In the spring of 1864, Anderson and his band returned to Missouri. Seventeen-year-old Jesse James was allowed to join the force after Frank assured he would watch over his little brother and keep him out of the way. The brothers became known as fierce in battle and loyal in the face of death. During the winter of 64-65, the brothers split up, Jesse following Price to Texas and Frank accompanying Quantrill to Kentucky.
Frank was pillaging eastward with Quantrill in May of 1865, over a month after the Confederate States had surrendered, when they were ambushed in a Kentucky barnyard. Quantrill was shot off his green horse and paralyzed from the shoulders down.
Legend has it that Frank returned to the farmhouse under cover of darkness to rescue his friend. The story goes that Quantrill refused to leave with his rescuers because the Federal soldiers had threatened to burn down his host’s home if he left. Quantrill was taken into custody, never recovered from his injuries and died on June 6th, 1865, at the age of twenty-seven.
After the war, things never really settled down for the former Confederate guerrillas. Frank tells of how, during the summer of 1866, four Federal soldiers tried to arrest him for a horse thief. Frank said he killed two, wounded a third and got shot in the hip by the fourth, before managing to escape. He said it was fall of 1866 before he was recovered enough to leave Kentucky. He sent for Jesse to stay with him till he was able to move. A number of bank robberies were attributed to the efforts of former guerrillas. After the Gallatin, Missouri bank robbery of 1869, Frank, Jesse, and Cole Younger began to be blamed for many of the early bank robberies in Missouri and elsewhere. By 1870, Frank and Jesse James and the Younger brothers were household names throughout the U.S.
Frank James’ Wild Life
In the summer of 1861, eighteen-year-old Frank James left his home in Missouri to join the Confederate States’ cause, in what would come to be called the Civil War. He fought under Major General Sterling Price in the Battle of Wilson’s Creek and the siege of Lexington, Missouri. When Price retreated to Arkansas early in 1862, it is thought that Frank got the measles and was captured. Like many discouraged Secessionist, Frank pledged his allegiance to the United States, posted a $1,000 bond to be repatriated - and went home.
Missouri was torn apart by the ongoing conflict and few were able to ride the fence. In the summer of 1862, Frank crawfished on his oath of allegiance. He joined the Missouri guerrillas. On August 12th of 1863, Frank was with the combined guerrilla forces of “Bloody Bill” Anderson and William Clarke Quantrill during the sacking of Lawrence, Kansas. Confederate guerrillas murdered over 100 unarmed men and boys during the raid. Throughout the brutal war, atrocities were committed on both sides, but the Missouri border ruffians developed a particularly savage reputation.
Frank was considered the best shot of the James Gang and when needed, was very fast. One of the reasons for Frank's speed and accuracy can be found in his holster. Frank cut out a section of the holster so he could cock his Remington 1875 while it was still in the holster. This allowed him to carry the weapon cocked as he prepared for action. When the Remington was needed, Frank could whip it out, aim and shoot, without taking the time to thumb back the hammer and re-aim the weapon.
EMF Firearms Company reproduced Frank James' Remington 1875, nickel plated, .44-40 caliber pistol. Frank's '75 "Outlaw" is shown here with my reproduction of Frank James' holster and "Fair Weather Christian" cartridge belt.
Their fame continued to spread, but by the 1880s, the nation was trying to put the turmoil of the late war behind them. Excuses for the conduct of former Confederate guerrillas was beginning to get thin. Newly installed Democratic governor of Missouri, Thomas Crittenden, wanted to put Missouri’s lawless reputation behind him. Crittenden offered a $10,000 reward for Frank and Jesse James, dead or alive.
On April 3rd, 1882, James Gang member Robert Ford, put a bullet in the back of Jesse’s head to collect the reward. Frank was thirty-nine and knew if he wanted to live see forty, he would have to turn himself in. Frank surrendered to Crittenden on October 5th, 1882, handing him his cartridge belt, holster and a .44-40 caliber, nickle plated Remington 1875, with a 7 ½” barrel, post front sight and a lanyard ring in the butt. The media was enamored with this self-styled former guerrilla. Frank was personable, played the harmonica, (which had become popular in the U.S. during the Civil War), and quoted Shakespeare. Frank stood trial twice for his crimes, but sympathetic juries acquitted him both times on lack of evidence. Frank never publicly admitted to a single criminal act his entire life.
Fate is often ironic. Frank escaped both the bullet and the noose, but his legacy was largely overshadowed by his little brothers dramatic death. It can successfully be argued that Frank lead the James/Younger gang during the most successful years of their outlaw careers. When he saw the times were changing, he pretty much left the hoot-owl trail and lived under an alias as a model citizen until he surrendered. Frank was a folk hero while a bandit, a media star while on trial, but the rest of his life was spent largley in obscurity. Frank successfully transitioned from bandit to model citizen, yet this remarkable accomplishment is often overlooked.
To make ends meet, Frank worked as a shoe clerk, theater guard and horse race starter at county fairs. For a short while he teamed with an old gang member in “The Great Cole Younger–Frank James Historical Wild West” show. In the end, he spent most of his time at his mother’s farm selling tours for fifty cents apiece. Frank James died on February 18th, 1915 an old man. While most everyone has heard the notorious name of Jesse James, few people remember the big brother who watched over him as they rode into battle – and into history.
Frank wore a civilian holster with flower rosettes and an early experimental military "Fair Weather Christian" cartridge belt. The belt was built to carry govt. .45-70 carbine cartridges. The 1851 Officer's Saber Belt Plate Buckle was used to fasten many of the early prototype cartridge belts. Confederates favored holsters with flower stamps and commonly equipped themselves with gear from their fallen foes.
If you would like to make yourself your own Frank James or Jesse James Rig, click on the pattern link below to buy patterns for Frank & Jesse's complete holster and belt rigs.
If you would like me to build one for you, contact me at my email address below.
Johnny D. Boggs, author of Arm of the Bandit, The Trial of Frank James, helped me sort some of the fact from fiction in this short retelling of Frank James’ wild life. You can find out more about the historical literary works of Boggs at, www.johnnydboggs.com