Nupenz Book Review
Gretchen L. Bourquin Reviews Jesse

Summer 2005

I picked up "The Jesse James Scrapbook" by George Jansen with a limited knowledge of this legendary criminal. I'd studied him only in passing, a few paragraphs in my high school and college history books. The message was basically this: Jesse James and the Cole Younger Gang robbed a lot of banks and trains back in the Old West, and killed a lot of people in the process.

Jansen begins "The Jesse James Scrapbook" following the thoughts of a twelve year old boy who has created the scrapbook by posting articles of his mother's "Tour of the Continent" scrapbook. Having been busted by his mom, he declares that he intends on finishing the scrapbook, interviewing anyone who knew, saw, or was robbed by Jesse.

The book then delves into James' childhood, the first "scrap" coming from Jesse's schoolteacher. She describes Jesse as a tagalong kid to his older brother, Frank, who seemed to be practically worshipped by their mother. All in all Jansen presents Jesse James with rose-colored glasses, painting him as a "Robin Hood" type-robbing from the rich and giving to the poor. There is a sense that James and the Younger Gang are more than just criminals. There was a political agenda behind their actions, a sense of mission, almost a ministry, which motivated Jesse James as he fell further into a criminal career after the Civil War.

I do not believe that slavery was a good thing, nor do I condone the mass robbery and murder of innocent people inflicted by the James brothers and the rest of the Younger gang, but after reading this book I have a better understanding of the economic and social desperation the South was forced into. They had become accustomed to a culture of slavery, and when that was torn there was much resentment harbored toward the Yankees who thought they knew a better way.

There is clearly more than one way to dissect an outlaw, and I agree that the legend of Jesse James deserves more than a passing mention. You don't become notorious without first being interesting. Jansen presents him in an interesting format, and gives the reader a good sense of what made the outlaw tick.

This review copyright 2005, Gretchen L. Bourquin reproduced here with permission.

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