Two Likely Friends
Thursday, December 01, 2011
One reason historians bug me is because they often argue about who would have won in a gunfight, Jesse James or William Bonney. I think history speaks for itself, in that, the two men made better friends than enemies.
Although I should mention that a gunfight did almost occur between the two bandits when word spread around the country about the two and how many men they killed. Newspapers went back and forth on the actual amount and soon it became like a contest. Who could kill more or shoot more accurately. Jesse claimed that he fought in a real war and the numbers were of no comparison since, who knows the real number? William got on his horse to cross the country and meet Jesse with blazing guns and a firm, “Oh, so my fight wasn’t a ‘real war’?”
But one thing most historians can agree on is that, in those days, it took a long time to cross the country on horseback. By the time William reached Jesse he forgot what he was even mad about. They became good friends during a gambling game of cards.
Jesse was 12 years older than William which led to him acting as a kind of outlaw mentor for the young cowboy/gambler.
Though the two were considered friends, they were often at odds when it came to breaking the law. Jesse took the code of ethics for cowboy outlaws seriously and sometimes to the extreme. There was the time Jesse banned drinking while working. William rebelled and proclaimed that drinking was part of his work. Then he added ‘drinker’ to his accomplished resume of outlaw occupations.
It took time, but Jesse finally won over William. Back at the hideout, Jesse would coax the hung-over William out of bed with the smell of fresh-cooked bacon and waffles. The smell would make William sick at first, but then he would feel better and join Jesse for breakfast. They would joke with each other and say, “Another day, another dollar” and then go rob someone.
Sometimes they would get on each other’s nerves and William would say things like, “Jesse, you’re a hillbilly, redneck crook who is not going to call the shots for me.”
And Jesse would respond with things like, “William, you’re an out-of-control hippie who is going to let drink and dames ruin you.”
They would retreat to their separate rooms of the hideout and cool off. They knew they couldn’t help themselves or blame each other for their lifestyles. They were just doing what they knew how. They would shake hands and tell each other that their mother raised a good son.
I suppose if anyone gave them half a chance to do it all over, they might have become upstanding citizens. But I think it’s a safe bet that they would have stayed just the same.
They both gained fame and notoriety from their antics on the wrong side of the law, which led them to start using fake names to avoid capture. William chose the name, Billy the Kid, which was already revered in songs and folklore around his home territory. Jesse liked the name and called him that until their dying day.
Once in a while Billy the Kid would get bored of the refined bank robber life that Jesse offered and he would go run from the law and rustle some cattle. Billy would get himself into some pretty sticky situations which he and Jesse would argue about. Then Jesse would remind Billy, “This outlaw life is killing us and pretty soon we’ll all be dead.” Jesse’s famous quote put things back into perspective for Billy and everything would go back to being OK.
Billy was back out in the west when Jesse heard of his death. Jesse just laughed to himself and thought, that outlaw life sure did kill him. And Jesse prepared himself and the gang to make yet another bank robbery. But before the robbery, in a touching moment of remembrance, Jesse moved to dust off a picture of his late gun-slinging friend. And in that moment, Jesse, too, fell. Jesse’s body was riddled with old gunshot wounds he’d survived, but the shot that killed him, his gang later joked about saying, “We could have sworn it wasn’t loaded.”
Some say those were the two best bank robbers that ever lived and died. Some say they were never killed and they lived out their old age somewhere on a lake in Texas. Some say they never died at all – their spirit lives today inside aspiring new bank robbers. But others say, no, that’s not their spirit; that’s meth.***