known as the "dirty little coward" that killed Jesse James, Robert
Newton Ford, was born in 1861 in Ray County, Missouri, one of seven children of
James Thomas Ford and Mary Ann Bruin. The wiry young boy became enamored of the
daring exploits of Jesse James and finally got a chance to meet him in 1880. He
and his older brother, Charles, began to hang on to the outer fringes of the
James Gang. By this time, the ranks of the outlaw gang members had been
diminished due to deaths, captures, and men simply moving on to other
endeavors. So, when the two brothers wanted to join the gang, Jesse let them;
however, neither played a very large role.
allegedly participated in the Blue Cut robbery near Glendale, Missouri on
September 7, 1881. It was to be the last train robbery of the James Gang,
netting the six members some $3,000 in cash and jewelry taken from the
passengers. Also participating in the robbery were Frank and Jesse James, Dick
Liddel, and brothers, Clarence and Wood Hite.
Robert Ford's participation in any of the James Gang robberies, there is no
record and he was thought to be mostly a "hanger-on," doing odd jobs
and maybe holding the horses while the others perpetrated the crime.
months later, in November, 1881, Jesse moved his wife and family to St. Joseph,
Missouri, renting a house in the name of J.D. Howard. Acting as a member of the
respected community, Jesse had plans of taking up a straight and narrow life.
However, he wanted to pull off one last bank robbery of a bank in Platte
County, Missouri, in hopes of making enough money to retire and become a
the State of Missouri had had enough and about this same time, Missouri
Governor Thomas Crittendon put up a reward of $10,000 for any information
leading to the capture of Frank or Jesse James.
January 1882, two James Gang members -- Wood Hite and Dick Liddel, on the run
from the law, took refuge in the home of Martha Bolton, Bob Ford's widowed
sister. One day at breakfast, Hite and Liddel began to argue while Ford sat by
watching. The dispute soon accelerated with the feuding pair drawing their guns.
The sound of four rapid shots from Hite's gun soon echoed through the room, one
of which struck Liddel in the leg. Falling to the floor, Dick returned the
fire, hitting Hite in the arm. In the meantime, Bob Ford drew his own gun and,
being Liddel's close friend, fired one shot, hitting Hite in the head.
Collapsing to the floor, Wood Hite died just a few minutes later. Ford then
wrapped the corpse in a blanket, carried it outside and placing it on a mule,
took it into the woods, where he buried Hite in a shallow, unmarked grave. This
killing, coupled with Ford's greed and desire for notoriety, would be a death
sentence for Jesse James.
word of the shooting reached authorities, Ford was arrested, but when he
informed detectives that he had access to the much-wanted Jesse James, he was
released. Next, Ford secretly met with Missouri Governor Thomas T. Crittenden,
who told him that if he killed the notorious outlaw, he would receive a full
pardon for the Hite murder as well as the killing of James, and also receive
the reward money. Ford agreed to perform the deed and next met with the Sheriff
of Clay County, where the two formulated a plan to get Jesse James.
March of 1882, a number of the James Gang members began to turn themselves in
leaving Jesse with little left to plan a bank robbery with other than Charlie
and Bob Ford. Though he instinctively
distrusted Robert Ford, he followed through and on the morning of April 3,
1882, he was having breakfast with the brothers in his home.
the men went to the parlor, where Jesse outlined his plans for the robbery of
the Platte City, Missouri Bank. When Jesse noticed that a framed needlepoint
picture, done by his mother, was hanging crookedly on the wall, he stood on a
chair to adjust the picture. Suddenly he heard the sound of Bob Ford cocked
pistol and turned just slightly. Bob then shot Jesse just below the right ear
and Jesse toppled to the floor dead. Jesse was 34 years old.
Ford was charged with murdering both Wood Hite and Jesse James, but true to his
word, Governor Crittenden pardoned him while he stood trial for the murder.
the money, he received only a fraction of the reward. Returning to their
hometown of Richmond, Missouri, Bob and Charles were not greeted kindly as
residents found the killing of Jesse James so distasteful that they made life
unbearable for the two brothers.
Ford, when he heard that Frank James was searching for them and planned to kill
them in revenge for his brother's death, began to move from town to town. For
the next two years he ran like a scared rabbit, changing his name several
times, until finally he could take it no more and committed suicide in 1884.
meantime, Bob Ford was capitalizing on his betrayal of Jesse James, taking to
the stage, appearing in an act entitled Outlaws of Missouri. Night after night,
Ford retold his story, carefully omitting that he had shot James in the back.
But, this charade was short lived as he was greeted with catcalls, jeers, hoots
and challenges. Ford later took off to Las Vegas, New Mexico where he operated
a saloon for a time before moving on to Creede, Colorado,
after arriving in Creede, Ford was in a saloon that was providing a boxing
fight and betting heavily on the prize fighter who lost, he became extremely
angry. In a drunken rage, he decided he would kill the prize fighter and in
preparation, he and a man named Joe Palmer, a member of the Soapy Smith gang,
began to shoot out windows and street lamps along Main Street. Soapy Smith
helped Ford and Palmer escape before they could be arrested. The two men were
banned from returning, but with the help of friends and business partners, they
were soon allowed to back into Creede. On May 29, 1892, he opened a dance hall
he called Ford's Exchange. But luck was not with Ford, and just six days later,
on June 6th, the entire business district, including Ford's dancehall, burned
to the ground. Wasting no time, Bob quickly reopened another saloon just a few
days later in a make-shift tent.
very next day, June 8th, in walked a man by the name of Edward O'Kelley with a
sawed off shotgun. As Ford's back was to the door, O'Kelley said "Hello,
Bob," and as Ford turned around to see who had addressed him, O'Kelley
shot him with both barrels, killing him instantly. Some historians speculate
that Soapy Smith was somehow involved with Ford's death, perhaps talking Kelly
into the act. Ford was buried in Creede, but was later exhumed and reburied in
his home town of Richmond, Missouri.
meantime, O'Kelley was arrested and tried for murder. He was convicted and
given a twenty-year sentence in the Colorado Penitentiary. However, after
serving ten years, he was released in 1902. Two years later, in January, 1904,
Kelly was shot down in the streets of Oklahoma City by lawmen.