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On February 13, 1866, Jesse James held up his first bank. Although Jesse was unable to actively participate in the robbery because of a near fatal chest wound he received shortly after the close of the Civil War, he planned the robbery of the Clay County Savings Bank in Liberty, Missouri for weeks. Jesse’s “gang” of thirteen or so men rode their horses to the front of the bank where Frank James and Cole Younger dismounted their horses and entered the bank. The encounter went down like this:
Cashier Greenup Bird went to help Frank James at the counter. Frank gave Bird a large bill and asked it to be changed. Suddenly, Frank yanked out his pistol and shoved it in Bird’s face. Cole Younger then pulled his pistol and jumped over the counter. Cold grabbed Bird’s son, William Bird, who was the only other person in the bank at the time. The Birds were handed a large grain sack and ordered to put all the money in the bank into the sack. The two Birds quickly put money into the sack, including a tin box of government bonds. The gang got away with $60,000. When all the money was stolen, Frank and Cole forced the Birds into the vault and slammed the door. The two bandits then ran outside. What they didn’t realize was that the vault wasn’t locked, so the two Birds just pushed it open after Frank and Cole left. The Birds ran to a window and began yelling “robbery!”
Two young men, George Wymore and S. H. Holmes, were walking down the street when this happened. When they stopped to see the robbers, who were now all outside and mounted, the robbers all drew their pistols and began firing into the air to scare Wymore and Holmes away. The method of firing into the air was an old guerrilla tactic which the gang would use again and again. Compulsive killer and gang member Arch Clements fired one shot at Holmes, but the bullet went through his coat. After the two began running away, Arch shot Wymore dead for no reason. The original plan was to have no one killed. It was foolish to bring Arch along since he was well known for killing “just for fun.” The thirteen bandits then rode out of town.
After the robbery, around two dozen men were listed as suspects. A few days after the robbery, the family of George Wymore received a letterfrom Jesse James, or someone claiming to be him, apologizing for the murder of Wymore. The letter went on to state that it was not the robbers’ intention to kill anyone. Since Jesse was not famous as a robber at this point in time (after all, this was the first bank robbery in America during peacetime), it is doubtful that anyone would impersonate him by signing this letter with his name. Therefore, the letter is probably authentic, and since it would have been nearly impossible for Jesse to actually participate in the robbery, the letter seems to prove that Jesse did help plan the robbery.