He was born in Kearney, Clay County, Missouri to Baptist minister Reverend Robert Sallee James (July 7, 1818 - August 18, 1850) and his wife Zerelda Elizabeth Cole (January 29, 1825 - February 10, 1911), who had moved there from Kentucky. Frank was the first of four children. His younger siblings were:
Zeralda married Benjamin Simms, a neighboring farmer, on September 30, 1852. The marriage prooved to be an unhappy one, mainly because of Simms' behavior towards the two boys. His lack of affection for them and his use of corporal punishment which Zerelda did not approve of, resulted in this marriage's failure. After a series of arguments between the couple Zerelda started procedures for a divorce, an unusual move for the time. This didn't proove necessary since Simms was killed on January 2, 1854 in a horse accident. Zerelda was now again without a husband and eleven year old Frank without a father.
On September 25, 1855 Zerelda married for the third and last time. Her new husband Dr.Reuben Samuel (b. January 12, 1828). He prooved to be a much better choice than her previous one and the marriage lasted. They had four more children:
Meanwhile Frank was growing up. He had developed an interest in his late father's sizeable library, particularly in the works of his favorite author William Shakespeare. Frank reportedly wanted to become a school teacher.Meanwhile his new-stepfather was teaching him horse-riding and shooting alongside his younger brother Jesse. Frank had a normal family life.
On 1861, when Frank turned eighteen years old, any thoughts of pursuing a higher education came to an end because of a series of political events that influenced his life as well as the lifes of many others. A number of states seceded the United States and formed the Confederate States of America on February 8, 1861. A conflict between the "Union" and the "Confederacy" seemed very likely and indeed begun with the attack on Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina on April 12, 1861.This was the beginning of the American Civil War. Missouri, where Frank and his family still lived, was also set in a state of war. Though a majority of Missourians had voted against a secession from the Union, there was also a significant number of people with Confederate sympathies. This led to the formation of two separate governments with different allegiances during the war. Missourians would serve in the armies of both sides of the war till 1865. In Frank's case he joined the Missouri State Guard on May 4, 1861, fighting for the Confederacy.Frank's family, on both the paternal and maternal sides, had been slave-owners and this probably helped shape Frank's allegiance.
The Missouri State Guard's first major battle was the Battle of Wilson's Creek, on August 10, 1861. Under the orders of Major General Sterling Price and along with the Brigade of Brigadier General Ben McCulloch (in all about 12000 men) they fought against the Army of the West under Union Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon, in all about 5,400 men. Lyon himself was killed and his Army under Major General Samuel D.Sturgis had to retreat to Springfield, Missouri. The battle cost the Confederates 1,095 men and the Union only 1,235 men, estimated numbers, but it allowed the victorious Confederate forces to advance further north.
Sterling Price's State Guard, including Frank, marched north till September 13, 1861 when they reached Lexington, Missouri where about 3,500 men of the Union army, under the orders of Colonel James A. Mulligan, were garrisoned. Skirmishes between the two forces lasted between September 13 and September 20, 1861. On September 20 Price\'s men finally attacked and by the early afternoon Mulligan and his men had surrendered and gave up their weapons. The Confederates had only lost about 100 men while the Union forces loses were estimated in 1,774 men. The Battle of Lexington was the second major victory of the State Guard and Confederates took control of Southwestern Missouri by October.
At some point after this battle Frank returned home, persumabely because of injurie or disease. There he was arrested by a local militia of Union supporters. He was released when he signed a statement of allegiance to the Union. But by July, 1862 he had instead joined the Missouri Partisan Ranger's of William Clarke Quantrill. Quantrill's Rangers were Confederacy supporters who used Guerrilla tactics. They were active in the borders between Missouri and Kansas and were attacking both the regular Union army and various militia of Union supporters active in the two states. Both sides have been accused , and probably were responsible, for atrocities throughout the Civil War and they used similar methods. But Quantrill's Rangers gained their lasting reputation with the successful Raid at Lawrence, Kansas on August 21, 1863. The town, which was home to a number of prominent Union supporters, was attacked by 400 of Quantrill's men.In four hours they managed to kill the male population (about 150 men), and destroy most town buildings, leaving behind them just the women and children (estimated at 80-90 women and 250 children). It was labeled a "Massacre" by those of Union allegiance and a heroic act of "Pay Back" (Revenge for previous activities against them) by the Federalists.