Here’s an entry promised earlier…
After a shooting, witness’ recollections may vary widely. Add to that what we would now consider sloppy investigation – the way it was done on the Frontier in Old West times – and 19th Century history starts to get a little fuzzy by the time it filters down to 21st Century readers.
While doing some research recently on the Northfield Bank Raid in Minnesota in 1876, that became apparent. No two historical accounts place the exchanges of gunfire at that hectic scene in the exact same order. “Jesse James was inside the First National Bank and killed the cashier!” “No, Jesse was outside, and it was his brother Frank who murdered the cashier inside!” “No, Jesse wasn’t even there, and he was turning his life around anyway…”
“The gunman killed by an armed citizen with a skillful 80-yard rifle shot was Bill Chadwell.” “No, it was another bad guy, named Stiles.” “You’re all nuts, Stiles was just one of Chadwell’s aliases!” And so it goes.
Hell, historians agree that Jesse James was killed by the “dirty little coward,” Robert Ford, but no one seems to agree on what he killed him with. Some historians can’t even agree with “they’s own selfs.” In “Jesse James: Legendary Outlaw” by Roger Bruns, we find on page 83, “…Bob Ford drew his Smith & Wesson .45 and shot the infamous outlaw through the back of the head.” However, turn the page and on P.85 we find this photo caption: “Bob Ford, the assassin of Jesse James, posed for this photograph with the weapon he used to kill the infamous outlaw.” The revolver in that photo is clearly a 7 ½” barrel Cavalry Model Colt Single Action Army.
In “The Escapades of Frank and Jesse James” historian Carl Breihan wrote, “Without hesitation Bob drew his Smith & Wesson and sent a slug crashing through Jesse’s head. This nickel-plated revolver, Serial No. 3766, Model No. 3, was the same weapon Jesse had given Bob as a present some days before.” (P.277) He adds, “Inquest records show that the gun used by Bob Ford was a Smith & Wesson and not a Colt as generally believed. Charley Ford said, ’Bob had a Smith & Wesson, and it was easier for him to get it out of his pocket.’ Bob Ford admitted, in part, “I could see that it was all over with Jesse when that Smith .44 slug tore through his head.” (P.280)
And some would have it that Ford killed James with one of James’ own guns, snatched from a two-holster gun belt James had just unbuckled and set on a table. Colt or Smith & Wesson? .44 or .45? Bob’s gun, or Jesse’s? A gun snatched from Jesse’s holster, or given to Bob by Jesse, or …?