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Frank James – Scholar with a Gun

From Phil Stewart’s Archive, first published on Stray Leaves in 1999. 

Frank James – Scholar with a Gun

By Phil Stewart

Frank James received more education as a young man than did most rural Missouri farm boys of the 1850s and 60s. The James farm was just a mile from Somersette school. Frank attended regularly…almost enthusiastically…until he was eighteen years old.

Frank James
Frank James

In addition to “The Three Rs,” Frank developed a love for classic literature. He would sit for hours with the works of Shakespeare and other famous writers of the time. His father, the Rev. Robert Sallee James, had been a scholarly man himself. Frank had his father’s collection of books readily available. Frank’s love for literature would remain with him throughout the dark years of the Civil War, and even through the outlaw years to come.

Many researchers believe that Frank James desired to further his education by attending William Jewell College in nearby Liberty. There is no doubt Frank had the intellectual capacity. His acceptance into the college was a given. His father had been a major influence in the founding of the school, and had been a member of the first Board of Trustees. Any such plans were dashed, though, with the coming of the Civil War. Frank James was 18 years old in 1861, and like most young men, left home to serve “the cause.”

Henry IV
Henry IV, Tomb Effigy, Canterbury Cathedral

The blood, death, and brutality of the border war could not extinguish the love Frank James had for reading, knowledge, and for classic works of literature. They became his passion. It is difficult to imagine one member of Quantrill’s Raiders sitting around a campfire reading anything, let alone reading English literature like Frank.

If Frank desired to further his education, the circumstance had changed. Like most schools of the area, William Jewell College closed shortly after the opening shots of the war. The college would not reopen for nearly three years. Frank still had his father’s library. Shakespeare had become his favorite works. He read and reread the plays until he could snap out a quote for almost any situation. During the war, Frank and been tabbed with the nickname “Buck.” “Professor” might have been more appropriate afterward.

If more education was out of the question, Frank certainly could put Shakespeare to work on behalf of the James Gang…which is exactly what he did at Gad’s Hill, Missouri. Frank James lifted the script of Shakespeare’s HENRY IV for a train robbery, during which Frank performed Shakespeare for a captive audience.

Henry IV-Pt 1

ANALYSIS by Drew Fracher

So, what about this play?

Although called HENRY IV, I believe that this is the story and journey of his son Hal, the Prince of Wales, who will go on to become Henry V.

Here we have a young man who knows in his heart that he will inherit a huge job…and who is trying his best to have some fun before the fact. I realize that much of what Hal I doing is not avoiding responsibility, but trying to learn as much as possible about the job to come. Trying to experience the society that he will eventually be in charge of from all levels, figuring out what fairness and justice are all about, who you can trust and what realis is important in his own world. A journey all of us must go through.

Hal clings to his life and friends in the tavern as substitutes for the things that are lacking in his relationship with his father. Hal and his dad are having trouble communicating. We witness Hal’s coming of age, his growth to manhood and an acceptance of huge responsibility, all the steps on his rocky road.

The good news is that he not only survives, but flourishes. There are no true villains or heroes here, only different sorts of people trying their best to figure out how to make it in the world. That is perhaps what I like best, that no one is clearly in the right and politics is politics, then and now.

DREW FRACHER,  Director, Georgia Shakespeare Festival, 1999

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COMMENTARY by Eric F. James

As a former actor myself, I perceive Frank James as Prince Hal…an eldest son, a carefree and boisterous youth, distinguished in war, a “wild prince” given to audacity and rebellion.

Henry IV expelled and banished his son, Hal. Did Frank James spiritually experience a similar disapproval by his deceased father?

Frank James was 27 years old at the time of the Gad’s Hill train robbery. His performance from HENRY IV in the middle of the robbery intentionally may have been foreshadowing his expected retirement.

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RELATED:   More from Phil Stewart’s 1999 Archive

The Plot to Capture Jesse James

The Plot to Assassinate Jesse James

The Gad’s Hill Train Robbery

School Time for Jesse James – Part I

School Time for Jesse James – Part II

Jesse James & Half-Brother Perry Samuel

Jesse James Family – Slaves & Servants

Robert Sallee James – Father of Jesse James

Jesse James Myths & Facts

Alfred H. Pence, Cousin of the James Gang, Has died

Alfred Harris Pence Sr. died September 30, 2010 at Fort Logan Hospital in Stanford, Kentucky. He was a third cousin, twice removed of Bud & Donnie Pence of the James Gang.

The earliest Pence family migrated as early as 1800 from Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley to Lincoln County where Stanford is located. Then, Emanuel Pence bought 250 acres on Logan’s Creek from Jacob Swope.

By then, John M. James, the progenitor of the family of Frank & Jesse James, had been residing in Lincoln County at Crab Orchard for fifteen years. The great-grandfather of the Younger Gang, Col. Charles Lee Younger, also had made settlement in Lincoln County at Crab Orchard. In 1800, John M. James partitioned a portion of Lincoln County and departed the area to establish his own Pulaski County, where he became its first judge-executive and state representative.

Among other local neighbors of the Pence, Younger, & James families in Lincoln County were the family of Far West frontiersman William Lewis “Bill” Sublette, and his brothers Milton Green & Solomon Perry Sublette. Their departure from Crab Orchard to the Far West would not occur until the 1820s.

Rev. Jeremiah Vardeman, who was born at New River in Fincastle County, Virginia, migrated to Crab Orchard in 1779 with his father Johannes Vardeman, an axman who cut the Wilderness Trail into Kentucky with Daniel Boone. Before he had become a preacher, Jerry Vardeman eloped with Betsy James, the daughter of John M. James. Later as a successful preacher, Rev. Jeremiah Vardeman baptized Robert S. Thomas, the first president of William Jewell College in Missouri. Vardeman founded the School of Theology at William Jewell, and also gave Frank & Jesse’s father, Rev. Robert Sallee James, $20,000 to also become a founder of William Jewell College.

Lincoln County, Kentucky, and its communities of Stanford and Crab Orchard forged a cohesion and force among the Pence, Younger, & James families that remained strong and powerful until the end of the Civil War.

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The following obituary for Alfred Harris Pence Sr. was published in the Advocate-Messenger newspaper of Danville, Kentucky.

STANFORD — Alfred Harris Pence Sr., 90, of Stanford died Thursday at Fort Logan Hospital in Stanford.

Born June 20, 1920, in Stanford he was a son of the late Alfred L. and Nannie Woods Pence.

He was a life-long member of New Beginnings United Methodist Church, a Navy veteran of World War II serving in the South Pacific, and a 64-year member of Caswell Saufley Post No. 18, American Legion. He graduated in 1942 from the University of Louisville College of Pharmacy (now the University of Kentucky College of Pharmacy) where he was a member and chaplain of Kappa Psi Pharmaceutical Fraternity.

Mr. Pence was the pharmacist and co-owner of Colemans Drugstore in Stanford and was the first pharmacist at Fort Logan Hospital, retiring after 20 years of service. He was a 50-year member of the Kentucky Pharmaceutical Association.

An active member of the community, he served on the Stanford Chamber of Commerce and the Stanford City Council, was a member of the Lincoln County Historical Society and Masonic Lodge No 60, as well as various other community activities.

Survivors include his wife of 68 years, Bettie Marie Bryan Pence of Stanford; four children, Alfred Harris Pence Jr. (Jackie) of Stanford, Ruth Anne Lowe of Lexington, William E. Pence (Carol) of Lexington and Bettie Sue Holthouser (James) of Memphis, Tenn.; 12 grandchildren; and 10 great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death by a son-in-law, Dr. Charles Lowe, and a sister, Anne Elizabeth Gaines.

Visitation is 5-9 p.m. today at Spurlin Funeral Home.

The funeral service will be 11 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 2, 2010, at New Beginnings United Methodist Church. The Rev. Jeremy James will officiate. Burial will be in Buffalo Springs Cemetery. Military rites will be performed by Caswell Saufley Post 18, American Legion.

Casketbearers will be Bryan Pence, Chris Lowe, Matthew Lowe, Adam Holthouser, Cole Pence and Casey Cushenberry. Honorary bearers will be Robert Gaines, Ben Gaines, Sam Matheny, Buddy Pence, Cecil Witt, Cabel Francis, Jack Bright, Brent Iler, Josh Gordon, Joe Glenn Cushenberry, Matthew Darling, Jonathan Dahmer and Jim Holthouser.

Memorials in lieu of flowers may be given to the New Beginnings United Methodist Church Stained Glass Fund, or the Lincoln County Educational Fund, P.O. Box 423, Stanford, KY 40484.