Bob Buckley looks at Piedmont ties to Jesse James legend

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"Happy Valentine's Day. Now give me all your money." That might've been the phrase uttered 150 years ago the day before Valentine's Day ... by none other than Jesse James. But we doubt it.

Although Valentine's Day was well established by 1866 - becoming a Christian holiday at the end of the Roman Empire and recognizable as the day we now celebrate around the time of English poet Geoffrey Chaucer in the 14th century -- James wasn't the loving type, unless we're talking about self-promotion.

"He wanted this certain image to be out there," says UNC-Greensboro historian, Charles Bolton. "And he was a great self-promotor."

That certain image, at least in the eyes of some, was as a 19th century Robin Hood, taking back from the wealthy what had belonged to the James family and others who lived in northwest part of Missouri, which had been settled not long before by many former Southerners. Jesse even claimed that the first bank he robbed was to get back the deed to the James farm, there.

But as their crime spree ran across the country, a pattern emerged. Most of their targets had something to do with Northerners and the political party they saw as oppressing the South. And, increasingly, they turned wantonly violent.

"He really saw his actions - if not driven by ideology, political ideology - at least that was a nice place to point his gun, you know?" says Guilford College historian Damon Akins. "He liked to shoot. He particularly liked to shoot Republicans."

But it's hard to know exactly who Jesse James was. To Akins, what has happened since Robert Ford gunned Jesse down in his own home in St. Joseph, Missouri, is more interesting than what Jesse did while alive.

"I see him more as a commodity - kind of a cultural commodity - more than a person," says Akins. "Every generation sort of recasts the villains of the past as its heroes. What's interesting to me is what different groups and people in society have done with James. How he becomes the cultural hero, the robber, the Robin Hood character in the early part of the 20th century."

And, as you'll see in this edition of the Buckley Report, how the Piedmont Triad may have played a role in it all.