Outlaws Frank and Jesse James eluded capture for sixteen years and became folk heroes.  In 1882, after Jesse was back shot and killed by Bob Ford, Frank surrendered and faced trial for murder.  But how could Missouri convict a man so popuar that the governor almost needed an appointment to visit him in jail?

William Wallace had already imprisioned one member of the untouchable James Gang.  But now his case rested on the word of a scoundrel -- and defied those who would kill to protect Frank James.  The defense would paint the Shakespeare-quoting robber as an honorable family man and victim of mistaken identity, endlessly persecuted by the hated railroads.

Inside an opera house, the circuslike trial would decide if James senselessly murdered a young stonemason during the 1881 Winston train robbery.  But perhaps the larger question was if Missouri was ruled by the arm of the law -- or the arm of the bandit...
Arm of the Bandit
The Trial of Frank James
Signet, 2002
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Arm of the Bandit, The Trial of Frank James by Johnny Boggs. Western Novel.
An Excerpt from Arm of the Bandit:

January 24, 1881
Kansas City, Missouri
    William H. Wallace settled into the leather chair behind the cluttered desk in his Kansas City office. He preferred to work there rather than in his small room at the county courthouse in Independence. Duly elected prosecuting attorney of Jackson County. He still found it hard to believe, because only five years ago he had been a struggling lawyer and former schoolteacher. Even more shocking was the fact that during his campaign he preached temperance and closing the Kansas City saloons on Sundays, and he promised not to cower to bushwhackers and guerrillas. "The time of the outlaw in Missouri has ended," he had said. "I will promise the James brothers a fair trial, but justice will meet them. Citizens cannot continue to live in abject fear of these bandits. I stand for law and order."
    They voted him in, but he wondered if they really believed him.
    After draining the last of his coffee, he opened the nearest, and thickest, folder, a collection of newspaper clippings, affidavits, police and Pinkerton reports titled SUSPECTED CRIMES OF THE JAMES-YOUNGER GANG.
    February 13, 1866, Clay County Savings Association Bank, Liberty, Missouri: They hadn't been suspected at first, but later it became clear that Frank and Jesse James, Cole Younger and a number of others had robbed the bank of between $50,000 and $80,000 and killed an innocent bystander. Bank officials paid customers sixty cents on the dollar before going out of business. Archie Clements, suspected in the robbery as well, was shot dead in Lexington on December 13 of that year when Major Bacon Montgomery and his soldiers tried to arrest Clements and his gang of cutthroats. Attempted arrest? Wallace laughed. Clements had been shot more than thirty times.
    October 30, 1866, Alexander Mitchell and Company Bank, Lexington, Missouri: The take had been a mere $2,011, but no one could tell if the Jameses and Youngers had been involved in this robbery, or if it had been the act, as one newspaper claimed, of "Kansas redleg robbers."
    March 20, 1868, Nimrod & Co. Bank, Russellville, Kentucky: The gang made off with $12,000, but Oliver Sheperd was killed resisting arrest and George Sheperd was caught, tried, convicted and spent three years in prison. The James brothers and Cole Younger were likely in on the job, but this one was out of Wallace's jurisdiction.
    December 7, 1869, Daviess County Savings Association, Gallatin, Missouri: After this bloody affair, the James brothers became suspects for the first time and would later be linked to the robberies in Russellville, Lexington and Liberty. The bank president, John W. Sheets, had been murdered, clerk William McDowell wounded, and the killers rode off with $700.
    Wallace thumbed through the other documents. A bank in Corydon, Iowa, on June 3, 1871, with $40,000 taken ... another bank in Columbia, Kentucky, on April 29, 1872, in which a cashier had been killed and $15,000 lost ... $4,000 robbed from the Ste. Genevieve, Missouri, bank on May 27, 1873 before the outlaws turned to robbing trains.

    Wallace glanced at the cutout of the article in the July 23, 1873, edition of the St. Louis Daily Globe detailing the Iowa robbery of the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific train. He sighed and read on about the train robberies at Gad's Hill, Missouri, and Muncie, Kansas, in 1874, a bank in Huntington, West Virginia, in 1875, and another train in Otterville, Missouri on July 7, 1876. The James-Younger Gang had been so successful, they inspired a slew of copycats: a Richmond, Missouri, bank in 1867; the daring Kansas City Fair box office of seventy-two, a stagecoach in Hot Springs, Arkansas, and two omnibuses in Lexington, Missouri, in seventy-four and a bank in Corinth, Mississippi, later that year. Or maybe it had been the Jameses and Youngers who robbed the fair, and other outlaws had robbed the train at Gad's Hill. Who knew?
    Pinkerton agents had been killed, and the law never caught a break until townsmen of Northfield, Minnesota, and outlaws got shot to pieces on September 7, 1876. The Youngers had been captured, Clell Miller, Bill Chadwell and Charley Pitts gunned down, but Frank and Jesse James escaped. Those taciturn Youngers, serving life sentences by pleading guilty to avoid the rope, wouldn't even admit that the James boys had been with them.
    Things had quieted after Northfield, but now it seemed as if the James Gang was back in business. A Chicago & Alton train had been robbed near Glendale on October 7, 1879, and they'd strike again. Sighing, Wallace closed the folder, thinking maybe he shouldn't have made such bold promises. The James Gang had been roaming the country since 1866. Fifteen years. Not a bad career in their line of work. How could he think he could stop them?

Copyright 2002 by Johnny D. Boggs