The real Jesse and his brother Frank were bank & train robbers from Missouri, "robbed from the rich, gave to the poor". During the civil war they joined the Confederate guerilla band Quantrill's Raiders, terrorizing local Union sympathizers. They once shot 22 unarmed Union soldiers embarking from a train, robbed the express cars while leaving the passengers alone. That's when the Pinkerton Detective Agency started getting after them, pricefighters galore. The Missouri governor had put a $10.000 price on Jesse's head, who eventually was shot in the back by 20 year old Robert Ford, brother of Charles Ford, one of Jesse's gangsters. Ford on his turn was shot by outlaw Edward O'Kelly, seeking revenge for the death of Jesse. The jury sentenced O'Kelly to a mere two years, while Theodore Roosevelt once referred to Jesse as "an American Robin Hood".
Bad Men [Pete Seeger, Ramblin' Jack Elliott & Ed McCurdy]
Lonnie Donegan [as The Ballad Of Jesse James]
Neil Morris [Alan Lomax recording; Neil was Jimmy Driftwood's father; his granddad encountered the real Jesse James, as witnessed in the intro]
Ry Cooder [in film The Long Riders]
Van Morrison-Lonnie Donegan-Chris Barber [as The Ballad Of Jesse James]
Nick Cave [in film The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford]
Also by The Kingston Trio, Lead Belly, Bob Seger, Country Joe McDonald, New Lost City Ramblers, Roy Rogers & The Sons Of The Pioneers. Not to be confused with Woody Guthrie's (1939). Billy Gashade, who was credited for this saga song, was a black prisoner.