JESSE JAMES

Posted on Posted in Breedloves's Folk Songs
  • The most of all of the famous song about Jesse James is the popular American folk song
    “Jesse James” recorded in 1924 by Bascom Lamar Lunsford, and subsequently by many
    artists, including Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Van Morrison and Bruce Springsteen on
    his 2006 album We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions”. The song contains the lyric
    “But that dirty little coward / that shot Mr. Howard / has laid poor Jesse in his grave.” The
    lyrics of the song include a claim of authorship by Billy Gashade. The song is pro-James,
    as many, especially Confederates, were at the time. The song portrays James much in the
    way he was portrayed in Kansas City Times by editor John Newman Edwards, as an
    American version of Robin Hood, though there is no evidence to indicate that he actually
    “stole from the rich and gave to the poor”. The lyrics are however largely biographical
    and contain a great number of details from Jesse James’ life.
    The killer of James mentioned in the lyrics, Robert Ford, was James’ co-gang member,
    normally called Bob Ford, who lived with his brother, Charley Ford, in James’ house
    towards his death, as James had grown severely paranoid and wanted them there for his
    protection. He was right to be paranoid, though, as the Fords had conspired with local law
    enforcement to bring in James. In the chorus, there is a reference to a Mr. Howard (“That
    dirty little coward (Ford, ed.) who shot Mr. Howard…”). This was the assumed name that
    James lived under in Saint Joseph, Missouri at the time of his killing.
    It is inaccurate, however, that it was Frank and Jesse James that robbed the Glendale
    train, as stated in the second verse. At the time of this robbery, Frank had settled down
    and James had assembled a new gang. On a much more minor note, James was shot
    dusting a picture, not hanging it up on the wall. He was on a ladder at the time, not
    wearing his guns and the Ford brothers went for it. Bob Ford got a shot off first, hitting
    James in the back of the head and killing him instantly.
    Jesse James was a lad that killed many a man,
    He robbed the Glendale train,
    He stole from the rich and he gave to the poor,
    He’d a hand and a heart and a brain.
    Well it was Robert Ford, that dirty little coward,
    I wonder how he feel,
    For he ate of Jesse’s bread and he slept in Jesse’s bed,
    Then he laid poor Jesse in his grave.
    (Chorus)
    Well Jesse had a wife to mourn for his life
    Three children now they were brave
    Well that dirty little coward that shot Mr. Howard
    He laid poor Jesse in his grave

    Jesse was a man, a friend to the poor,

    He’d never rob a mother or a child
    There never was a man with the law in his hand
    That could take Jesse James alive
    It was on a Saturday night and the moon was shining bright,
    They robbed the Glendale train,
    And people they did say o’er many miles away
    It was those outlaws, there’re Frank and Jesse James
    (Chorus)
    Now the people held their breath when they heard of Jesse’s death,
    And wondered how he ever came to fall
    Robert Ford, It was a fact, He shot Jesse in the back
    While Jesse hung a picture on the wall
    Now Jesse went to rest with his hand on his breast,
    The devil will be upon his knee.
    He was born one day in the County Clay,
    And he came from a solitary race.
    (Chorus)