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Frank James – Scholar with a Gun

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Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

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

*************

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.

_______________________________________________________

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

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Tuesday October 19th, 2021
Stray Leaves Daily

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Tuesday October 19th, 2021
Stray Leaves Daily

☞Today in Old-West History -- On today’s date 119 years ago, Sunday, October 19, 1902, notorious Old-West outlaw & fiddle player James Hardin “Uncle Jim” Younger (1848-1902) met his earthly demise at the age of 54 when he committed suicide by gunshot whilst on parole at Saint Paul, Minnesota.

☞Requiéscant In Pace, Jim Younger.

☞Jim Younger was one of the central figures of a band of the most desperate outlaws the Old West ever knew -- the infamous James-Younger Gang, which was formed by Jim’s brother Cole Younger along with Frank & Jesse James.

☞Jim Younger joined the Confederate Army during the War Between the States (1861-1865) & served with Quantrill’s Raiders. In 1864, he was captured by Union troops & was imprisoned until the end of the War.

☞After the War, Younger worked on various ranches until he joined the James-Younger Gang in 1873. When his brother John was killed at Roscoe, Missouri in 1874, Jim left the gang & went out west where he worked on a ranch in San Luis Obispo, California.

☞In 1876, Jim returned to the gang, & on September 7 he participated in a bank robbery that became known as the Great Northfield Minnesota Raid. During that robbery he was shot & captured. The James brothers escaped, but Cole, Jim, & Bob Younger were shot up by a posse, arrested, & sentenced to long terms in the state penitentiary at Stillwater, Minnesota, where they were afforded celebrity status.

☞Jim Younger’s fiddle was one of the few possessions that he was allowed to have with him in prison, & he played it often. As time passed, Jim noticed that a little bird would appear most every day in the window of his jail cell. It seemed as though the bird came to listen whenever Jim played his fiddle. Jim was lonely & he befriended the bird which he named “Swipsy.” The bird would fly into the prison cell & Jim would always try to have crumbs to feed Swipsy. One day, a fellow prisoner killed the little bird just for spite. Jim then painted a picture of Swipsy on the back of his violin to remember his little feathered friend.

☞In 1898, the prison warden allowed the prisoners to throw a Christmas party at his own home, with Cole Younger portraying Santa Claus & Jim Younger playing his fiddle.

☞Paroled in 1901, Jim became engaged to his long-time lover Alix Mueller; however, because of the terms of his parole he couldn’t marry her.

☞On October 19, 1902, after a failed attempt to sell tombstones & then insurance, Jim Younger locked himself in his room, wrote a suicide note to Alix, picked up his revolver, & blew his brains out.

☞In 2013, Jim Younger’s fiddle, which was played by him at the famous 1898 Christmas party at Stillwater Prison, was sold at a Dallas, Texas auction for over $11,000.

☞The left-hand photograph depicts the image of Swipsy the Bird that Jim Younger painted on the back of his fiddle. The right-hand photograph depicts an undated studio portrait of Jim Younger.
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Tuesday October 5th, 2021
Stray Leaves Daily

For Drury Woodson James, founder of Paso Robles, CA., and all his descendants, PASO ROBLES FOUNDERS' DAY 2021. ... See MoreSee Less

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