Robert Newton “Bob” Ford (January 31, 1862 – June 8, 1892) was an American outlaw best known for killing his gang leader, Jesse James, in 1882.

In the Oscar-nominated film, “The Assassination of Jesse James by The Coward Robert Ford” (2007), Casey Affleck (who bears a striking resemblance to the historical figure) played Robert Ford, opposite Brad Pitt, as Jesse James.

The film is considered as one of the most historically accurate portrayals of Jesse James and Robert Ford, even by James’ descendants, who found both performances more realistic and true to history than the dozens that came before them.

Video comes courtesy of YouTube:

That was Hollywood’s view.

Here’s the history:

Ford’s Early years

Robert Ford was born in Ray County, Missouri, to James Thomas Ford and his wife, the former Mary Bruin.

As a young man, he became an admirer of Jesse James for his American Civil War record, and for James’s criminal exploits. In 1880, he finally met James.

Ford’s brother Charles is believed to have taken part in the James gang’s Blue Cut train robbery in Jackson County near Glendale, Missouri (now part of Independence), on September 7, 1881.

Joining the James Gang

In November 1881, Jesse James moved his family to St. Joseph, Missouri. He intended to give up crime, but first wanted to stage one last robbery at Blue Cut, Missouri.

The James gang had been greatly reduced in numbers by that time. Some had fled the gang in fear of prosecution, and many of the original members were either dead or in prison after a botched robbery in Northfield, Minnesota. After the train robbery, Frank James decided to retire from crime, settling in Lynchburg, Virginia.

By the spring of 1882, with his gang depleted by arrests, deaths and defections, James thought that he could only trust the Ford brothers.
Charles had been out on raids with James before, but Bob was an eager new recruit.

The Fords resided in St. Joseph with the James family, where Jesse went by the alias of Thomas Howard. The Ford brothers passed themselves off as Bob and Charles Johnson, Howard’s cousins.


Hoping to keep the gang alive, James invited the Fords to take part in the robbery of the Platte City Bank, but the brothers had already decided not to take part, looking instead to collect the $10,000 bounty placed on the James brothers by Governor Thomas T. Crittenden.

In January 1882, Robert Ford and Dick Liddil surrendered to Sheriff James Timberlake at their sister Martha Bolton’s residence in Ray County. They were brought into a meeting with Crittenden for being in the presence of the James’s cousin, Wood Hite, the day Hite was murdered.

Crittenden allegedly promised Ford a full pardon, if he would also kill Jesse James – who was by then the most wanted criminal in the USA.

Killing Jesse James

On April 3, 1882, after eating breakfast, the Fords and James went into the living room in preparation for the trip to Platte City.

While reading the daily newspaper, James had just learned of gang member Dick Liddil’s confession for participating in Hite’s murder – and grew increasingly suspicious of the Fords for never reporting this matter to him.

According to Robert Ford, it became clear to him that James had realized they were there to betray him.

However, instead of confronting the Fords, James walked across the living room to lay his revolvers on a sofa. He then turned around and noticed a dusty picture above the mantle, and stood on a chair in order to clean it. Robert Ford then drew his weapon, and shot the unarmed Jesse James in the back of the head.

James’ wife Zerelda Mimms ran into the room and screamed, “You’ve killed him.”

Robert Ford’s immediate response was “I swear to God I didn’t.”

After The Assassination

After the assassination, the Fords wired Crittenden to claim their reward. They surrendered themselves to legal authorities, but were dismayed to find that they were charged with first degree murder.

In one day, the Ford brothers were indicted, pleaded guilty, and were sentenced to death by hanging. But two hours later, Crittenden granted them a full pardon.

Despite the deal that was made with Crittenden, the Ford brothers received only $500 – a fraction of the money they were originally promised.

Ford’s Later Years

For a time, Bob Ford earned money by posing for photographs as “the man who killed Jesse James” in dime museums. He also appeared on stage with his brother Charles, reenacting the murder in a touring stage show – but his performance was not well received. The way he had killed James – while his back was turned and he was unarmed – earned Ford much enmity from the residents of the various towns where they performed.

Charles, terminally ill with tuberculosis and addicted to morphine, committed suicide on May 4, 1884.

Soon afterward, Bob Ford and Dick Liddil relocated to Las Vegas, New Mexico, where they opened a saloon. By early 1885, Bob Ford had become a Las Vegas city policeman.

According to legend, Ford had a shooting contest with Jose Chavez y Chavez, a comrade-in-arms of Billy the Kid during the Lincoln County War. Ford lost the contest and left town.

On December 26, 1889, Ford survived an assassination attempt in Kansas City, Kansas, when an assailant tried to slit his throat.

Within a few years, Robert Ford had settled in Colorado, where he opened a saloon-gambling house in Walsenberg. When silver was found in Creede, Ford closed his saloon and opened one there.

On the eve of Easter 1892, Ford and gunman Joe Palmer, a member of the Soapy Smith gang, were drinking in the local saloons and proceeded to shoot out windows and street lamps along Creede’s Main Street. With the help of friends and business partners of Smith, they were soon allowed to return.

Ford purchased a plot of land in the city, and on May 29, 1892, opened Ford’s Exchange, said to have been a dance hall. Six days later, the entire business district, including Ford’s Exchange, burned to the ground in a major fire. Ford opened a tent saloon, until he could rebuild.

The Death of Robert Ford

Three days after the fire, on June 8, 1892, Edward Capehart O’Kelley entered Ford’s tent saloon with a shotgun.

According to witnesses, Ford’s back was turned.

O’Kelley said, “Hello, Bob.” As Ford turned to see who it was, O’Kelley fired both barrels, killing Ford instantly.

O’Kelley thus became “the man who killed the man who killed Jesse James.”

O’Kelley’s sentence was commuted because of a medical condition, and he was released on October 3, 1902.

He was subsequently killed on January 13, 1904 while trying to shoot a policeman.

Robert Ford was buried in Creede, but was later exhumed and reburied in Richmond in his native Ray County at Richmond Cemetery.

What goes around comes around.

I hope you’ll be around, for our next installment.

Till then.