Young Jesse James at Greenville

After the Civil War, people familiar with Jesse James' criminal activities didn't agree about whether the robberies and violence were justified.

Ex-Confederate soldier John Newman Edwards thought Jesse was largely a victim of his times. "We called him outlaw," Edwards wrote, "and he was; but fate made him so. When the war closed Jesse James had no home. Proscribed, hunted, shot, driven away from among his people, a price put upon his head -- what else could the man do, with such a nature, except what he did do?"

But Robert Pinkerton of Pinkerton's National Detective Agency, whose unarmed detective Jesse had murdered, rejected the idea that the young outlaw was a victim. In 1879 he wrote, "I consider Jesse James the worst man, without exception, in America. He is utterly devoid of fear, and has no more compunction about cold blooded murder than he has about eating his breakfast."

Was Jesse James' life of crime justified?

Shortly after the site launched in 2005, we asked our users to answer this controversial question. Below are the results from this poll.

  • Yes: 57%
  • No: 42%

Total number of poll participants: 4,151
Of the participants polled, 2,306 watched at least half of the film; of those, 1,415 said the film influenced their vote. 

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Since 1921, dozens of movies have featured a character based on Jesse James, depicting him in very different lights. Which portrayal do you think is the most historically accurate? Do you have a favorite?