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The ruthless slaying of their mother by Barshee, an agent of the Midland Railroad who has been sent to swindle the farmers out of their land, forces the James boys to renounce their legacy of farming and become renegades. Fighting to stop the encroachment of the railroad, Frank and Jesse organize a band of outlaws to rob the line. After a series of successful raids, Jesse's sweetheart Zerelda, known as Zee, the niece of town newspaper editor Major Rufus Cobb, pleads with Jesse to give himself up and take the reduced sentence offered by McCoy, the head of the railroad. After he and Zee are married, however, Jesse learns that McCoy is planning to double-cross him and, with the help of Frank and the gang, escapes. Continually hunted, Zee grows tired of running and hiding, and after she must face the birth of her son alone, she begs Rufus to take her home to Liberty, Missouri. Accompanied by their friend, Marshal Will Wright, Rufus and Zee head back to Missouri, and when Jesse learns of his wife's departure, he chooses not to follow, realizing that she will be happier without him. Five years pass and while Jesse leads the life of a renegade, his son grows to boyhood, unaware of his father's reputation. One day George Runyan, the Midland detective, rides into Liberty and announces complete amnesty and a $25,000 reward in return for the death of Jesse James. Meanwhile, Jesse is planning a risky raid on the bank at Northfield, Minnesota. Learning of the reward, gangmember Bob Ford notifies Runyan of the raid, and when Jesse and Frank enter the bank, they find the law awaiting them. The brothers escape, but Jesse is badly wounded and taken by a friendly farmer to his cabin in the woods. He arrives to find Zee and his son, and the reunited family plans to begin life anew in California. Before he can set out on his new life, however, Jesse is shot in the back by Bob Ford.