Tag Archives: Robbery

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

Book Review – Son of a Bandit: Jesse James & The Leeds Gang, by Ralph A. Monaco II

BOOK REVIEW: Son of a Bandit: Jesse James & The Leeds Gang, by Ralph A. Monaco II, (Monaco Publishing, LLC, 2012), 268 pp, soft cover, $20.95.

 By Nancy B. Samuelson

The author is a practicing attorney in Kansas City, Missouri, a former member of the Missouri House of Representatives. He also has a passion for living history and historical presentations. He is well grounded in the history and political scene of 19th century Missouri and Kansas City. He has produced a thoughtful and insightful book about Jesse James Jr. that is a welcome addition to James gang literature.

The early part of the book recounts the early life of Jesse Jr., the death of Jesse James and the trials and tribulations of Zee James and her children after the Jesse’s death. Jesse Jr. became the provider for his family and had held a number of jobs and was at the time of the Leeds robbery, the owner of a Cigar Store in the Jackson County, Missouri court house. Jesse Jr. was well liked and respected and the Kansas City community was very shocked when he was accused of involvement in the Leeds train robbery. There is also a chapter, “K.C. at the Twilight of the 19th Century” that gives the reader a good feel for the political and social conditions that prevailed at this time.

The book continues with a chapter on the Leeds robbery and moves on to the investigation of that robbery. Jesse Jr. was soon accused as leader of the Leeds gang. Several chapters are devoted to all aspects of the trial and the acquittal. There are extensive footnotes throughout the book and these are used to provide good information about the political background, the motivation, and the methods of operation that are used by the key players throughout the legal process. It becomes very clear that the treatment of suspects, approaches to jury members by railroad detectives and other similar questionable practices would not be permitted in today’s legal environment. Times were different then!

Ralph A. Monoco II

Jesse Jr. is acquitted at the trial and the charges against all other suspects were dropped. The Prosecuting Attorney felt his strongest case was against James. When he lost that battle he dropped all other charges. Toward the end of the book it is also brought out that W. W. Lowe who had been the man who most strongly accused Jesse Jr. some years later recanted his story. Lowe claimed he had been pressured by railroad detectives to accuse Jesse Jr. of the Leeds robbery.

The final section of the book is an epilogue titled, “What Happened Next?” This part of the book summarizes the remaining years of the life of Jesse Jr. and several other members of the family. The final comment in the book is, “THE END? THE STORY OF JESSE JAMES AND HIS FAMILY WILL NEVER END.”

The book is well written and thought provoking. There are extensive footnotes, a bibliography, and index and a list of illustrations. There are a number of good photos throughout the book. There are a lot of typos in the book; someone relied on spell check a little too much. Highly recommended.

Book Review – The Trial of Jesse James Jr. by Laurie Ann Little

BOOK REVIEW: The Trial of Jesse James, Jr.: The Son of An Outlaw Stands Accused, adapted by L. A. Little, (Vintage Antique Classics Publishing Co. 2012), 201 pp., soft cover, $14.99.

By Nancy B. Samuelson

The Trial of Jesse James, Jr. book

This book opens with a short section, “Beginnings” which gives a bit of the history of Jesse James Jr. (Jesse Edward James). This tells how Jesse Jr. applied for a job as office boy to Thomas T. Crittenden Jr., the son of the Governor who was responsible for the death of the outlaw Jesse James. Young James and young Crittenden became lifelong friends. Young Jesse met many influential friends in the Kansas City area. He was a well liked and had a reputation as a hard-working, honest young man.

The bulk of the book is a series of newspaper articles from The Kansas City Journal. These begin in September 1898 after the robbery of a Missouri Pacific passenger train near Leeds, Missouri. Jesse James Jr. was soon accused of taking part in this robbery. The newspaper articles continue through early March 1899 when Jesse was acquitted of all charges.

These articles tell about the accusations of W. W. Lowe, a suspect himself, and a switchman at the Santa Fe Railroad switch yards. There were other suspects as well including Andy Ryan, the brother of Bill Ryan of the old Jesse James gang, and Jack “Quail Hunter” Kennedy, who was suspected of a number of crimes.

Jesse Jr. maintained his innocence and had a wide circle of friends who stood by him during the trial for this robbery. He had four defense attorneys and they were able to get a new Judge to try the case. Affidavits were submitted to show that Judge Wofford was prejudiced against Jesse Jr. Wofford was replaced by Judge W. D. Shackelford of Boonville, Missouri. The Prosecuting Attorney was James A. Reed, later a U. S. Senator and a presidential aspirant. Reed had six other attorneys assisting in the prosecution.

The articles give a good look at some of the police procedures at the time. Suspects were detained but not arrested for some time. There is discussion of “Sweating” prisoners as well. Jury selection is discussed and a lot of testimony from witnesses is included in a number of the articles.

The trial ends in acquittal of Jesse Jr. on all charges. The jury was out for about one hour and only one ballot was needed to make the decision. The Prosecuting Attorney then dismissed the charges against the other suspects.

Frank James attended the trial and he is mentioned several times. Mrs. Samuel, grandmother of Jesse Jr., and other family members were present and testified in Jesse’s behalf.

One additional newspaper article appears near the end of the book. This is in February 20, 1910. W.W. Lowe, who was the primary accuser of Jesse Jr. admitted he lied about James’ involvement in the robbery and said his story was a frame up.

The book has a one-page epilogue about the later life of Jesse Jr. The last section of the book is a reprint of the first four chapters of Jesse James, My Father, written in 1899 by Jesse Jr.

The book is nicely produced and easy to read. The front cover has a nice photo of Jesse Jr. There are a few illustrations from the newspapers throughout the book. There are no notes nor is there an index.