October 30, 1866
On this day Jessie James got blamed or took credit for a bank robbery in Liberty, Missouri, one of the few he was suspected of but maybe didn’t commit.
For sure, five members of the future James-Younger gang held up the Alexander Mitchell Bank in nearby Lexington, Missouri, their second daring daylight hold-up. A number of latter-day historians believe the fledgling outlaw Jesse and brother Frank, however, were nowhere around. They believe Little Arch Clement, (right) a particularly vicious member of Quantrill’s Raiders, may have been responsible.
He was implicated in a number of brutal raids including the Centralia Massacre in 1864 in which Anderson’s men killed, scalped and mutilated 22 unarmed Union soldiers returning home from the Battle of Atlanta.
Following Robert E. Lee’s defeat in Virginia, Clement and his followers refused to give up the fight, demanding the town of Lexington surrender. By the Spring of 1865 the Federal Government’s promise of amnesty finally convinced most of the guerillas to give up. But Clement and Jesse James chose to shoot it out with a group of Union soldiers. The encounter left Jesse seriously wounded. (Right)
In an attempt to relitigate the Civil War, Clement and his supporters took revenge on banks owned by officers of Union militias. The first in Liberty, Missouri, netted Clement’s gang $58,000, nearly $1 million today,
Lexington was next. It had been war-time headquarters for Quantrill’s Raiders and the site of two of the largest battles in the West. The first was September, 12, 1861, and the second three years later on October 29.
Clement was not content to just take Yankee money. He continually harassed Missouri’s Republican, pro-Union officials. Just a month after the Lexington hold-up, Clement brazenly led 100 former “bushwhackers” into Lexington, intimidating voters at the poles, most likely costing the Republicans the election.
In response, Thomas Fletcher, (left) the Republican governor, dispatched a platoon of state militia led by Major Bacon Montgomery. Clement and company retreated only to return in December, insisting they be allowed to “enlist” in Montgomery’s platoon. To avoid blood shed in the streets, the major let them sign up.
Clement, repairing to the local saloon, reportedly was enjoying his little joke. Montgomery, however, got the last laugh, sending a detail to arrest him on a warrant issued for the Liberty holdup.
Clement didn’t go quietly. In the gunfight that followed, he was mortally wounded. Desperate to escape, Clement rode up the main street and was shot from his horse by a detachment of Morgan’s troops stationed at the courthouse. “I did what I said I’d do – die before I’d surrender,” he was quoted by one of the soldiers.
The 20-year-0ld outlaw was buried in the Arnold Cemetery at Wellington. His death left room for 19-year-old Jesse James to become Missouri’s next notorious outlaw. For more than 16 years, he and his gang terrorized citizens in six states, robbing banks, holding up trains, murdering bystanders in the process.
James apparently relished the attention. He often wrote letters to newspapers, playing the part of an oppressed citizen and a Midwestern Robin Hood. Following his death on April 3, 1882 at 34 in St. Joseph the controversy over his legacy continued. Today history has tilted from Jesse, the victim to Jesse James, villain.
The Jesse James Bank Museum, Liberty, Missouri, is located on the town’s historic square. The site of the nation’s first successful daylight bank robbery, February 13, 1866. Attributed to the James gang, the bandits were never caught. Appearing just as it was that day with authentic period furnishings, a vintage Seth Thomas clock is set for the time and date of the crime and original photographs and documents are on display.
The museum store has a variety of historic books, period toys and games. Operated by the Department of Clay County Historic sites, the museum is open Monday through Saturday from 10 to 4 and closed Sunday. Admission is $6.50 for adults, $6 for seniors, children 8 to 15, $4 and under 8 free. For more information go to claycountymo.gov/Historic_Sites/Jesse_James_Bank_Museum , call (816) 736-8510 or write The Jesse James Bank, 103 N. Water, Liberty, MO 64068.
© Text Only – 2018 – Headin’ West LLC – All photos – public domain or fair use.
*Head On West strives for historic accuracy and uses a number of sources considered reliable. When research differs on significant facts, the various points of view will be cited.