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Frank James instructs his wife and son to attend his federal trial for robbery and murder in Huntsville, Alabama in order to gain sympathy with the jury, observing that his attorney told him "he would rather have you and Rob in that court when he makes his speech than to have two of the best lawyers in the State to make speeches without you..." The verdict: Not guilty!
Huntsville, Alabama, March 18, 1884. 8.5" x 14". "Fine content Autograph Letter Signed, ""Frank James,"" 2 pages, 8.5"" x 14"", ""Huntsville Jail Ala[bama],"" March 18, 1884, to his wife Annie Ralston James (1853-1944) and his son Robert Franklin James (1877-1959) asking that they be present for his trial for his alleged involvement in the 1881 robbery of Army Corps of Engineers payroll in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Extremely light soiling along expected folds, else fine condition.Not long after the death of his brother Jesse James in April 1882, Frank James, tiring of the life of a fugitive, decided to turn himself in to Missouri Governor Crittenden. Gambling that in exchange for his cooperation, the governor would not extradite him to Minnesota to stand trial for the infamous Northfield robbery he staged with his brother Jesse, Frank chose to stand trial for several murders and robberies that occurred in Missouri. He first stood trial in Gallatin, Missouri for a robbery which resulted in the murder of Frank McMillian, a stone quarry laborer for which he was found not guilty. Following the acquittal, which was greeted with astonishment in the press, James was brought before a federal judge for an extradition hearing concerning his involvement in the March 1881 robbery of a United States Army Corps of Engineers paymaster in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. (New York Tribune, Feb. 12, 1884, p. 1).Now ensconced in jail in Huntsville, Alabama, seat of the federal court for that district, James writes to his family to orchestrate some additional support for his cause, writing in full: ""Yours of the 13th was handed me last night, I am glad you write me as often as you do, if I am not badly mistaken I think I wrote you on the 13th I don't think it makes so very much difference about letters but I would be unwilling to start any where on that day, I am afraid you will not be willing to show Ma my the 15th I believe I send one to her in the same envelope she would say was sick if she should read what you call foolishness Don't yous [sic], I have just had a letter from Surie[?] and she tells me Mrs Parmer[?] has come to live with them Th[e]y are all well Allen was in Dallas attending the stockmens? Convention[.] Sue said she would not be surprised if he came from there to see me as he was talking of it, I also received by the same mail a letter from Mart Kritzer [w]ho said he read and read until he shed tears like a child I wrote him a feeling letter and spoke of the many sad changes that had taken place since we last met he enquired after you and says he is our true friend until death, He is keeping a Gal over in Lamparras Springs Texas and doing well. I am truly happy to know you are having such a nice time and like the people so much. Yes I suppose I will have to visit about one year when I get out. It will take me that long to get round, Mr Slocum and Genl Walker says I have succeeded in winning the sympathy of every one that has come to see me, I am very proud of the compliment I assure you I gave you full instructions in my letter of yesterday what I wanted you to do et[c] might be you did not get it so I will refer to it again Genl Walker says he would rather have you and Rob in that court when he makes his speech than to have two of the best lawyers in the State to make speeches without you, I want you to start by the 1st or 5th at latest come to the 'Stigall House['] here. give Josie 30 or 40 dollars to bring her. I will telegraph her where to start if I do not write. I am now getting the Gazette every day and enjoy it so very much. As I want to answer Sues and Marts letter I will have to conclude Hoping to hear from you every few days I must now say Kiss my boy and love to so farewell hoping to see you by the 7th of April..."" Stressing the urgent need for her presence in court, James adds a short postscript after he adds his signature: ""Telegraph me when you leave for his place."" At the top of the first page, James adds another brief note, offering a vivid testament to the local support he enjoyed: ""I had just folded this and in the act of sealing when to my surprise, The Huntsville band come under my window and discoursed most elegant music I take it as quite a compliment Don[']t you think it is?""Obliging his request, Annie and Robert arrived in Huntsville in time for the trial. The sight of James, who had led an ostensibly quiet life for the last few years before his surrender, together with his family, helped paint an air of innocence about him. At the trial, James was generally described by the press as ""neatly dressed in a suit of broad-cloth, and sat near his wife and child. Mrs. James is of comely appearance."" (New York Times, April 18, 1884, p. 1) On April 25, the jury found James not guilty. Whether James' appearance as a committed family man swayed the jury is a matter of conjecture?"but it certainly didn't harm his prospects. Immediately following his acquittal, James was promptly re-arrested by a Missouri sheriff for yet another train robbery. Incidentally, an officer from Minnesota was also on hand with an extradition request (Huntsville [Alabama] Gazette, April 26, 1884, p. 3), but fortunately for James, the Missouri sheriff seated himself directly behind James, beating his colleague from Minnesota to the punch. James returned to Missouri where he awaited trial in Cooper County. After several continuances, the case came to trial in February 1885 when it was dismissed. (At about the same time, Minnesota dropped its efforts to try James). Following the dismissal, James led a relatively quiet life?"working in a variety of jobs including stints as a doorman, livestock trader, and telegraph operator. In 1903, Frank James, with former James Gang member Cole Younger, purchased a minor wild west show and re-christened it as ""The Great Cole Younger and Frank James Historical Wild West Show."" The show proved unsuccessful and the pair left the show before the year was out. Frank died in 1915, never having been convicted of a crime."
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