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AMERICAN EXPERIENCE: Jesse James

Airs Tuesday, May 7, 2013 at 8 p.m. on KPBS TV

Above: Historical photo of Jesse James.

Courtesy of Library of Congress/Hand coloring by WGBH Design

A kid in appearance, but a warrior in spirit, 16-year-old Jesse James (pictured) rode into the Missouri woods in the spring of 1864 to join one of the dozens of groups of guerrilla fighters defending the Confederacy during the Civil War.

The Life and Death of Jesse James

View a timeline of events in Jesse James' life (1847 - 1882).

Missouri Outlaws

Learn about a few of the men Jesse James associated with, and where their bloody adventures ultimately led them in this photo gallery.

The story of Jesse James is one of America's most familiar myths -- and one of its fictitious. James, so the legend goes, was a Western outlaw, but in reality, he never went west.

He has been called America's own Robin Hood, yet he robbed both rich and poor, and was never seen to share his ill-gotten gains. He was known as a gunfighter -- but his victims were almost always unarmed.

Less heroic than brutal, James was a member of a vicious band of Missouri guerrillas during the Civil War, and sought vengeance for the Confederate defeat afterwards. In a life steeped in prolific violence and bloodshed, he met what was perhaps the most fitting end.

AMERICAN EXPERIENCE presents "Jesse James," the true story of an outlaw who has captured the imagination of generations of Americans.

"There's something about this legend that Americans have a hard time letting go of," says film producer Mark Zwonitzer. "Perhaps it's the much-needed idea of a hero or the allure of an outlaw. Either way, I hope this film will set the record straight."

AMERICAN EXPERIENCE is on Facebook, and you can follow @AmExperiencePBS on Twitter.

Video

Preview: American Experience: Jesse James

Above: The story of Jesse James is one of America's most familiar myths -- and one of its fictitious. James, so the legend goes, was a Western outlaw, but in reality, he never went west.

Video

Video Excerpt: Jesse James from American Experience

Above: The first chapter of AMERICAN EXPERIENCE "Jesse James."