Jesse James’ Flying Leap

Posted: Monday, April 19, 2010 at 12:00 am
By: Doug Lund
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Ah ha…I’ll bet you thought by the title that this was going to be about that heavily tattooed motorcycle building  TV Daredevil Jesse James who somehow wound up as the husband of beautiful superstar,  Sandra Bullock, only to cheat on her with a variety of shadowy tattooed babes..while she was off making Oscar award winning movies.
Nah, I’m talking about the REAL Jesse James, the outlaw who only robbed banks and killed people. Oh, and he just might have jumped his horse over a twenty foot chasm near Garretson South Dakota called Devil’s Gulch while on the run following a failed bank job in Northfield, Minnesota; that Jesse James.
 
The other day, Linda suggested I do something to get rid of all those pesky little yellow headed flowers that are popping up all over the yard.
So, I got into the car and left..having every intention of going to Campbell’s Supply to pick up some weed killer and an extra length of garden hose but it was such a nice day that I kept on driving. I ended up in one of my favorite little towns; Garretson. A lot of people are familiar with Palisades State Park just south of the community but I also like Split Rock Park where the spillway is located. There’s just something mesmerizing about watching water flowing and falling even if it’s over a man-made structure.
There’s nothing man-made about Devil’s Gulch Park, though, except..perhaps..the tale of Jesse James’ famous leap across one of the Split Rock Creek gorges.
Most everyone knows the story of how..in 1876.. Jesse James and his brother, Frank ended up in the Split Rock area with hundreds of Minnesota possemen hot on their heels.The brothers decided to split up and a short time later, Jesse found himself aboard his stolen horse screeched to a halt at the precipice of a canyon faced with the decision; try jump across to freedom at the risk of plunging to his death on the jagged rocks below or surrender and face the hangman’s noose.
He dug his spurs in to the horse’s ribs and over they went.
I have to return to Devil’s gulch every now and again just to walk over the steel bridge that now spans the site. I keep trying to imagine a horse and rider making that jump and while my head says no way..my heart says, well maybe. 
 
One of the early reports  I did for Keloland, was about the Jesse James legend. I even got to visit the cave along Split Rock Creek where he and Frank supposedly hid out from the Northfield posse.
I asked local historians about the famous leap; whether they figured it to be fact or fiction.
I got lots of  conflicting opinions but one thing they all agreed on is that Jesse and Frank were definitely in that area at that time and somehow DID manage to elude their persistent pursuers and make it home to Missouri.
Did Jesse get there because he was able to coax a farm horse into believing he (the horse)was Pegasus?  
Well, I guess if somebody would have told me that 144 years later another Jesse James would risk his marriage to one of the world most beautiful and talented women in order to shack up with skanks  I wouldn’t have believe that  either.

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