4 and half out of 5 stars

“Jesse James was a celebrity during his life… [He] was and remains the most famous outlaw of the Wild West, with both his life of crime and his death remaining pop culture fixtures… Eventually James, his brother [Frank] and their infamous gang became the most hunted outlaws in the country.” ~Sean McLachlan, Legends of the West: The History of the James-Younger Gang (Charles River Editors)

Big Pay to agents on lives of Jessie james and others. La Plata Home Press. La Plata Missouri 3 Jan 1880

La Plata Home Press, La Plata, Missouri, on 3 January, 1880.

“Jesse’s most famous associates, the Younger brothers– Cole, Jim, John, and Bob– were also some of the most feared bandits in the country. Rivaled only by Frank and Jesse James, with whom they often rode, they captured the imaginations of a not entirely unsympathetic public. Newspapers gave breathless accounts of their exploits and dime novels made up adventures they never had.” ~Sean McLachlan, Legends of the West: The History of the James-Younger Gang (Charles River Editors)

In fact, the truth remains a challenge to uncover because so much sensational highly fictionalized information was printed about the Youngers (and other bandits of the era).

“Biographies of the Younger brothers often resort to sensationalism or sloppy research. One example is the frequently repeated story that Cole Younger and the famous female bandit Belle Starr were lovers. In fact, Belle had a brief affair with Cole’s uncle, but barely knew Cole at all. To find the truth about these famous criminals, one must go back to the original sources.

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“Of course, the very nature of their business makes the Younger brothers hard to trace. Historians disagree on what robberies they participated in. One good estimate is that one or more of the Younger brothers, principally the eldest brother Cole, participated in a total of 12 bank robberies, seven train robberies, and four stagecoach robberies. Most of these robberies were done in league with the James brothers and many led to bloodshed, with at least 11 civilians being killed.

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“Legends of the West: The History of the James-Younger Gang traces the history of the outlaws. Along with pictures of important people, places, and events, you will learn about the West’s most notorious gang like never before, in no time at all.”

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~Sean McLachlan, Legends of the West: The History of the James-Younger Gang (Charles River Editors)

Bob, Jim, and Cole Younger, from left to right, with sister Henrietta. From Legends of the West: The History of the James-Younger Gang.

Bob, Jim, and Cole Younger, from left to right, with sister Henrietta. From Legends of the West: The History of the James-Younger Gang.

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VALUE

For those of us enamored of the Old West, nonfiction titles such as this are informative, interesting, and set the stage for the fiction we enjoy. Sean McLachlan did a fine job covering such a broad subject with clarify, specificity, and fair treatment–and did so in 62 print pages. I learned more in the 2 hour, and 7 minute audio presentation than I expected I would. The narrator, Scott Larson, is easy to listen to and his presentation of the unabridged book is a positive contribution.

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CONTENTS

Content Warning: the subject matter dealt with is by nature R-rated. Jessie James may have been a celebrity both in his own day and in lore of the Wild West–but the violence perpetrated by his gang was far from romantic. In presenting the historically documented facts, the author included examples of the crimes. This book may not be suitable for young students of history.

CONTENTS

Chapter 1: Jesse James’ Early Years

Chapter 2: The Younger Brothers’ Early Years

Chapter 3: Civil War bushwhackers

Chapter 4: Outlaws and Outcasts

Chapter 5: The Gang’s Last Ride

Chapter 6: The Death of Jesse James

Chapter 7: Prison and After for the Younger Brothers

Chapter 8: The Legacy of the James-Younger Gang

Online Resources (a link to Charles River Editors’ Amazon page containing their Legends of the Wild West series of titles)

Bibliography

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DETAILS

The chapters containing the early years of both the Younger brothers and Jesse James explain the circumstances surrounding their upbringing in pre-Civil War Missouri and the role slavery played, including the tensions over Kansas wanting to enter the Union. Such circumstances contributed to both families growing up “in an atmosphere charged with political radicalism and violence”, thus leading to their involvement with the most radical factions of the war. As Missouri became torn in two, with Union loyalists and dyed-in-the-wool Confederates living side-by-side, the James family proved staunch Confederates. Frank rode with the bushwhackers–“arguably the best and deadliest guerillas of the entire Civil War”. Jesse, at age 15, kept close ties to his elder brother, running messages between home and the guerilla camp. Such circumstances fed both young men a steady diet of violence, hatred, revenge, and bloodshed. Meanwhile, Cole Younger fought with a different bushwhacker band.

The striking details surrounding all that brought the Youngers and the Jameses through the war in a state of mind to continue a life of violence set a strong foundation for understanding how war changed them irrevocably. They fought viciously, drawing heavily on wrongs committed against friends and family, embattled and bloodthirsty. (See content warning, above.)

“Cole and Jim Younger and the James brothers had served in the toughest of the bushwhacker bands, witnessing summary executions, scalpings, and other mutilations. All of this happened while they were still in their teens, so it could only have damaged them psychologically. Like many other young men returning from war, they had a hard time putting their experiences behind them.” ~Sean McLachlan, Legends of the West: The History of the James-Younger Gang (Charles River Editors)

As the book progresses, the details and rich historic fabric remain every bit as strong.

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PHOTOGRAPHS

This title, both kindle and (I assume) print editions contain both contemporary images (such as the Clay County, Missouri bank–the first, ever, to be robbed in broad daylight, the first adventure of James-Younger Gang) and historic photographs, such as those pictured, above.

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Kindle version is a Free read with kindleunlimited.

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Copyright © 2016 Kristin Holt, LC

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