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Frank (right) and Jesse James in 1872
January 10, 1843|
Clay County, Missouri, USA
|Died||February 18, 1915
Clay County, Missouri
James was born Alexander Franklin James in Kearney, Missouri, to Baptist minister Reverend Robert Sallee James and his wife Zerelda (Cole) James, who had moved from Kentucky. He was the oldest of three children. His father died in 1851 and his mother re-married Benjamin Simms in 1852. After his death she married a third time to Dr. Reuben Samuel in 1855 when Frank was 13 years old. As a child, James showed interest in his late father's sizable library, especially the works of William Shakespeare. Census records show that James attended school regularly, and he reportedly wanted to become a teacher.
Civil War 
In 1861, when James was eighteen years old, the American Civil War began. Missouri remained in the Union although a minority favored secession (nearly three times more Missourians fought for the Union). The secessionists including Governor Claiborne Fox Jackson attempted to push the Union army out of the state but were eventually defeated. The James family was from the heavily Confederate western portion of the state. On September 13, 1861, the Missouri State Guard, including private Frank James, besieged Lexington, Missouri. James fell ill and was left behind when the Confederate forces later retreated. He surrendered to the Union troops, was paroled, and was allowed to return home. On his arrival, however, he was arrested by the local pro-Union militia and was forced to sign an oath of allegiance to the Union.
After the withdrawal of regular Confederate troops in the fall of 1864, a bitter guerrilla conflict soon began between bands of pro-Confederate irregulars (commonly known as bushwhackers) and the Union homeguards. By early 1863, Frank, ignoring his parole and oath of allegiance, had joined the guerrilla band of Fernando Scott, a former saddler. He soon switched to the more active command led by William Clarke Quantrill.
Union militiamen searching for Fernando Scott raided the Samuel farm and briefly hanged Dr. Reuben Samuel, Frank's stepfather, torturing him to reveal the location of the guerrillas. Shortly afterward, Frank took part with Quantrill's company in the August 21, 1863, Lawrence Massacre where approximately 200 mostly unarmed civilians were killed.
Outlaw years and retirement 
- For the career of the James brothers after the Civil War, see Jesse James.
During his years as a bandit, James was involved in at least four robberies between 1868 and 1876 that resulted in the deaths of 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.
Five months after the killing of his brother Jesse in 1882, Frank James 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.'
He 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. Among others, former Confederate General Joseph Orville Shelby testified on James' behalf in the Missouri trial. He was acquitted in both Missouri and Alabama. Missouri accepted legal jurisdiction over him for other charges, but they never came to trial. He was never extradited to Minnesota for his connection with the Northfield Raid.
His New York Times obituary summarized his arrest and acquittal:
In 1882 ... Frank James surrendered in Jefferson City, Mo.
After his surrender James was taken to Independence, Mo., where he was held in jail three weeks, and later to Gallatin, where he remained in jail a year awaiting trial. Finally James 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.
In the last thirty years of his life, James worked a variety of jobs, including as a shoe salesman and then as a Burlesque theater ticket taker 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. James took up the lecture circuit, while residing in Sherman, Texas. 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. He returned to the North Texas area where he was a shoe salesman at Sanger Brothers in Dallas.
In his final years, James returned to the James Farm, giving tours for the sum of 25 cents. He died there on February 18, 1915, aged 72 years. He left behind his wife Annie Ralston James and one son.
In 1972 John Pierce played Frank in The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid.
In 1986, country singer Johnny Cash played Frank James in the film The Last Days of Frank and Jesse James, directed by William A. Graham.
In 1992, Jamie Walters played Frank James in the American Western TV show "The Young Riders".
In 2007, Sam Shepard played Frank James in the film The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, considered to be the most accurate portrayal of the James brothers' story by the James family.
In 2010, James Brolin appears in an uncredited cameo as Frank James in the Coen brothers' True Grit. The fictional character Rooster Cogburn is billed as appearing with James in The Cole Younger and Frank James Wild West Company in 1903.
- Petrone, Gerard S. (1998). Judgment at Gallatin: the trial of Frank James. Texas Tech University Press. ISBN 0-89672-398-4.
- "Frank James Dies at 74" (PDF). New York Times. February 19, 1915,. Retrieved 2007-07-21. "Former Outlaw Was One of Last Survivors of Notorious Band."
- James-Younger Gang: Frank James Trial
- $0.25 in 1915 dollars would be $5 in 2007 dollars
- 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
- Official website for the Family of Frank & Jesse James: Stray Leaves, A James Family in America Since 1650
- John Koblas, author of several Jesse James books
- A short profile of the James brothers
- Biographical information for the James Family
- The James brothers' familiar connection to other notorious outlaws
- An examination of the James Legend
- Summary of the Battle of Wilson's Creek where Frank fought
- Summary of the Battle of Lexington where Frank fought
- A history of Missouri during the Civil War
- A site devoted to the Missouri Partisan Rangers and their history
- A description of the raid at Lawrence, Kansas
- Booknotes interview with Ted Yeatman on Frank and Jesse James: The Story Behind the Legend, October 28, 2001.