Frank James

Frank James, Elder Brother of Notorious Jesse, ALS from Missouri Prison

Frank James, Elder Brother of Notorious Jesse, ALS from Missouri Prison


1p autograph letter 2x signed by one-time desperado Frank James (1843-1915), once at the end of a lengthier letter using the alias "Ben", and once on the exterior of the transmittal envelope addressed to "Mrs. Frank James." James's note is found at the conclusion of a lengthier letter written by another person. On cream blue-lined paper. With expected paper folds and isolated stains, else very good to near fine. 5" x 8". James's handwriting is bold and dark.


The longer letter to which James's note was attached was addressed to "Mr. + Mrs. James" on June 25, 1883. It was written to James and wife "Annie" nee Ralston James (1853-1944) by their mutual friend, a Mrs. Sam Gilkey. The letter mostly pertains to local gossip, but it also contains several interesting references to Frank James's ongoing trial and his Wild West notoriety.


On the top of page 2, Mrs. Gilkey writes, "Sorry to hear that your trial is postponed Mr. James. I was so anxious to have it over and of course you can't help but feel a little disappointed over it too. Keep a brave strong heart and you will come out all safe and sound." A few pages later, Mrs. G begs Frank James to sign the autograph albums that she encloses with her letter. She concludes the letter with, "Kiss little Rob for us all," doubtlessly referring to the James's six-year-old son Robert Franklin James (1877-1959).


Frank James inserts his message at the bottom of Mrs. Gilkey's letter. He used the alias "Ben" to prevent the letter from falling into the wrong hands. In full, with unchanged spelling and punctuation:


"July 7th


This letter was handed me at the same time yours was it was mailed at Independence the 24th of June, recd here the 3rd of July. Only 9 days on the road I think from the time of this that Mrs. G. feels heartily ashamed in neglecting to answer you at once You will forgive her - wont you?




Frank James wrote this letter from prison in Gallatin, Missouri. He had surrendered to authorities several months after younger brother Jesse James's murder, and was there awaiting trial for the murder of Frank McMillan. McMillan, a stone quarry laborer, had been killed during the robbery of a Rock island train at Winston, Missouri in 1881. In the ensuing trial, the state sought to prove that James was seen near the scene of the crime masquerading under the name Woodson when he fatally shot McMillan.


Prosecutors had to contend with a formidable defense witness, former Confederate General Joseph O. Shelby, universally known for his integrity. The James boys had  served under William Clarke Quantrille, Shelby's subordinate. Shelby was keen to defend James not only because of his past military service as a Confederate guerilla, but also because James had helped recover Shelby's black manservant Billy Hunter after he was captured at the Battle of Lonejack.


Shelby testified that he had met Jesse James, Dick Liddil, and Bill Ryan at his home at the time of the alleged train robbery. They told Shelby that Frank James was in the South, and had not run with the gang for five years. Shelby's testimony held tremendous weight with the people and was ultimately responsible for Frank's acquittal.


Alexander Franklin "Frank" James, along with Jesse James, was a member of the Missouri-based James-Younger gang. Historians estimate that Frank James was involved in at least four bank robberies during his twenty-one-year long career, but after his surrender to Missouri state officials in 1882, he served only about one year of jail time. Frank James’s later years were spent mostly in the West, where he did odd jobs including telegraph operating and fruit picking.



Item: 66008

Price: $4,000.00
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