John Newman Edwards was a pro-Confederate journalist who helped create the image of Jesse James as a heroic bandit. He was born on January 4, 1839, in Virginia and moved to Lexington, Missouri, around 1855. He was a soldier of the Confederacy during the Civil War and served under Joseph O. Shelby. Edwards wrote Shelby’s military reports, presenting Confederate soldiers and bushwhackers as heroic warriors defending a just cause.
After the Civil War, Edwards lived in exile in Mexico for about two years during which time he wrote the first of three books: Shelby and His Men. He returned to Missouri and newspaper work in 1867. He helped found the Kansas City Times in 1868 and served as its editor. His colorful and fiery editorials tried to persuade ex-Confederates to return to politics. Confederates had been banished from holding office at the end of the war.
Edward’s glorification of Jesse James is seen as part of his larger plan to instill pride in ex-Confederates and help them regain political power. By 1880 many ex-Confederates had returned to Missouri’s legislature and congressional delegation.
When Jesse James was killed in 1882, Edwards wrote a flattering obituary and tried to arrange for Frank James to surrender to Missouri authorities. Edwards, a heavy drinker, died in Jefferson City, Missouri, in 1889. His flattering treatment of Jesse James undoubtedly formed the basis of the heroic legend that is still associated with the outlaw.
Text by Carlynn Trout with research assistance by Elizabeth E. Engel
References and Resources
For more information about John Newman Edwards’s life and career, see the following resources:
The following is a selected list of books, articles, and manuscripts about John Newman Edwards in the research centers of The State Historical Society of Missouri. The Society’s call numbers follow the citations in brackets.
- Kansas City Times, 1872-1882.
John Newman Edwards was editor of the newspaper during this period.
- Christensen, Lawrence O., William E. Foley, Gary R. Kremer, and Kenneth H. Winn, eds. Dictionary of Missouri Biography. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1999. pp. 276-277. [REF F508 D561]
- Edwards John N. Noted Guerrillas: or, The Warfare of the Border. St. Louis: H.W. Brand & Co., 1879. [REF F554.1 Ed96n 1879 IN CASE]
- Edwards, Mary Virginia Plattenburg. John N. Edwards: Biography, Memoirs, Reminiscences and Recollections. Kansas City: J. Edwards, 1889. [REF F508.1 Ed96 1889]
- Edwards, John Newman (1839-1889), Letters, 1865-1866 (C1973)
Letters from Mexico, where Edwards went with Shelby and other Confederates after the Civil War. Edwards invested in land and published the Mexican Times, a Confederate English paper.
- Edwards, John Newman (1839-1889), Letters, 1882-1885 (C1531)
Letters to Frank James, giving him information and advice about public opinion, reward for his capture, and negotiations for his surrender to Governor Crittenden.
These links, which open in another window, will take you outside the Society’s website. The Society is not responsible for the content of the following websites:
- American Experience: John Newman Edwards
This PBS Website provides a brief biography of John Newman Edwards.