by Guy Blasi
WALSENBURG- The immaculate building at 320 West 7th has an interesting history in America’s western heritage. It was once owned by a notorious murderer who operated his saloon and gambling hall one block to the east, then became a quiet family home, and is now an insurance agent’s office.
Bob Ford, “the dirty little coward” who murdered his partner, the legendary outlaw Jesse James, came to Walsenburg in 1891 or 1892. He was seeking some time and space from eastern Kansas where he shot James in the back in 1882. Ford had just narrowly escaped an assassination attempt in Kansas City, Kansas, where an assailant tried to slit his throat. Ford’s reputation as James’ killer brought out others who wanted their own notoriety hoping to become, “The Man Who Killed The Man Who Killed Jesse James”.
Getting back to James’ murder: Ford and his brother Charley had gotten aquainted with the James gang back in St. Joseph, Missouri, where Jesse went by the alias of Thomas Howard. By the spring of 1882, the James gang numbers were down due to arrests, deaths, and defections, and James had come to believe that he could trust the Ford brothers. Charley had been out on raids with James before, but Bob was an eager new recruit. The Ford brothers moved in with the James’ family, and passed themselves off as Bob and Charles Johnson, “Thomas Howard′s” cousins.
Hoping to keep the gang alive, James invited the Fords to take part in the robbery of a bank in Platte City, but the brothers had already decided not to take part in the robbery in order to collect the $10,000 bounty placed on James by Missouri Governor Thomas Crittenden. On April 3, 1882, after eating breakfast, the Fords and James went into the living room to prepare for the trip to Platte City. James stood on a chair to adjust a picture on the wall, and Ford killed him with one shot to the back of his head.
After the assassination, the Fords wired the governor to claim their reward. They turned themselves in to the law, but were shocked to find that they were charged with first degree murder. In one day, the Ford brothers were indicted, pled guilty, and sentenced to death by hanging. However, just a few hours later they were granted a full pardon by Governor Crittenden. Despite the deal that was made with the governor, the Ford brothers did not receive the reward money they were promised.
Ford became a target, moving throughout Missouri, Kansas, New Mexico and Colorado, opening gambling saloons in hopes of cashing in on his name.