Western Outlaw. He was born Alexander Franklin James in Kearney, Missouri to a Baptist minister, he was the first of four children. His father heeding a calling left for California with the intent of preaching to gold miners but contracted cholera and died. Frank's mother Zerelda would remarry two more times before her death resulting in four more children. Frank was self-taught after developing an interest in his late father's sizeable library. He had thoughts of pursuing a higher education but political events influenced his life. Frank joined the Missouri State Guard fighting for the Confederacy then returned home because of an injury but soon recovered and at age nineteen joined William Quantrill's Raiders, a group of Southern sympathizers from Missouri who used hit-and-run tactics to attack abolitionist "Jayhawkers" in Kansas. When the war ended, the US government pardoned Confederate troops, However, guerrilla bands like Quantrill's Raiders were still considered outlaws. Frank turned himself in as a Confederate soldier signing all the paperwork declaring his allegiance to the Union but used his given name of Alexander and the militia kept up the hunt. Frank James, Jesse James, Cole Younger and other "Raiders" attempted to surrender at Lexington, Missouri but federal soldiers opened fire. Those that escaped hid in the woods and the result was the formation of the James-Younger gang. During the next 12 years, they committed many robberies involving banks, trains and stagecoaches. The Pinkerton Detective Agency was hired to apprehend the gang. However, their bumbling resulted in the deaths of many agents. They would be foiled time and time again as even local townspeople aided gang members. Frank's outlawry came to end after the death of his brother Jesse, shot in the back, by a member of his own gang for the reward money. Frank surrendered to Missouri Governor Thomas Crittenden and was jailed in Independence. With Civil War sympathies still running high, he was acquitted by the jury after only five minutes of deliberation, during a circus like trial held at the nearby Gallatin Opera House. Frank James had led a life of crime for almost two decades yet stood trial only twice and other then time in jail, which was considerable, he did no prison time. After the acquittal and pardon from the Missouri trial, he was taken to Huntsville, Alabama, to stand trial for robbery resulting in another innocent verdict. The defense lawyer was none other than the former Secretary of War for the Confederacy, Leroy Pope Walker. Walker would pass away a year later. A historic marker concerning this can be see in downtown Huntsville, corner of Green and Eustis., After his acquittal, he shunned offers to capitalize on his outlaw fame turning down many offers. Instead, he took menial jobs: shoe salesman, farmer and with the Standard Theatre saloon in St. Louis as an usher, doorman and bouncer. In his declining years he did join Cole Younger in a traveling wild west show using their outlaw fame to draw spectators. With creeping old age, he returned to the James Farm giving tours for the price of twenty-five cents. Here he died at age 72. Frank was cremated as he feared graverobbers. His ashes were kept in a bank vault until his wife's death at age 91 in 1944. She was cremated and the couple was interred in Hill Park Cemetery which is located in the upper part of Hill Park, Independence and consists of a small stone wall enclosure of graves. The jail in Independence where Frank was held for six months and treated more like a celebrity guest than an outlaw still stands and the cell has been restored to the condition it was when occupied. The rundown James farm was owned by descendents of Frank James. In 1978, Clay County purchased the home and restoration work was completed. The house contains many artifacts from the James era and is a popular tourist attraction. The bank in Liberty, Missouri which is claimed to be the first bank robbery committed by the James gang. $62,000 was taken and the bank ended up closing due to insufficient funds. The building has been restored and is opened daily to tourists.
Bio by: Donald Greyfield
Ann Ralston James