In 1874, Jesse and Frank James were robbing banks and trains to the point that the railroads decided to hire the famous detective group the Pinkertons to hunt them down.  But, the Pinkertons, in spite of their numbers and skill, weren’t having any luck rounding up the James boys. Then late in 1874 one of their agents, John Wicher was found dead close to the James home. The Pinkertons were convinced that the James’ or one of their people had killed him, and they decided to raise the ante.
 
  Receiving information that Jesse and Frank were visiting their mother in Kearney, Missouri, on January 26, 1875, the Pinkertons surrounded the James home with the idea of catching Jesse and Frank.  In the process, they threw an incendiary device into the house to illuminate the interior.  But it exploded.  Unfortunately, it blew off the arm of Jesse and Frank’s mother and killed their little brother.  In addition to this, neither Jesse nor Frank was there.
  Although the Pinkerstons never acknowledged that they were responsible for the bombing, everyone knew they did it.  Realizing they had overplayed their hand, from this point forward the Pinkertons developed a low profile in their search for the James Brothers.
  The bombing convinced everyone that the James Brothers were innocent victims of the powerful railroads.  The Missouri legislature even came close to passing a bill that would give amnesty to the Jameses.  And Zerelda Samuel, their mother, was always willing to make public appearances, showing her missing arm, and giving a melodramatic speech about how the evil railroads were persecuting her innocent sons.
 
  It worked too.  Because farmers throughout the region hid and protected the James Brothers, so the Pinkertons were never able to come close to catching them.

Filed under: Old West Myth & Fact

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