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Frank James stood in brother Jesse’s shadow, but his life was full

Postcards-James webBy Linda Emley

I’ve been reading the Richmond Conservator from 1883 because I’m trying to find a story about when the 911 building was built on the north side of the Richmond Square. I haven’t found that story yet, but I did find a couple of articles related to Frank and Jesse James that I thought everyone might enjoy.

Richmond Conservator, Jan. 5, 1883: “The Ford Boys In A New Role. The citizens of Boston were treated to a novel sensation last week. The Ford brothers were performing to a large audience when some roughs loudly expressed their opinion that the Fords were “no good,” whereupon they drew their revolvers and leaped in the midst of the audience. The people stampeded immediately and such was their haste that many sought egress through the windows, smashing sashes to the ground floor windows. A policeman rushed to the scene and seized both brothers, who had assaulted several people with the butts of their revolvers. The officer proposed to take them to the lock up and desired to unbuckle their revolvers, but the proprietor of the show interfered, promising to see that the boys appeared when wanted and a number of those assaulted were summoned to attend as witnesses. The remark of the officer when seizing the brothers was, “You may be the Ford Brothers or the James Brothers, but you can’t drink blood in Boston.” It was asserted that the friends of the assaulted parties were laying for the Fords and more trouble was expected.”

The next edition of the Richmond Conservator, Jan. 12, 1883, had a story about Frank James. “Without Dick Liddel’s testimony there is little probability that Frank James can ever be convicted of any of his offenses upon Missouri soil, but as Liddel is perhaps as great a villain as James, the President did well to keep securely the one the law has its hands on.”

As everyone knows, Bob Ford was shot in Colorado and his brother Charlie shot himself in Richmond. Frank James was the last man standing and was never convicted.

The following is a short version of “The Rest of the Story about Frank James.”

Everyone knows Jesse James, but his older brother Frank, always played “second fiddle”. Their family farm in Kearney is known as the “Jesse James Farm and Museum”, but Frank lived there longer. Their first bank robbery was in Liberty, Mo. and once again it’s called the “Jesse James Bank Museum”. I find this funny because Jesse wasn’t even present at the Liberty robbery because he was at home recovering from a gunshot wound.

“Jesse was charismatic and had blue eyes. Frank was a good-ole boy with big ears, but he was still the last man standing. It always bothered me that Jesse got all the fame and I’ve decided that Frank deserves to have his day.

It’s been said that Frank was the man on the horse at the Richmond bank robbery. “The robber who remained on his horse took a stand in the middle of the street. He was mounted on a very fine and well trained horse. Having wound the bridle reins around the bow of his saddle in such a manner as to give greater tension to one rein than to the other, the horse continued to move round in a circle thus enabling his rider to see about him in every direction. With a navy pistol in each hand the horseman fired up and down the street.”

Alexander Franklin James was born Jan. 10, 1843 in Kearney to Baptist minister Robert and Zerelda Cole James. In 1850, their father left for California in hopes of preaching to gold miners, but cholera struck and he died. He’s buried in an unmarked grave in Placerville, Calif. Frank and Jesse visited California years later, but they were unable to find their father’s grave.

Frank and Jesse had two stepfathers. There are many stories about the second one, Dr. Reuben Samuel, but their first one, Benjamin Simms, is seldom mentioned. It’s said that Simms was hard on the boys and I’ve often wondered how this affected them. They had a sister, Susan, who lived to adulthood and one brother who died when he was an infant. They also had four half-brothers and sisters.

Frank used his father’s book collection and was an avid reader who enjoyed the works of William Shakespeare. He might have gotten additional schooling if the Civil War hadn’t started.

In 1861, 18-year-old Frank joined the Missouri State Guard. In 1862, he joined William Clarke Quantrill and rode with the Partisan Rangers for the rest of the war.

Frank was with Quantrill in 1863 when he raided Lawrence and was still with him in 1865 when Quantrill died. Jesse wanted to ride with Quantrill, but Quantrill thought that Jesse, 16, was too young. This rejection caused Jesse to join Capt. Bill Anderson’s Rangers. Frank and Jesse might have been with Anderson when he died in 1865.

After the war, the boys started robbing banks and trains. Frank’s life changed after Jesse’s death in 1882. They shared 34 years on this earth, but Frank had another 33 years without Jesse.

Five months after Jesse died, Frank went to Gov. Crittendale in Jefferson City and placed his gun on his desk and said, “I have been hunted for 21 years, have literally lived in the saddle, have never known a day of perfect peace. It was one long, anxious, inexorable, eternal vigil. Governor, I haven’t let another man touch my gun since 1861.”

Frank stood trial in Missouri and Alabama but was acquitted. His New York Times obituary said, “After his surrender James was taken to Independence, where he was held in jail three weeks, and later to Gallatin, where he remained in jail a year awaiting trial. Finally he was acquitted and went to Oklahoma to live with his mother. He never was in the penitentiary and never was convicted of any of the charges against him.”

Frank spent many years working odd jobs. He was a shoe salesman, a burlesque ticket taker and a telegraph operator. He also spent time on the lecture circuit with Cole Younger. In his later years, Frank gave tours at the James Farm.

Frank married Annie Ralston in 1874 and her family didn’t attend the wedding because they didn’t approve of her choice in husbands. Their only child, Robert Franklin James, was born in Tennessee in 1878.

Frank attended many Confederate reunions after the war. He and Annie hosted a Quantrill’s Raiders reunion in Blue Springs in 1898, which became an annual event.

Frank died Feb. 18, 1915, at the age of 72. His death certificate lists his occupation as farmer. Frank was cremated and his ashes were kept in a bank vault until his wife died in 1944. The ashes of both were buried at the same time at the Hill Park Cemetery in Independence. You could walk right by his grave and never know he was buried there because his tombstone says Alexander F. James, 1843-1915.

Frank had some movies made about him. In 1940, Henry Fonda played Frank in “The Return of Frank James” In 1995, Leonard Nimoy played Frank in a made-for-TV movie titled, “Bonanza: Under Attack.” I think it’s funny that Mr. Spock and Frank James were both played by Nimoy. One can only wonder what Frank would think if he saw these men telling his story on the silver screen.

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