He was born in Kearney,
Clay County, Missouri to Baptist minister Reverend Robert Sallee James
(July 7, 1818 - August 18, 1850) and his wife Zerelda Elizabeth Cole (January
29, 1825 - February 10, 1911), who had moved there from Kentucky. Frank
was the first of four children. His younger siblings were:
- Robert James - (July 19, 1845 - August 21, 1845).
- Jesse Woodson James - (September 5, 1847 - April 3, 1882).
- Susan Lavenia James - (November 25, 1849 - March 3, 1889).
On April 12, 1850 his father left their farm in Missouri in his wife's
care and left for California with the intent of preaching to the crowds
of goldminers who had recently gathered there, during the California gold
rush. But shortly after arriving in California, on August 1, 1850, the
Reverend contracted a fever. It has been suggested that as a result of
drinking contaminated water he fell prey to cholera. The Reverend died
on August 18, 1850 in the Hangtown Gold Camp, later known as Placerville.
He was buried there in an unmarked grave. His wife Zerelda inherited their
farm and would continue to own it until her own death. But for the moment
she was a widow, left with three young children. Frank, the oldest one
was seven years old when his father died.
Zerelda married Benjamin Simms, a neighboring farmer, on September 30,
1852. The marriage proved to be an unhappy one, mainly because of Simms'
behavior towards the two boys. His lack of affection for them and his
use of corporal punishment which Zerelda did not approve of, resulted
in this marriage's failure. After a series of arguments between the couple
Zerelda started procedures for a divorce, an unusual move for the time.
This didn't prove necessary since Simms was killed on January 2, 1854
in a horse accident. Zerelda was now again without a husband and eleven
year old Frank without a father.
On September 25, 1855 Zerelda married for the third and last time. Her
new husband Dr.Reuben Samuel (b. January 12, 1828). He proved to be a
much better choice than her previous one and the marriage lasted. They
had four more children:
- Sarah Louisa Samuel - (December 26, 1858 - September 15, 1915).
- John Thomas Samuel - (December 25, 1861 - March 15, 1935).
- Fanny Quantrill Samuel - (October 18, 1863 - May 30, 1932).
- Archie Peyton Samuel - (July 26, 1866 - January 26, 1875).
Zerelda also raised Perry Samuel (c. 1862 - March 1, 1936), an illegitimate
son of Dr. Reuben by a slave, as one of her own children. He is sometimes
mentioned as her natural son but more informed sources list him as a mulatto.
Meanwhile Frank was growing up. He had developed an interest in his late
father's sizeable library, particularly in the works of his favorite author
William Shakespeare. Frank reportedly wanted to become a school teacher.Meanwhile
his new-stepfather was teaching him horse-riding and shooting alongside
his younger brother Jesse. Frank had a normal family life.
On 1861, when Frank turned eighteen years old, any thoughts of pursuing
a higher education came to an end because of a series of political events
that influenced his life as well as the lives of many others. A number
of states seceded the United States and formed the Confederate States
of America on February 8, 1861. A conflict between the "Union"
and the "Confederacy" seemed very likely and indeed begun with
the attack on Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina on April 12, 1861.
This was the beginning of the American Civil War. Missouri, where Frank
and his family still lived, was also set in a state of war. Though a majority
of Missourians had voted against a secession from the Union, there was
also a significant number of people with Confederate sympathies. This
led to the formation of two separate governments with different allegiances
during the war. Missourians would serve in the armies of both sides of
the war until 1865. In Frank's case he joined the Missouri State Guard
on May 4, 1861, fighting for the Confederacy. Frank's family, on both
the paternal and maternal sides, had been slave-owners and this probably
helped shape Frank's allegiance.
The Missouri State Guard's first major battle was the Battle of Wilson's
Creek, on August 10, 1861. Under the orders of Major General Sterling
Price and along with the Brigade of Brigadier General Ben McCulloch (in
all about 12000 men) they fought against the Army of the West under Union
Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon, in all about 5,400 men. Lyon himself
was killed and his Army under Major General Samuel D.Sturgis had to retreat
to Springfield, Missouri. The battle cost the Confederates 1,095 men and
the Union only 1,235 men, estimated numbers, but it allowed the victorious
Confederate forces to advance further north.
Sterling Price's State Guard, including Frank, marched north until September
13, 1861 when they reached Lexington, Missouri where about 3,500 men of
the Union army, under the orders of Colonel James A. Mulligan, were garrisoned.
Skirmishes between the two forces lasted between September 13 and September
20, 1861. On September 20 Price's men finally attacked and by the early
afternoon Mulligan and his men had surrendered and gave up their weapons.
The Confederates had only lost about 100 men while the Union forces' losses
were estimated at 1,774 men. The Battle of Lexington was the second major
victory of the State Guard and Confederates took control of Southwestern
Missouri by October.
At some point after this battle Frank returned home, presumably because
of injury or disease. There he was arrested by a local militia of Union
supporters. He was released when he signed a statement of allegiance to
the Union. But by July, 1862 he had instead joined the Missouri Partisan
Rangers of William Clark Quantrill. Quantrill's Rangers were Confederacy
supporters who used Guerrilla tactics. They were active in the borders
between Missouri and Kansas and were attacking both the regular Union
army and various militia of Union supporters active in the two states.
Both sides have been accused, and probably were responsible, for atrocities
throughout the Civil War and they used similar methods. But Quantrill's
Rangers gained their lasting reputation with the successful Raid at Lawrence,
Kansas on August 21, 1863. The town, which was home to a number of prominent
Union supporters, was attacked by 400 of Quantrill's men. In four hours
they managed to kill the male population (about 150 men), and destroy
most town buildings, leaving behind them just the women and children (estimated
at 80-90 women and 250 children). It was labeled a "Massacre"
by those of Union allegiance and a heroic act of "Pay Back"
(Revenge for previous activities against them) by the Federalists.
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