Museum re-opening June 1. Due to Covid-19 the museum will offer a limited number of tours daily on a first come first serve basis. A sign-up sheet will be located on the front porch of the museum. Visitors may sign up for a specific tour time with a small number of slots available per tour. Should you have a wait time we encourage you to visit the town of Kearney or Watkins Mill State Park.
The tour consists of a 20 minute film, 3 galleries of artifacts and a self-guided tour of the grounds.
Live the Legend – Learn the History
The James log cabin farmhouse, built in 1822, has witnessed many generations of James family history. It was to this isolated cabin that the Reverend Robert James brought his young wife Zerelda and infant son Frank in 1845. This is where Jesse was born in 1847, and years later, Union soldiers seeking the whereabouts of Frank James, beat Jesse and tortured his stepfather Dr. Reuben Samuel by repeatedly hanging him from a tree in the front yard.
In 1875, a Pinkerton bomb killed their half-brother Archie and severed Zerelda’s right arm. Zerelda began giving tours of the birthplace after her son, Jesse died. Frank continued the tradition charging 50 cents for tours. His son, Robert also gave tours and after he passed Jesse’s grandsons kept the house open to the public until it was sold to Clay County in 1978.
In 1978, Clay County purchased the farmhouse and 40 acre site from Jesse’s grandsons. By the next summer, tourists were passing through the boyhood home of Frank and Jesse James. Today the home is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The legend continues today from the friendly and knowledgeable staff. The Jesse James Birthplace has welcomed visitors from all over the world who come to “Live the Legend and Learn the History” of the two most famous American outlaws – Frank and Jesse.
Jesse James Birthplace
Jesse James, son of a Baptist minister, was born at the family home in Kearney, Missouri, in 1847. Barely 16, he followed his older brother, Frank, into the Civil War. While Frank was a member of Quantrill’s guerillas, Jesse rode with Bloody Bill Anderson. When the war ended, Jesse returned home and joined other former Confederate guerillas in a life of outlawry.
Jesse’s boldness and flamboyance as a bank and train robber, combined with sensational publicity from newspapers and dime novels, soon made him a legend.
A tour through the restored home will take visitors back to where the legend began. Before walking the trail to the farmhouse, a twenty minute movie recaps the history of Frank and Jesse James and exploits of the outlaws. The museum displays the world’s largest collection of James family artifacts. Jesse’s boots and Frank’s surrender letter tend to captivate visitors. Guests then follow the paved winding trail to the farmhouse and walk along the creek where, as young boys, Frank and Jesse spent much of their time playing. In the yard of the family home is Jesse’s original burial site, the place where his mother once sold souvenir rocks from his grave for twenty five cents.
Upon completion of the tour guests will want to browse the museum’s gift shop. A wide variety of books relating to the period are available as well as t-shirts, mugs, and many other souvenir keepsakes.
Jesse James’ Birthplace is owned and operated by the Department of Clay County Historic Sites.
A wheelchair is available for your use.
Note: RVs and semi trailer cabs can fit through our gate. However semis with containers or flatbeds attached cannot.
For more information or to schedule a tour, call us at (816)736-8500.