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Frank and Jesse James

Contributor: Lee Freeman, April, 2004


From the Moulton Advertiser [Lawrence Co., AL], Thursday, March 17, 1881:

We learn that the Paymaster on the Canal Works, near Courtland, was robbed a few days ago of $6,000 by a gang of disguised men. We also learn that some one attempted to rob the mail hack, between Moulton and Courtland, on Saturday last. Surely crime is on the increase in our sunny land.

From the Tuscumbia, AL., North Alabamian and Times, Friday, March 18, 1881, p. 3:

Bold Highwaymen get in their work.

Last Friday, Mr. Alleck Smith was robbed of fifty-two hundred dollars of Government money on the Mussel Shoals Canal, and with in two miles of Headquarters which are at the mouth of Blue Water in Lauderdale County. He had been to Florence for the money, and on reaching the point stated was overtaken by three men on horseback who surrounded him with their pistols leveled and took the money and his pistol. They permitted him to keep forty or fifty dollars of his own money and his watch, saying they only wanted the U. S. funds. They then compelled him to go with them thro the woods about twenty miles, releasing him late in the night not far from the Tennessee line. The following are descriptions of the robbers and their horses.

One of them is a heavy set, broad faced, sandy haired man about 35 years old, with a hare lip, and about 5 feet 9 inches high, and rode a dark bay horse with bald face. Number two is a thin visaged, consumptive looking fellow, about 38 years old with light moustache and chin whiskers, about 5 feet 10, and rode a sorrel horse with all white feet. Number three is about 5 feet 10, with dark brown whiskers[,] weighs about 175 pounds and rode a dappled grey horse o[r] mare with bald face. He looked to be about 28 years old, went by the name of Capt. Jack and talked like he might be an Irishman.

All three of them had been hanging around the Canal for a week or two, one of them claiming to be a fruit tree peddler and the other two hinting that they were Revenue officers.

We think there is but little doubt about the capture of these daring rascals as they were surrounded by railroads and telegraph lines and descriptions of them were sent in all directions. Mr. Smith is one of the most trustworthy and reliable young men in the country and enjoys the confidence of all the officers of the Canal. He feels deeply mortified and [chagrined] at the loss of the mon[ey] and is leaving nothing undone that can lead to the capture of these outlaws.

From the Florence Gazette, Saturday, March 19, 1881, p. 3:

Last Friday night, a daring robbery was committed in this county, whereby a government employee was relieved of $5,240 in money.

Mr. A. G. [Alexander G.] Smith drew the funds that evening from Campbell’s bank in Florence, to pay the hands, on the Shoals works, Bluewater division, under charge of Maj. Major H. J. Gielow. He started for his post about four o’clock, and was passed and repassed several times by three strangers, well mounted. At Douglass’ gate, near lock 5, about 15 miles from here, he was halted, and robbed of his government funds by these parties. They took his pistol, but left him some $31 of his private money. They then rode due North with him, some 20 miles, when suddenly they moved off, leaving him to take charge of himself. They had previously divided the money, which was done near Bulls’ mill, on Bluewater. To parties who met them on the road, they represented themselves as revenue officers, having a desperate prisoner in charge--- they treated him kindly, giving him an overcoat on leaving.

We deeply regret that this robbery should have occurred in our county, but the parties were evidently experts, from a distance.

Mr. Smith is a Scotchman, who has been on the works several years, and is highly trusted and respected by all who know him.

A man named Wheeler was arrested in Memphis, suspected of being one of the robbers, but Mr. Smith could not identify him, and he was discharged.

From the Moulton Advertiser, Thursday, March 24, 1881, p. 2:


We learn from the Lauderdale News that on Friday the 11th inst., about 4 o’clock P. M., Mr. A. G. Smith was robbed of $5,240.18 at Lock No. 5 of Muscle Shoals Canal. [sic] about 14 miles from Florence. The robbers were three in number. When they made him give up the money and his pistol, they compelled him to mount his horse and follow them, striking north, guided by a compass, and avoiding all plain and public roads. After going four miles they stopped and divided the money. After riding till about 8 o’clock at night, and having treated him very politely, calling him “Mr. Smith” and requesting him to ride a little faster, they gave him an overcoat to protect him from the rain, expressing the regret that they could not add a pair of rubber overalls without disfurnishing themselves, shook hands with him, expressed best wishes for his welfare and turned him loose. They let him keep his own money, about $20, saying they wanted only the public funds for which they had been “watching and waiting” for some time. Mr. Smith found his way to a house for the night, and got back to the Canal about 12 o’clock next day. The robbers were well mounted and neatly dressed; one of them was about 5 ft. 6 in. high, heavy set, blue eyes, sandy hair, and a harelip which had been operated upon, was about 36 years old and rode a fine bay horse with a star in his face. One was about 5 ft. 10 in., pale, thin visaged, light mustache and chin whiskers, consumptive looking, aged about 38, rode a sorrel horse with white feet. The third, dark eyes, dark brown whiskers, weighed about 175 pounds, rode a dapple gray mare, with white feet. Dispatches were sent everywhere immediately with description of the robbers. One of them told Mr. Smith that he had been engaged on the works as a day laborer.

From the North Alabamian and Times, Friday, April 1, 1881, p. 3:

A man supposed to be the leader of the gang who robbed Mr. A. G. Smith near the shoals a few weeks ago, has been arrested at Nashville. He had $400 in gold and $1,000 in greenback currency on his person and answered the description perfectly. Mr. Smith has gone up to identify him.

From the Moulton Advertiser, Thursday, April 7, 1881, p. 2:

One of the Muscle Shoals Canal thieves was captured in Nashville, the other day, with $1,500 and three loaded pistols on his person.

From the North Alabamian and Times, Friday, September 1, 1882, p. 2:

Mrs. Jesse James is in Huntsville to testify against Dick Little charged with robbing Alex Smith on the Shoals last year. It is reported that Alex failed to identify Little as one of the men who robbed him.

From the Moulton Advertiser, Thursday, October 12, 1882, p, 2:

Frank James has surrendered, and is pleading for mercy.

From the North Alabamian and Times, Friday, October 13, 1882, p. 3:

Frank James is tired of being an outlaw and has surrendered unconditionally to the Governor of Missouri. He will probably be tried and convicted and then pardoned.

From the Florence North Star, Thursday, April 24, 1884, p. 1:

The Trial of Frank James.

CHATTANOOGA, April 18.-In the James trial at Huntsville, counsel for the prisoner objected to James A. Liddell as a witness on account of his being convicted of horse-stealing in Missouri in 1874. The objection was overruled on the ground that Liddell had been pardoned. Liddell testified that Frank and Jesse James and Bill Ryan left him at Nashville, March 6, 1881, riding south to lay plans for robbing a train, and witness made a visit of a couple of weeks to Kentucky. Returning he found the three men back at Nashville. Afterward Ryan was arrested on a boisterous spree. Winess and Frank James left Nashville, fearing Ryan would turn State's evidence. Liddell learned from Frank James that they had perpetrated a robbery on their Southern trip. The description given by witness of the men and horses tallied with that given by Witness Peden yesterday of the Muscle Shoals robbers, except as to the color of Frank James' beard. The case so far is regarded as weak for the prosecution. 

From the Florence North Star, Thursday, April 24, 1884, p. 1:

The Frank James trial is still progressing, Alex Smith, Thos. H. Peden, Alfred Hill, and Hugh Riley, all of this county, witnesses for the prosecution, failed to positively identify James as one of the Muscle Shoals robbers, but they thought he was one of the party. No testimony directly implicating James in the robbery was brought out except that of Dick Liddell, who was a member of the gang, and whose testimony will not have much wieght with the Jury. The general impression is that the government has not made out its case. The defense introduced several witnesses from Nashville who swore positively that James was in Nashville on the date of the robbery.

From the Florence Gazette, Saturday, April 26, 1884, p. 3:

The Frank James Case.

The trial of Frank James, charged with robbing Mr. Alex. G. Smith of $5,000 of government money on the Mussel Shoals works on 11th March, 1881. commenced in the U. S. Court at Huntsville, on the 17th inst. The chief witnesses for the prosecution were Messrs. Smith, T. H. Peeden [sic], A. G. Hill, Hugh Riley, J. W. Davis, I. N. Wilcoxson, of this county, none of whom were able to identify him positively, though several of them believed that the prisoner was the man who committed the robbery. The only government witness who gave any evidence directly locating the charge on James, was Dick Liddell, formerly one of the gang, whose testimony, we presume, will not go very far with the jury. The dence [sic] introduced a member [sic] of witnesses from Nashville, whose evidence all went to establish an alibi, all of them testifying that at the time of the robbery, James was in and about Nashville. The general impression is that the government has failed to make out any direct case against him. The evidence was closed on Wednesday, and the argument was commenced that evening. The prisoner is represented by Gen. L. P. Walker of Huntsville, and Messrs. Sloan of Nashville and Newman of Fayetteville; the government by District Attorney Smith, assisted by Mr. L. W. Day. Mr. Joseph Acklin, of this county, is on the jury. If the case comes to an end, before we go to press, we shall state it.


From the North Alabamian and Times, Friday, May 2, 1884, p. 2:

The trial and acquittal of Frank James at Huntsville last week, upon a charge of robbery and conspiracy to rob Alex Smith of $5200 in Government funds on Mussel Shoals several years ago, created a great deal of interest. After a careful perusal of the evidence, we believe that the re[d]outable Frank was present in propria persona and got his share of the swag, and yet we have no doubt but that some, at least, of the jury had the “reasonable doubt” that cleared him. Two sheriffs from Missouri and Minnesota were on hand and staying in the same room at the hotel, but unknown to each other, waiting to arrest him to take him to their respective states for trial for train and bank robberies. The Missouri man got a friendly hold on him first, and it is said he goes back to Missouri virtually a free man, as his arrest here was merely a matter of form to prevent his being taken to Minnesota; the Missouri indictment standing as a shield against a requisition from the former state.

From the Florence Gazette, Saturday, May 3, 1884, p. 3:

Mr. Joseph Acklin, one of the jurors in the Frank James case, returned home last Saturday evening. He tells us that the jury was out about five hours, but only took two ballots. At first, three of the jurors, Messrs. McGes [sic] Shedrick and Yerby, voted guilty, but were finally argued by their fellow jurymen into a vote for acquittal.

We have never thought, from the evidence in the case, as reported, that the jury could have arrived at any other decision than that which they finally reached.

From the Florence Gazette, Saturday, May 3, 1884, p. 3:

We see it stated that Frank James has been released in Missouri, on $6,000 bail, and will be tried in July.

From the Florence Times, Friday, September 22, 1899, p. 4:

The Capture of Jesse James at the Muscle Shoals Recalled.
[Age Herald]

There is an interesting weapon in the possession of P. Sid Jones, the well-known railroad man of Birmingham. It is an old fashioned 45-Colts army revolver, and was formerly owned and used for many years by Dick Little [sick], one of the most daring members of the Jesse James band of train robbers, brigands and murderers. It is a six-shooter with an ivory mounted butt, on the steel work of which are the initials D. R., rudely scratched. Little, with others of the James band, including Frank James, was captured after the raid on the United States paymaster at Muscle Shoals in 1882 [sic]. Amongst the captors was the late Hector D. Lane, of Limestone county, then a United States deputy marshal, and subsequently state commissioner of agriculture. Little came to like Lane and as evidence of good will gave him the revolver. Lane gave the revolver to a friend and that friend gave it to Mr. Jones. “This gun has a history. I give it to you,” Little said to Lane, “with the case and belt.” More interesting than the revolver itself is the belt, for that was worn a long time by Jesse James, who gave it to Little. James being a stouter man than his follower, Little had to cut two or three inches out of the belt, and it shows now where it was roughly sewed together by the robber. Little is described as a small man with long, black hair and black beard. He was one of the toughest ruffians in the James band of desperadoes. It is not known here whether he still lives, nor is it known whether he related to Lane any part of the revolver’s history. Doubtless many men were slain with the weapon, but just how many will never be known, as this noble knight of theft and murder failed to cut a notch on the barrel for every victim. Some day perhaps, the readers of the dime novels of the blood curdling sort will establish a museum for ruffians. In that event, Mr. Jones would be pleased to lend Dick Little’s “gun.”











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