Robert Ford (outlaw)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Robert Newton Ford
Robert Ford.jpg
Robert Ford, undated.
Born (1861-12-08)December 8, 1861
Ray County, Missouri, USA
Died June 8, 1892(1892-06-08) (aged 30)
Creede, Colorado
Cause of death
Assassinated by Edward Capehart O'Kelley
Resting place
Richmond Cemetery in Richmond, Missouri
Occupation Outlaw; Saloon owner
Known for The assassination of Jesse James
Parents James Thomas and Mary Bruin Ford

Robert Newton "Bob" Ford (December 8, 1861 – June 8, 1892) was an American outlaw best known for killing his gang leader, Jesse James, in 1882. Ford was shot to death by Edward Capehart O'Kelley in Ford's temporary tent saloon with a shotgun blast to the front upper body.[1] He was first interred in Creede, Colorado, where the saloon was located and where he was killed, but he was later reburied at Richmond Cemetery in Richmond in Ray County, Missouri, with "The man who shot Jesse James" inscribed on his grave marker.[2][dead link]

Early years[edit]

Robert Ford was born the youngest of seven children in Ray County, Missouri, to James Thomas Ford and his wife, the former Mary Bruin. As a young man, he became an admirer of Jesse James for his Civil War record and James's criminal exploits. In 1880, he finally met James. Ford's brother Charles is believed to have taken part in the James gang's Blue Cut train robbery[3] in Jackson County west of Glendale, Missouri (renamed Selsa and now part of Independence), on September 7, 1881.[4][5]

Joining the gang[edit]

In November 1881, James moved his family to St. Joseph, Missouri. He intended to give up crime but first wanted to stage one last robbery at Blue Cut, Missouri. The James gang had been greatly reduced in numbers by that time. Some had fled the gang in fear of prosecution, and many of the original members were either dead or in prison after a botched robbery in Northfield, Minnesota. After the train robbery, Frank James decided to retire from crime, settling in Lynchburg, Virginia.[6]

By the spring of 1882, with his gang depleted by arrests, deaths and defections, James thought that he could only trust the Ford brothers.[7] Charles had been out on raids with James before, but Bob was an eager new recruit. The Fords resided in St. Joseph with the James family, where Jesse went by the alias of Thomas Howard. The Ford brothers passed themselves off as Bob and Charles Johnson, Howard's cousins.[citation needed]

Hoping to keep the gang alive, James invited the Fords to take part in the robbery of the Platte City Bank, but the brothers had already decided not to take part in the robbery in order to collect the $10,000 bounty placed on James by Governor Thomas T. Crittenden. In January 1882, Robert Ford and Dick Liddil surrendered to Sheriff James Timberlake at their sister Martha Bolton's residence in Ray County. They were brought into a meeting with Crittenden for being in the presence of the James's cousin, Wood Hite the day Hite was murdered. Crittenden promised Ford a full pardon if he would also kill Jesse James, who was by then the most wanted criminal in the USA.[8] Crittenden had made capture of the James brothers his top priority; in his inaugural address he declared that no political motives could be allowed to keep them from justice. Barred by law from offering a sufficiently large reward, he had turned to the railroad and express corporations to put up a $5,000 bounty for each of them.

Killing Jesse James[edit]

Jesse James' home in St. Joseph, Missouri, where Ford assassinated James in 1882

On April 3, 1882, after eating breakfast, the Fords and James went into the living room in preparation for the trip to Platte City. James had just learned of gang member Dick Liddil's confession for participating in Hite's murder while reading the daily newspaper, and grew increasingly suspicious of the Fords for never reporting this matter to him. According to Robert Ford, it became clear to him that James had realized they were there to betray him. However, instead of scolding the Fords, James walked across the living room to lay his revolvers on a sofa. He then turned around and noticed a dusty picture above the mantle, and stood on a chair in order to clean it. Robert Ford then drew his weapon, and shot the unarmed Jesse James in the back of the head.[9][10] James' wife Zerelda Mimms ran into the room and screamed, "You've killed him." Robert Ford's immediate response was "I swear to God I didn't."

After the killing, the Fords wired Crittenden to claim their reward. They surrendered themselves to legal authorities, but they were dismayed to find that they were charged with first degree murder. In one day, the Ford brothers were indicted, pled guilty, and were sentenced to death by hanging, but two hours later, Crittenden granted them a full pardon.[11] Despite the deal that was made with Crittenden, the Ford brothers received only $500, a fraction of the money they were originally promised.[12]

Later years[edit]

For a time, Bob Ford earned money by posing for photographs as "the man who killed Jesse James" in dime museums.[13] He also appeared on stage with his brother Charles, reenacting the murder in a touring stage show, but his performance was not well received. The way he had killed James—while his back was turned and he was unarmed—earned Ford much enmity from the residents of the various towns where they performed.[citation needed]

Charles, terminally ill with tuberculosis and addicted to morphine, committed suicide on May 4, 1884.[14] Soon afterward, Bob Ford and Dick Liddil relocated to Las Vegas, New Mexico, where they opened a saloon.[15] By early 1885, Bob Ford had become a Las Vegas city policeman.[citation needed] According to legend, Ford, the owner of a saloon, had a shooting contest with Jose Chavez y Chavez, a comrade-in-arms of Billy the Kid during the Lincoln County War. Ford lost the contest and left town.[16]

On December 26, 1889, Ford survived an assassination attempt in Kansas City, Kansas when an assailant tried to slit his throat.[17]

Within a few years, Robert Ford had settled in Colorado, where he opened a saloon-gambling house in Walsenberg. When silver was found in Creede, Ford closed his saloon and opened one there.[18]

On the eve of Easter 1892, Ford and gunman Joe Palmer, a member of the Soapy Smith gang, were drinking in the local saloons and proceeded to shoot out windows and street lamps along Creede's Main Street. With the help of friends and business partners of Smith, they were soon allowed to return. Ford purchased a lot and on May 29, 1892, opened Ford's Exchange, said to have been a dance hall.[19] Six days later, the entire business district, including Ford's Exchange, burned to the ground in a major fire. Ford opened a tent saloon until he could rebuild.


Three days after the fire, on June 8, 1892, Edward O'Kelley entered Ford's tent saloon with a shotgun. According to witnesses, Ford's back was turned. O'Kelley said, "Hello, Bob." As Ford turned to see who it was, O'Kelley fired both barrels, killing Ford instantly. O'Kelley hence became "the man who killed the man who killed Jesse James." O'Kelley's sentence was commuted because of a medical condition, and he was released on October 3, 1902.[1][20][21] O'Kelley was subsequently killed on January 13, 1904 while trying to shoot a policeman.

Ford was buried in Creede, but later was exhumed and reburied in Richmond in his native Ray County at Richmond Cemetery.[2]

Cultural depictions[edit]


Television series[edit]



Further information: Jesse James in music
  • Recorded in 1924, the lyrics of the folk song Jesse James refer to Ford as"...that dirty little coward / That shot Mr. Howard".
  • In the Bob Dylan song "Outlaw Blues", Dylan alludes to Ford with the lines, "I ain't gonna hang no picture/Ain't gonna hang no picture frame/Well I might look like a Robert Ford/But I feel just like a Jesse James".
  • The 1975 Elton John song "I Feel Like a Bullet (In the Gun of Robert Ford)" from the Rock of the Westies album refers to a betrayal in a romantic relationship that is metaphorically likened to Jesse James' assassin.
  • In the Warren Zevon song "Frank and Jesse James", Ford is mentioned in the lyrics "Robert Ford, a gunman/In exchange for his parole/Took the life of James the outlaw/Which he snuck up on and stole".
  • In the Bruce Springsteen song "Jesse James," Ford is mentioned in the lyrics "Well it was Robert Ford/that dirty little coward/I wonder now how he feels/for he ate of Jesse's bread/and he slept in Jesse's bed/and he laid poor Jesse in his grave." Later in the song he mentioned three more times as "that dirty little coward that shot Mr. Howard/he laid poor Jesse in his grave."


Sam Edwards portrayed Bob Ford on the CBS radio show Crime Classics on July 20, 1953 in the episode entitled "The Death of a Picture Hanger."


  1. ^ a b Ries, Judith: Ed O'Kelley: The Man Who Murdered Jesse James' Murderer, Stewart Printing and Publishing Co., Marble Hill, Missouri, 1994. ISBN 0-934426-61-9.
  2. ^ a b Brookshier, Linda (02.10.2009). "The man who killed Jesse James, Descendant of Robert Ford visits the area bringing answers about the past". Richmond Daily News. Retrieved August 29, 2009.  Check date values in: |date= (help)[dead link]
  3. ^ Yeatman, Ted P. (2000). Frank and Jesse James, page 254. Cumberland House Publishing. 
  4. ^ Settle, William A. (1977). Jesse James was His Name, page 117. Bison Books. 
  5. ^ "New Facts on the "Blue Cut" and Glendale". Retrieved 7 February 2014. 
  6. ^ Yeatman, Ted P. (2000). Frank and Jesse James. Cumberland House Publishing. pp. 263–64. 
  7. ^ King, Susan (September 17, 2007). "One more shot at the legend of Jesse James". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved December 7, 2008. "By 1882, the James gang was a shadow of its former self on account of arrests, death and defections. The only people James felt he could trust were Charley Ford, who had been a veteran of James’ raids, and his brother Robert Ford, who was eager to prove himself." 
  8. ^ Stiles, Anthony. Jesse James: Last Rebel of the Civil War, Vintage, 2003. ISBN 978-0375705588
  9. ^ Stiles, T. Jesse James: Last Rebel of the Civil War. Knopf Publishing, 2002. ISBN 0-375-40583-6. pp. 363-75.
  10. ^ Yeatman, Ted P. Frank and Jesse James: The Story Behind the Legend. Cumberland House Publishing, 2000, pp. 264-9. ISBN 1-58182-325-8
  11. ^ "Jesse James's Murderers. The Ford Brothers Indicted, Plead Guilty, Sentenced To Be Hanged, And Pardoned All In One Day.". The New York Times. April 18, 1882. Retrieved December 7, 2008. 
  12. ^ Robert Ford at Legends of America
  13. ^ Yeatman, Ted P. (December 2006), Jesse James's Assassination and the Ford Boys, Wild West, retrieved November 26, 2012 
  14. ^ Ford Family archival data at
  15. ^ William Preston Mangum II (April 2007). "Liddil Rode Beside The James Brothers; But later turned against them" 19 (6). Wild West. p. 20. 
  16. ^ Hurst, James W. (January 10, 2003). "Jose Chavey y Chavez Hombre Muy Malo". Southern New 
  17. ^ "Bob Ford's Narrow Escape. An Admirer Of Jesse James Tries To Cut His Throat." (PDF). The New York Times. December 27, 1889. Retrieved December 9, 2008. 
  18. ^ Rocky Mountain News, March 7, 1892, p.2.
  19. ^ Ries, Judith. Ed O'Kelley: The Man Who Murdered Jesse James' Murderer. St. Louis, Mo.: Patches Publication. 1994 ISBN 0-934426-61-9. p.104
  20. ^ Warman, Cy (1898). Frontier Stories, "A Quiet Day In Creed". New York, NY: Charles Scribner's Sons. pp. 93–101. Retrieved May 16, 2012. 
  21. ^ The Wild Bandits of the Border. Chicago, IL: Laird & Lee. 1893. pp. 355–363. Retrieved May 16, 2012. 
  22. ^
  23. ^ "Stories of the Century: "Jesse and Frank James"". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved September 16, 2012. 
  24. ^ ""Jesse James" on Tales of Wells, Fargo". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved August 22, 2012. 
  25. ^
  26. ^ "The Aftermath" Episode 75 overall, episode 8 of season 4, originally aired November 7, 1977. Publication # 4008.

Further reading[edit]

  • Ries, Judith. Ed O'Kelley: The Man Who Murdered Jesse James' Murderer. St. Louis, Mo.: Patches Publication. 1994
  • Yeatman, Ted. Frank and Jesse James Nashville: Cumberland House, 2001.

External links[edit]