Sunday, September 09, 2007

Jesse James

Book Cover: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

I call your attention to an article in today's Washington Post: Taking Aim at Jesse James & History by Wil Haygood.

The twangy-voiced Missourian who cried over his region's defeat in the Civil War was such a mythic and bewildering figure. Snaking his way into the history of his own era and beyond, giving himself to the dreams and nightmares of little boys on the 1870s American prairie. His very name seemed to hang out in the open air like a menace, with an unspoken threat and hardness around it. As if it were a Colt .45 in a holster lying on a barren wooden table. Jesse James.

Sometimes, by candlelight, he scanned books written about him -- the popular paperbacks that fancied up his exploits and that children devoured and traveling book salesmen guarded as if shielding sacraments. Then he resumed his murdering and robbing ways....

The article goes on to describe Ron Hanson's 1983 novel, Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, and an upcoming movie based on that book. I'm not sure how I missed this when it came out, but it looks like something I'll want to read. Jesse James rode out of Missouri, raided towns in Iowa and Minnesota, and returned to his backwoods hideout. In Iowa, he was our local incursion of the Civil War and the Wild West rolled into one, and I've been fascinated since childhood.


Reya Mellicker said...

Too bad they chose Brad Pitt to play him in the movie version. I'll bet you good money that the real Jesse James wasn't pretty.

Rebecca Clayton said...

He was short and pockmarked, and he looked like he'd had a hard, underfed life (which he had). Some people described him as charismatic, though.