Follow TV Tropes

Following

Artistic License History / I Shot Jesse James

Go To

Being a character study about an infamous figure in of the Wild West, it should come as no surprise that a few things were changed in I Shot Jesse James. Samuel Fuller even admitted that he sympathized with Robert Ford and hoped that the film gave Ford a more sympathetic personality for audiences to see. That being said, the film’s heavy utilization of real historical figures makes it somewhat easy to find all the changes they made, and that the reality that history shows can cast certain characters and situations in a different light.

Advertisement:

  • The Soapy character is likely influenced by the real Soapy Smith that lived in Creede at same time as Ford and Kelley. The film portrays Soapy as an old man who is prospecting for silver. However, the real Soapy Smith was a gangster and con man that was around the same age as Ford and Kelley.
  • Kelley’s real name was actually Edward Capehart O'Kelley, not John Kelley. Though it should be noted that many sources from the era printed his last name as “Kelley”, so the film’s writers may have thought this was his actual name.
  • The film shows Kelley and Ford meeting around the time of Jesse James’s death, both trying to court Cynthy. There is no historical evidence to suggest that the two ever met each other outside of Creede, nor that they were involved in a love triangle with a woman. Oddly enough, the feud over the ring is based in reality, though it was a ring for Ford himself, not a Love Interest.
  • Advertisement:
  • While Bob Ford did participate in stage shows demonstrating how he killed Jesse James, he didn’t stop doing them out of guilt out of shooting Jesse. In reality, he most likely stopped because the killing became old news and the shows were attracting too many of his detractors to run smoothly.
  • Charles Ford had a much bigger role in the killing of Jesse James than the film shows. Here, he simply plants the idea in Bob’s head, then runs off after the killing to avoid Frank James’s wrath. In real life, he actively helped Bob shoot Jesse (either through distracting Jesse or shooting Jesse in the head with Bob), and even participated in a few of the aforementioned stage shows with his brother.
  • Jesse James wasn’t shot in the back by Robert Ford as the film shows. In real life, Robert Ford (and possibly Charles Ford) shot him in the back of the head.
  • Advertisement:
  • There’s no evidence to suggest that Frank James ever went on a revenge quest against Robert Ford. In fact, he turned himself in shortly after Jesse’s death and spent the rest of his life living quietly on the James farm in Missouri.
  • In the film’s finale, Kelley kills Bob with a shotgun blast in front of the Creede Hotel. While the real Edward O’Kelley did kill Robert Ford with a shotgun, the circumstances were remarkably different. For one, it wasn’t self-defense on O’Kelley’s part. O’Kelley instigated the fight when he surprised Ford in Ford’s own tent and shot him in the neck when Ford turned around to look at him.
  • While Kelley’s portrayal is a warm and friendly fellow, the real Edward O’Kelley was apparently known for being a drunk and instigator of fights. He was the one that instigated the fight that killed Robert Ford and he was sent to prison for the murder for nine years. He was also never a police officer of any kind. In fact, his death in 1904 was caused because he picked a fight with an Oklahoma City police officer. The reason he tried to kill the officer? The police officer made a cheery comment toward him.
  • Frank James was indeed imprisoned briefly for his crimes and released over a year later after being found not guilty. However, Frank James was actually held in Missouri, not Colorado, and he had turned himself in willingly instead of the capture the film shows. The reasoning for him not being extradited to other states he had committed crimes in was also different. In the film, it’s a Hand Wave that since he’s not wanted in Colorado anymore, they can’t legally hold him. In real life, part of the conditions of his surrender entailed not being extradited to other states where he was accused of crimes (specifically, Northfield, Minnesota, where the infamous robbery took place).
  • The opening depicts Robert Ford being shot as the James gang flees the bank. In real life, there’s nothing to show that Robert Ford was ever wounded during a robbery. He had only recently joined the gang, and spent most of his tenure hiding out at Jesse’s house in St. Joseph, Missouri.
Top

How well does it match the trope?

Example of:

/

Media sources:

/

Report