They Thought He Was Frank James

Randles James

I was recently given some old copies of the “Echo” , a magazine that used to be published by the Bollinger County (Missouri) Historical Society. I am already finding some interesting material.

One such story was found in the October, 1979 issue of the Echo, on page 117. The article, titled “They Thought He Was Jesse James’ Brother , Frank” was written by Clyde Willis who writes about a visit to the Randles James farm by two Pinkerton detectives:

“It was Friday, February 13, 1874. Just two weeks after the Gads Hill robbery when the two detectives drove their buggy to the Randles James farm on Cane Creek. They called Mr. James to the door and asked if he had any hogs for sale. They said that they were stock buyers and were traveling about the country buying stock for a large packing company in St. Louis. Both men were dressed in flashy suits with heavy overcoats and derby hats. They looked like typical stock buyers of the day.”

According to Mr. Willis’ article Randles James told the detectives that he had some hogs which were previously grazing on the range but were penned up to feed out and were not ready to sell yet. At the insistence of the detectives, Randles James took them to the pen at which time the detectives pulled their revolvers out and arrested James, who asked if they could stop at the house to tell his family what was transpiring and to get a heavier coat. James’ request was denied and the two Pinkerton agents transported James to Marble Hill as fast as their horses could travel.

There was a region for the urgency, the detectives thought they had captured Frank James, brother of Jesse James. Willis writes that the agents did not arrive at Marble Hill until after dark at which time they awoke Sheriff John Hopkins and informed him they had captured Frank James.

When the detectives asked Sheriff Hopkins to hold the “outlaw” overnight until the train arrived the next morning, he refused.

“Sheriff Hopkins, after one look at their prisoner , informed the detectives that they had made a mistake. “That is not Frank James”, he said. “That is Randles James. I have known this man all my life. He is a good law-abiding citizen. This man never broke the law in his life.”

The Pinkerton agents produced a photograph and insisted that the man they had in custody was Frank James.

Willis writes that:

“At that late hour , Sheriff Hopkins was in no mood to argue with the detectives. He made them release Mr. James and advised them to catch the first train out of Bollinger County. He also threatened to lock them both in the Marble Hill jail if they ever attempted to arrest a citizen of Bollinger County again.”

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