John Edwards played an influential role in molding the public perception of outlaws Frank and Jesse James. He began to write editorials in The Times contradicting the presence of the James boys in Gallatin on the day of the murder. He printed signed affidavits of neighbors, friends and family swearing that Frank and Jesse were at home in Kearney on December 7, 1869. He also printed a letter from Jesse to the governor of Missouri denying that they had anything to do with the crime.
Edwards kept up his barrage of editorials defending the James boys and praising their glorious records in the Civil War fighting for a cause they believed in. This no doubt emboldened like-minded editors and publisher of newspapers.
The following was published in the Sept. 6, 1883, edition of the Jamesport Gazette:
Frank James Acquitted!
Gallatin, Sept. 6 — The great case was given to the jury at noon today, court adjourning until 4 o’clock. At that hour the jury were brought in and returned the verdict “Not Guilty.”
The jury has acquitted Frank James indicted for the killing of McMillan at the Winston train robbery. The verdict will meet with the approval of many good citizens in this county and will be condemned by man of our best people.
But to a very few will the verdict be a surprise, for it has become evident to those who have watched the trial that while the State was making a very strong case against him the defense was developing some facts, which fairly and impartially considered, tended to raise a reasonable doubt as to his guilt, and under our system of government this doubt became the property of the defendant, an out to necessitate an acquittal.
We predict that time will approve this verdict, for it has been one which was arrived at after a full, fair and impartial investigation was had, in which both the State an defense was assisted by as able counsel as the state could produce, tried before a court of admitted freedom from bias, and a jury as fairly selected as it is possible to select a jury, and composed of men against whom, there is no imputation of wrong.
All good men will rejoice at this finding — at least to this extent: that a trial thus impartial, a citizen of this state, against whom private individuals and the public press has been an unsparing for the past 15 years in charging with untold robberies and murders, thus showing that human nature is not so depraved as the people some times believe it to be, and that public sentiment is very liable to be wrong and misleading when forced to pass through the crucible of an impartial investigation under the law.
It is our belief that the State has done itself honor in the acquittal of Frank James of this charge, and vindicated the law. The defendant had been ostracized — expatriated — driven from the state of his nativity — from home and friends and kindred — the admitted fact is that he voluntarily surrendered himself to its jurisdiction and asked an impartial hearing; and the testimony shows that this was the first opportunity that had ever presented for him to do so; that notwithstanding the rumors to the contrary, he had lived a blameless life, since 1876, in the state of Tennessee, a fact not heretofore known to the people of this state; and if these acts be true the state ought not to withhold from any of her citizens the opportunity of a vindication.
After having carefully weighed all of the evidence in this case we have no hesitancy in saying that the State could not afford to convict James of this charge, for we are fully convinced that it would have been more the gratification of a morbid public sentiment than the correct result of a judicial determination such as is contemplated in a Republican form of government.
The governing power must not bend itself to a great pressure arising mainly from political and partisan prejudices to the extent of depriving any of her citizens of an unalienable right. Missouri is a great state not withstanding her traducers, and her government is strong enough to do rightly by all her people, but is not strong enough to convict for a felony the least of her citizens where the evidence establishes a reasonable doubt of his guilt.
Missouri will keep on in the even tenor of her way, steadily increasing in wealth and population, leaving behind those week and timid ones who have not the moral courage to impartially execute the law in the face of political traducers and ignorant defamers of her good name. Our state and people will now come in for its share of calumny, but let us meet it like men living the courage of their convictions.
Reactions to the acquittal of Frank James were as mixed and confused as to many aspects of the trial itself. This report was published by the Cameron Citizen Observer (Vol. 16, No. 10, p.4):
“At 4 o’clock on Thursday last the jury in the Frank James trial at Gallatin returned a verdict of “not guilty of the charges contained in the indictment.” To say that all law-abiding people were surprised and disgusted at such a verdict is putting it very mild.
“While there was but little expectation of a conviction it was supposed that at least a few of the 12 “peers” before whom he was tried, did not sympathize with lawlessness, and a murderer a hero. That the outlawry of which the James brothers were leaders should be tolerated so long, that one of hem should be received as an honorable enemy by the Governor and allowed to surrender with as much dignity and courtesy as the commander of an army defending a great principle, did not augur well for his punishment, and the fact that his neighbors generally sympathized with him, and regarded his prosecution as the result of a private feud rather than a measure of public justice, made his conviction impossible.
“He has other crimes to answer for, however, and if he can be sent to Minnesota to be tried for the murder of the Northfield bank cashier, there is a chance of his spending the rest of his days in the penitentiary. He is under indictment there. Let the Governor of Minnesota call for him.”
The St. Louis Globe published this report on its front page (Vol. 9, No. 109):
“Within a few minutes after rendering their verdict, the Frank James jury became invisible. They paid their board bills and left for home, and one at least was sarcastically invited to come again and be a juror in the next trial. Their sympathizers disappeared with them, and all Gallatin’s proper citizens at once became an indignation meeting. It was just like the streets of St. Louis on the day that Judge Sherwood gave the late lamented Kring his stay of execution from the judgment of the Court of Appeals.
“Groups of men gathered on every curb and corner and denounced the verdict as an outrage on law and order. A conviction was hardly looked for, but a hung jury was deemed probable and an acquittal an impossible thing. Yet, this jury made up of members of strong Southern sympathies took but two ballots to arrive at a verdict. The first ballot was 11-1 for acquittal; the second ballot was an unanimous bill of forgiveness for the accused.
“People here can not understand how this verdict was arrived at, and rumors of curious import in regard to the jury which have been floating round for days pass were suddenly revived. It was remembered that five names of the panel of 40 had been on the list of jurors desired to be summoned by the defense.
“At the time it was debated whether to have the entire panel rejected, a new list summoned by an officer other than the Sheriff, or to strike the five names off the state’s challenges. The latter course was adopted with some misgiving.
“It was also remembered how a man had ridden through the western part of the county and notified certain parties friendly to James to be on hand for jury service. It was remembered, too, how one of the 12 had, before being summoned, stated that no matter what the evidence might be he would vote for acquittal if on the jury.
“Another of the 12 was said to have been brought by the defense so that he could be placed on the panel.
“The feeling against Sheriff Crozier, who summoned the special venire, has been pretty strong from the beginning of the trial, and that officer whether just or unjustly your correspondent does not say, has been most heartily criticized tonight.”