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Yukon Territories

The Real Story Behind The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

A take a look at what actually occurred to the characters of Andrew Dominik’s 2007 western epic.

The Murder of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford Real Story

Warner Bros.

By Will DiGravio Published December 3, 2022

Real Stories is an ongoing column about the true tales behind motion pictures and TV reveals. It’s that straightforward. This half focuses on the true story behind Andrew Dominik’s 2007 western The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.

Similar to his characters Andrew Dominic 2007 western epic, The assassination of Jesse James by the coward Robert Ford, has garnered a cult following since its field workplace flop. The movie and its star-studded solid are impressed by a 1983 novel of the similar title by Ron Hansen, who in flip based mostly the guide on true occasions. Here’s a take a look at the actual story behind the movie.

The James Brothers

The story of Jesse and Frank James (performed in the movie by Brad Pitt and Sam Shepard) is the sort that naturally lends itself to the western style, which frequently offers with fantasy or the house between reality and fiction. The James Brothers had been born in Kansas in the 1840s and got here of age throughout the Civil War. As dedicated Confederates, they quickly joined guerrilla warring factions often known as “Bushwhackers”. For his half, Jesse turned a recognized assassin, and a few historians speculate that he killed greater than seventeen folks in his lifetime.

At the finish of the warfare, the James brothers launched into the financial institution theft that might make them well-known. According to that Encyclopedia Britannica Entry about the two brothers:

Throughout her lengthy profession and thereafter, her exploits had been picked up by writers who exaggerated and romanticized her exploits to accommodate japanese readers’ calls for for gory western tales.

As the movie itself notes, many quickly started to see Jesse James as a Robin Hood-like character who gave what he stole to these most in want. However, historians observe that there’s little proof that he ever stole for anybody apart from himself. He turned a logo for racist white Americans mourning the loss of the Confederacy. As Wil Haygood wrote in the Washington Post:

The fantasy of Jesse James raged like a white horse, bearing a person many used to imagine had a code of ethics and a want to avoid wasting their very own misplaced satisfaction. They had been principally white nation folks, worn down by the Civil War and the hand-to-mouth relationship that existed.

The James Gang

Almost as well-known as the brothers had been these with whom they related. Dominik’s movie reveals the gang at the finish of the James brothers’ tenure, after they had been already residing myths. The males dwell in the shadows of those that got here earlier than them: those that died in the service of the James brothers’ crime. This sense of paranoia drives her actions all through the movie. Here are some of the actual males starring in the movie.


Jerome Renner performs Wood Hite, Jesse’s cousin and member of the gang. According to historian Bill O’Neal, Hite was initially a raider with “Bloody” Bill Anderson, one of the best-known Confederate guerrilla fighters. In 1876, the James Gang suffered one of its best setbacks. They deliberate to rob a financial institution in Northfield, Minnesota. However, issues rapidly took a flip for the worse. When the gang entered the financial institution, the townspeople discovered about it and commenced to take up arms. Two members of the gang had been killed and two others injured. The James brothers needed to rebuild Hite to rebuild the gang. But based on O’Neal, his tenure was short-lived:

A lanky man with hunched shoulders and distinguished entrance enamel, Wood was simply recognizable, and after a couple of prepare robberies, he took refuge at his father’s house in Logan County, Kentucky.

Dick Lidil

Dick Liddil (performed by Paul Schneider) joined the James brothers round the similar time as Hite, close to the finish of the gang’s run in 1879. In the years following the new gang’s work, a wave of “paranoia” started to comb via the group, based on PBS. Government officers approached. Power struggles ensued. Nobody knew who to belief.

Sources differ as to the feud that ensued between Liddil and Hite at the finish of the James Gang’s tenure. But one rationalization is the hate that began as a result of of a lady named Martha. The dispute led to a shootout between the two in 1882, through which a person named Robert Ford (performed by Casey Affleck) Hite killed. Corresponding wild West Magazine:

[Liddil] went to Kansas City and turned himself in, principally out of worry of what Jesse James would do to him for killing Jesse’s first cousin. Liddil apparently informed the legislation most of what he knew about Jesse and the gang, nevertheless it wasn’t till late March that Missouri Gov. Thomas Crittenden revealed to the public that Liddil was in custody.

The Ford brothers

Robert and his brother Charlie, performed in the movie by Sam Rockwell, have additionally been linked to the James gang. According to O’Neal, Sam got here into the combine first. As in the movie’s opening scene, he was implicated in lots of of the gang’s well-known prepare robberies. And similar to in the film, the actual Robert approached Jesse, solely to betray him for the reward cash and ingratiate himself with the authorities.

Legend has it that on April 3, 1882, Robert shot Jesse in the again of the head whereas dusting an image in the front room of his house. O’Neal writes that, as in the movie, Ford was acquired by Missouri Governor Thomas Theodore Crittenden (James Carville), who pardoned Robert for the homicide of Hite.

The brothers turned well-known. However, darkish occasions had been forward. According to O’Neal, Bob was seen with “widespread disdain and contempt” by folks throughout the nation. In 1884, Charlie dedicated suicide. Bob unfold his story throughout the nation, however O’Neal writes, “Boos were the usual response.”

According to historian Joe Johnston (by way of St. Louis Public Radio):

The actual drawback with what Bob did was he shot Jesse in the again. You simply did not try this. Even the males who thought Jesse ought to be decommissioned thought Bob had it mistaken.

The assassination of Robert Ford

Bob’s fame in American life made him a goal. 1889, based on a report by New York Times, he survived an tried assassination. That Times quotes Bob’s telling of the story. As he leaned again in his chair, a person grabbed his hair and pulled out a knife. Luckily, a buddy of Bob’s intervened and stopped the man from chopping Bob’s throat. Bob says in the report:

The knife pierced my collar, grazed my neck, and gave me a minor wound. I used to be unarmed or I might have shot him on the spot. So he took to his heels and escaped.

However, Bob’s luck would run out. He died on June 8, 1892 at the age of 30, murdered by Edward Capeheart O’Kelley of Missouri after a brawl in a saloon. The causes for the killing are disputed. However, based on Johnston:

[O’Kelley’s] Dad fought for the Union and his grandparents got here from a Confederate household – he was separated from his dad and mom each bodily and ideologically. As a toddler, he idolized Jesse and dreamed of using with him.

O’Kelley solely served 10 years in jail for killing Bob Ford. After his launch, he was himself killed after a run-in with the Oklahoma legislation. The violence continued.

Related Topics: True Stories

Will DiGravio is a Brooklyn-based critic, researcher, and video essayist who has been a collaborator at Film School Rejects since 2018. Follow and/or unfollow him on Twitter @willdigravio.

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