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Cultural depictions of Jesse James

Cultural depictions of Jesse James

Cultural depictions of Jesse James appear in various types of media, including literature, video games, comics, music, stage productions, films, television, and radio. James is variously described as an American outlaw, bank and train robber, guerrilla, and leader of the James–Younger Gang. After the American civil war, as members of various gangs of outlaws, Jesse and Frank James robbed banks, stagecoaches, and trains across the Midwest, gaining national fame and even sympathy despite their crimes. James became an iconic figure from the era, and his life has been dramatized and memorialized numerous times.


The James brothers became a staple in dime novels of the era, peaking in the 1880s following Jesse's death. James has often been used as a fictional character in many Western novels, including some published while he was alive. For instance, in Willa Cather's My Ántonia, the narrator reads a book entitled 'Life of Jesse James' – probably referring to a dime novel.

In Charles Portis's 1968 novel True Grit, U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn describes fighting with Cole Younger and Frank James for the Confederacy during the Civil War. Long after his adventure with Mattie Ross, Cogburn ends his days in a traveling road show with the aged Cole Younger and Frank James.

John Newman Edwards, editor of the Kansas City Times, was largely responsible for creating the legend of Jesse James and his fellow Confederate guerrillas.

During his travel to the "Wilde West", Oscar Wilde visited Jesse James' hometown in Missouri. Learning that James had been assassinated by his own gang member, "an event that sent the town into mourning and scrambling to buy Jesse's artifacts", and heightened the "romantic appeal of the social outcast" in his mind, Wilde wrote in a letter home that: "Americans are certainly great hero-worshippers, and always take [their] heroes from the criminal classes."

Video games

In Bill & Ted's Excellent Video Game Adventure, the characters must give an Uzi to Jesse James. Jesse James has been playable in two games Gunfighter: The Legend of Jesse James for PlayStation and Gunfighter II: Revenge of Jesse James for PlayStation 2. He appears as an antagonist in Call of Juarez: Gunslinger (2013), where he is faced down against Silas Greaves in a duel. Jesse James' severed hand (or "shooting hand") makes various appearances throughout the Sam & Max point-and-click adventure game adaptations, often used as a solution to in-game puzzles.


From 1950 to 1956 Avon Comics published 24 issues of Jesse James featuring art by Wally Wood, Joe Kubert and Everett Kinstler, among others. A selection of stories from these issues was published by AC Comics in 1990. In 1969, artist Morris and writer René Goscinny (co-creator of Asterix) had Lucky Luke confronting Jesse James, his brother Frank, and Cole Younger. The adventure poked fun at the image of Jesse as a new Robin Hood. Although he passes himself off as such and does indeed steal from the rich (who are, logically, the only ones worth stealing from), he and his gang take turns being "poor," thus keeping the loot for themselves. Frank quotes from Shakespeare, and Younger is portrayed as a fun-loving joker, full of good humor. One critic has likened this version of the James brothers as "intellectuals bandits, who won't stop theorizing their outlaw activities and hear themselves talk." In the end, the at-first-cowed people of a town fight back against the James gang and send them packing in tar and feathers.


Stage productions

The musical melodrama "Jesse," written by Bob and Marion Moulton with lyrics by Prairie Home Companion writer/performer Vern Sutton and music by William Huckaby and Donna Paulsen, has since 1976 (the centennial of the James-Younger gang's Northfield bank raid) traditionally been performed in Northfield, Minnesota, during the town's annual Defeat of Jesse James Days.


There have been numerous portrayals of Jesse James in film and television, including two wherein Jesse James, Jr. depicts his father. In many of the films, James is portrayed as a Robin Hood-like character.



The killing of Jesse James was depicted on the CBS radio show Crime Classics on July 20, 1953, in the episode entitled "The Death of a Picture Hanger". The episode featured Clayton Post as Jesse James, Paul Frees as Charley Ford, and Sam Edwards as Robert Ford.


Text submitted to CC-BY-SA license. Source: Cultural depictions of Jesse James by Wikipedia (Historical)