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Jesse James Once Lived in Baltimore
25 Aug 1929
He stayed here more than once as did other well-known western characters from American history. Doc Holiday for one was trained as a dentist here in Baltimore at the University of Maryland Dental School. Getting back to the James Boys, it seemed when things got hot, they found their way to Baltimore where Jesse stayed under his alias Thomas Howard. Neighbors said he was a calm easy-going man. Approx. 1879 at the end of what was known as the “Serious Seventies” Baltimore was a quiet town. It had cobble stone streets for which barouches and other such vehicles of the time bumped and clattered their way over. The population at the time was only made up of 330.000 and city government only collected about $4 million a year in taxes. The mayor at the time was Ferdinand Latrobe who began his career as mayor and continued the position for seven terms. The Northern boundary of the city was North Ave. and its intersection with Madison Ave.
Jesse James’ Family Headquarters
Of all the parts of Baltimore’s history, Jesse and Frank James staying along with their families was not known until the 1920’s. It turns out that the bandit, his wife, kids, and his brother Frank James sometimes made Baltimore their headquarters and this took place during the serious and picturesque seventies. There was a story of a close call of what would have been a shootout between Frank James and our Baltimore City Policemen of the time. Frank James lucked out, also prevented the thrill of anyone knowing the James boys were harbored by this city. It wasn’t often that Jesse James would leave a clue of his true identity when he galloped away from a crime back to where he once came, said, Robertus Love, a former newspaper writer, who knew Jesse personally and for a short time road with the James Boys in order to pen Jessie’s biography, “The Rise and fall of Jesse James,” Love liked Jesse very much. Mr. Love wrote, “Mr. James stated that the family had lived at Nashville, and elsewhere in Tennessee in recent years, and for a time in Baltimore Md., and for some months in Kansas City just removing to St. Joseph.
Where did they live? The records are unclear, and the reason is unclear, he obviously didn’t give the name Jesse and Frank James, Thomas Howard wouldn’t have been as well know back then as it became after his having been killed. When Mrs. James spoke, she said, “We came here to live as other people do. They tell some hard things about my husband, but a better man never lived. He never drank, smoked, or chewed. He never liked whisky. He never swore in my presence and wouldn’t allow others to do so,” Jesse was evidently a good husband and father. A good family man.
A Good Neighbor
“Tom Howard” was the name taken by the man who was much “wanted by the police” in those days, and in all probability he was so successful in his attempt to “live as other people live” that his presence among them created no suggestion of a ripple in the quiet lives of his various neighborhoods. At the time of his death several people who had known him in various cities gave testimony that Tom Howard was “a good neighbor.” There were many who believed Jesse James was not an outlaw and bandit by choice, but that after the civil war he became involved in the guerrilla warfare which continued for some time between the border states, and through these conflicts becoming attached to an outlaw band, he found it impossible to break away. He had a ton of friends among law-abiding groups making it easy to slip in and out of towns where he did not commit crime and blend right in. There were many neighbors that said he attended church and sang all the hymnals, though they say he was obviously a better bank robber than he was a singer. A Baptist Minister once asked Jesse why he does not stop the things he is doing? Jesse answered, “If you’ll tell me just how I can stop, I’ll be glad enough to stop; but I don’t intend to stop directly under a rope!” His brother frank found a way to stop, he made his way into see a governor in the state of Missouri and turned himself in. He was tried for one crime in a plea deal, served his term, came out of prison, and lived to be a respectable member of society. It was at this period in his life that he told a story of his experience in Baltimore City. At the time of the telling he was employed as doorkeeper at a prominent theater, and the tale was related to a man who was then a young detective. The story was told in Mr. Love’s book was based on Frank James’ theory that “the officer always gets it when he least expects it” “He the illustrated his point by relating his Baltimore experience, as he put it, “They thought they wanted me.” He said he was stopping in Baltimore; he had a room in a house built of solid block of dwellings with no space between them. One night he wanted something to eat, so he took a walk to a nearby market that was open. On the way back to his room with a basket of food on his left arm, his coat collar turned up and his hat brim turned down, he noticed a number of policemen walking up and down in front of his house and they were waiting for him to return. He said, “I was too close to turn back without drawing their suspicion. Directly across the street from the policemen I noticed a white horse hitched to a buggy; the street was well lit from gas lamps and the horse showed up quite well in the mellow gleam.
“I decided quickly upon my plan of action. Probably the officers, I thought, had the block surrounded. My plan was to walk straight on past them if they didn’t interfere with me; I would not go into my room at all. If they attempted to capture me, I would try to reach the horse and buggy by “shooting it out” with the officers. And then drive away as fast as that horse would have taken me.” - “James said he walked along with his six shooter, which he had harnessed under his left arm. His right hand thus was concealed under his coat and under the arm in which the basket hung. Approaching the bunch of officers, he edged out toward the curbing, intending to walk around them as though he had not noticed them especially. When he was opposite the officers, one of them reached out a hand to stop him. James sprang backward into the street, off the sidewalk, toward the horse and buggy, pulling his pistol from its place, but not quite getting it out – not so that it was visible to the policemen. “Well, sir, what is it? What is it?” James asked the officers who had tried to stop him. “Don’t be scared, “ said one of the officers, with an oath; we’re not going to hurt you,” James again said, “What is it?” expecting every second to find it necessary to open fire and “get” as many of them as he could, when another officer in a rather gentle tone said, “Say, don’t be afraid of us; we’re not going to harm you, man; we simply want to get men enough to serve as a jury in a coroner’s case where a man in the house next door to my house had died without medical attention, by natural cause or otherwise.” “James then saw, he stated, that the policemen were in front of the house adjoining the one where he was roomed…... he “simply told them he was not a citizen of Maryland but lived in Washington.” But those Baltimore Policemen never knew how close they came to shooting it out with Frank James, and or how far from James his outlaw brother Jesse might have been.
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