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311: This Week: The Highwaymen, The Assassination of Jesse James, Grant

In this episode, we’ll learn about historical events that happened this week in history as they were depicted in these movies: The Highwaymen, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, and Grant.

Events from This Week in History


Birthdays from This Week in History


Movies Released This Week in History

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Note: This transcript is automatically generated. There will be mistakes, so please don’t use them for quotes. It is provided for reference use to find things better in the audio.

April 1st, 1934. Grapevine, Texas.

As our first movie of the week starts, on the screen we can see the entrance to a building. Its white stones are stained and discolored by years of farm use. Two cows stick their noses out of the open windows just as a man in overalls emerges from the open doorway. The windows don’t have any glass. Then again, the doorway doesn’t seem to have a door in it.

On the left side of the frame is a fenced-in pasture covered in mud and hoof prints. I’m guessing those were made by the cows watching the man who just left the building through its open doorway.

He’s wearing a well-used pair of blue overalls and sporting a beard with gray hair that’s sprinkled with white. He’s also carrying a white pail as he exits the building, going about what we can only assume are his morning chores.

As he walks further from the building, the camera pans around him and we can see there’s also a horse in the pasture behind the building. He walks past the building he just came out of, making his way to the pasture on the other side of it. There’s a lot more green grass on that side of the building.

The man stops in his tracks.

He seems to have noticed something that now we can see, too. On the dirt road in the distance, just beyond the pasture, he can see a car. It’s stopped. In front of the car, facing the opposite direction, are two motorcycles. No one is on the motorcycles, though, but there are two uniformed police officers walking from their parked motorcycles toward the stopped car.

The farmer watches from a distance as the door of the car opens.

We can hear one of the officers ask if the people in the car are all right.

Just then, gunfire erupts. Smoke can be seen in the distance as the farmer in the foreground of the camera angle instinctively ducks for cover. He drops the pail, spilling the milk inside, but he doesn’t run. He drops to his knees as he watches the event unfold in front of him.

The camera looks a little closer now and we can see two figures beside the parked car. One is a man dressed in a suit, the other a woman in a red dress.

On the ground between the car and the motorcycles are two bodies lying still—the police officers who were approaching the car. The woman in the red dress walks up to one of the policemen on the ground, points her shotgun at the man’s face and without hesitation, from the farmer’s perspective we can hear the sound and see the smoke from the gun blast.

The true story behind this week’s event depicted in the movie The Highwaymen

That’s a segment from the 2019’s The Highwaymen, and the event it’s depicting is a very real event that happened this week in history when the notorious outlaws Bonnie and Clyde murdered two Grapevine police officers on April 1st, 1934.

And even though the movie doesn’t show things from the perspective of Bonnie and Clyde, it does a pretty good job showing what happened that day. For example, it’s correctly showing the two officers were approaching a vehicle that was stopped on the road. It was also correct to show there was a witness, although the movie leaves out the farmer’s two daughters who were also there that Easter morning.

William Schieffer was doing his normal Sunday morning chores around the farm just like we see in the movie when he saw two people driving by in a car very slowly—they appeared to be looking at the grass as if they were searching for something. He recalled later it was a young man and a young woman, she had a white rabbit in her lap.

Schieffer’s daughters, Isabella Schieffer, and Elaine Adams, came outside to help their dad at about the same time as the sound of motorcycles were heard. There were two of them, and they stopped near the now parked car that the young couple had been driving.

They didn’t know it at the time, but looking at this from a historical lens most believe the two patrolmen thought the stopped Ford had broken down, so they were going to help out the young couple inside. After all, it was 1934, and it’s not like cell phones or even telephones, in general, were popular in rural Texas.

This all took place on Dove Road just off Highway 114 in what’s now Southlake, Texas.

While we only see one person watching in the movie, in truth it was three onlookers, the farmer and his daughters, who stood some 100 yards or so away as the two patrolmen walked up the car. Before they could get close, the sound of a gun rang and one of the patrolmen, Edward Wheeler, fell to the ground. He was killed instantly. The other, Holloway Murphy, wasn’t killed when the first shot hit him. He fell to his side on the ground.

And that’s when, just like we see in the movie, Bonnie walked up to the man and shot him at point-blank range.

Or maybe it was both Bonnie and Clyde who walked up, there are some conflicting reports of Schieffer and his daughters’ account, but most agree it was Bonnie who pulled the trigger killing the other patrolman.

We don’t see it in the movie, but there were other witnesses to the event as well. Although the Schieffers were the best witnesses since it was near their farm. But Jack Cook, another resident who lived nearby, happened to see the young couple just before the shootings. Then shortly after, another couple—Mr. and Mrs. Giggals—were on a Sunday morning drive on Highway 114 and had just passed Dove Road when they heard the shots. They turned around to see what happened and, according to them, the shooters saw them, got in their car and sped away.

In the aftermath of the event, Texas law enforcement reached out to Frank Hamer, a former Texas Ranger who, as it turned out, was already on the hunt for Bonnie and Clyde.

If you want to watch the event that happened this week in history, check out the 2019 movie The Highwaymen. The Grapevine killings are at about 45 minutes and 20 seconds into the film. And if you want to learn more about the true story behind the hunt for Bonnie and Clyde, check out episode #178 of Based on a True Story.


April 3rd, 1882. St. Joseph, Missouri.

On the screen in our next movie is a man operating a hand pump. There’s water splashing out into a bowl he has sitting beneath the pump. He looks up and sees another man who is just sitting there on the other side of tall grass.

“Mornin’,” the man at the pump calls out.

The other man looks up but doesn’t reply.

“Charley,” the man says again. Again, no reply, just a stern look.

The man at the hand pump is Casey Affleck’s character, Robert Ford, while the other man sitting behind the grass and not replying is Robert’s brother, Charley Ford, and he’s played by Sam Rockwell in the movie.

Robert splashes some water on his face.

The scene cuts to a father and son walking down a dirt road. As they get closer, Robert makes a comment to the father—asking him if it’s a good idea to go out like that so everyone can see his guns. In a defiant but wordless reply, the father tucks his jacket coat behind the gun so it’s even easier to see.

The two pass through a gate behind Robert and, after playing with his daughter who runs around the house to greet her father, the father and two children walk inside the house. Robert stays outside for a moment before going inside, too.

The father is Brad Pitt’s character in the movie, Jesse James.

Inside, Robert notices the headlines of a newspaper that Jesse threw on the sofa when he entered. Looking closer, we can see the words “The arrest and confession of Dick Liddil.”

Robert’s mouth opens slightly as he reads it. He glances to the other room where we can see Jesse going about getting ready for breakfast with his wife, Mary-Louise Parker’s character, Zee James.

She calls to Robert, saying everything is getting cold. We can see him putting on a gun belt in the other room. Then, in the next shot, we can see Robert sitting down at the kitchen table with Jesse, Charley, and Jesse’s son.

Jesse gets up for a moment to get the paper from the other room. Back at the table, Jesse stirs his coffee while reading the morning paper. He notices the headline about Dick Liddil.

Charley and Robert appear to be rather nervous as they chuckle, pretending not to know about it.

Robert gets up and goes into the other room. He seems to be sweating a little bit. His breath shakes, he’s obviously nervous. Charley enters the room and looks at his brother. Then, Jesse enters the room and asks if they’re both about ready. Charley says he will be by noon and looks out the front door.

Jesse is looking out at his daughter playing in the front yard. He seems to be lost in thought as he dryly says he’ll take his guns off so no one can see them, alluding to what Robert said earlier. Jesse lays his gun belt on the sofa. Then, he turns over and notices a photograph hanging on the wall. He comments something about how dusty the picture is, and gets on a chair to clean it.

Then, behind him, Robert stands up. Charley moves slightly, looking at his brother. Charley pulls out his pistol.

Even though Jesse is facing the wall, the camera makes it obvious that Jesse can see Robert’s reflection. He can see that Robert is holding his pistol now and pointing it at Jesse. He does nothing.

A single gunshot and Jesse’s head smashes against the picture frame before he falls to the ground.

The true story behind this week’s event depicted in the movie The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

That portrayal comes from the 2007 movie called The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford…which, as you can probably guess, is exactly the event that happened this week in history: The assassination of Jesse James.

The way the movie portrays it happening is pretty accurate, although there’s one major thing to keep in mind: There were only three people in that room, and only two of them walked out. So, the story we know is based on the recollection of Charley and Robert Ford, the two people who killed Jesse James.

With that said, though, it’s not like the Ford brothers were trying to hide what they did. We know this because they told the authorities themselves what happened and then later, just like we see in the movie, Charley and Robert Ford would go on to re-enact the assassination for paying audiences who wanted to see how Jesse James was killed.

According to their version of the story, it was in the morning of April 3rd when Charley and Robert Ford sat down to breakfast with Jesse James—although he was going by the name Thomas Howard so no one would know his true identity.

But, of course, Charley and Robert Ford had helped the James gang with their safe houses for over a year—Robert Ford met Jesse James in 1880—so they knew his real identity.

The plan was for the brothers to help robbing the bank in Platte City, Missouri. That’s about 30 miles, or a little less than 50 kilometers, from Jesse James’ home in St. Joseph, Missouri. At least, that was the plan that Jesse James had in mind. The Ford brothers, however, had a different plan in mind.

To lay down a little historical context, the Ford brothers’ plan was to kill Jesse James and get the $10,000 reward being offered by the governor, Thomas Crittenden.

In the movie, Brad Pitt’s version of Jesse James reads the newspaper and notices a mention of Dick Liddil being arrested. He looks at Robert Ford and says that he must’ve been around when Liddil was arrested. Although Casey Affleck’s version of Robert Ford doesn’t admit to it in the movie, and for good reason, it is true that Robert Ford was there when Liddil was arrested. Actually, both Liddil and Ford surrendered to the sheriff because Liddil had killed Jesse James’ cousin, a man by the name of Wood Hite.

All these men were a part of the James gang, and the law knew it.

Robert Ford was allowed to go free on the condition that he kill Jesse James—something that Governor Crittenden said he’d pardon Ford for doing.

That’s why the Ford brothers had a different plan in mind than Jesse James did that April morning. After breakfast, they went into the living room to talk about the bank robbery plan. And just like we see in the movie, Jesse James went to go dust off a picture. That’s when Charley pulled out his gun, but it was Robert Ford who pulled the trigger first. James was hit in the back of the head, killing him immediately.

In the movie, we kind of get the idea that Jesse James might’ve known something was going on. Why would he take off his guns? Why would he dust a picture? We even see James looking at Robert Ford with his gun pulled in the picture’s reflection and he doesn’t do anything.

Did he know he was about to be killed?

That’s something historians have debated ever since that day. We’ll never really know for sure, but some have suggested that he knew his time was nearing an end. He also was wary of the Ford brothers, not quite trusting them fully, so he must’ve found it suspicious they didn’t mention the arrest of Dick Liddil.

How much Jesse James knew about the Fords’ plan died with him a few moments later.

If you want to watch the event that happened this week in history, check out the 2007 movie called The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. The text letting us know it’s April 3rd, 1882, starts at about two hours, two minutes and 54 seconds into the movie.

We learned more about the real history on episode #166 of Based on a True Story.


April 6th, 1862. Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee.

Rows of white tents line either side of a small, dirt road that runs through a clearing. From inside the woods nearby, we can see a bunch of soldiers with guns sneaking by. The camera focuses on one soldier inside the woods. He’s wearing a gray uniform and slowly, he lifts a rifle and raises it to his eye. We can see who he’s aiming at; it’s another soldier—this one is wearing a blue uniform as he watches the woods from the clearing.

He seems to be part of a line guarding the camp from the woods, although it’s obvious he hasn’t seen the soldiers hiding in the woods yet.

That changes when the soldier in the woods fires a shot. Another soldier falls from just behind the soldier in focus.

Then, all hell breaks loose. Confederate soldiers in the woods fire on the Union soldiers who are now running away from the edge of the trees.

At first, reports come back that it’s just a skirmish, but it quickly becomes clear there’s something more to this fight. Calls to hold the line are made as more and more Confederate troops charge the defending soldiers.

The true story behind this week’s event depicted in the TV series Grant

This is just the start of a longer sequence that comes from the 2020 miniseries simply called Grant, and it’s depict something that happened this week in history: The Battle of Shiloh. It actually took place over the course of two days, April 6th and 7th, in 1862.

One of the first questions you may be asking yourself is why it’s called the Battle of Shiloh when I mentioned Pittsburg Landing at the beginning of the event. Sometimes it’s referred to as the Battle of Pittsburg Landing. But the more common name is the Battle of Shiloh because even though the battle took place near the town of Pittsburg Landing, the closest landmark was actually a church called, well, Shiloh Church.

Ironically, the word Shiloh in Hebrew means “peace” … and the Battle of Shiloh would turn out to be one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War.

In a nutshell, the battle started in the early morning hours of April 6th as the Confederate soldiers opened fire on Union soldiers camped in a cotton field. From there, the battle only grew in size as both sides started to realize this was more than just a little skirmish.

Basically, Confederate General Johnston was leading over 44,000 soldiers in an attempt to wipe out Union General Grant’s 49,000-strong army before Grant could team up with General Buell—who commanded another 17,000 or so Union soldiers.

It didn’t go according to the Confederate’s plans.

Throughout the first day of the battle, the fighting was intense but because the Union troops were the ones attacked, they first had to stop the Confederate offensive. Then, on the second day, the Union started their offensive. It was helped by those 17,000 soldiers under the command of General Buell.

As a little side note, that wasn’t the entirety of Buell’s armies, but those were just the ones who made it to the battle before it ended. Oh, and while I’m adding in some details, it was actually 17,918 soldiers from Buell’s Army of Ohio while Grant’s Army of Tennessee had 48,894 soldiers and the Confederates had 44,699 soldiers.

By the end of the second day, the battle was a decisive victory for the Union Army.

It was also the bloodiest battle on American soil up until that point with an estimated 23,746 casualties—a little over 10,000 on the Confederate side and a little over 13,000 on the Union side. Up until that point in 1862, it was the deadliest battle in the Civil War.

If you want to see the battle portrayed on screen, check out the docudrama series called Grant and the Battle of Shiloh starts at about an hour, one minute and 18 seconds into the first episode.



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