Jesse James and Bonnie & Clyde

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An outlaw is a person or a group that is a habitual criminal and is excluded from the legal protection rights. Jesse James is one of the most infamous outlaws in the history of America. The legendary figure was born in 1947 in Kearney, Missouri. Jesse was educated and hailed from a royal family. His father, Robert James, was a preacher who married Zerelda Cole James (Harris et al 5). He robbed many trains and banks in the United States. Moreover, Jesse is known to have been the leader of the James-Younger criminal gang of outlaws. History indicates that he fought for the South during the American Civil War. Most of the American citizens were afraid of him since he was perceived to be violent and brutal (Harris et al 6). However, others celebrated him and thought he was smart. In fact, many people believe that Jesse’s actions, by and large, influenced the criminal exploits of other western outlaws such as Bonnie and Clyde.


Jesse James is believed to be an influential figure in many states in the United States. The scandalous robber became a legend after committing a series of crimes purportedly out of revenge for his family and poor treatment of the Southerners. He retaliated against the Union soldiers during the American Civil War. Robinson reveals sought publicity and personal recognition from the press by writing letters to them. Jesse terrorized many innocent citizens and sabotaged economic development in Missouri during the Civil War (Robinson 13). Interestingly, his actions are alleged to be pivotal in forming outlaws gangs such as the James-Young outlaw gang. Hamilton and John contend that the American outlaw united with his brother his brothers and other villains, all members of the Confederate guerrillas, to form the criminal group (Hamilton and John 9). The James –Younger criminal gang was involved in a string of felonious activities that included robberies, murder, and bank raids. Markedly, his actions of feeding the poor were central in influencing other outlaws to join the gang such as Clyde and Boyle.

Bonnie and Clyde were two radical figures in the history of America. They were known to be criminals who robbed banks and terrorized civilians (Bruns 11). Virtually, everybody had heard about their involvement in the many crimes they had committed. There are many parallels that can be drawn from the lifestyle of Bonnie, Clyde and Jesse James.  Important to note is that Jesse James overseen the formation of the James-Young gang (Bruns 12). As afore-noted, the criminal gang was mainly composed of his younger brother and other fugitives who were influenced by Jesse. One apparent similarity between the two gangs is that they used to operate in the same region- the Southern plains. In the film, Bonnie and Clyde, released in 1967 and that became an immediate success, viewers get to learn that the duo sympathized with the poor citizens in the community (Sullivan 11). Interestingly, there are scenes that show Bonnie and Clyde robbing a bank reminiscent of the Jesse James robbery lifestyle. In overall, these entire incidences compound to the assertion that Jesse’s actions contributed influenced the criminal exploits of Bonnie and Clyde.

In the poem, The story of Bonnie and Clyde, Bonnie highlights his experience as an outlaw and as a leader of the Barrow gang. Clyde goes ahead to note that he is proud since he has become a public figure in the country. Interestingly, Bonnie asserts that he celebrates the lifestyle of the most notorious outlaw in the history of the US, Jesse James (Bernstein 22). This clearly shows that Jesse played a momentous role in shaping the life disreputable life of Bonnie. From the poem, Clyde notes that he at one time gave a gun to a poor civilian after his land was auctioned by a bank. Moreover, to show his support to the poor citizen and the injustices committed, he shot the door of a house located in the nearby suburbs (Bernstein 23). Another instance to support Clyde alleged care for the poor is when we get to learn that refused to take money belonging to a poor farmer when they were robbing a bank. Overall, Bonnie and Clyde’s lifestyle has a lot of similarity consequently denoting that they could have been influenced by Jesse James.

On the contrary, other historians argue that Jesse’s controversial life did not play any role in influencing Bonnie and Clyde’s criminal activities. Myriads of reasons are fronted to support their view-point. First, they argue that Jesse James was an innocent citizen whose controversial life seeded as a result of constant attacks the Union soldiers from the South (Maurer 10). The soldiers killed many innocent citizens not mentioning that they rooted many properties during the raids. This happened during the American Civil War. Maurer notes that it is this constant harassment that necessitated Jesse to retaliate. The assertion is further affirmed by the fact that he was born in a Christian family (his father was a preacher). Needless to say, it was highly believed that he was compassionate about the poor people and often gave to care of them- gave them food and clothing. This compliments the assertion that he was a good man who was loved by many people in the society and who could not have influenced Bonnie and Clyde to commit criminal activities.


To wrap up, it is evident that Jesse James was an outlaw and a feared bank robber. Together with his younger brothers and other fugitives, they formed the James-Young criminal gang that terrorized many civilians during the American Civil War. Interestingly, his scandalous actions are believed to be pivotal in influencing several other outlaws including Bonnie and Clyde. There are several overarching reasons to justify this assertion. First, it is evident that Bonnie admitted that he cherished the lifestyle of Jesse. Moreover, there are many parallels that can be drawn from the lives of Jesse, Bonnie, and Clyde. For instance, both were passionate about the poor in the community. However, some people have argued that Jesse’s actions did not play any part in influencing the criminal acts committed by Bonnie, and Clyde. They argue that his uncouth behaviors arose after his family was attacked by the Union soldiers.

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  1. Bruns, Roger A. Jesse James: Legendary Outlaw. Springfield, NJ: Enslow Publishers, 2009. Print.
  2. Bernstein, Matthew. “Perfecting The New Gangster: Writing “Bonnie And Clyde””. Film Quarterly 53.4 (212): 16-31. Web.
  3. Hamilton, Sue and John L. Hamilton. Bonnie and Clyde. Bloomington, Ind: Abdo & Daughters, 1989. Print.
  4. Harris, Ed, Viggo Mortensen, Renée Zellweger, Jeremy Irons, Andrew Dominik, Brad Pitt, Casey Affleck, Sam Shepard, Mary-Louise Parker, Robert B. Parker, and Ron Hansen. Appaloosa: And the Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Burbank, Calif: Warner Home Video, 2013.
  5. Leggett, B.J. “Convergence and Divergence in the Movie Review: Bonnie and Clyde.” Film Criticism, vol. 30, no. 2, 2005, pp. 1–23.
  6. Maurer, Mel. “Jesse James . The Last Rebel Of The Civil War?”.
  7. Robinson, J D. Jesse James: Legendary Rebel and Outlaw. Minneapolis, Minn: Compass Point Books, 2007. Print.
  8. Sullivan, . “Jesse James: An American Outlaw.” Worldviews And The American West: The Life of the Place Itself, University Press of Colorado, 2000, pp. 107–117.
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