ""little truth"" in the myths that Jesse James, ""a violent, ruthless marauder,"" was a champion of the poor against banking and railroad interests or that, as a Confederate veteran, he was forced into his career by post-Civil War persecution. However, Ernst's early chapters seem to lean to the view of Jesse as an abused Southern patriot and the later ones, which matter-of-factly record the cold-blooded murders perpetrated by the Jameses and their gang, should make the moral summing-up unnecessary. As all of this would indicate, Ernst brings no energizing point of view to his subject, and his lackluster style is a further handicap. Still, legend or not, Jesse James will draw his own readers, and Ernst's straightforward accounts of the bank and train robberies and the foiling of Pinkertons and other lawmen is enough to hold them. Described in engrossing detail is the late, disastrous Northfield Raid, in which an eight-man band ventured North to a Minnesota bank, met with armed resistance from the townsmen, was pursued for two weeks through rain-soaked country by up to a thosand men, and ended up with three dead, three wounded and arrested, and only the two James brothers free. After that ""things were never the same,"" though Jesse was attempting a comeback when that dirty little coward shot Mr. Howard and the legend took over.

Pub Date: Nov. 11th, 1976
Publisher: Prentice-Hall