JAMES, Frank (1843-1915), Outlaw, Brother of Jesse James. Autograph letter signed with an alias, Ben Woodson ("Ben"), to his wife, "In Jail at Gallatin, Mo.," 28 April 1883. 2 pages, 4to, with postscript added in pencil across top edge of recto. Matted and framed.
AWAITING TRIAL FOR MURDER AFTER THE INFAMOUS NORTHFIELD BANK JOB, A KILLER APOLOGIZES TO HIS WIFE
An emotional, contrite letter written from his jail cell, as James awaits trial for murder following the deadly Northfield bank job that wrote finis to the James Gang. He begins by abjectly apologizing for returning one of his wife's letters--evidently with angry comments: "I have been thinking over the return of your letter all week. I know it was mean in me to do so, but at the time my feelings were so wrought up that I did not think of any thing only to do just what I did. I want you to forgive...Any thing I can do now to prove my repentance of the act, I shall only be too glad to comply. I love you so much that the very idea of thinking you do not love me makes me feel like that I am entirely alone. I do hope you know me well enough to know that there is nothing on this earth nor never will be that is half so dear to me as my precious wife. I have not spent one single happy moment since you left me. It makes my heart ache to think and know that I am forced to be from you in this way. Darling you have no idea how I have suffered since you left. I don't think I can stand too much longer....Darling for God sake write me often. I am so anxious to hear from you. Bless your dear life. I should love to put my arms around you tonight, and just tell you how very dear you are to me..." In his pencil postscript he says: "This was written previous to receiving your letters, so true, on how I felt over my hasty act."
Frank and Jesse served in William Quantrill's infamous Confederate raiders during the Civil War. It was their bloody college for crime and killing. They robbed their first bank at Liberty, Missouri in February 1866. Joined by Cole and Frank Younger, the gang terrorized a whole region, robbing banks, stagecoaches and trains from Iowa to Texas to Alabama. On 7 September 1876, attempting to rob a bank in Northfield, Minnesota, six of the eight gang members were shot and killed by bank guards. Only the James brothers escaped. Jesse was later shot by a gang member seeking a bounty, and not long afterwards, Frank surrendered to stand trial. He was found not guilty in the Missouri trial (pending at the time of this letter), then was acquitted of armed robbery by an Alabama jury and acquitted again on the same charge in Missouri. He retired to his family's Missouri farm, where he lived quietly until his death in 1915.
James used the "Ben Woodson" alias for nearly all his prison letters, which are usually written in pencil. Ours is a rare--and quite fine--ink example.