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Alexander Franklin James (January 10, 1843 – February 18, 1915) was a famous American outlaw. He was the older brother of outlaw Jesse James.


Alexander Franklin James was born in Kearneymarker, Clay Countymarker, Missourimarker to Baptist minister Reverend Robert Sallee James and his wife Zerelda (Cole) James, who had moved from Kentuckymarker. He was the eldest of three children.

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 tried to remain neutral, but was not allowed to by the Union military. Union forces drove the governor out of the state capital and installed an appointed military governor. State militia forces continued to resist. On September 13, 1861, General Sterling Price's Missouri State Guard, including Private Frank James, besieged Lexington, Missourimarker. 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.

A bitter guerrilla conflict soon began between bands of pro-Confederate irregulars (commonly known as bushwhackers) and the Union homeguards. By early 1863, Frank had joined the guerrilla band of Fernando Scott, a former saddler. He soon switched to the more active command led by William Clarke Quantrill.

Guerrilla warfare was brutal, and both sides committed atrocities, including shooting their prisoners. 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.

Outlaw years and retirement

For the career of the James brothers after the Civil War, see Jesse James.

Jesse and Frank James, 1872
During his years as a bandit, James was involved in at least four murders between 1868 and 1876, resulting 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.

Frank James was an employee of Aaron Mittenthal, the future grandparent of composer Aaron Copland, at his Dallasmarker dry-goods store. It was James's theft of the store's profits that convinced the Mittenthals to leave Texas and return to New York City.

Five months after the murder of his brother Jesse in 1882, Frank James boarded a train to Jefferson City, Missourimarker, 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."

Accounts say that James surrendered with the understanding that he would not be extradited to Northfield, Minnesotamarker

He was tried for only two of the robberies/murders – one in Gallatin, Missourimarker for the July 15, 1881 robbery of the Rock Island Line train at Winston, Missourimarker, in which the train engineer and a passenger were killed, and the other in Huntsville, Alabamamarker for the March 11, 1881 robbery of a United States Army Corps of Engineers payroll at Muscle Shoals, Alabamamarker. 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.

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. Louismarker. 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 Orleansmarker.

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 1940, Henry Fonda played Frank James in the film "The Return of Frank James", a semi-factual account of James's life after his brother Jesse's death.

In 1954, Richard Travis portrayed Frank James in an episode of Jim Davis's syndicated western television series, Stories of the Century. Lee Van Cleef played Jesse James in the same episode.


  1. James-Younger Gang: Frank James Trial
  3. $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

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