Mrs. Nancy Benton, was a widow raising eight children on her own near White House, Tennessee. Her husband had fought alongside Confederate soldiers as a scout and guerilla fighter. He had escaped death in the war, but would die in the 1870’s leaving her a widow without a pension. She was doing her best to keep up with the farm and raise her children.
One day she gets a notice that she is behind on her mortgage. She owes the bank $1,400. That is more than Mrs. Benton can earn in a year. The notice claims that a representative from the bank will be by on a certain day to collect the back due mortgage or she and her children will be evicted. She has no idea what she can do.
Early in the morning of the day the mortgage is due, while it is still dark, there is a loud knock on the door. “They are already here,” she thinks. She plans how she is going to ask for more time as she walks to the door. She opens the door not to a bill collector, but to the barrel of a gun. At the other end is Jesse James.
Immediately, her day goes from bad to worse. If Jesse James asks for money, she has nothing to give. What will he do? Will he believe her? If he does not will he hurt her or her children? He does ask for coffee and something to eat. She prepares what she can and timidly places a small meal in front of this notorious outlaw.James asks why she gave him so little.
That is when things change. She breaks down in tears and tells him her story and that that is all she has. She explains her dilemma and the bank’s threat to evict her and her children. This is when Jesse James does the unexpected. This outlaw produces a roll of bills and hands Mrs. Benton $1,500 in cash. He tells her to use this to pay the back mortgage and save the rest. As he leaves he tells her to be sure to ask for a receipt.
Later in the day a representative from the bank comes to either collect the mortgage or evict Mrs. Benton. She pays the banker and asks for a receipt. He provides the receipt, thanks her and leaves. She watches him as he leaves her property. That is when Jesse James re-enters the story. As the man nears the road, Jesse (some accounts include Frank) steps out of the woods and robs the banker.
Sometimes we prejudge others based on their reputation. Sometimes we think the worst of them. Apparently, there was good even in the notorious outlaw Jesse James.
Rahab protected the Israelite spies when she lied about their presence. She receives protection when Jericho falls. Jesus used an unjust manager (steward) in a parable to teach about wisdom (Luke 16:1-13). I wonder if we can learn something from Frank and Jesse James?
- Not how to cheat the bank, but how we should be compassionate.
- Not to prejudge. The widow thought the worst of Jesse James. He could have thought she was lying.
- What lessons can you think of?
- What Bible characters come to mind that are “anti-heroes?” Characters who unexpectedly do good things?
Note: I learned this event from Mysteries at the Museum on The Travel Channel. It is told from memory, some details may vary from actual events.