I’m not sure why I didn’t post this one before, but my recent trip to Liberty, MO in July involved stops at three different museums: The Clay County Museum, Liberty jail, and The Jesse James Bank Museum. If you plan to stop there, all three are located on the Historic Square, and are within walking distance of each other on different sides of the courthouse. I’m not super huge into Jesse James stuff, to be completely honest – I stated before that I think the mythology around him overshadows the historical aspect he had, but considering how much he is tied into my local history scene, I feel like I need to at least try to experience some of his biggest moments. This small bank in Liberty, MO is noteworthy for being the very first daytime bank robbery in the entire United States – and perhaps one of the James Gang’s most notorious robberies.
Jesse James Bank Museum; Liberty, MO
One of these days I need to make the trip up to Kearney, MO and visit some of the “bigger” Jesse James stuff – perhaps an idea for next year!
According to the site’s homepage:
“The Jesse James Bank Museum, located on the historic square in Liberty, Missouri, was the site of the nation’s first successful daylight peacetime bank robbery. While the robbers were never caught, the crime was attributed to the infamous James Gang. Visitors will see the bank as it was in 1866.
It was a cold and snowy February afternoon when a group of horsemen rode into Liberty, Missouri. After a short time, gunshots broke the winter silence as the men rode off with their loot, leaving one young college student dead and the town in shock.
Period furnishings fill the room and one becomes immersed in the story of the robbery as told by the bank teller. As you peer into the original green vault you can imagine the fear felt by the poor, distraught banker and his son, a consequence of the robbery. Among the furnishings, a rare Seth Thomas clock, one of only two known to exist, hangs on the wall set for the exact time and date of the robbery, February 13, 1866. Many photographs and other documents are on display. “
I actually have a different book I am planning on reading soon, but as of this moment I am going to reference a book I recently read from Netgalley called Outlaws of the Wild West (2021) Click there for a link to my review. I’m sure there are better books out there, but it was an interesting look at some of the more notorious Outlaws of the Wild West. This book is mostly not about the James Gang, but a good bit of real estate definitely talks about he and his crew and their daring daylight robbery of this very bank.
I live barely ten miles from Liberty, MO – so this was not a bad trip at all. Liberty has a pretty nice downtown area – full of little shops and the obligatory courthouse square that just about every town around has – I was excited to find out all three of these museums were so close together, as it made for a fun-filled day without the stress of hunting around for things that I am unfamiliar with. The Jesse James Bank Museum costs a small fee to enter, and hosts a small collection of period and reproduction artifacts of how the bank may have looked during the robbery itself. There is a gift shop, and a special room that has rare items not allowed to be photographed. Honestly, it’s a fairly short trip and doesn’t have much to experience, but its cheap so I wasn’t too annoyed. Perhaps one of these days, they can add things like a video presentation or more information placards, maybe even a tour guide?
This was a cool, albeit somewhat short experience – I wish there was more information and interactivity involved. In a way, it was sort of like “here you go – look in there” and that was that. That said, I liked seeing the artifacts, and the gift shop was definitely well-stocked. I’m not sure its a great place to take a kid, since there isn’t much to see, but there are toy guns and stuff at the gift shop, so there’s a trade off. Stay tuned for more, as I frantically try to finish this series up before summer officially ends! I can almost guarantee there will be spillover, but oh well!
This article is part of my summer series History Boy Summer, which you can keep up with by following this LINK.