It interesting how sometimes a man’s death is almost more important than his life when it comes to fame.

On January 10, 1843, Frank James was born in Clay County, Missouri. Frank was the older brother of Jesse James. Together, the two of them robbed banks, trains and even city fair ticket booths in the middle of a crowd of 10,000 people.

This happened during a time when the citizens of Missouri had a hatred for large corporate railroads and banks. Although they were anything but, some Americans began to see the James brothers as heroes, modern-day Robin Hoods who stole from the rich and gave to the poor.

When Jesse was killed for $5,000 in reward money in 1882 by one of his own gang members, Jesse achieved a reputation as a martyr in the cause of the common people against powerful interests.  One Kansas City newspaper mournfully reported his death in a story headlined, “GOODBYE JESSE.”

Frank James, on the other hand, turned himself in a few months after his brother was murdered.  Prosecutors were unable to convince juries that Frank was a criminal, and he was declared a free man after avoiding conviction at three separate trials in Missouri and Alabama.

For the next 30 years, Frank lived an honest and peaceful existence, working as a race starter at county fairs, a theater doorman, and a star attraction in traveling theater companies.  He also guided people on a tour of his and Jesse’s family farm. Frank died in 1915 at the age of 72.

Today Frank James is known best as Jesse James’ brother.  It seems sometimes a person has to leave this world in a spectacular way to receive enduring fame.

Filed under: Old West History

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