Spring 2024 Autographs & Memorabilia Feature Auction - Closes Saturday, May 11th
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From Gallatin, Missouri, while awaiting trial for murder and armed robbery, James handwrote this remarkable and very affectionate 20-page letter to his wife, even quoting Shakespeare. This rich content letter includes references to some of James' friends and former partners Ebenezer Magoffin, and Bill and Frank Gregg. Curiously, James signs with the alias he used as an outlaw, "Ben".

Offered here is a 5" x 8" 20-page letter, personally signed Your true husband/Ben", by Frank James. Frank and his brother Jesse James fought as Confederate guerrillas in Missouri ("Quantrill's Raiders"), and in the pro-Southern state militia during the Civil War. They joined Cole Younger and others in 1866 to form a gang led by Jesse, robbing banks and trains. Frank and Jesse survived and escaped the failed Northfield, Minnesota bank heist of 1876, forming a new gang. Several months after the murder of his brother Jesse (April 3, 1882), Frank James traveled to Jefferson City and surrendered to Missouri Governor Thomas Crittenden. He was held for nearly a year awaiting trial. Standing trial in Gallatin, Missouri in 1883, he was acquitted by a sympathetic jury. He then was sent to Alabama for trial in another armed robbery case. Once again, he was acquitted by the Southern jury. Frank James had eloped with schoolteacher Annie Ralston (1853-1944) in 1875, in defiance of her parents. The parents did not see Annie again until she showed up on their doorstep with 5-year old son Robert after Frank's surrender in Missouri. During his years as an outlaw, James employed the alias Benjamin J. Woodson. He has signed here with that pseudonym. Mentioned in this letter are three associates of Frank James; Colonel Ebenezer Magoffin, the brother of a former Kentucky Governor, had led Missouri state guard units loyal to the Confederacy, participating in the Battle of Lone Jack (the reunion gathering of which is mentioned in this letter. Magoffin was raising money for the legal fees and living expenses of James and his family. William "Bill" Gregg was an original member of Quantrill's guerrillas, and later a soldier in the regular Confederate army. He served as a deputy sheriff in Jackson County, Missouri after the war. Frank Gregg, Bill Gregg's brother, met Frank James during their wartime service. In 1866, he was accused of taking part in a bank robbery with the James-Younger Gang, but was able to prove his innocence. He did serve time for acts committed during the war, however. Aside from his confinement awaiting trial, Frank James never served a day in prison. Following these trials, Frank James led a respectable, law-abiding life, touring in shows with former partner in crime Cole Younger, but also farming. He died at his home in Clay County, Missouri in 1915, but his ashes remained in a vault until he could be buried with Annie, who lived for another three decades. Their only child, Robert Frank James (1878-1958) became a clerk and farmer, and served as a cavalry trooper in the Spanish-American War. Multiple mailing folds. Tears on some folds. Light ink smudges and staining throughout. Otherwise, fine condition.

The letter reads in full:

"My dear wife: Do you know your letter of last Sunday was the most interesting communication I have had from you since you left me. I think you are awakening to the fact that I love you much more than a "little bit" as you express it. Let me whisper to you right now that I feel a hundred times better since you have written as you have. How kind and good you can be when you want to. I have felt very much like spanking you several times of late, when you would say for instance "I sometimes believe you do love me a little bit". I thought several times I would upbraid you for writing me such hateful things. I concluded to let you alone, feeling as you would soon see your error and be heartily ashamed of yourself, which no doubt you are. Do you know I laughed heartily when I first discovered the X. I imagine I could see just how you looked when you said and wrote X equals "all right". How happy I am to know that I understand algebra. How thoughtful of my little boy to think of His father all the time when out in the wheatfield. Tell him I love him a whole world for saying that. What do I think Mr. D. and Mrs. W I just think it's awful. Do you think you would ever find me sleeping on the floor and you on a little lounge. Ask Margaret what she thinks about it. Who is this Mr. Dellingham anyway. It would be a cold day when you get my consent to let you attend church with any one whoever and have me following along like a lackey. I further think it would be a much colder when you would propose such a thing. There are not many people now days that marry because they love each other and this accounts for so many divorce suits. I am glad you have finished your dress. I know it must be beautiful. I am truly happy to know it is of a quality that can be washed so if it should happen to get mussed up accidentally or otherwise. We could say with "Lady Macbeth" "a little water will clear us of this deed". You tell me of the beautiful shoes at Barnharts. I supposed you mentioned this thinking I will suggest what kind to get. But I will not. All the "saimie" I leave that entirely up to you. As I have told you often anything you do is alright with me, provided you do nothing wrong. I believe I will suggest this however. I would be sure to get ones that was the most stylish and durable. I want you to tell Aunt Mollie and Mrs. Gilky I doubt like one but to be laughed at simply because I admire fashions. I guess you laughed too. Never mind, we know some things that are fashionable. Always has been always will be and don't you forget it. I wish I could be with you, I would talk you to sleep and you can bet your boots it would be with you on the lounge and your "hubby" on the floor. Oh no, mamma. I am almost temped every day to write for you to come. Then when I think about Rob I have to give up the idea bit it is just killing me. You say we are growing old. You may be but I am not and will prove it to you when I see you. I am just as active as I have ever been at any time during my life and it makes me feel badly to know you are failing so rapidly. Oh well, never mind oyster season will soon be here and you will be all right. Eggs is good and as you tell me you getting a great many, I suggest you eat at least ½ doz. Every day and you will find they will help you wonderfully. Momma, what do you think a younger lady said to me the other day. She told me she was hot as a steam engine. I cam just near as could be telling her that I thought she was somewhat mistaken about it for the reason that I did not see the steam escaping from her water tank. Ask Margaret what she thinks will use such expressions in the presence and to a man. I believe the time will come when virtuous women will be as scare as jewels and can be bought as any other commerce. It is almost that way now. Why I see in this weeks Gazette where there has been suit brought in two cases in St. Joe for seduction by two young ladys who are wealthy and have been moving in the best circles. One of the ladys is a daughter of the wealthiest Jewelers in the town and she is soon to become a mother and the scoundrel that accomplished her ruin but a few weeks ago married another. So there is two lives blighted forever. I think all such deep dyed villains should be hung out with judge or jury or benefit of clergy. I haven't language to express my utter contempt for such human monsters. The average American hasn't the honor of a heathen. They will sacrifice the life and happiness of any woman simply to gratify their animal passion. I feel as I could take the life of devils of this kind and have no more remorse of conscience than to kill a snake. I think there should be a law enacted making such offences punishable by death. There is a human law to that effect and in no Southern State can you find jury that would convict a Father or brother for shooting down such men as they would a wild beast. I know this subject does not interest you. At the same time when I read such things it makes me so infernal mad that I am bound to speak of it in order to relieve myself. When you write Mrs. Holland tell her I guess she and Ki will be awful good after using the water from the "Springs of the Gods". I wish they would send me a jug full for you say I am getting awful bad. And if I could drink of that God given Elixer it no doubt would have a good effect upon me. Yet if I was not just the kind of man I am, Perhaps you would not love me as you do. I had a nice present yesterday. Two packages of envelopes, 25 in each and as much paper with 15 stamps so now I can write to all my girls. Of course you do not care how much I flirt so long as I am under lock and key. Just so I do not care it as Frank Gregg did when he was in jail. Col. Magaffin write that he was going to get Bill Gregg to go down to Lafayette Co. and that he was going to Saline and they was going to see all our friends and get them to donate something towards helping and this is the reason why he wants you to attend the reunion at "Lone Jack". The Col. Seem to be deeply interested in our welfare and we should show our appreciation of his efforts. So when you see him I believe you ought to tell him you will attend the reunion with him and our friends. You an Margaret might go in the buggy. Get Col. Magaffin to find you a perfectly sage horse in twon and a good lively stepper and you and Rob and she can sail down and have a fine time and it might be you would make friends by so doing. I of course merely suggest this. If you can make other arrangements which will be more convenient and inexpensive all well and good. I have the same confidence in your Generalship as I do in other things. So make arrangements to suit your own convenience and you may be sure your "hubby" will be satisfied. Well Mamma, only 25 more days and I will have the pleasure of putting my arms around you and looking into those dear eyes and tell you face to face how dear you are to me. Don't I wish it was next Monday. It has been fifteen long months since we were separated yet this separation has proved you to be just what I had always believed. And that is, that you are a woman of inertinable worth. I am even now happy in knowing I am the possessor of one so good, so kind and above all one who I can trust in all things. Oh! What a God's blessing and how consoling it is to know that in our deepest sorrow, we can go to each other and pillow our heads upon one anothers bosom despite what the humble home with you and Robie and making a comfortable living is all the happiness I ask in this world. It has been quite warm this week. I have not suffered any with heat however. I am a non conductor of heat you know any way. I am truly glad to know that God has blessed the family with a bountiful crop. And they ought to be happy. But from what you say I am afraid from what you say, happiness and contentment in that family will be a nonentity to the end. For your sake and for the sake of all concerned. I wish it was otherwise. It does seem strange to me that they do not try to at least make an effort to be more agreeable. In a few short years at most on or both will be called upon to render an account of the deeds done in the body. And if there is not a great change before that time I am afraid all will not be well with them. But I supposed you ha just as well talk to a marble statue as to say anything to them. Advice of any description would I suppose only enrage them more. In all sincerity who do you think is the most to blame in this matter. I know it must be him. Yet it may be that you have become so accustomed to I that it does not affect you. Momma go out every day with Rob and show him the beauties of nature. And explain to him the whys & wherefors of all living things. I would to see him become a naturalist. What a vast field for study and how inexhaustibly. There is rarely deception in nature. I think his little eyes would fairly sparkle. When you tell him that the leaves of grapevines was for the protection of the fruit there on. And that the grass grows to protect the earth from the scorching rays of the sun. I would love to be near and hear all the questions he will ask you about it. Do this and tell me what he says, will you. I think it necessary to teach children such things in order that they may know and understand how kind our Heavenly Father has been in fixing these things that we may enjoy them. Mamma, I hope you may not become disgusted with my suggestions. If I make any mistake you know me well enough to know that I am always ready to acknowledge any error when pointed out to me. Did I tell you I was over and had a shave at the barbershop last Saturday. Well I was and I suppose this did appear in Lamp in of the Democrat will have something to say about it in his paper tomorrow. But what do we care. I am press proof. Momma if you are getting tired reading go take a nap. I have no idea how long this letter is going to be. I am going to write just as long as I can. The only thing I am afraid of is that I am afraid of is that I am afraid I wrote you the same today that I did Monday. I think it more than probable that all my letters are the same. I have but one thought. That is - you are the best, sweetest, dearest, kindest, most accommodating woman that ever step this earth. Oh! You are so dear to me. How I wish you were here now. I would eat you up. I know you think I am a great monkey and laugh at my composition. But who was ever reasonable in love. This last sentence would sound strange to most married persons. Yet I am more thoroughly in love now than I ever was in my life and with my dear little wife. If being loved makes up the sum of happiness you ought to be the happiest person that lives, and should forever bless the day you gave me your heart and hand. I bless you for it and will the longest I live. Why darling I do honestly believe in some mysterious way God pointed you out to me. I always shall believe so, at least as long as you love me and should time ever come that you should not, it would be the greatest punishment upon me. It would a thousand time more severe than death. For death is expected at sometime, but it is not expected you will ever forsake me. If you do then farewell content, farewell the plumed troop and big wars. That make ambition virtue! Oh farewell. Farewell the neighing stud and the shrill trump. The spirit shining down, the ear piercing fife. Farewell the tranquil mind. Othellas occupation gone. And so it would be if you should give me up. But you are too pure too noble to ever do anything of the kind. Aren't you? I have every reason to believe that your love will endure until time is no more. I have many things to propose and lots to say when I see you. Many things that I cannot say in letters. My Lords no doubt you say, I wonder what he can say more than he has said. Well never mind my vocabulary is not exhausted quite. I laughed real heartily the other day while reading Col. Magaffin's letter. He says to me "Don't Fret" and trial matters philosophically. A hell of a big word for a man that is out enjoying liberty. Wasn't that just like him. His is a big hearted and brave man. I like him so much. When you see him tell him, don't think because I do not write often I have forgotten him or fail to appreciate his many acts of kindness for from it I look upon him as a triumph at any stage of the game. Do you think this letter will be worth the postage. I think it will take about nine cents to get this through. I think this will last until the trial, won't it? Tell me in your next letter. I am looking for a little from you too but can never get my mind until 12 noon. I never wait I will write you next Monday if nothing happens to prevent. The Lord only knows what I all have to say after this I will make a desperate effort to say something however. Oh say, let me tell you, I was out for a bucket of water and while standing around the well caught on to a four leaf trefoil, the first I have my recollection of finding. Ask Margaret whats the sign. I have just heard Rush returned. I have sent for him to come up. If he does not come right I will have to send this without seeing him. He got back yesterday and I think it rather strange he did not come to see me last night. It is now nearly twelve o'clock and no Rush yet so I will not wait longer for fear I might not get to send this and I don't want you to be disappointed tomorrow, that I could say goodbye 'til it be morrow', Your true husband ".

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