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Frank James

Alexander Franklin James (January 10, 1843February 18, 1915) was an American outlaw and older brother of Jesse James.


He was born in Kearney, Clay County, Missouri to Baptist minister Reverend Robert Sallee James (July 7, 1818August 18, 1850) and his wife Zerelda Cole (January 29, 1825February 10, 1911), who had moved there from Kentucky. Frank was the first of three children. Alexander was his given name, but he was called Frank.

As a child, Frank developed an interest in his late father's sizable library, particularly in the works of his favorite author William Shakespeare. Census records show that Frank attended school throughout his childhood, and he reportedly wanted to become a teacher.

Civil War

In 1861, when Frank James was eighteen years old, the American Civil War began. Missouri was soon caught up in the war. Though a majority of Missourians probably did not want the state to secede from the Union, a significant number nevertheless had pro-Confederate sympathies (including James's outspoken mother), especially residents of "Little Dixie", which included Clay County. Missourians would serve in the armies of both sides, and a pro-Union faction would challenge the state's elected pro-Confederate governor. Frank James joined the Missouri State Guard on May 4, 1861, opposing the Union troops who intended to gain control of the divided state.

The State Guard's first major engagement was the Battle of Wilson's Creek on August 10, 1861. The state troops fought under Major General Sterling Price alongside the Confederate troops of Brigadier General Ben McCulloch. They numbered in all about 12,000 men. Opposing them was the Army of the West under Union Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon, totalling 5,400 men. Lyon was killed leading a charge, and his army, under Major General Samuel D. Sturgis, then retreated to Springfield, Missouri. The battle cost the Confederates 1,095 men and the Union 1,235 men, and allowed the victorious Confederates to advance farther north.

On September 13, 1861, Sterling Price's State Guard, including Frank James, besieged Lexington, Missouri, garrisoned by 3,500 men of the Union army, under Colonel James A. Mulligan. On September 20, Price's men finally attacked, and by the early afternoon Mulligan and his men had surrendered. The Confederates had lost 100 men, while the Union forces' losses were estimated at 1,774 men. The Battle of Lexington was the second major victory for the State Guard, and the Confederates gained control of southwestern Missouri by October.

Frank James fell ill and was left behind when the Confederate forces later retreated. He surrendered to Union forces, was paroled and was allowed to return home. However, he was arrested by the local pro-Union militia and not released until he signed an oath of allegiance to the Union.

A bitter guerrilla conflict was soon being waged across the state between bands of Confederate irregulars (commonly known as bushwhackers) and the Federal forces. By early 1863, Frank had joined a guerrilla band led by a former saddler named Fernando Scott. Before long he had switched to the infamous William Clarke Quantrill, attacking both the Union forces and their civilian Union supporters in western Missouri.

The warfare was savage, with atrocities committed by both sides. Militiamen searching for Frank and Fernando Scott's band, for example, raided the Samuel farm and briefly (but not fatally) hanged Dr. Reuben Samuel, Frank's stepfather, torturing him to reveal the location of the guerrillas. Shortly afterward, Frank joined Quantrill's band in the August 21, 1863, Lawrence Massacre.

Outlaw years and retirement

For the career of the James brothers after the Civil War, see Jesse James.

During his years as a bandit, Frank was involved in at least four shootouts between 1868 and 1876, resulting in the deaths of four bank employees or citizens. The most famous incident was the disastrous Northfield, Minnesota raid on September 7, 1876, that ended with the death or capture of most of the gang.

Aaron Mittenthal, the future grandparent of composer Aaron Copland, who would go on to romanticize the life of the contemporary outlaw Billy the Kid in his 1938 ballet, hired Frank James to work at a Dallas wholesale and retail dry-goods store. It was James's running off with the store's profits that convinced the Mittenthals to leave Texas and return to New York City.

Five months after the murder of his brother Jesse in 1882, Frank boarded a train to Jefferson City, Missouri, where he had an appointment with the governor in the state capitol. Placing his holster in Governor Crittenden's hands, he explained,

"I have been hunted for twenty-one years, have literally lived in the saddle, have never known a day of perfect peace. It was one long, anxious, inexorable, eternal vigil." He then ended his statement by saying, "Governor, I haven't let another man touch my gun since 1861."

Accounts say that Frank surrendered with the understanding that he would not be extradited to Northfield, Minnesota

Frank was tried for only two of the robberies/murders – one in Gallatin, Missouri for the July 15, 1881 robbery of the Rock Island Line train at Winston, Missouri, in which the train engineer and a passenger were killed, and the other in Huntsville, Alabama for the March 11, 1881 robbery of a United States Army Corps of Engineers payroll at Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Missouri General Joe Shelby testified on James' behalf in the Missouri trial. The court was overwhelmed as the two old Confederate veterans embraced. No Missouri jury would have sentenced James after that demonstration. He was acquitted in Alabama as well. Afterwards, Missouri accepted legal jurisdiction over him for other charges but they never came to trial. The Missouri political establishment also kept him from being extradited to Minnesota to be tried in connection with the Northfield Raid.

In the last thirty years of his life, James worked a variety of jobs, including as a shoe salesman and then as a theater guard in St. Louis. One of the theater's spins to attract patrons was their use of the phrase "Come get your ticket punched by the legendary Frank James." He also served as an AT&T telegraph operator in St. Joseph, Missouri. With his old comrade Cole Younger, James took up the lecture circuit. In 1902, former Missourian Sam Hildreth, a leading thoroughbred horse trainer and owner, hired James as the betting commissioner at the Fair Grounds Race Track in New Orleans.

In his final years, Frank James returned to the James Farm, giving tours for the sum of 25 cents.He died there on February 18, 1915, aged 72 years.


  • Wellman, Paul I. A Dynasty of Western Outlaws. 1961; 1986.

Further reading

  • Copland, Aaron and Perlis, Vivian: Copland - 1900 Through 1942, St. Martin's/Marek, 1984.
  • Settle, William A., Jr.: Jesse James Was His Name, or, Fact and Fiction Concerning the Careers of the Notorious James Brothers of Missouri, University of Nebraska Press, 1977
  • Yeatman, Ted P.: Frank and Jesse James: The Story Behind the Legend, Cumberland House, 2001
  • Stiles, T.J.: Jesse James: Last Rebel of the Civil War, Alfred A. Knopf, 2002

External links

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