Life and Times of Jesse James

By: Frank Triplett
1882 (originally)
Nonfiction
Rating: 4/5

Life and Times of Jesse James

Sheer entertainment.

That’s how I’d describe the Life and Times of Jesse James. Frank Triplett is something else.

With probably the most widely recognizable name of all the members of the notorious James-Younger Gang – who practically invented bank robbing outlawry – Jesse James is part of the American mythology. He’s a figure so distorted in media representation and collective memory (even while alive, I might add) that it’s hard to suss out what is and isn’t true.

Triplett attempts.

Ha.

My edition of this book has an introduction by a Joseph W. Snell of the Kansas State Historical Society that let’s you know that you better not take Triplett at his word. And even better are the footnotes peppered throughout that correct or straight contradict Triplett’s statements. Note that I’m classing this as nonfiction, but that is a v.e.r.y. loose definition.

Triplett is quick to remind you that he had to write this book in three weeks and any biases or misspellings, etc. should be forgiven. Oh yeah, and he claims to have interviewed and received the blessing of Jesse James’s wife and mother. Which Mr. Snell of course denies.

So what should you believe?

Who knows.

Don’t go into this book looking to read a biography of Jesse James; that’s my take. Go into this book looking to be swept away in a mythos and a romanticized portrait of a bygone era. I happened to be reading this while I was also reading an Arthurian novel, and it’s incredible to see the language patterns mirroring each other. Every man is the truest; every quest the most honorable; every woman the purest, etc.

It’s thrilling and fun.

Except when it’s repetitive. Which it is. A lot. There are a few chapters in the first third of this book where Triplett gives you robbery after robbery after robbery, a few pages on each, before ending each anecdote by saying (and I’m paraphrasing), “Jesse and Frank James were blamed by society but any sane man would recognize they could not have been and were not present. The robbery was too beneath them, the men who perpetrated it were too hotheaded, and the outcome too terrible for them to have possibly been involved.”

Yeah. Okay.

I had the pleasure of traveling through Missouri and Kansas and Iowa and a few more midwestern states while I was smack in the middle of this book, and it was incredible. Definitely brought some entertainment value to the endless fields of corn. Triplett paints quite the picture of a place I would’ve been hard pressed to romanticize. Every town is beautiful, every sunny day perfect. He’s so flowery.

It was on a pleasant day toward the close of the month of transient showers when the staid and peaceful burghers of the village were startled by an apparition whose evil portent was unusual in so quiet and secluded a spot.

Pages of that. I’m telling you; it’s hilarious. Not to mention the absofruitly knee-slapping chapter titled: Jesse James’ Marriage. Ohhhhh yeah.

PS – In case my tone isn’t reading accurately, here’s my nota bene. This is not a comedic book. It is intended to be a true biography. I find humor in the way it was written and Triplett’s way of looking at the world, not in its intentions.

So anyways. If you’ve an interest in James, then I’m guessing you already know about Triplett. This book is well-established; it’s nothing new (literally – it’s so old!). And it’s been ripped apart before.

I don’t know the facts. I don’t know the players. I don’t know what’s being exaggerated and what isn’t.

But I do know that this book is fun in the way that old westerns are fun. And, if nothing else, this version has quite the rich store of authentic photographs and copies of letters and posters, etc. I spent forever poring over each image.

Have fun with it!

 

*****

 

Enjoyed the Life and Times of Jesse James? Here are some suggestions:

(for more by Triplett)

Mountain Men of the Rockies by Frank Triplett

Thomas Eddie by Frank Triplett

Conquering the Wilderness by Frank Triplett

(for more Westerns)

Anything for Billy by Larry McMurtry

The Lone Star Ranger by Zane Grey

Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy

To Tame a Land by Louis L’Amour

(for more mythos… go with me here)

The Story of King Arthur and His Knights by Howard Pyle

(for good biography on legendary characters)

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin by Benjamin Franklin

Dylan Thomas by Paul Ferris

 

Coming up:

Ground Rules by Renee Swann

The Patron Saint of Liars by Ann Patchett

The Story of King Arthur and His Knights by Howard Pyle

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