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Missouri: The Jesse James connection

All photos by Brian Jewell

Anyone’s guess

In Stanton, a small Missouri town just outside of St. Louis, the Jesse James Wax Museum puts an interesting twist on the story of the state’s most famous outlaw.

Official history indicates that Jesse James was killed in 1882 in a rented house in St. Joseph, Mo. But the owners of the Jesse James Wax Museum hold that James faked his death and left Missouri, then resurfaced in 1948 as a 100-year-old man by the name of J. Frank Dalton.

According to that version of the story, James returned to Missouri, where he lived until his death in 1951.

The wax museum is dedicated to making the case that Dalton was James. Displays use grainy black-and-white photos of the two men, along with the testimonies of several of James’ contemporaries, to try to convince visitors of this version of history.

During a tour of the museum, guests see a number of wax figures that depict scenes from James’ life, as well as a figure of the elderly Dalton after he made his debut in public.

Also on display are a number of antique firearms, as well as computer-generated images used to demonstrate how James would have aged into an old man who resembled Dalton.

Scoundrel or hero?

To many students of history, Jesse James was one of the most notorious villains ever to live in the United States, robbing banks and killing enemies all over the country for decades during the mid-1800s. But to some of his contemporaries in western Missouri, James was a freedom fighter and folk hero.

Groups can learn about James’ life and his motivation for his violent actions at the James Farm, a historic site in the small town of Kearney, Mo., where James was born and lived much of his early life. Visits include an introductory video, a small museum and a guided tour of the James house, which was built in the early 1800s.

During the tour, visitors hear stories of the family’s life there, including some of the attacks that his mother and siblings endured by federal marshals pursuing the outlaw.

After he was killed in St. Joseph, James was brought back to the farm and buried there, where a gravestone and memorial still stand.

More Missouri Special Section:

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Kansas City’s power and light
St. Charles turns on the charm
St. Louis is a city for the senses
The Jesse James connection

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.