This old, yellowed piece of paper is only 12×18 inches, but the historic value is significant. This is a wanted poster for Frank and Jesse James. The poster will be featured in Brian Lebel’s Old West Show and Auction on Saturday, June 23, 2012. While it offers a $5,000 reward for each man, it is expected to sell for at least $25,000. Lebel stated, “Authentic wanted posters of the Old West are extremely hard to come by.”
Old wanted posters are famous for having the phrase “dead or alive,” perhaps because people like the drama that that entails. Realistically though, it was preferred that outlaws were brought in alive so that they could stand trial for their crimes.
This poster lists several of the brothers’ crimes, including the famous mistaken identity murder. While the brothers were famous criminals with many crimes under their belts, the $5,000 reward was a lot back then. Rewards usually ranged up to $500, but these two were notorious and frustrating to Thomas Crittendon, Missouri’s governor. He was so bent on serving the brothers justice that he made the reward so steep so that there was a great incentive for anyone to bring them in at their first opportunity. This plan didn’t work as Frank and Jesse never were brought in. Jesse started living free under a different name until he was shot in 1882. After that, Frank turned himself in because he was tired of living as a fugitive. He was acquitted in 1883 and then lived a quiet life, working various jobs until his fatal heart attack in 1915.
While no one ever did collect those $5,000, this poster and many other prizes will be available at the auction. Other featured items are a wanted poster for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance kid, who also got away with their crimes. Brian Lebel’s Old West Show and Auction will run from Friday, June 22, to Sunday, June 24.