The Life and

Trial

of

Frank James

 

Introduction:

After the loss of most of the gang members in the Northfield, Minnesota robbery attempt, the outlaw gang reorganized with new members under Jesse James. Most of these new members were younger, too young to have been war participants. They were a different breed than their predecessors, even more murder-prone and far less trustworthy to others in the gang. There were murders within the group, deceit, deception, and deals made with the law. One deal resulted in the death of Jesse James April 3, 1882 at the hands of Bob Ford. Others ended up in prison due to the testimony of their comrades—Tucker Bassham's testimony sent Bill Ryan to prison; Dick Liddil's Clarence Hite.

Frank James' life and freedom were in considerable peril during 1882 as too many people who knew him, his habits, and connections, had been compromised. His life, for all he knew, could be taken by a friend or family member just as his brother's had been, for a presumed 'dead or alive' bounty (No such offer was publicly made by the governor but was apparently understood—or negotiated—by the Fords who were immediately pardoned for the murder of Jesse James, after their convictions, by the governor). Through the help of long-time supporter John Newman Edwards, Frank James surrendered to the governor. He had attempted to negotiate a pardon but was refused. The most valuable portion of any hypothetical deal made was that Missouri protected Frank James from extradition to Minnesota where he almost certainly would have been hanged for the Northfield murders.

What follows is an account of the trial of Frank James at Gallatin, Missouri in 1883 for the Winston robbery and murder. It was the OJ trial of the day, with as much shock expressed at its outcome. At least two versions of the trial were published. The one that follows is the first published and is somewhat condensed in form and testimony. Another was published in 1898 titled "The Trial of Frank James for Murder" by George Miller, Jr. and contains more expanded versions of the testimony.

Note: pictures are not from the original text

 

Sketch made shortly after his surrender

Chapter 1

The first day of the trial:

The trial of Frank James the noted Missouri outlaw, was begun at Gallatin, Missouri, on the 20th day of July, 1883 [actually August]. The specific charge against Frank James was the killing of Frank McMillan at the Winston train-robbery. Frank James and his brother, Jesse, had been notorious outlaws, defying all law and authority ever since the war. Jesse James was killed by one of the band, Bob Ford, on the third day of April, 1882, and Frank, tired of being hunted by detectives, surrendered to Thomas T. Crittenden, Governor of Missouri. The trial of Frank James, which we here give in full, will show to the reader how terrible, how daring and how powerful this band of outlaws had become, and how they were shielded and protected by some who were called among the best citizens of this country. This trial, though only the evidence from a court of justice, will be more entertaining to the reader than the wildest fiction. After some trouble in empaneling a jury, statements were made and the trial begun.

The first witness for the State was John L. Penn, who testified: I reside at Colfax, Io. Was on the Rock Island train at Winston. R. W. Penn, D. Doran and Frank McMillan and myself, of the stonemasons' crew, got on at Winston. Old man McMillan got on, too. It was near 9 p. m. After we got on the train three men entered the front end of the smoker. We had all come in at the front end of the car. Westfall was just putting checks in our hats when the three men entered the door. We were all standing together till we got our checks. The three men, with revolvers in each hand, rushed into the crowd, saying something we could not understand to the conductor. The conductor turned, when a shot was fired. The conductor wheeled and started for the rear of the car. The three fellows followed, shooting as they went. Westfall opened the door and fell off the train. The three men went on the platform outside the door and then turned and went back to the front end of. the car. As they went out at the front door Frank McMillan and I went out at the rear door. As we did so two shots were fired and we sat down. I rose for a moment, and a shot came and cut the glass in the rear door of the car, which cut my hands and face. I saw a man standing on the front end of the smoker. I told Frank to sit down. We sat there about a minute. The man was at the front end watching those inside, and with one revolver. was shooting through the car. I think three or four shots were fired while we were sitting down.

The man shooting aimed the shots right through the car. A man in the car cried out. Frank McMillan said it was his father and jumped up. As he did so a ball struck him and he fell. I could not hold him. The train was moving slowly at this time, and was already in motion when the shooting commenced. It ran pretty fast at first, but commenced slacking about twenty rods from the switch, which is thirty yards from the depot. At the bridge, a mile from the depot, they came to a standstill, and a man called out to move on further. The train started up and moved on for half a mile further and came to a full stop.

The three men jumped off the car and started back past me and disappeared in the hollow. During the firing in the car the passengers all got down under the seats. The one man shooting was shooting right through the front door of the car. This door was closed after him. Its glass was all broken out, and so was the glass in the rear door which was also shut. There was a shot fired when I looked up and another fired when Frank McMillan looked up. I couldn't tell anything about the second car. After McMillan was shot the other McMillan and myself then started back to hunt for Frank McMillan and Westfall McMillan was dead. Westfall was found farther up. He was dead too.

Cross examined: The three men had on dark linen dusters, collar turned up and white handkerchiefs tied round their necks. They were masked. Witness did not pretend to identify any of the parties boarding the train.

Addis E. Wolcott testified: I had charge of the engine at Winston We left on time--9:30 p. m. It was dark. I started and went fifty feet, when the bell rang to stop. I set the air-brakes and stopped After stopping a voice called out "All right; go ahead." I gave her steam, and somebody called again to "Go ahead, you - - - -.! After that word I looked around, and two parties jumped off the coal into the cab, with two drawn revolvers, and told me to go ahead. We were 2,000 feet when the air-brakes were set from the inside of the train. That excited the two parties, and they told me to go ahead or they would shoot me. I explained matters to them and started the train. He said, "Keep her going," and to stop at the little hollow near the second tank. He said they wouldn't hurt me if I did as I was told. Before we got to the hollow I went out on the pilot and got on again on the third car. I saw but four people there. One was the baggage-man and the express-messenger, also two ladies. I asked where the other men were, and the messenger said they had not seen them since the last stop. The baggage-man and I went to the baggage-car, and after that we proceeded with the train. My fireman was Thomas Sugg, and the conductor was William Westfall. The two men on the cab were common-sized men. It was dark and I could not describe them. I never saw the conductor after we left Cameron. I heard no firing only on the front end of the baggage-car. I know that some five or six shots were fired. The last stop was made some two miles from the station.

Cross-examined: I believe the shots fired as I left the engine were fired at me. One of the men followed me out as far as the sand dome of the engine. The two men that were on the engine were not in a position to know or see what was going on during the firing in the coaches behind.

The next witness, Frank Stamper, was baggageman on the Rock Island train. The car was used for baggage and express. This expressman was named Charles M. Murray. The train stopped 200 or 300 yards from the depot, and as I opened the door two men followed with revolvers in hand. One of them started to pull me out, and jumped out. One fired into the baggage-car, and the other kept guard over me. After the train started up again I got on the third car and went back and told the passengers that it was a robbery.

Charles M. Murray, of Davenport, Io., testified that he was messenger on the train for the United States Express Company. He told the same story of the baggageman being pulled out of the car. He heard some firing, and dropped behind some sample trunks in the car. After the second stop a man came in, who asked where the safe was and demanded the key, which witness gave him. The intruder then asked witness to open the safe, which he did, and the stranger took the money out or received the same from witness. The robber asked if that was all. He said they had killed the conductor and were going to kill me and the engineer, and ordered me to get down on my knees. This I did not do, when he struck me over the head and I was unconscious till the baggageman came in. I do not know how much money or treasure was taken. Here witness described the packages, but could not give their number or value. He saw three robbers all told, two of whom came in the baggage-car.
At this stage a recess was taken until 1:30.

WITNESS FROM TENNESSEE.

The first witness called after recess was W. L. Earthman, who testified: I live in Davison County, Tennessee. I am Back-tax Collector, farmer and Justice of the Peace. I live seven miles north of Nashville. I know the defendant. I saw him in 1879 in the spring. I got intimately acquainted with him as Woodson. I think the initials were "B. G.," but won't be positive. Part of the time he. lived between Hide's Ferry Pike and Buena Vista Pike, on Felix Smith's farm. Can't say where he went after that. I saw him about town at Nashville. After that I don't recollect seeing him until the fall of 1880. After that I don't know where he lived. In the fall of 1880 I knew Jesse James at the same place that I knew Frank James. He was on the Smith farm. He rode Frank James' horse at the same race that I entered my horse at. I was not so well acquainted with Jesse James as with Frank. I don't recollect seeing Jesse later than the fall of 1879. I saw Jesse and Frank together at the Fair and in town. I did not then know who they really were. I was present at the June term. I saw Frank James then passing through the court-yard. He asked me where I came from; if I came up here to hang him. He recognized me. I knew a man named Tom Hill.

James Moffat testified: I have lived at Nashville ever since the war; am depot-master of the Louisville and Nashville Railroad; I knew B. J. Woodson at Nashville during the year 1880; [see: James & Youngers in the Census] I saw him frequently during that summer and fall; I remember Bill Ryan's arrest; don't think I ever saw Woodson there after that, but saw him just before; I knew J. B. Howard; he lived a square and a half from me; he had a wife and one child; I lived on Fartherland street, in Edgefled, or East Nashville, and he lived on Watson street; I think Howard was buying grain for Rhea & Sons; never saw Howard and Woodson together but once; it was a few days after March 30, 1881, that I saw Woodson and a Mr. Fisher, on Cedar street, talking; never saw Howard. there after the arrest of Bill Ryan.

Cross-examined: Had only a pool-room acquaintance with Woodson, covering the summer and fall, of 1880.

Re-cross-examination: The man on trial before me is the B. J. Woodson that I knew. John Trimble, Jr., testified: I live at Nashville, Tenn.; I have been in the real estate and fire insurance business for ten years past; I rented the house 814 Fartherland street, in Edgefield, in the first part of 1881, about February 5, to a man named J. B. Woodson;. I have not recognized the man since I have been here; he paid $8 per month in advance; in March he paid $8, and our books show no receipt of rent since; we sold the house about the 21st or 22d of March to J. B. May; we never received any notice that Woodson was going to quit the house.

More on the cast of characters in The Outlaws

Jas. B. May testified: I am a pressman, and live in Nashville, Tenn.; I bought a house from Mr. Trimble March 22, 1881; it is located on Fartherland street, and is No. 814; it stands by itself, has three rooms on one floor with a side porch; I looked at the house before I rented it; saw a lady but no gentleman; this was a week before the 22d; didn't move in at once, because I wasn't ready; did not move into it till April, and then there was no one in it; never received any notice that the parties were going to leave; I went over to see if they wished to continue renting it, and found they had gone.

Mrs. Sarah E. Hite testified: I live near Hendersonville, Tenn., with my father, Silas Norris, thirteen miles from Nashville. Have lived with husband in Kentucky from.1874 until May last. I lived near Adairsville, Ky., which is about fifty miles north from Nashville. My husband had children when I married him. I know Wood Hite. He lived with part of the time. There were seven children four boys, named John, George, Wood and Clarence. We lived some two miles from town. Wood Hite was 33 years old. He is dead now: He died near Richmond, Mo., so I was told. I think he was buried there. Wood Hite was about 5 feet 8 inches high, had dark hair and light blue eyes. He had a light mustache, Roman nose, narrow shoulders, a little stooped. He was inclined to be quick in his actions. I last saw him in November, 1881. I had seen him before that in September. He said he was going West. I have seen the defendant. The first time I saw him was on March 20, 1881; he came to my husband's house on the morning of that day. Dick Liddell came with him and Jesse James came after him. Frank was riding. Jesse and Dick were walking. They did not tell me where they came from. They were armed. Jesse had two pistols and a rifle, Frank had two pistols, and Dick had two pistols and a gun. They stayed at our house a day or two. Clarence and Wood and George Hite were there, too. I saw them after that on the 26th of April. That day Dick, Jesse, Frank and Wood came back. They were still armed. Some men pursuing them came near the house. Jesse and Frank were excited at this, and commenced preparing themselves. Dick got at the front door, Jesse at the window, and Frank was in the parlor. The, men rode on by Frank James came that time on the 26th of April and left on the 27th. I don't know where they went.

George B. Hite's first wife was Nancy James, sister of Robert James, the father of Frank & Jesse

Clarence Hite was 21 years old, tall and slender, blue eyes, light hair, large mouth, and one or two teeth out. He is dead. He died in Adairsville the 10th of last March. Clarence was then living in Adairsville, but he would come out when Jesse and Frank and Dick were there. He left home in May, 1881. He was in Missouri in the summer of 1881. Wood Hite left home May 27, 1881. Me and Clarence did not leave together, but left a few days apart. Next saw Clarence in September; stayed there till November, and I never saw him till he came home to die. Mr. Hite was related to Jesse James. His first wife was Frank James' aunt.

This witness was not cross-examined.

Silas Norris testified: I live at Mechanicsville, Sumner County, Tenn. Sumner County adjoins Davidson County on the east. In the summer of 1881 I was living in Logan County, Ky. Adairsville is in that county. I was living within a mile and a half of it at the place of Geo. Hill, my son-in-law. Our two families had been together three or four years. I knew Jesse James. I first got acquainted with him in March, 1881, at Mrs. Hite's. I know Frank James. He was introduced to me by Jesse as his brother. I think Mr. Liddell was there also. Don't know where they came from. I didn't see any arms visible, but I saw some arms afterward. They stayed a short time and left. They came back, stayed a day or two, and went off for perhaps a week. Don't know where they went. I do not know where Samuels Station, Ky., is. When they came back the last time there were Jesse and Frank James and Dick Liddell in the party. Wood and Clarence Hite were away a portion of the summer.

Cross-examined: Old man Hite is probably sixty-five or sixty-six years old. He is still living.

Go to Chapter 2

Go to Chapter 3

Go to Chapter 4

Go to Chapter 5

Go to Chapter 6

Go to Chapter 7

Go to Chapter 8

Go to Chapter 9


 

 


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