The Sons of a Preacher Man


The only species on earth that dabble in politics are human beings.  Political activities are those associated with making important decisions for groups of people.  Within those groups, it is common to find individuals who seek to attain power and maintain their influence over others, too often for their own benefit.

The word “politics” can have both positive and negative connotations — although in my own view, politicians offer us but few examples of honor and selflessness in service to the nation or its people.  In order to find political solutions, elected officials gravitate toward expediency over thoughtfulness, and compromise over conviction.  Nowhere was this more in evidence than in the formation of the government of the United States.

Some Background

Although the founding politicians acknowledged that slavery violated the core principles of liberty and  equality, they were also deeply committed to private property rights, principles of limited government, and intersectional harmony as a means of achieving union.  The considerable investment of southern politicians in slave-based staple agriculture, and the generally held view that black people were intellectually and culturally inferior to whites prevented any meaningful discussion about emancipation.

Recognizing the ineffectiveness of the Articles of Confederation, founding politicians embarked on a process whereby the Articles of Confederation might be improved to form a “more perfect” union.  The result of this was a repeal of the Articles of Confederation, replacing them with the United States Constitution. 

During the Constitutional Convention (25 May to 17 September) of 1787, the United States’ founding politicians argued over the method of determining a fair apportionment of seats in the US House of Representatives.  The answer, of course, was to apportion seats according to a state’s population, as determined by a federal census every ten years.  Of course, the problem was that northern states had higher populations than in the agrarian south, and this would afford the representatives of northern states more power and influence than in the less-populated southern states.

Through compromise, convention delegates decided to count 3/5ths of a state’s enslaved population in the state’s total population for the purpose of apportioning house seats.  It was called the Three-Fifths Compromise.  The exact wording of Article I, Section 2, Clause 3 is: “Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.[1]

Slavery aside, southern states had a valid concern.  In 1793, the southern states were apportioned 47 out of 105 House seats; without the Three-Fifths Compromise, southern states would only have had 33 apportioned seats (based entirely on the population of whites living in southern states).  That said, although legislative influence remained in the hands of the northern states through the American Civil War, the southern states did have an impact from within the executive and judicial branches.

No scholarly person can ignore or under-emphasize the importance of slavery as an issue in the formation of the US government because institutional slavery vs. freedom for all was a constituent element of American democracy from the very beginning.  In the inherent antagonism of these two incompatible issues, Alexander de Tocqueville noted that they posed the greatest danger to the Republic’s permanence.  De Tocqueville was prophetic, because slavery not only shaped the south’s social, moral, economic, and political systems — it also led to violent sectionalism in the United States.

In 1776, slaves were present in every one of the original thirteen states.  Pennsylvania became the first state to abolish slavery in 1780, a gradual approach granting freedom once a slave reached the age of majority.  Massachusetts abolished slavery outright in 1783.  New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Jersey, and New York adopted gradual emancipation schemes.  The Northwest Ordinance prohibited slavery in all future states north of the Ohio River.

Within the primarily agrarian southern states, no one considered emancipation.   If anything, the economies of southern states produced a united front on the issue of slavery (including Delaware).  One question remained throughout the antebellum period: to what extent could the federal government regulate slavery?  Chief Justice John Marshal once observed, in a different context, that, “The power to regulate is the power to destroy.”  There was no one in the United States who understood this axiom better than southern plantation owners, investors, and those who made a living from marketing agricultural goods.


In 1818, the Missouri territorial legislature submitted a request for statehood to the US Congress.  By then, a petition for statehood had become a routine procedure but in the case of Missouri, it suddenly became a controversial issue when northern representatives objected to Missouri’s admission as a slave state.  In the process of writing an invitation to the Missouri legislature to prepare a Constitution, Representative James Tallmadge (D/R-NY) attached an amendment prohibiting any further introduction of slaves into Missouri from other states and required the emancipation of all slaves born in Missouri, after statehood, upon reaching the age of 25 years.  The Tallmadge plan was a cutout of the emancipation scheme adopted by New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Jersey, and New York over the previous fifty years.  Tallmadge’s restrictions passed through the House but failed in the Senate.  The “crisis” was resolved with the Missouri Compromise of 1820.[2]

The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 (passed by the 33rd US Congress and signed into law by President Franklin Pierce) was the brainchild of Senator Stephen Douglas (D-IL).  Douglas intended to open up lands acquired through the Louisiana Purchase for the development of a transcontinental railway.  Although, rather than restricting slavery to new states below 36/30 (the so-called Mason-Dixon Line, pursuant to the Missouri Compromise), Douglas wanted the citizens of  new territories to decide for themselves the issue of slavery.  It is difficult to argue with the notion of popular sovereignty, but in this case, it appears as if the US congress wanted to pass the responsibility of the slavery issue to the citizens of territories seeking statehood.

Thus, one effect of the Kansas-Nebraska Act was that it repealed the Missouri Compromise, which inflamed the passions of those who believed that the federal government had reneged on its previous agreement and set into motion popular violence and sectional conflicts on the issue of slavery.

Violence Begins

By 1855, thousands of New Englanders began flooding into the Kansas Territory to make sure that Kansas would become a free state “through the will of the people.”  Abolitionists argued that slavery was a moral rather than political issue and that given the egalitarian intent of the US Constitution, no state should have the right to permit the existence of human bondage.  The pro-slavery position was that since all states were constitutionally sovereign, all states were free to govern themselves without unwanted interference from the federal government.  Moreover, southern states believed that all states had the right of nullification.[3]


Abolitionist voices grew louder after the Dred Scott decision in 1857.  Dred Scott was a slave whose “owners” had taken him from Missouri (a slave state) into Illinois and Wisconsin (free states).  When Scott was taken back to Missouri, he sued for his freedom arguing that having been taken into a free state, he was automatically freed from human bondage and was no longer a slave.  He first sued in a Missouri court, which ruled that Scott was still a slave.  He then sued in federal court, which sided with the Missouri court.  Scott appealed the federal court decision to the US Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court issued its 7-2 decision in 1857: Chief Justice Roger Taney (a slave owner) ruled that blacks were never “included” as citizens of the United States and could not, therefore, claim any benefit derived from the concept of US citizenship.  Since Scott was not a citizen of the United States, Taney argued, he could not claim citizenship of any state.  Beyond the issue of Mr. Scott, Taney further determined that that the Missouri Compromise was itself un-Constitutional because Congress had exceeded its authority under the Constitution.  Taney intended that the court’s decision would settle the matter of slavery in the United States.[4]  It had the opposite effect.[5]

Little Dixie

While most people in Missouri supported the idea of popular sovereignty, pro-slavery politicians inflamed the passions of Missouri slave owners (mostly located north-central Missouri).  Men such as David Atchison and B. F. Stringfellow encouraged pro-slave Missourians to follow the example of New England abolitionists — move to the Kansas Territory and agitate/vote against the admission of Kansas as a free state.  Despite the fact that most slavery in Missouri was unprofitable and little practiced, the area of Little Dixie (shown on map) was heavily reliant on slave labor and many Missourians took Atchison’s advice and migrated to Kansas to try to influence “popular sovereignty.”  The result of this meddling was “Bleeding Kansas” violence between Kansas/Missouri militias.[6]

By 1861, sectionalism over the issue of slavery had been festering in the United States for more than four decades.  The outbreak of civil war caught no one ‘off guard.’  The trigger was the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States.

At the outset of the civil war, three-quarters of Missouri’s population, particularly in the area called ‘Little Dixie’ (which included Clay County), had deeply engrained southern roots.  They migrated to Missouri from Virginia, Tennessee, and Kentucky — bringing their slaves with them.  Overall, Missouri’s slave population never exceeded ten percent of the state’s population, but in Clay County, the percentage of enslaved blacks ranged from 25 to 30%.

The James-Samuel Family

One southern migrant to Missouri was Reverend Robert S. James (1818-1850).  He was born in Logan County, Kentucky, the son of John & Polly Poor James.  While attending Georgetown College, where he studied theology, Robert married the sixteen-year-old Miss Zerelda Cole in 1841.  Robert and Zerelda had three children.  After Robert graduated from college in 1843, he moved his family and six slaves to Clay County, Missouri.

In Clay County, Robert and Zerelda settled in with Zerelda’ mother and step-father.  Robert later returned to his studies in Kentucky and eventually earned a master’s degree.  He was known as a skilled orator and an enthusiastic revivalist.  After returning to Missouri, he helped establish the William Jewell College in Liberty, Missouri in 1849.

Robert left Zerelda and the children in April 1850 to visit with his brother in California.  Robert wanted to do some prospecting, of course, but he also thought that it might be possible to hold profitable revival meetings in a place called Hangtown, California (later, Placerville).  Within a few months of his arrival, however, Robert contracted cholera.  He died in August 1850.

Robert’s death was a disaster for Zerelda.  Despite the fact that Robert owned 100 acres of Kentucky land and six slaves, he was deeply in debt.  These circumstances forced Zerelda to sell the land and some of the slaves at auction.  In 1852, Zerelda married Mr. Benjamin Simms, a wealthy Missouri farmer.  The marriage didn’t last long because of Mr. Simms abusive treatment of Zerelda’s two boys.

Zerelda’s third marriage was to Dr. Reuben Samuel, a medical doctor, in 1855.  Reuben was well-respected and treated Zerelda’s children well.  He was a quiet, thoughtful, somewhat passive man and also, henpecked.  Reuben and Zerelda had four children.

At the time the civil war erupted, the governor of Missouri was a man named Claiborne Fox Jackson, a professed Douglas Democrat.[7]  Previously, Jackson manufactured and sold medications.  It was through this activity that he became wealthy and politically influential.  Jackson was deeply involved in Democratic politics in Saline County (central Missouri) with service in the Missouri House of Representatives for twelve years.  In 1848, Missourians elected him to the State Senate.  During the election of 1860, most people in Missouri opposed secession, which is why Jackson professed to be an anti-secessionist.

After his election, Jackson declared that Missouri shared a common bond and interest with other slave states and that Missouri could separate itself from these sentiments if the Union should be dissolved.  He called for a state-wide convention to consider secession from the United States (and other matters).  Convention delegates voted 98-1 against secession.  Subsequently, Jackson declared the State of Missouri an “Armed Neutral,” which meant that he intended to refuse to provide men or arms to the federal government or Confederacy.  Jackson refused to obey Lincoln’s executive order for 75,000 troops to suppress the rebellion.

Meanwhile, Jackson was engaged in secret negotiations with Confederate President Jefferson Davis; the plan involved a governor-directed military takeover of the State of Missouri.  Following Jackson’s unsuccessful attempt to seize the federal arsenal in St. Louis, the Confederacy began smuggling arms, artillery, and munitions into Missouri through the port facilities at St. Louis.  As pro-Confederate militia began to organize themselves, pro-Union state militia did the same.

Following a brief series of campaigns and battles between Union and Confederate forces, guerrilla warfare gripped Missouri and Kansas.  It was largely a war waged between secessionist (also known as bushwhackers) and pro-Union Kansas militia (also known as jayhawkers and Red Legs).  Both groups committed unspeakable crimes against one-another.  According to one early Kansas history, “Confederated at first for defense against pro-slavery outrages, but ultimately falling more or less completely into the vocation of robbers and assassins, they have received the name — whatever its origin may be — of jayhawkers.”

There were more than a few Union and Jayhawker depredations committed against Missourians, including the imposition of martial law, anti-secessionist raids on private homes, the seizure of firearms, the arrest and torture of “suspected” Confederate sympathizers, summary executions, and the banishment of anyone who wasn’t loyal to the Union.  Missouri bushwhackers (also, border ruffians) returned the favor.

It was within this environment that Zerelda James raised her two sons, Alexander Franklin James (b. 1843) and Jesse Woodson James (b. 1847).  The James-Samuel family sided with the Confederacy.  The two boys enlisted in the Confederate Army soon after the outbreak of war.  Alexander (called Frank) joined a local company and ended up as a participant in the Battle of Wilson’s Creek in August 1861.  Frank was soon after released and sent home because of an illness that rendered him “combat ineffective.”

In early 1863, Union officials identified Frank as a member of a guerrilla band operating in Clay County.  In the spring, a Union militia company seeking to arrest Frank raided the Samuel farm.  As a means of getting him to reveal the whereabouts of Frank, the militia tortured Reuben by hanging/strangulation.  When Reuben couldn’t say where Frank was, the Union men tied Jesse to a tree and whipped him.

Frank eluded capture and was thought to have joined up with Quantrill’s Raiders.[8]  Historians believe that Frank participated in the raid on Lawrence, Kansas where 200 men and boys were massacred.  After wintering in Texas in 1863-1864, Frank returned to Clay County, Missouri.  It was then that Jesse joined the Fletch Taylor raider band.  Jesse was 16-years old.

In the summer of 1864, Taylor lost his arm to a shotgun blast and Frank and Jesse joined the raider group of William “Bloody Bill” Anderson.  Not long afterward, Jesse received a non-lethal chest wound.  Both Frank and Jesse were suspected of participating in the Centralia Massacre — an incident where Anderson stopped a train carrying unarmed Union soldiers and killed or wounded 24 men.  Anderson was also responsible for defeating a regiment of Union troops and then killing in cold blood those who sought to surrender.  Many years later, Frank James identified his brother as the person responsible for the murder of Major A. V. E. Johnson, who commanded the defeated regiment.

Frank and Jesse’s activities prompted Union officials to banish the Samuel family from Clay County.  Reuben was told to “head south” but he instead took his family to Nebraska.  When Anderson was killed in a Union ambush, his group split up.  Frank rejoined Quantrill’s operations in Kentucky, while Jesse joined Archie Cléments’s group and remained in Missouri.  In the spring of 1865, 17-year-old Jesse was again wounded while trying to surrender to a Union patrol near Lexington, Missouri.

Post-War Violence and Outlawry

The Civil War ended in April 1865 — but it did not end in Missouri.  The war split the people of Missouri into three groups: Anti-Slavery Unionists (also, Republicans), Segregationist Unionists (also, Democrats), and Pro-Slavery ex-Confederate Secessionists (also, Dixie Democrats).  When the Republican-dominated reconstruction legislature passed a new Constitution freeing all slaves in Missouri and excluded former Confederates from the right to vote, serve on juries, serving as corporate officers, or preach from church pulpits, a new Confederate rebellion took shape.

After Jesse recovered from his wound, hiding in Kansas City, he began a nine-year courtship with his first cousin, also named Zerelda (Mimms), whom he eventually married.  Meanwhile, Archie Cléments kept his gang together and began targeting reconstruction Republicans and “Yankee banks,” many of which were owned and operated by former Union military officers.  In one robbery, a 17-year-old student at William Jewell College was caught in a crossfire and killed — the same college founded by Frank and Jesse’s father, Robert.  There is no evidence that either Frank or Jesse participated in the Clay County bank robbery (Liberty, Missouri), but they did receive full credit for it.

In June 1866, the Cléments gang raided a jail in Jackson County, Missouri and freed two members of the Quantrill gang, murdering the jailer in their effort.  Missouri violence increased with time.  Governor Thomas C. Fletcher ordered militia companies to track down the guerrilla gangs/outlaws.  Archie Cléments wasn’t the least bit intimidated.   On one occasion, Cléments took over the town of Lexington on Election Day, 1866.  Before the end of the year, however, Archie got himself  intimidated when state militia shot him to death.

Between 1866-68, remnants of the Cléments gang continued to rob banks.  Over time, the Cléments Gang became smaller through arrests, gunfights, and lynching’s.  Ostensibly, the border ruffians targeted the banks owned and operated by former union army officers and politicians as revenge for their part in the Civil War, but since most of the holdups were directed at small community banks, the robberies did more harm to local citizens than to bank owners.  In 1868, Frank and Jesse joined the Cole Younger Gang[9] in the robbery of the Russellville Bank, in Kentucky.

Until 7 December 1869, hardly anyone knew who Jesse James was.  On that date, Jesse and Frank robbed the Daviess County Savings Association in Gallatin, Missouri.  The robbery didn’t bring the two outlaws much money, but it was Jesse’s murder of bank teller and former Union captain John Sheets that gained the James brothers the most notoriety.  Jesse mistakenly believed that Sheets was Samuel P. Cox, the militia officer responsible for killing “Bloody Bill” Anderson.  More than the murder of sheets and the robbery, it was Jesse and Frank’s escape that made the most headlines.  They rode through a sheriff’s posse to make their getaway.

Once people realized who Jesse James was, the last survivor of a former gang of bushwhackers, he became one of the more infamous outlaws of the post-Civil War period — his notoriety more or less assured by Missouri Governor Thomas T. Crittenden, who offered a reward for his capture.  It was after this that Jesse formed an association with John Newman Edwards, founder, and editor of the Kansas City Times.

John Edwards was a former Confederate cavalry officer who actively campaigned to return former secessionists to political power in Missouri.  Six months after the Gallatin robbery, Edwards began publishing a series of letters written by Jesse James to the public at large.  He asserted his innocence, of course, but over time, his letters took on a more political in tone.  Two common themes were his condemnation of Republicans and his pride in his loyalty to the Confederacy.  With Edward’s help, Jesse James became a symbol of Confederate defiance of reconstruction policy.[10]

On 21 July 1873, the James-Younger gang focused their attention on the Rock Island Railroad train west of Adair, Iowa and netted $3,000 (around $62,000 in 2021).  During the robbery they wore Klu Klux Klan masks.  The railway companies had become a target of former Confederate outlaws.  James-Younger held up passenger trains only twice over several robberies.  They instead focused on the contents of the express safe in the baggage car; John Edwards made sure to highlight this fact in creating Jesse James’ public image as a Robin Hood type character.

In 1874, the Adams Express Company[11] turned to the Pinkerton Detective Agency to stop the James-Younger Gang from robbing its shipments.  Pinkerton’s initial efforts to corral and arrest the James-Younger Gang was less than stellar: the James boys killed three Pinkerton agents.  The murders drove Allan Pinkerton to mount a vendetta.  During the night of 25 January 1875, Pinkerton staged a raid on the James homestead.  Incendiary devices were thrown into the house, killing Jesse’s younger half-brother, and amputating Zerelda Samuel’s arm.

Clay County residents were outraged by the Pinkerton raid and Allan Pinkerton’s life wouldn’t have been worth a plug nickel on any Missouri city street.  The raid prompted certain members of the Missouri legislature to draw up a resolution granting the James brothers amnesty, but the resolution was barely defeated.  Former confederate members of the legislature had more success limiting the amount of reward the governor could offer for the capture of the James Gang.  Meanwhile, supporters of the James-Samuel family tracked down the people who cooperated with Pinkerton and eliminated them. 

On 7 July 1876, Frank and Jesse, Cole and Bob Younger, Clell Miller, Charlie Pitts, Bill Chadwell, and Hobbs Kerry robbed the Missouri Pacific train at Rocky Cut, near Otterville, Missouri.  Hobbs was the newest addition to the James-Younger gang, so when lawmen arrested Mr. Kerry, he was happy to identify his accomplices — which tends to prove that good help is hard to find.

Rocky Cut set the stage for the final James-Younger operation: the raid of Northfield, Minnesota.  The gang’s target was the First National Bank.  The raid was the brainchild of Jesse James and Bob Younger.  Cole Younger thought it was a bad idea and tried to talk his brother into shelving it.  Reluctantly, however, Cole eventually went along with his brother’s scheme.  James allegedly selected the First National because its owners were Radical Republicans and former Union generals Benjamin Butler, and his son-in-law, Adelbert Ames (a former reconstruction governor of Mississippi).

Bob, Cole, and Jim Younger, Frank and Jesse James, Charlie Pitts, Clell Miller, and Bill Chadwell booked passage by train to St. Paul, Minnesota in early September.  At St. Paul, the gang split up into two groups, one proceeding to Mankato, and the other to Red Wing (on either side of Northfield).  After purchasing horses, each group conducted a reconnaissance of the surrounding areas.  The outlaws regrouped south of Northfield along the Cannon River on the morning of 7 September 1876 and headed into Northfield.  Once arrived, they went to a local restaurant.  Now, for some reason, locals seemed to take notice of the eight strangers; it may have been on account of the strong odor of alcohol on their breath and the appearance of being “under the influence.”

Upon leaving the restaurant, Bob, Frank, and Charlie crossed the bridge by Ames Mill and entered the bank.  Jesse, Cole, Jim, Bill, and Clell stood outside the bank, “standing guard.”  That, in and of itself, may have been a tell of events to come.  Two of the boys stood near the bank’s main entrance, three waited in Mills Square to guard the escape route.

Inside the bank, assistant cashier Joseph Heywood refused to open the safe.  For his loyalty to the First National, he was shot dead.  Alonzo Bunker, another teller, escaped from the bank by running out the back door but was wounded in the shoulder by Frank Wilcox as he skedaddled.

A keen citizen-observer named J. S. Allen shouted to the townspeople, “Get your guns, boys, they’re robbing the bank!”  Several men took up arms from nearby store fronts.  The three robbers having fired their weapons at least twice — and having nothing to show for it, heard shooting from outside and ran out of the bank.  The moment Bob, Frank, and Charlie exited the bank, they ran into a hail of flying bullets.

Henry Wheeler, a medical student, shot and killed Clell Miller from a second-floor window opposite the bank.  Mr. A. R. Manning shot and killed Stiles from the corner of a building opposite the bank.  Cole was hit in the hip; Bob took a bullet that shattered his elbow.  Jim Younger was shot in the jaw.  Thirty-year-old Nicholas Gustafson, recently arrived from Sweden, was shot dead by Cole Younger.

All eight gangsters were killed or wounded.  Frank James and Charlie Pitts were shot in their right legs, Jesse James took a bullet in the thigh during his escape.  With two men dead, the remaining six rode out of town on the road toward Millersburg.

Minnesotans assembled several posse’s and set up pickets throughout the area.  After a few days, the outlaws split up.  The Youngers and Charlie Pitts had abandoned their horses and moved on foot toward western Minnesota.  Within two weeks, the Youngers and Pitts found themselves cornered in the Hanska Slough, south of La Salle, Minnesota.  In the gunfight between the good guys and bad guys, Pitts was killed, and the Younger’s were again wounded.  Frank and Jesse rode across Minnesota into the Dakotas, and made good their escape, but the James-Younger Gang was no more.

After the failed Northfield robbery, Jesse and Frank returned to Missouri and from there made their way to Nashville, Tennessee.  Assuming the names Thomas Howard and B. J. Woodson, Frank seemed ready to settle down.  But by 1879, Jesse was restless for the outlaw life.  After forming a new gang, he held up three trains and pulled off the robbery of a federal payroll in Killen, Alabama.  It was after the Killen caper when Jesse James began experiencing personnel problems.

The difficulty seems to have been that Jesse’s new men had never bonded in the same way as his war time affiliates.  The new boys were always arguing with one another, thought they knew more about thieving than their gang leader.  Plus, they were not the brightest bunch of outlaws of the old west.  The new boys liked to brag about their raids and robberies, which ended up getting a few of them arrested or shot.  But worse than that, Jesse never felt as if he could trust his new associates.  If it was a premonition, he should have paid greater attention.  By 1881, Jesse only had to gang members remaining close to him: Charles (Charlie) and Robert (Bob) Ford.  Jesse and the Ford’s relocated to St. Joseph, Missouri, while Frank James decided he would move to Virginia.

Charlie Ford had pulled a few jobs with Jesse, but Bob was merely one of Jesse’s wannabes.  Jesse began to look upon the Ford brothers as his principal body guards.  Unbeknownst to Jesse, Bob secretly contacted Missouri Governor Thomas Crittenden and devised a plan to turn Jesse over to Missouri lawmen.  Since the Missouri legislature had limited the amount of cash reward he could offer for the capture of the James brothers, Crittenden contacted railroad and express companies and arranged for a $5,000 reward for the arrest and conviction of Jesse and Frank James.

On 3 April 1882, while Jesse was straightening a wall picture in his living room, Bob Ford shot him in the back of the head.  Jesse was 34 years old.  The murder was a national sensation.  Charlie and Bob surrendered to authorities, who promptly charged them with first degree murder.  Juries indicted both men, convicted them, and sentenced Charlie and Bob to hang.

Governor Crittenden promptly pardoned both men, suggesting to some that Crittenden may have conspired to kill a private citizen.  Although pardoned, national news sheets reviled the Ford’s.  Ten years later, Edward O’ Kelly walked into Bob Ford’s tent saloon in Creede, Colorado with a double-barrel shotgun and let Bob have it the throat with both barrels.  O’Kelly received a life sentence for the murder, but he also received a pardon after serving ten years of his sentence.

Over the next thirty years, Frank James worked in a number of jobs, from telegraph operator to stage theater ticket seller and lecturer about the real James boys.  Frank eventually returned to the family farm and conducted paid tours of the property.  He died at the age of 72 years on 18 February 1915 leaving behind his wife, Annie Ralston James and one son.  Jesse’s wife, Zerelda Amanda Mimms-James died childless, in her 55th year, on 13 November 1900 — impoverished and alone. 


  1. Astor, A.  Rebels on the Border: Civil War, Emancipation, and the Reconstruction of Kentucky and Missouri.  Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University, 2012.
  2. Castel, A.  Order Number 11 and the Civil War on the Border.  Missouri Historical Review, 1963.
  3. Frizzell, R. W.  Southern Identity in Nineteenth-Century Missouri: Little Dixie’s Slave-Majority Areas and the Transition to Midwestern Farming.  Missouri Historical Review, 2005.
  4. Hylton, J. G.  Before there were “Red” and “Blue” States, there were “Free” States and “Slave” States.  Marquette University Law School, 2012. (Link)
  5. McCandles, P.  A History of Missouri: 1820 to 1860.  Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2000.
  6. Mecklin, J. M.  The Evolution of the Slave Status in American Democracy.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1917


[1] One will notice that the word “slave” or “enslaved” does not appear in this provision.

[2] Passed into law in 1820, the Missouri Compromise admitted Missouri (as a slave state) and Maine (as a free state) and prohibited future slave states north of the 36/30 parallel.  In effect, the Missouri Compromise was the first formal sectional division of the United States.  The Kansas-Nebraska Act repealed the Missouri Compromise, and passed the responsibility for deciding the issue of slave vs. non-slave statehood to the residents of the states through popular sovereignty.  The Kansas-Nebraska Act was further complicated by the Dred Scott decision (1857), which ruled that Africans, whether enslaved or free, could not become citizens of the United States. 

[3] Nullification is a theory that a state has the right to nullify or invalidate any federal law which the state legislature deems unconstitutional.  The federal court has never upheld a nullification argument but this issue is far from dead on arrival. Currently, eight state legislatures have passed laws that nullify federal laws and regulations in certain areas.

[4] One wonders if Taney imagined that “freed slaves” would have to be returned to Africa.

[5] The Thirteenth Amendment (1865) voided the Dred Scott decision.

[6] “Bleeding Kansas” describes the period of repeated outbreaks of violent guerrilla warfare between pro-slavery and anti-slavery forces following the creation of the new territory of Kansas in 1854.  In total, 55 people were killed between 1855-59.  The struggle intensified the ongoing debate over the future of slavery and was a key precursor to the American Civil War.

[7] By this time, American politics had become confusing and muddled.  Douglas Democrats were those people who embraced the Democratic Party platform but opposed secession from the United States.  There were also Democrat-Republicans, Whigs, and Dixie Democrats.  

[8] William Quantrill was one of the better-known Confederate partisan groups operating in Missouri and Kansas.  Quantrill (1837-1865), a school teacher, became a hunter of escaped slaves in Missouri and Kansas and later organized a band of around 400 guerrilla raiders that terrorized Unionists.  He was mortally wounded while fighting Union troops in Central Kentucky.

[9] Cole Younger (1844-1916) was a bushwhacker during the Civil War.  His gang included Jim, John, and Bob Younger, and Frank and Jesse James.  The gang was sometimes known as the James-Younger Gang.  Cole Younger was wounded and captured during the Northfield Bank robbery in Northfield, Minnesota. 

[10] Some form of post-war reconstruction was necessary, but the method employed by Radical Republicans and the so-called carpet-baggers was cruel and unnecessary.  More than any other factor, post-Civil War Reconstruction policies and methods explains the angry racism and sectionalism that remained in the United States for another 100 years.

[11] Adams Express was started in 1839 by Alvin Adams, a produce merchant who was financially ruined in the Panic of 1837.  He began carrying letters and small packages between Boston and Worcester, Massachusetts.  As Adams & Company, he expanded his operation to New York City, Philadelphia, and other eastern cities.  By 1850, he was servicing as far west as St. Louis.  In the 1840s, abolitionists hired Adams Express to deliver anti-slavery news sheets and pamphlets from northern publishers to southern states.  After the civil war, Adams Express provided paymaster services for both sides of the war.  

About Mustang

Retired Marine, historian, writer.
This entry was posted in CIVIL WAR, HISTORY, OUTLAWS. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Sons of a Preacher Man

  1. Andy says:

    Initially, the narrative was a very informative account of the underpinnings of the succession. This, and the war that followed, led to an outlaw era during reconstruction. The origin of two of those outlaws, Frank and Jesse James, follows, and their lives are chronicled in some detail.

    An excellent read for the scholar hoping to fully understand the passions of the era of American history.


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