I. "GOOD BYE, JESSE"
Bam! Bam! The gavel sounded as the chairman tried to bring order out of the disorder in the auditorium. "Will members of the Missouri State Senate Select Committee, witnesses, guests, friends, and the general public please come to order and be seated."
A great multitude of people had gathered into the largest opera house in Kansas City, Missouri, to witness history being made. The Missouri State Senate authorized the creation of a Special Blue Ribbon Select Committee to investigate the circumstances of the death of the notorious outlaw Jesse Woodson James. In addition, the Missouri State Senate authorized that a special prosecutor be appointed with sufficient staff to be effective.
"Will the first witness please come forward to be sworn."
There was a brief pause, a man stood up, walked to the stairs, climbed the stairs, and walked over to the table and was sworn in.
"Do you promise to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?"
"Please be seated. Please tell the Committee your name for the record, sir."
"Benjamin Johnson," the witness replied, then sat down.
"Where are you employed?"
"I am a reporter for the Kansas City Daily Journal."
"Were you working at the Kansas City Daily Journal on April 4, 1882?"
"Yes. I was."
"I now show you Exhibit # 11. Are you the author of this news report?" An aide to the Special Prosecutor carries the exhibit and hands it to the witness.
"Yes, I am the author of this news article."
"Will you please read it into the record."
"The title of the news article is "GOOD BYE, JESSE." "The notorious outlaw and bandit, Jesse James, killed at St. Joseph by R. Ford, of Ray County, a young man but twenty-one years of age."
"The deadly weapon used presented to his slayer by his victim but a short time since. A robbery contemplated of a bank at Platte City -- to have taken place last night. Jesse in Kansas City. During the past year and residing on one of the principal streets. Kansas City excited over the receipt of the news -- talks with people -- Life of the dead man. "I've got him, sure," was the telegram that came to the city yesterday. It was meaningless to almost everybody, yet it contained news of the greatest importance. Jesse James was the person referred to, and as he was a corpse, the sender of the dispatch was confident that he had him, sure."
"At 9 o'clock yesterday morning the notorious outlaw was shot dead, at St. Joseph, Missouri, by Robert Ford, a young man about 21 years of age, from Ray County. Ford, being acquainted with the James gang, recently planned the death of Jesse. This plan was concocted in this city, and was, as it has been seen successfully carried out. His brother Charles was with him at the time of the killing, and the wife of Jesse was in the kitchen of the house in which they were living. At his death Jesse was hanging pictures. He had but a few moments before being killed divested himself of his coat and his revolvers. He never spoke a word after falling to the floor. The slayers gave themselves up soon after the killing, and an inquest over the remains was begun."
"Are you finished reading and what is the date of the article?"
"Yes. April 4th, 1882."
"Okay. I now show you Exhibit # 16 and ask you if you were the author of this article?" Again, an aide to the Committee walks the exhibit over to the witness for his inspection.
"Thank you. Would you please repeat the question?"
"Did you write this news article?"
"Ah....yes and no."
"Which is it, yes or no, will you please clarify your answer?"
"This was a news dispatch which has the dateline of April 3rd (1882) from St. Joseph, Missouri. It was written by a stringer for the Kansas City Daily Journal. I was responsible for seeing to it that the dispatch ran in our paper."
"Will you please read Exhibit # 16 into the record?"
"THE KILLING IN DETAIL. Special dispatch to the Kansas City Journal. St. Joseph, Missouri, April 3, --- Between 8 and 9 o'clock this morning Jesse James, the Missouri outlaw, before whose record the deeds of Fre Diavolo, Dick Turpin and Shinterhannes dwindle into insignificance, was killed by a boy 21 years old named Robert Ford, at his temporary residence on Thirteenth and Lafayette streets, in this city. In the light of all moral reasoning the shooting was unjustifiable, but the law is vindicated, and the $50,000 reward offered by the state for the body of the brigand dead or alive will doubtless go to the man who had the courage to draw a revolver on the notorious outlaw when his back was turned, as in this case. There is little doubt that the killing was the result of a premeditated plan formed by Robert and Charles Ford several months ago. Charles had been an accomplice of Jesse James since the 3rd of last November, and entirely possessed his confidence. Robert Ford, his brother, joined Jesse near Mrs. Samuels (the Mother of the James boys) last Friday a week ago, and accompanied Jesse and Charles to this city Sunday, March 23."
"Jesse, his wife and two children removed from Kansas City (where they had lived several months until they feared their whereabouts would be suspected) to this city, arriving here November 8, 1881, coming in a wagon and accompanied by Charles Ford. They rented a house on the corner of Lafayette and Twenty-first streets, where they stayed two months, when they secured a house Number 1318 on Lafayette street, formerly the property of Councilman Aylesbury, paying $14 a month for it and giving the name of Thomas Howard."
"The house is a one story cottage, painted white, with green shutters, and is romantically situated on a brow of a lofty eminence east of the city, commanding a fine view of the principal portion of the city, river and railroads, and adapted by nature for the perilous and desperate calling of Jesse James. Just east of the house is a deep, gulch-like ravine, and beyond that a broad expanse of open country backed by a belt of timber."
"The house, except for the west side can be seen for several miles. There is a large yard attached to the cottage, and a stable where Jesse had been keeping two horses, which were found there this morning."
"Charles and Robert Ford have been occupying one of the rooms in the rear of the dwelling, and have secretly had an understanding to kill Jesse ever since last fall. A short time ago, before Robert had joined James, the latter proposed to rob the bank at Platte City. He said the Burgess murder trial would commence there today and his plan was if they could get another companion to take a view of the situation and while the arguments were being heard in the murder case, which would naturally engage the attention of the citizens, boldly execute one of his favorite raids."
"Charles Ford approved of the plan, and suggested his brother Robert as a companion worthy of sharing the enterprise with them. Jesse had met the boy at the latter's house, near Richmond three years ago and consented to see him. The two men accordingly went to where Robert was, and arranged to have him accompany them to Platte City. As standard, all three came to St. Joe a week ago Sunday. They remained at the house all the week, Jesse thought it best that Robert should not exhibit himself on the premises, lest the presence of three able-bodied men who were doing nothing should excite suspicion."
"They had fixed upon tonight to go to Platte City. Ever since the boys had been with Jesse they have watched for an opportunity to shoot him, but he was always so heavily armed that it was impossible to draw a weapon without James seeing it. They declare that they had no idea of taking him alive, considering one undertaking suicidal. The opportunity they had long wished for came this morning. Breakfast was over. Charley Ford and Jesse James had been in the stable currying the horses preparatory to their night ride. On returning to the room where Robert Ford was, Jesse said: "It's an awfully hot day." He pulled off his coat and vest and tossed them on the bed. Then he said, "I guess I'll take off my pistols for fear somebody will see them if I walk in the yard." He unbuckled the belt in which he carried two .45 caliber revolvers, one a Smith and Wesson and the other a Colt, and laid them on the bed with his coat and vest. He then picked up a dusting brush with the intention of dusting some pictures which hung on the wall. To do this he got on a chair. His back was now turned to the (Ford) brothers, who silently stepped between Jesse and his revolvers."
"Mr. Prosecutor, how much longer is this to continue? We have other witnesses."
"Not much longer, Mr. Chairman. Will the witness please continue reading the news dispatch."
"At a motion from Charley both drew their guns. Robert was the quickest of the two, and in one motion he had the long weapon to a level with his eye, with the muzzle not more than four feet from the back of the outlaw's head. Even in that motion, quick as thought, there was something which did not escape the acute ears of the hunted man. He made a motion as if to turn his head to ascertain the cause of that suspicious sound, but too late. A nervous pressure on the trigger, a quick flash, a sharp report and the well directed ball crashed through the outlaw's skull. There was no outcry; just a swaying of the body and it fell heavily backwards upon the carpet of the floor. The shot had been fatal and all the bullets in the chambers of Charley's revolver still directed at Jesse's head could not more effectually have decided the fate of the greatest bandit and free booter that ever figured in the pages of a country's history."
"The ball had entered the base of the skull and made its way out through the forehead, over the left eye. It had been fired out of a Colt's .45 improved pattern, silver mounted and pearl handled pistol, presented by the dead man to his slayer only a few days ago."
"Excuse me for interrupting, Mr. Prosecutor, but how much longer will this be?"
"Just two more minutes, Mr. Chairman. We're finishing up now."
"Mrs. James was in the kitchen when the shooting was done, separated from the room in which the bloody tragedy occurred by the dining room. She heard the shot, and dropping her household duties ran into the front room. She saw her husband lying extended on his back, his slayers, each holding his revolver in his hand, making for the fence in the rear of the house. Robert had reached the enclosure, and was in the act of scaling it, when she stepped to the door, and calling to him: "Robert, you have done this, come back." Robert answered: "I swear to God I didn't." They then returned to where she stood. Mrs. James ran to the side of her husband and lifted his head. Life was not yet extinct, and when she asked him if he was hurt, it seemed to her that he wanted to say something, but could not. She tried to wash away the blood that was coursing over his face from the hole in his forehead, but it seemed to her that the blood would come faster than she could wipe it away, and in her hands Jesse James died."
"They (the Ford boys) went to the telegraph office, sent a message to Sheriff Timberlake, of Clay County; to Police Commissioner Craig, of Kansas City; to Governor Crittenden, and other officers, and then surrendered themselves to Marshal Craig."
"When the Ford boys appeared at the police station they were told by an officer that Marshal Craig and a posse of officers had gone in the direction of the James' residence, and they started after them and surrendered themselves. They accompanied the officers to the house and returned in custody of the police to the marshal's headquarters, where they were removed to the old circuit court room where the inquest was held, in the presence of an immense crowd."
"Are you finished with the reading of the news dispatch, Mr. Prosecutor?"
"Yes I am, Mr. Chairman. I now have a few interrogatives to propound to the witness."
"Mr. Johnson, do you know the name of the 'stringer' that worked for the Kansas City Daily Journal on April 3rd, 1882 and was the author of the news dispatch you just read into the record?"
"No, sir, I do not."
"Can you obtain this person's name and supply it to this Committee?"
"Yes, sir, I will do my best."
"Your news story seems to be more or less general information of the tragic killing of Jesse James, would you agree?"
"Yes, I would."
"Can you tell me the news source for your story or was it simply a general summary of the event your stringer in St. Joseph reported to the Kansas City Daily Journal?"
"It was the latter. The editor wanted me to write a lead-in to the news dispatch."
"Thank you, Mr. Johnson. I have no more questions of this witness at this time Mr. Chairman."
"You are dismissed at this time, Mr. Johnson, with the understanding that the Committee may want to call you back. Do you understand?"
"Yes I do, Mr. Chairman."
"You are dismissed with the thanks of the Committee."
"Will you please call your next witness, Mr. Prosecutor."