10 Survival Lessons from Jesse James

James Walton
By James Walton January 19, 2017 14:44

10 Survival Lessons from Jesse James

We all know the name. Its synonymous with crime and robbery. As you will come to see there was a bit of insanity and a bit of circumstance that led to one of Americas greatest criminals. It wasn’t the sheer success of his criminal activities that leads me to this conclusion. Although, he did manage a $62,000 heist in 1866 this would have been over one million dollars in today’s world. It’s also the atrocities he witnessed in his upbringing. His own stepfather was hung by Union troops.

It may seem strange to take our survival lessons from a man with such a sordid and brutal background. When you think about it though this man lived under fake names to avoid indefinite detention. He was an insanely dedicated to his craft and would stop at nothing to be successful. Not an idol, by any stretch, but certainly someone we can learn from.

“Just able barely to mount a horse and ride about a little in the spring of 1866, my life was threatened daily, and I was forced to go heavily armed. The whole country was then full of militia, robbing, plundering and killing.”
— Jesse James

August 1864

Jesse James, at 16, had joined a guerilla confederate force known as the bushwackers. He was shot by a farmer trying to steal a saddle.

#1. INTEL – Jesse did not make this decision in a vacuum he did his research and saw the direction of the nation. His step father was hung by union troops and when it came time to take sides Jesse knew that for him survival was fighting alongside the confederacy.

Understanding risk and researching is a vital survival tool  both in the survival of a disaster and getting through life in general.

May, 1865

Jesse James surrender in Lexington Missouri. He was carrying a white flag which the union troops disregarded and shot him in the chest anyway. He survived and crawled to safety.

 #2. SURVIVAL INSTINCT – your ability to discern when a situation becomes dire is incredibly important. In his surrender I am sure young Jesse thought he was making the best available move until that musket ball hit his chest. At that point he realized his best option was flight and by crawling and hiding he saved his life. How he survive a musket ball to the chest in 1865 is pretty much a mystery to me but that’s another story.

February 1866

Jesse’s first bank robbery is planned with Frank James, his brother, they would make away with $62000.

#3. OUTCOMES – survival is most certainly about outcomes. There are very real risks that are attributed to survival. If you lay several traps in one day and none of them come up with food that can be detrimental. Survival outcomes are important and you must have the training and the resilience to force these outcomes. It was Jesses tenacity that brought him to this outcome and netted him 62,000 dollars in 1866 which was more than enough money to live a lifetime on in those days.

June 1870

The KC Times Jesse James publishes a letter professing his innocence. This would be one of many.

#4. COMMUNICATION – the importance of meaningful communication is crucial in surviving and overcoming disaster. Jesse wrote that publication all the time, almost weekly to proclaim his innocence. Though these writings were false! Still, he understood how important it was to communicate for his survival even if he swayed a handful with his letters.

April 1874

He, along with his gang, robbed a stagecoach while on his honeymoon in Austin, TX.

#5. DEDICATION – On his honeymoon he took the time to jump out of bed with his lady, also his first cousin, and onto the railways to live out his dream.

True survival requires tremendous dedication. There is no getting around that. You must study your craft and practice your skills.

Summer 1875

Jesse James has his son

#6. THE NEXT GENERATION – When it comes to survival and survival training it is just as important to teach your family about what you have learned.

I’d like you to think about a situation where you have culminated tons of survival skills and knowledge and your family has learned nothing. At the onset of disaster, you are shot and killed almost instantly or maybe killed in the disaster itself. Those countless hours of learning and thousands of dollars spent outfitting your home, car and even bugout location for disaster would be squandered as no one else would know what to do.

February 1878

Jess makes an attempt at retiring from bank robbery

#7. STRATEGIC RETREAT – there is something to be said about a well thought out retreat. I don’t look at this as a retirement but more of a strategic retreat. Jesse James was under incredible pressure all of the time by law enforcement and bounty hunters.

When it comes to survival this is the bugout! When you have reached a point where it is safer to leave your location than to stay there. Whether you are dealing with marauders or mother nature sometimes retreat is essential to survival.

December 1881

Tom Howard rents a home for himself and his family in St. Joseph, Missouri. Tom Howard was one of Jesse’s many aliases.

#8. THE ALIAS – especially in an urban survival situation the use of an alias is crucial or in the case of Jesse James several aliases. It’s important that those around you know only what they must. This world can be a ruthless. When people know too much about you they could wind up at your door in desperate times.

January 13, 1882

Bob Ford meets with Governor Crittenden, who promises a pardon and the reward money if Ford will kill Jesse. Bob agrees.

#9. TRUST– For that small group that you choose to keep around you in a survival situation you better be very sure they are on your side. No matter how desperate things get this small group of families or individuals better be in tune with your goals and needs.

If you feel like someone in your group won’t hang in there for the long haul it may be in your best interest to get rid of them early. In the case of Jesse, he was shot straightening a picture on a wall, in home he felt comfortable in by someone close to him.

#10. THE FINAL SURVIVAL LESSON from Jesse James is not pulled from any specific date in his life. Instead it is a culmination of the Jesse James experience. Sometimes you just die. Sometimes no matter how many times you cheat death, get lucky, push through, sometimes death comes for you.

I would encourage you to take this final lesson and rather than dwell on it use it as fuel to live the rest of your days with purpose. This life is short even when we get the full 100 years. If you spend too much time of it on the what ifs than you could miss the beauty of a full life.

Though he lived a tumultuous life where he was a victim at times and a villain at others there is no doubt Jesse James lived his life to the fullest. Should we admire a bank robbing killer? No. Can we learn from him? Most definitely.

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James Walton
By James Walton January 19, 2017 14:44
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13 Comments

  1. DavidinCO January 20, 16:14

    This is a weird coincidence, but I just finished reading “The Chivalry of Violence” last night. It’s about Bob Ford and his time with Jesse James. He claims Jesse was trying to surrender and was shot in the chest, but the gun had a light load and the ball stuck in his chest. Of course, it’s just a book… His surrender was that he wanted to be pardoned for all his robberies and murders, etc. His stepfather was hung but did not die from the hanging. Union troops wanted to scare them into telling them where Frank James and the other raiders were operating. We may never know the entire truth, but I sure hate to hold this guy up as a great example of humanity.

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  2. Get Real January 20, 16:42

    Article sounds like something out of Hollywood.
    Jesse’s stepfather was hung in an effort to get the where abouts of the other members of bushwhackers. Though he’s stepfather was hung, he was also cut down and survived the ordeal. Kinda like water boarding today. Interrogation methods of the time. A slow, non-lethal, hanging was usually a great way to get others from a group to gum-flap. Interesting enough, Jesse elected to let his stepfather swing rather than say anything. So, the Union interrogation failed and they let Jesse’s stepfather go.

    You mention Jesse’s survival skills. Well he survived right up to 34 years old. Not much of a survivor in my book.

    But I suppose that if you have a really big gun and like to kill everyone that disagrees with you, you will survive longer than the poor, likely unarmed, person you just murdered.

    Jesse never fought as a soldier for the south. He was a murdering bushwhacker that killed Union sympathizers. A Union sympathizer is not a Union soldier. It would be exactly like killing anyone because they were in a different political party. Which, just for your information, is exactly the reason Jesse justified his murdering of unlike minded people.

    To imply any level of legitimacy to this murderer is ludicrous. It would be like saying Charles Manson is a vastly superior survivalist because he liked killing people and has survived for 82 years now.

    Get real.

    Reply to this comment
    • PAlehorseman February 3, 03:06

      He fought union troops and Jay Hawkers out of Kansas as well as the murdering union loving scum in Missouri. The state of Missouri was completely Balkanized prior, during and after the Civil War. No quarter was asked or given by either side, it was kill or be killed. The Union in order declared a free fire zone in certain counties bordering Kansas,

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  3. left coast chuck January 20, 19:53

    I agree with David and Get Real. Jesse James is hardly a paragon of survival to hold up to emulate. Dead at 34. He and his gang shot to pieces in the failed robbery in Minnesota. He was only able to survive as long as he did due to the rural nature of the country at that time. Communications were sketchy. Part of the time the country was torn with a horrendous civil war. James lived on the periphery of that civil war. In today’s world in an end of the world situation, he would be one of the outliers preying on people who were not prepared to kill him. If he crossed my path, I would do my best to shoot him down as I would a rabies infected dog. Not happily, but out of necessity. As my grandmother used to say, “Good riddance to bad rubbish.”

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  4. papajim January 21, 01:52

    I’ll tell you what! I bet more bad guys know more about Survial than you meatheads . U MISSED THE POINT!
    Good or bad makes no difference, its what Jesse did and knew what and when to do whatever was needed to stay alive as long as he could. My kids and grand kids will know do what is needed to stay alive. I don’t see trust in you. Jesse James was a bad man to bad he trusted a person he thought was a friend. I don’t trust almost anyone. you should go back and read the things he had or needed to make it as far as he did. WTSHTF are you going to be a Jesse or a Bob? Me and mine choose Jesse, and watch those around you and people who call you friend.

    Reply to this comment
    • left coast chuck January 21, 03:25

      Philosophically p.j., you and I are worlds apart. Good and evil do make a difference. I have resolved that in an end of the world situation I will not steal nor murder. I will defend what is mine to the death. I do not consider killing someone who is attempting to steal from me or harm my family to be murder. While I am not a bible thumper, but I believe that the bible differentiates between murder and righteous killing. I will scavenge that which appears abandoned but I will not enter your dwelling and steal your food, nor will I murder you. If you try to do either to me or those I am protecting, I will have no compunction in killing you to prevent it or as retribution for your acts. I do agree with your statement that one needs to choose carefully who one allows into one’s circle of friends. I will never agree that robbery and murder are acceptable under any circumstances.

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  5. Get Real January 21, 18:44

    papajim… So I’m a “meathead” for thinking that murdering and robbing people isn’t a honored method of survival.

    OK, let’s take your 10 survival methods and honestly evaluate them.

    1. INTEL – You say he made a researched survival situation call by fighting alongside the confederacy, somewhat based on his father getting hung. 1st his father was 1860s water boarded. He was not hurt. In fact, his stepfather was let go after the war crimes interrogation. 2nd, Jesse in his infinite wisdom choose the losing side. Genius. 3, he never fought with the confederacy. He joined a group of bushwhackers that robbed and killed civilians for his lifestyle and used the excuse that republicans were evil.

    2. SURVIVAL INSTINCT – 1st, he got caught by Union troops, and being the scared little weasel he was, he tried to surrender as a 1st option. But, being the murderer he was, the Union troops weren’t interested in taking him as a prisoner, so they attempted to eliminate the scum. Unfortunately, he was only wounded and he crawled off into the underbrush, exactly like any animal would do if you didn’t get a good kill shot. Course, most animals have the brains to not confront overwhelming odds or at least avoid them as a survival instinct. Obviously, Jesse was not as smart as most animals and made a really stupid choice during a dire situation.

    3. OUTCOMES – To say that robbing people at gun point instead of working for a living is somehow an honored survival skill, then you need to deal with the reality of what that survival skill got him as an OUTCOME. He was shot as a criminal at 34 years old. Making survival decisions that almost guarantee an early death sounds more like an un-survival skill.

    4. COMMUNICATION – Any real survivalist will tell you that communication is almost always traceable, and traceability means you will get caught. Staying under the radar is a survivalist skill, NOT placing yourself in the spotlight.

    5. DEDICATION – If you really believe that to give up on your family so you can steal and murder innocent people is somehow a craft that needs practice, then you have a very serious mental malfunction. Think about it. DEDICATION to murder and robbery. Let me say again. This is a craft that will substantially reduce your ability to have a long life. An un-survival craft at best.

    6. THE NEXT GENERATION – I have absolutely no idea where you were going with this. Jesse’s son used an alias while growing up so he could work and support his mother and sister. Jesse Jr. did everything to not be like his father, so I suppose you could say he was the first Jesse James to have any kind of survival skill.

    7. STRATEGIC RETREAT – Jesse did not BUGOUT. He was renting a house is St. Jo. His STRATEGIC RETREAT, quickly got him killed. Absolutely nothing smart or survivalist in this stunt. He died for his strategic decision.

    8. THE ALIAS – This maybe the only survivalist thing Jesse ever did. After 30 years he decided that COMMUNICATION and being a braggart weren’t working out well, so maybe going under the radar might work.

    9. TRUST – Trust is not a survivalist skill. As Gen. ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis says, “Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet.” Kinda sounds like the opposite of trust. Trust will get you killed… just asked Jesse James.

    10. THE FINAL SURVIVAL LESSON – If you want to survive, the most important thing you can do, is NOT listen to the first 9 of your survivalist skills.

    Get Real

    Reply to this comment
  6. Dark January 21, 19:28

    y’all are focusing on the fact that he was a murdering bank robbing scum job and we shouldn’t learn anything from him when actually under the date and year it gives some really important and good survival advise.

    Reply to this comment
  7. papajim January 25, 20:05

    Dark I’m so glad you understand, why are people so interestead in the Jesse James story and not the 10 tips after all that why we get this mail is to learn the tips not who or what or how they used them thats just an analogy. Fouces people if u want to survive

    Reply to this comment
  8. The Woodsman January 28, 11:56

    I agree Papa Jim. Nobody was trying to glorify James or his unlawful way of life. This story is like a piece of fruit. Cut out the bad part of a Apple and eat the salvaged rest of the apple. You dont have to like , respect or even understand a person to learn valuable information from said person. You can also hate the sin but not the sinner.

    Reply to this comment
  9. Get Real January 30, 18:11

    Obviously people don’t read the posts before attacking. I explained why all but one of the choices that Jesse made where BAD survivalist decisions. Go ahead and throw out the fact that Jesse was a piece of human waste at best. I don’t care. I’m saying he made terrible survivalist decisions over and over again. The only good decision he made was to go under the radar, but that was only after he suffered from his decision to put himself in the headlines. And even after I enumerated just how stupid his survivalist decisions where, you’d think that because he couldn’t even survive more than 34 years, a thinking person would not hold him up as a banner survivalist.

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