Teaching Students About Jessie James
Jessie James was one of the most notorious American outlaws of the 19th century. He gained fame and notoriety as a train and bank robber, and he remains a fascinating figure in American history. This article will discuss how to teach students about Jessie James and his impact on American history, allowing them to learn about this controversial figure while fostering critical thinking skills.
Lesson 1: Background and Early Life of Jessie James
Begin by providing your students with an overview of Jessie James’s background and early life. Explain that he was born in 1847 in Missouri to a slave-owning family, which played a crucial role in shaping his views on race, politics, and social issues. Discuss how his father’s death and the family’s reduced circumstances contributed to James’s decision to become an outlaw.
Lesson 2: Guerrilla Warfare and the Civil War
In this lesson, focus on Jessie James’s involvement in the American Civil War. Highlight his participation in William Quantrill’s Raiders, a pro-Confederate guerrilla group that conducted violent attacks on Union supporters. Discuss how this experience shaped James’s later career as an outlaw and helped him develop skills he would use in his many robberies.
Lesson 3: The Formation of the James-Younger Gang
Examine the formation of the James-Younger Gang, a group led by Jessie James that included his brother Frank and several other former Confederates. Discuss their shared motivation for becoming outlaws due to postwar animosity toward the federal government. Have students analyze various primary source newspaper accounts of the gang’s activities to understand their impact on society during that time.
Lesson 4: The Robberies
Delve into some of the most famous robberies committed by Jessie James and his gang, such as their 1869 Daviess County Savings Association robbery or the Great Northfield Minnesota Raid of 1876. Discuss the strategies used by the gang during each heist and explore whether James considered himself a modern-day Robin Hood, stealing from the rich to give to the poor.
Lesson 5: The Downfall and Death of Jessie James
Finally, examine the downfall and death of Jessie James, culminating in his murder by a fellow gang member in 1882. Discuss how James’s fame made him a target for law enforcement and rival outlaws alike. Explore debates about his legacy, including whether he was a hero, an anti-hero, or simply a criminal.