Excerpt from Chapter VI, A Gory Record:
The cruel strife of the border can never be forgotten. Those were tragic days, the very remembrance of which comes like a dream of sorrow and desolation of soul. It is well that such terrible times have passed away, for to those who were exposed to the fury of that tidal-wave of passion, which swept over the fair borderland, physical existence must have been a wheel of pain. But the mighty procession of the ages, sweeping by, will soon obliterate the traces of the storm's ravages, and only the dim legends of horrible deeds will remain.
In that dreadful ebullition of human hatreds, Frank and Jesse James played no laggard's part. As boys, they accepted service under Quantrell, and became renowned for caution and daring even in the days of their youth. Members of a partisan organization, famed even in the early days of the strife for daring deeds and extraordinary activity; a band, every man of which was a desperado of great cunning and prowess, these two callow-youths, taken from a country farm, speedily rose to the eminence of leading spirits among the most daring of men. Both sides in the border counties of Missouri and Kansas prosecuted war with a vindictive fury unparalleled in modern history. The scene of the operations of the Guerrillas was at first confined to the limits of Clay, Platte, Jackson, Bates, Henry, Johnson, and Lafayette counties, in Missouri, and along the Kansas border.
These men rode far and fast in the night time, and fought their foes at early dawn. Living in out-of-the-way neighborhoods were their friends. When pressed hard they disbanded and scattered, and rendered all pursuit futile.
Frank and Jesse James early discovered those traits of character which have rendered them famous as the greatest outlaws and freebooters of modern times. They became scouts and spies for Quantrell at the beginning of their career, and showed themselves possessors of remarkable capacity for such service. They were cool and brave, fertile in resources, and marvelous in cunning.
After Lawrence came the disbandment, and with the disbandment came that strange training in individual development and personal reliance which have made the Boys objects of fear to the people of many regions, and enabled them to plunder at will, baffle pursuit, and defy the civil authorities of great States.
They had hiding places with friends in Clay, Platte, Jackson, Johnson, Cass and Lafayette counties, and when the Guerrilla band to which they belonged scattered in order to evade pursuers, the Boys retired to the dwellings of their friends and rested in peace till the time of re-organizing, when an enemy was to be punished.
Perhaps no two individuals ever lived on this continent who have taken so many lives, as the James Boys. Emerging from the seclusion which they could always find in the Hudspeth neighborhood, in the eastern part of Jackson county, in July, 1863, with Captain George Todd, a redoubtable Guerrilla chieftain, with whose command Frank and Jesse often fought, they struck the road leading from Pleasant Hill to Blue Springs. Major Ransom, a Federal officer with a cavalry force, was traveling that road at the time. A collision took place. The fighting was savage. The volleys of revolver bullets fired by the Guerrillas proved awfully destructive to their opponents. Jesse and Frank James have been credited with a tremendous destruction of life—Jesse killing seven, and, Frank eight men in the Federal ranks during that encounter.
One night Frank James and five or six of his comrades were detailed to capture and kill the militia men who were accustomed to frequent a bagnio, four miles east of Wellington, in Lafayette county. Frank James preceded the little band, and, creeping up under the window, he saw the company inside. There were eleven men in dalliance with the women. James returned to his comrades, reported the result of his observations, and the Guerrillas rode to the house. A peremptory summons brought the militiamen to the yard. The Guerrillas poured a volley of bullets among them. The ten men fell, pierced by the deadly missiles. But where was the eleventh man? There had been that number in the house when James saw the company, and the man could not have left the place. A search was instituted. The man could not be found. But there was one woman more in the party than had been seen before. A candle was procured and a search instituted among them. They all appeared to be women. Frank James discovered the man. He was a youth, fair skinned and blue eyed, with long brown hair. His features were handsome, and in the garments of a woman he appeared not unlike a fresh country girl. Of course he expected to die there. His ten companions presented the spectacle of a ghastly wreck of humanity in the yard as they lay there cold in death. But he plead for his life. He was so young to die. "Here, Frank, take him," said the leader. "You discovered him; he is yours to deal with." It was a sentence of death, they said. The boy thought so, and hope vanished. "Come," said Frank, "come along and be shot." The poor youth trembled in every nerve. He could scarcely walk. His supposed executioner had to assist him down the steps and out through the yard. They passed the ghastly heap of corpses, lying there in the dim starlight. They went away, into the darkness under the sombre trees, down the road. Poor boy, he thought of his mother. Under the wide-spreading branches of an ancient oak they halted. "Here! we are far enough," said Frank James. The poor youth almost fell to the earth from excess of emotion. To die, and so young, and in such a way, too! "Oh, spare me for the sake of my mother!" he wailed. "You are free to go! I give you your life. You are outside of the pickets, outside of danger. Go, and be quick about it!" And at that moment Frank James fired a pistol shot upward through the branches of the oak, and the fair haired boy soldier disappeared in the darkness—spared for the sake of his mother by the youthful desperado. Frank James returned to his comrades. They had heard the shot and naturally concluded that it meant one more life ended. Frank assumed a grave expression. "Quick work," remarked a comrade. "Yes," returned the Guerrilla, "babies and boys are not hard to kill." He never spoke of that better deed he performed out there, with only the stars and God as witnesses.