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The Library Springfield-Greene County Library District Springfield, Missouri
Local History

Frank James at the Fair

 Frank JamesThe annual Ozarks Empire Fair is one of the area’s most popular attractions. It has hosted numerous dignitaries and special events through the years. One of the early guests of honor was Frank James, the famous Civil War guerrilla and post-war outlaw. The older brother of Jesse, Frank appeared at the 1898 fair and served as the official starter of the horse races. James reminisced to the local newspaper about his wartime exploits in Springfield during his visit. Organized by the Queen City Fair Association, the event was held from September 26 to October 1, 1898, near modern day Missouri State University.

"Col. Frank James officiated as starter and understands his business. He stands no fooling with the drivers and promptly calls them to time if they are slow in getting their horses off. He is a great drawing card for the fair." Springfield (Mo.) Republican, September 27, 1898, page 1.

"F. James’ Career: His Eventful Life Was Due To His Having Been a Prisoner," Springfield (Missouri) Republican, September 27, 1898, page 8:

Col. Frank James, the famous ex-guerrilla, arrived in the city yesterday morning from St. Louis and was the center of a large crowd who wished to catch a glimpse of the noted man. Col. James has been engaged as the starter at the fair this week. He has established quite a reputation as a starter and demands for his services are sent him from all over this state, Texas, Arkansas, and Kansas.

Captain Newton of the regular army, who is in this city on sick leave was introduced to Col. James yesterday morning. The captain was before Santiago and he had a pleasant talk with the ex-guerrilla. They talked of the late war and Col. James said with a great deal of earnestness that he was proud of Americans in general and the wearers of the blue in particular. "Why I used to think the blue uniform the ugliest of colors and despised it," said Mr. James, "but now I think it most beautiful and have great respect for it. My boy is wearing it now. He is stationed at Tampa, Fla., and has been home on sick leave but returns tonight to join his company.

Col. James related to a Republican reporter how he happened to become a guerrilla and after that an outlaw. His career is well known all over the United States but there are very few people who know that his daring deeds was the result of his first and last visit to Springfield. "How well I remember that old court house," said he, "and good cause I have to remember it. In 1862 I was a regular enlisted with General Price in the Confederate army and was with him in Springfield. I took sick with pneumonia while in this city and was placed in that old court house. Price retreated and Curtis, the Yankee general took possession of the town. As the Yankees marched by the court house twelve abreast, I looked out of the window and thought I would not have any comrades soon, as there enough Yankees in Curtis’ army to kill every rebel in the south. In six weeks time I was able to be about but was a prisoner and could not leave the court house. I then commenced to plan how to escape and one night managed to slip through the rear of the building (the jail part) and crawled out a window into the alley where I found a Yankee officer’s horse which I mounted.

"I wanted to join my regiment but was cut off from Price and knew that the chances were greatly against me if I attempted to get past the Yankees who were between me and Price, so I started north and one evening rode into Quantrell’s camp on this side of the Missouri River. I remained with Quantrell for some time and finally became one of his regulars. I staid with him [article illegible] I consider Quantrell the greatest guerrilla leader. I fought the Yankees four year and the whole world fifteen years. I surrendered to Governor Crittenden in 1882 and was glad to lay down my guns."

While in Springfield with Price, Colonel James did some stealing. One day a farmer drove to the square, an ox hitched to the wagon which contained pies. Col. James was hungry and he immediately contrived a way for securing those pies. He told a comrade to unhitch the ox when the farmer was at the rear of the wagon waiting on customers and give the animal a kick, making it run off. The comrade did as requested and Col. James shouted to the farmer that his ox was running away. The game worked, the farmer started after his ox and the hungry soldiers went after the pies and when the farmer returned he found Col. James and his comrade gone as were also his pies.

 The jury that accquited Frank JamesCol. James is 55 years of age but does not show the hardships of twenty years of hard life. He is an interesting talker, has the appearance of a gentleman and that name can well be given him. It is hard to realize that the quiet appearing man officiating as starter at the fair grounds is the Frank James who years ago caused chills to traverse the spinal column of thousands of people at the mere mention of his name and now while he is drawing many miles people to see him, he can not but remember the time when people went many miles to keep from seeing him. Time changes all things.

To learn more about Frank, Jesse and the rest of the gang try reading some of the biographies and histories listed in our catalog.

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