The Long Riders Soundtrack / Ry Cooder
Jesse James (1939)
A Stunt of Infamy
Have you seen this stunt below? It’s in Jesse James (1939).
It’s one of the most famous movie stunts in Film History.
But not because it’s spectacular. (Though it is)But because of what it stirred up. You see, the horse died. Panicked and drowned. The public outrage and outcry was so great
that it led to the creation of:
The American Humane Association
In 1940, American Humane (AH) became the sole monitoring body for the humane treatment of animals on the sets of Hollywood films and other broadcast productions. American Humane is best known for its trademarked certification “No Animals Were Harmed®”, which appears at the end of film or television credits.
“We are first to serve, wherever animals are in need of rescue, shelter, protection or security. Through our innovative leadership initiatives – from our “No Animals Were Harmed®” program in Hollywood to broad-based farm and conservation animal welfare certifications, to rapid response rescue and care across the country – American Humane sets the gold standard as the most visionary and effective animal welfare organization in the nation.”
Prior to this there were no safety standards for beast – or man – in film stunting.
This changed it all.
Coming to the fore was legendary stuntman Yakima Canutt. He, along with other rodeo performers, brought a battery of rodeo techniques that Canutt would expand and improve upon, including horse falls and safer methods for many kinds of stunts, including gear and techniques for performing and planning stunts, harnesses, cable rigs and protective equipment to make many stunts almost foolproof. Both horses and stuntmen were now trained in stunt schools. Medical support and First Aide became readily available.
Does that mean stunting is now 100% safe?
Of course not. Stunting is a dangerous by it’s nature.
And although such dangers have been greatly minimized and monitored there will always be occasional incidents/accidents.
Yet it is still vastly improved over what went on before.
Prior to 1939 nobody really seemed to care.
The Jump across Devil’s Gulch
But just where did the idea for the infamous stunt come from?
I believe it was likely inspired by another piece of Jesse James lore:
Jesse’s famous jump across Devil’s Gulch.
(Good Grief!! I know that sounds like something from a dime novel or a matinee serial … or something?!)
But it isn’t.
The back story:
The James/Younger Gang’s bank robbery at Northfield, Minnesota was a disaster. When the smoke cleared the Younger brothers were badly wounded and captured. Jesse and Frank James raced out of town with a rabid posse hot on their tail.
The ensuing chase resulted in the legend of
Jesse James: the leap across Devil’s Gulch, South Dakota.
Many believe the 18 to 20 foot jump is impossible
– or at least pretty unlikely .
Ask these questions:
Did Jesse have the chops? the will? the courage? the bravado? the desperation? the horsemanship to pull off such a stunt?
Damn right. On all counts.
The only question that remains is: did he have the horse to pull it off?
My guess is that Jesse wouldn’t be riding a nag. He was an expert horseman who had performed many robberies and holdups
and would likely have a pretty good steed for getaways.
And with a bloodthirsty posse hot on his trail
desperate times call for desperate measures.
The smell of death is a strong motivator.
I definitely think he would chance such a thing. And could pull it off.
But I’m not saying it really happened.
Just that he could have done it.
Doubt that we’ll ever know.