Bob Ford: Dirty Little Coward

Bob Ford made history when he shot Jesse James in the back of the head. But history has labelled him as a coward? Is the reputation deserved? Get the facts ans decide for yourself.

Robert Ford, the man who would became infamous as the killer of Jesse James, was a small time crook who was born in Missouri in 1861. He grew to be a wiry, scheming young man who was determined to make his own mark on the world. Throughout his teens Ford became an admirer of the daring exploits of Jesse James. He finally got his chance to meet Jesse in 1880 and began to circulate, along with his brother Charlie, on the outer fringes of the James-Younger gang. Over time, young Bob began to develop the confidence of the gang's leader.

In November, 1881 Jesse James moved his wife and children to St.Joseph , Missouri where he took on the role of a respected member of the community under the alias of J.D. Howard. About this time Missouri Governor Thomas Crittendon put up a reward of $10,000 for any information leading to the capture of Frank or Jesse James. The offer was too good for an ambitious young rogue like Robert Ford to pass up. In early 1882, Ford made an appointment to see Governor Crittendon. He told him that he was an acquaintance of Jesse James and that he wanted to assist in the capture of the famous outlaw. The Governor passed the youngster on to the Sheriff of Clay County. Together the two of them formulated a plan to get Jesse James. It was decided that Ford would remain close to Jesse for the time being, building Jesse's confidence in him. Ford was then to tip off the Sheriff as to the time and place of the James Gang's next job.

So, in March of 1882, while ceratin members of his gang were turning themselves in to the law, Jesse was comforted to find what he thought were two stalwarts knocking on his door - Charlie and Bob Ford. He gladly put them up in his home in St. Joseph. On the morning of April 3, Bob and Jesse went down to read the daily papers before breakfast. The papers were sprawled with the news of the surrender of a James gang member, Dick Liddil. Unsure whether Jesse had seen the account, Bob followed him in to breakfast. Over breakfast Jesse challenged Bob as to whether he was aware of Liddil's surrender. Bob said he hadn't known about it. Jesse simply glared at him. This made Bob uncomfortable and he got up and went into the front room. A few moments later Jesse came into the room smiling. He said, "Well, Bob, it's all right anyway." Bob knew that Jesse was just making a pretense and had figured out that he was there to betray him. Jesse made a show of unbuckling his gun belt. This was the first time Bob had ever seen Jesse unarmed. The famed outlaw then said , "That picture is awful dusty."

He stood on a chair and began to dust the picture. Bob Ford himself relates what happened next in a written statement prepared for the Governor:

"˜As he stood there, unarmed, with his back to me, it came to me suddenly, "˜Now or never is your chance. If you don't get him now, he'll get you tonight. "˜ Without further thought or a moment's delay I pulled my revolver and levelled it as I sat. He heard the hammer click as I cocked it with my thumb and started to turn as I pulled the trigger. The ball struck him just behind the ear, and he fell like a log, dead.'

Ford, expecting to be glorified for his crime , but was instead put on trial for murder. A jury soon found guilty and sentenced him to hang. Within hours of the sentence a pardon was given by the Governor. Bob however, never got the reward money that he had been promised.

The cowardly deceit of the murder of Jesse James plagued Bob and his brother Charlie for the rest of their lives. Unable to live with the deceit he felt, Charlie committed suicide in May of 1884. Bob Ford tried to live off of his reputation as the slayer of Jesse James, posing for photographs in dime museums across the West. He opened two unsuccessful saloons in and around Creede, Colorado. On one occasion he bet heavily on a prize fighter who lost. In a drunken rage, Ford determined to kill the prize fighter. In preparation he and an accomplice shot up the town. As a result he was hounded out of town.

In 1892 Ford was allowed to return to Creede where he opened a Dance Hall. However in June, a massive fire burned down the establishment along with most of the rest of the town. Ford had his business going again in a couple of days under a make-shift tent. A day later a man by the name of Edward O. Kelly stepped into the Tent with a sawed off shotgun. He approached Bob Ford and levelling his weapon, fired both barrels point blank. He became the man who killed the man who killed Jesse James.

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