In April of 1882, after a twenty year career of bank and train robberies and a host of killings, Jesse Woodson James lay dead on his living room floor. Killed by a single bullet fired by a would-be new gang member, Bob Ford for a reward offered by the governor of Missouri. On that day, a chapter of the old west came to a close.
First, Jesse was buried in the yard of the old James farm where his mother could keep an eye on the grave. She was worried that grave-robbers would steal the body to put on display around the country in a traveling exibit. This was a common practice at the time. After his mother's death, Jesse's remains were dug up and placed in a new coffin and re-buried at the cemetery in Kearny, Missouri. Other than the legend that Jesse had established, his remains would be forgotten about for the next 113-years.
In 1951 a man named J. Frank Dalton became famous briefly by claiming to be the nortorious Jesse James. His story was that Charley Bigalow, an outlaw and friend of Jesse's was actually killed in 1882 by Jesse himself and, since they looked so much alike, Jesse used Bigalow's body in his place to get away from the reward on his head. So Dalton claimed that the whole Jesse James 1882 killing was fabrocated and he was still alive in 1951 at the age of 104 years old.
Dalton had many people believing him as he had several of the same wounds as Jesse had gotten in his lifetime. Plus, many said Dalton would not have known a lot of the "private" stories that he spoke about if he weren't the real Jesse James.
At the turn of the 20th century, around 30-years after Jesse's death, there were no less that 100 men claiming to be him. These people would be paid a few dollars a week by a show promoter and would travel around the country talking about the "good old days" and maybe giving shooting matches. Many drifted away after a short time and was never heard from again. J. Frank Dalton didn't drift away. He died! Actually, he died shortly after making his claim. His family asked the court to allow him to legally change his name to Jesse James. After showing a few documents that were said to be signed by old James gang members, the court actually allowed it. Dalton was buried under a monument proclaiming him as the original Jesse James.
The actual James family always wanted to refuke Dalton's claim to fame. But how? So the matter layed in two graves with the same name. In 1995, after getting the courts involved, a group was allowed to open the original Jesse James' grave in Kearny. They wanted to try a relatively new method of idenifying called DNA. This would findly lay to rest the fact if Jesse was buried in that grave or someone else. But would there be enough DNA to test? When Jesse's first grave was opened to move the remains from the James farm, the original coffin fell apart spilling a few bones and some hair back into the grave. These artifacts were retreived and kept by the family then was given with the farm to the Friends of the James Farm, the organization that maintains the property. Asked if they would give part of the hair to the lab for DNA testing, they refused. There isn't very much hair and they didn't want to lose any of it since the sample that would have been tested would be destroyed. So the only other way was to retreive the remains from the cemetery and hope for the best.