Initially, it took me years to arrive at a point where I thought I had the complicated timeline of the James-Younger Gang’s attempted robbery in Northfield, Minnesota, accurate.
Imagine my horror when the Minnesota Historical Society revealed and released freshly archived documents on-line, scanned by the Northfield Historical Society, many of which give greater depth and detail to this event — but all of which, whilst doing so, also completely revise the finer details of the incident.
I’m sure more documentation will eventually become available to the public. And I will probably end up revising and updating this sequence of events, yet again.
But for now, this is a much better timeline of what eye-witnesses report actually took place. A revised timeline, which, day-job permitting, took several months to properly integrate into my text.
**The following has been taken from the novel Western Legend by the author, revised for future publication.
Eight men mounted eight horses and fell into formation in three separate detachments. The first comprised of three men, then two, then three again. After spacing these detachments apart by roughly forty yards, the first five men nonchalantly rode forward to where they could see much of Mill Square beneath them. A horseshoe shaped blending of two dirt streets, Division and 4th; also known as Bridge Square due to its approximation to the 4th Street Bridge. And all of it covered in a mixture of dirt and mud.
(The James-Younger Gang at the time of their raid on the First National Bank of Northfield)
The initial detachment included the first of the two James Brothers (both were reportedly favoring a mustache, and were difficult to tell apart,) Samuel George Wells (alias Charlie Pitts,) and Robert Ewing Younger. These three horsemen cantered past Ames Mill, over the 4th Street Bridge, and down into the Square. Splitting up rather quickly, they were then seen taking alternate routs toward a mutual destination. While two took the long way around, eventually arriving at the bank via the opposite end of Division, the third simply followed 4th directly across the Square.
Catching sight of the men, a few local citizens took second and even third glances at them, with many eye witnesses later noting their appearance as, “marvelous.” In 1966 a Mrs. Maude Ordway, then a hundred years old, remembered being a ten year old girl on that Thursday afternoon. In her interview with the St. Paul Sunday Pioneer Press, she remembered crossing with her father from Anselm R. Manning’s hardware store, to her Uncle Fred Shatto’s grocery store. And she remarked that as she watched the men approach, she was impressed with their big hats, clean linen dusters, and horse bridles decorated in silver.
Francis Howard had followed the horsemen across the bridge from a distance of “two rods,” before meeting up with Elias Stacy, himself watching the men from the sidewalk in front of the Scriver Building.
The two of them were so close to the men on horseback, Howard had to keep his voice down when he said, “Stacy, those gentlemen will bear watching.”
“I think so, too.” Stacy responded.
Mr. Howard and Mr. Stacy were now moving down the walk, following alongside the robbers, moving past the corner of Scriver onto Division Street.
* * *
When all three of the horsemen had arrived in front of the bank, they tied their horses to nearby hitching posts, and strolled several yards alongside the large Scriver Building to the corner of Lee & Hitchcock Dry Goods Store. One sat atop a dry-goods box stacked there, while the others leaned against the banister of a staircase that ran up the side of the building diagonally. This large, prominent building faced Division to the South, and along with other businesses, housed the bank.
Outside his store, J. S. Allen and Sons, J. Sim Allen himself remarked, “Who are these men; I don’t like the looks of them.”
Allen turned to find Mr. Howard and Mr. Stacy right next to him.
The aforementioned George E. Bates, and another man, C.O. Waldo, a “commercial traveler” from Council Bluffs, were standing in the doorway of Bates’ Store located across the street from the bank, when the men rode in. Bates and Waldo had a brief, trivial discussion regarding the appearance of the men, whom town scuttlebutt had labeled cattle buyers. The men even took note of their fine horses, but made nothing more of it, and withdrew to the far end of Mr. Bates’ establishment to look over sample trusses. Structural frameworks designed to hold up a roof or building corner.
A dentist named D.J. Whiting was at this moment inside his office, up the steel staircase of Scriver Building. When he happened to look out the window, he spotted the three men below, lingering at the bottom of the stairs. One of them was using his finger on a dry-goods box, illustrating something for the others. Mr. Whiting was suspicious, but shrugged it off and returned his attention to his afternoon work.
* * *
Back across the Square, the second detachment that included Thomas Coleman “Cole” Younger and William McLelland “Clell” Miller was now stationed just a few feet behind the Bridge.
Cole turned his head to one side and gave a nod toward the three men comprising the third detachment, several yards back. And a man Younger later identified as “Woods,” reciprocated the nod.
Research has revealed that both Jesse and Frank used the aliases, “Woodson,” and “Howard” on numerous occasions. In fact, the James brothers appear to have traded these aliases routinely, to confuse their specific identity, in case their aliases were discovered.
Cole snapped his pocket watch shut, nodded to Clell, and the two men casually galloped across the bridge and into town. However, as they crossed Bridge Square, Cole realized something wasn’t right. He could now see that the area at the corner of Scriver Building and Division Street beyond was rather crowded.
“Surely the boys will not go into the bank with so many people about; I wonder why they did not ride on through town.” He commented to Clell.
Younger eventually discovered that when the first three men didn’t see any saddled horses, the men assumed this would be to their advantage, and went ahead with the robbery. Even though the streets were far too crowded to ever really get away with it.
J. Sim Allen, having walked down the sidewalk in front of Lee & Hitchcock’s, was again looking over the first three men habitating around the dry goods boxes just beyond the corner—when he suddenly heard horses. He turned to see the second detachment of men crossing the square, headed toward the bank.
Allen quietly remarked, “I think they are here to rob the bank.”
The first three men took note of the second detachment approaching, instantly slid off the dry goods boxes, and began walking toward the bank.
Cole and Clell slowed their horses, approaching Division Street.
With a hint of surprise in his voice, Clell commented, “They are going in.”
“If they do the alarm will be given as sure as there’s a Hell, so you’d better take that pipe out of your mouth,” Cole instructed.
Clell dumped the tobacco from his pipe.
Now J. Sim Allen, in apron, walked a few more steps, to the very spot where the first three men had been seconds earlier. From that vantage point, Allen watched as the first detachment of men entered through the wide open folding doors of the bank—and then watched as those doors were suspiciously left open.
Mr. Howard voiced his opinion to J. Sim Allen: “There is a St. Albans raid.” (Reference 4.)
It took a beat for it to sink in. But once it had, Allen slowly moved past the corner of the dry goods store, and began walking toward the bank. As he looked around the street, he saw a few others looking toward the bank as well. His breathing quickened, and incrementally, step by step, his pace quickened. At this time, another curious resident, Steven Budd, was only a few steps behind him.
Meanwhile Francis Howard had gone into a store and made his way to the roof, where he could observe the impending from a safe distance. Beneath him, and from his second floor window of Scriver Building, D.J. Whiting grew more suspicious when he saw Cole and Clell ride around the corner of Scriver Building onto Division—with Cole looking back over his shoulder, across the square. Younger was catching a glance of the last detachment of three men—the Second James Brother, his own brother, James Hardin Younger, and William Chadwell—cross over and take position at the foot of the Bridge.
Dentist Whiting now watched from the top of the steel staircase along Scriver Building, as Cole and Clell parked their horses directly in front of the bank.
* * *
Inside the First National Bank, Charlie Pitts, Bob Younger, and the first James Brother pulled their heavy pistols and rushed the bank counter. The first robber hurtled directly through a narrow two-foot bank teller’s window at the corner, flanked by a thirty-inch-high glazed rail, while the other two men vaulted onto the countertop to the far left, squatting between the teller’s window and the cashier’s desk. In tandem, each of the three men quickly extended an arm, placing the barrel of his heavy pistol at the head of the two men seated behind the counter: bank teller Alonzo E. Bunker, and assistant bookkeeper Frank J. Wilcox. A third banker, acting bookkeeper Joseph Lee Heywood, was seated upon a cashier’s seat to the far right, but was hidden by a “high front” to one side of the desk. He was not seen by the men at this time.
“Throw up your hands, for we intend to rob the bank, and if you holler we will blow your God Damned brains out!” barked Charlie Pitts.
The robbers then ordered the bankers on their knees, with one of them boasting, “We have 40 men outside, so there’s no need to resist.”
Within seconds, the robbers were calling for the two bankers to open the vault.
* * *
Out on the noisy street, Cole dismounted and made out like he was tying his saddle girth, while watching traffic in the eighty foot wide thoroughfare. Clell, meanwhile, sporting a white linen handkerchief around his neck, a new shirt with gold sleeve-buttons, matching gold ring, and a John Hancock felt hat, began re-packing his pipe. He was completely unconcerned.
No one on the street seemed to sense that anything was amiss. However, when Cole’s head swiveled around to the bank, he quickly perceived that the folding doors were still open. It was only a matter of time before someone on the street overheard what was going on inside. So he turned to Clell and instructed him to get off his horse and close the doors.
Clell finished lighting his pipe, dismounted, and walked up and took a step inside the bank to notify the men they had left the doors open. After shutting the folding doors, he stepped off the walk and leaned against a hitching post.
* * *
Back inside, the robbers quickly realized they were getting nowhere with Bunker and Wilcox. And the James brother finally demanded, “Which of you is the cashier?”
Joseph Lee Heywood now came out where the three robbers could see him, and stated defiantly, “He is not in.”
At that, the two robbers upon the counter jumped down, joining their fellow gang member already standing behind the counter, and got close enough that the bankers could smell the alcohol on their breath.
Amid this chaos, a pistol was placed against the side of Heywood’s head.
* * *
On the other side of the street, and nearly opposite the bank, was a hardware store owned by W.H. Riddell. The merchant was working inside when a customer came up to him, “before any kind of an alarm had been given,” and reported that something suspicious was going on over at the bank. Riddell initially paid it no mind. But then a Mrs. John Handy, a traveler from St. Albans, Vermont, happened to glance through an open doorway granting a direct view across the street, and sharply turned to Riddell exclaiming, “They are robbing the bank; I saw revolvers flash!”
Soon after this, Riddell guardedly exited his establishment into the wide expanse of Division Street, peering across at the men parked in front of the bank. After a second or two, he spotted J. Sim Allen approaching the bank on the sidewalk.
On the same side of the street as Riddell, was twenty-two year old Dr. Henry M. Wheeler.
Home for the holidays from the University of Michigan, the medical student was seated in his father’s rocking chair on the porch of Wheeler & Blackman’s drugstore, chatting with friends. And when he first saw Cole and Clell, he initially took them to be cattlemen, as intended. But when a passing farmer mentioned that eight men had come out of the woods to the west of town on saddled horses, and then added that he thought it meant something, Wheeler began turning the situation over in his mind.
Contrary to many fictional depictions, it was an unusual occurrence in 1876 to see a man mounted on a saddled horse. Let alone eight men mounted on saddled horses. For reasons of practicality, most traveled by wagon, or walked. Horses were an expensive commodity. You didn’t ride a horse; you tied it to a wagon filled with goods for trading, if it was a strong horse. Or you took good care of your investment if the animal was of good breeding.
Wheeler’s gaze again fell upon the street, and his eyes locked on Cole and Clell. He leaned forward in the rocking chair. He was coming to the realization that these men were something other than cattle buyers.
For a second time, Cole dismounted. Now both he and Clell were standing near their horses, suspiciously ranging the street around them.
Without saying a word, Wheeler stood and stepped into the street—and instantly spotted J. Sim Allen moving closer to the bank, evaluating the cattle buyers and the bank doors, with profound interest.
* * *
Inside the bank, the three robbers pulled the men back to their feet and began searching the bankers’ pockets for weapons, wallets, whatever they could dig out, all the while repeatedly accosting the three bank employees with, “You are the cashier,” and each time provoking a denial out of Heywood, Bunker, and Wilcox.
When Bob Younger found a large knife within assistant bookkeeper Frank J. Wilcox’s pocket, he asked, “What’s this?”
Wilcox, a young man just out of college with an impressive long, thick beard, responded that it was a jack knife. Bob ordered him back on his knees and into a corner under the counter.
Younger then rifled around, finding a drawer. He pulled it out, found only a roll of nickels, which he promptly removed and dropped with a clunk to the floor. He then turned to Wilcox, and demanded, “Where is the money outside the safe? Where’s the till?”
Wilcox pointed, but Bunker was the one that showed the Younger brother to an open box on the counter. Bob turned and ordered both men to get back on their knees, before procuring a two-bushel flour (or grain) sack marked H.C.A. from his coat pocket, and removing approximately $12 in scrip (paper money) from the box and shoving it inside.
In that instant, Bunker went for a small Derringer pistol on a shelf below the teller’s window—but Bob Younger snatched it before the banker could get to it, pocketing the little gun in his coat.
“Keep still!” Bob ordered. Then he scoffed, “You couldn’t do anything with that little derringer anyway.”
* * *
Back outside, Wheeler continued moving slowly across the street, glaring at Cole Younger. When Younger turned his back to him, Wheeler focused on Clell Miller.
Anyone could see that Clell Miller needed a shave. But many initially missed that in spite of Miller’s finer clothes, he was wearing two different types of boot—one of finer leather, the other a cheap brand. Wheeler took in these details and started to put it all together.
When Clell spotted Wheeler staring at him, he too spun around. But Wheeler continued walking. He wanted to see inside that bank.
Perceiving Wheeler, along with the attention of a few others, Cole instinctively re-mounted his horse and quickly trotted down the street, hoping to quell further suspicion.
But this only made the “cattle buyers” appear more suspicious.
* * *
When J. Sim Allen arrived at the bank’s folding doors, and reached out to open them, it was Clell Miller’s gloved hand that reached out and softly closed them again. Miller then grabbed Allen by his shoulders, spun him around, grabbed his collar, and pulled him close.
First Allen’s gaze was filled with Clell’s blue eyes, and then it was filled with the muzzle of the bandit’s .44 caliber pistol. The men were momentarily hidden from many on the street by the two horses.
“What’s happening here?” Allen demanded.
“Don’t you holler,” Clell said in heavy whisper past his pipe, “If you do, I’ll blow your damned head off.” Clell then pointed the barrel of his pistol over the merchant’s shoulder, and ordered J. Sim Allen to go back the way he came.
J. Sim Allen caught his breath, backed off quickly, and tripped running toward the corner of Scriver Building, shouting, “Get your guns, boys, they’re robbin’ the bank!”
Behind them W.H. Riddell shouted, “Robbers at the bank!”
And Wheeler shouted, “Robbers in the bank! Robbery! They’re robbing the bank!”
Clell fired over Wheeler’s head and shouted, “Get off the street or I will kill you!”
But it was too late. Citizens all over the street were now shouting, “They’re robbing the bank!”
Cole came galloping back down the street, drew his pistol, and shouted at Riddell, “Get in there, you God-damn Son-of-a-bitch!” Then he charged Wheeler, shouting “Get off the street! Get out of here, dingus!” (Reference 5.)
Cole then fired a full volley of shots over the heads of both men, shattering the glass window over Riddell’s head.
Riddell retreated inside his store, while Wheeler ran back to the drug store, screaming, “ROBBERY! ROBBERY!” Entering, he searched for his gun, but quickly remembered he had loaned the weapon to someone. Quickly, he dashed back out, running down a back alley toward the Dampier Hotel.
* * *
Many people on the street were very confused. They knew about the Indian circus show planned for later that evening. They also knew there could be a promotion involving “staged” gunfire. This led many to assume that these men had received special permission from the Mayor for such activity.
But other citizens on the street were in doubt.
They were scattering. And fast.
* * *
Across the Square, the last three men at the Bridge, the Second James Brother, James Hardin (Jim) Younger, and William Chadwell, heard the gunshots and pulled their revolvers, galloping across the Square and giving the “rebel yell.”
* * *
At this moment, Wheeler was speeding up the stairs of the Dampier Hotel with an old Civil War Army carbine rifle he had obtained from the hotel’s lobby. He had asked hotel owner and operator Charlie Dampier to find and bring him cartridges for the rifle. Now, racing into a third floor bedroom, he found an open window. And as he angled around, he saw the second iteration of three men cross the square, shooting their guns in the air.
* * *
At the top of the steel staircase running up the side of Scriver Building, dentist D.J. Whiting returned to the open door at the landing, and saw the last three men gallop around a corner onto Division Street, joining Cole and Clell. This made five robbers now firing in the air and at the ground, while zigzagging up and down Division and 4th, shouting variations of: “GET BACK INSIDE, YOU SONS-OF-BITCHES!”
* * *
Mr. Bates had been in the back of his store talking business to Mr. Waldo when the men heard the initial shots.
“Them men are going for the town; they mean to rob the bank!” Bates cried out, running to and through the open doorway, and onto the street. Once there, two of the robbers rode up to him with long pistols in their hands, shouting, “Get in there, you son-of-a-bitch!”
Bates retreated momentarily, returning with a shotgun. He pulled the trigger and the weapon misfired. He rushed back inside, reappearing quickly with an old, empty six-shooter. As a ruse he leveled and aimed the weapon at the two of the men as they passed, shouting, “Now I’ve got you!”
In response, Bill Chadwell shot the glass window behind Bates.
Not a moment later, Bates spotted J. Sim Allen turn the corner of Scriver Building, and run down 4th street, with one of the robbers firing two shots in his direction.
* * *
Clell slid from his horse and ran up to the bank entrance, pleading, “Hurry up, boys—they’ve given the alarm!”
* * *
Inside, there was still only chaos. Shouting merely bounced from the walls and rang in the ears. After hearing Clell’s message, the robbers glanced around at one another, before all gazes landed on Joseph Lee Heywood, still upon the cashier’s seat. Charlie Pitts leveled a long-barreled pistol at Heywood’s head, and in a harsh voice said, “You are the cashier. Now open the safe you goddamn son-of-a-bitch.”
Heywood referenced the safe within the vault, “It’s a time-lock and cannot be opened now.”
It was later revealed that the time-lock had never been set. The robbers would have instantly discovered this, if any one of the three had tried to open the safe door. In fact, between $17,000.00 and $18,000.00 was contained within an unlocked safe, easily within their grasp.
The men focused their attention on the Yale Chronometer Time-Lock mounted onto the safe, and visible through the open vault. The robber noted as being slim and dark skinned, with a black mustache (probably the James brother,) confidently stepped inside to take a closer look at the safe—and Heywood suddenly lunged forward, closing the newly installed Detroit Safe Company’s door on him; catching his hand and an angle of his upper shoulder in the door.
Pitts and Younger were truly shocked.
Bob Younger grabbed Heywood by the collar, jerked him away from the vault door, and opened it. Released, the James brother stepped forward; his stare locked hard on Heywood. Ringing out his wrist in extreme pain, the James brother reportedly referenced the interior shelves of the walk-in vault, motioned to Pitts, and said, “Seize the silver—put it in the bag.”
Younger handed Pitts the bag marked H.C.A, and Pitts gave a nod at Heywood and said, “All right, but don’t let him lock me in there.”
The James Brother suddenly shoved Heywood to the floor with little effort, stepped over him and pulled the banker’s head back, hard. Then pulling a knife, he placed it across Heywood’s throat, drawing blood.
“Damned liar!” he said, “You’ll open that safe, or I’ll cut your damned throat! You understand me?” At this, the James Brother fired a single shot over Heywood’s head, hoping to coerce the banker.
* * *
When Cole heard the pistol shot echo from within the bank, he spun on his horse, negotiating the animal to try and get a better view through the windows. But he was quickly distracted. In the street around him, several citizens appeared with shovels, boards, and anything else they could find handy, shouting and making a lot of racket. It was a futile attempt to drive the robbers away.
* * *
In the third floor bedroom of Dampier House Hotel, Wheeler turned to find Mr. Dampier handing him four cartridges for the old rifle. Wheeler loaded a round quickly, rested the rifle within one corner of the open window sill and searched among the robbers for a target. His first shot was a miss. Quickly, he reloaded.
* * *
Down on the street, the robbers continued galloping up and down division and around the corner and back. And ex-Marshal Elias Hobbs, Postmaster H.S. French, and a man known as Colonel (or Justice) Streeter, were throwing rocks at the robbers each time they passed.
Amid the melee, forty-three year-old Anselm R. Manning exited his hardware store with a breech-loading Remington rolling block rifle he had pulled from the window display of his store. Aiming hastily at one of the men on horseback terrorizing the street, he fired. But his shot went wild. Then Manning aimed and fired again. This time, his rifle jammed with the hand lever stuck. As he fiddled with it, Mr. Bates called out to him, “Jump back now, or they’ll get you!” Manning instantly turned, and ran back to his store to repair the weapon.
The sound of constant, overlapping gunfire echoed in the street. Northfield’s more prominent took cover within establishments as that gunfire tore through windows and partitions, just missing many of them. The wife of Mr. Bates was a good example. She was standing in the second story of Messrs. Skinner & Drew’s Store, situated directly across the street from the bank, when a .44 ball crashed through the wall within just a few inches of her. Others like her watched helpless from behind broken windows as their neighbors scattered all over the block, shouting and screaming at the sight of the raiders.
Edward Bill had procured a pistol and stepped out of Fred Shatto’s store, when the glass above his head shattered from a stray shot. His young daughter Maude was sprinkled with glass and huddled close to her mother, terrified.
“Father, please, I want to go home!”
“Don’t worry. Those men are trying to rob the bank, and won’t hurt you.”(Reference)
* * *
Within the walk-in vault, Pitts weighed the fifteen dollars worth of silver with one hand, but shook his head with belligerence and discarded it. Instead, his attention was drawn to a curious, locked tin-box on a lower shelf, promising paper currency. He stepped back, aimed carefully, and shot the box open. The blast echoed within the small space, and Pitts was late cupping his ringing ears with gloved hands. Shaking it off, and angry as hell, he flipped open the lid of the busted box.
Inside of it were only a few papers, such as land deeds, etc.
Meanwhile, banker Alonzo E. Bunker was weighing his own options. Seeing as Pitts had turned his back, and with the other two robbers already preoccupied, Bunker decided to make a run for it. Quickly stumbling around the corner into the narrow hallway adjoining the bank lobby, he raced to the rear exit. Reaching the door, he found the shutters closed, and this delayed him in getting a grip on the handle and escaping. A second later, Pitts appeared at the other end of the hallway behind him, and hastily took a shot. Lucky for Bunker, the robber missed. Frantic to get out, the banker struggled with the door.
On the other side of the door, a furniture store owner named Miller was on the steps, trying to see through the blinds. Miller was said to be quite deaf and thoroughly surprised when Bunker finally forced the door open. Miller went tumbling down the steps, and Bunker vaulted over him, onto Water Street. Instantly, Bunker caught sight of a few of the other robbers galloping past the end of the alley, waving their guns in the air.
When Pitts arrived at the open door, he fired a shot which landed in Bunker’s upper shoulder, just above the clavicle. The banker quickly fled, terrified and in shock. He was running for the office of a local doctor by the name of Combe,screaming, “They’re robbing the bank! Help!”
Behind him, Pitts remained stationary in the open doorway, listening. He heard the echo of a jarring racket coming from around the building: overlapping gunshots, shouting, and screaming.
* * *
Back in the bank lobby, there was a moment of quiet which allowed the men inside to hear the shots being fired outside. Everyone looked toward the windows. Wilcox noted that more of the men in long coats were now riding up and down Division, shooting off their revolvers. And Heywood was suddenly desperate to get loose from the James brother’s grip. Bob Younger came to the robber’s aid, but Heywood still managed to get loose and run around the corner toward the entrance, screaming, “Murder!” The James brother quickly followed, grabbing Heywood and slamming his pistol over the banker’s lower neck. Heywood dropped to the floor, stunned, and the robber dragged him back to the open vault, referencing the safe within.
“Open it!” he shouted.
But the banker remained in a daze, and never uttered another word.
It was then that the men within the bank saw Cole Younger ride up to the doors and shout loudly through the glass, with desperation, “The game’s up boys and we are beaten!”
Bob Younger moved around the counter to the entrance and peered out the windows. And what he saw alarmed him. The men inside had simply assumed that regardless of the noise, their brothers in arms outside had the situation under control. That was clearly not the case.
Bob quickly exited the bank.
* * *
Once outside, Bob Younger heard his brother Cole give an order to grab Charlie Pitt’s horse, so Bob turned and ran straight down the side of Scriver Building to retrieve a horse tied at the foot of the stairway.
Older brother Cole had dismounted his own horse and was returning fire whenever he saw anyone “with a bead” on him. After seeing Bob exit, Cole got back up on his horse, intending to ride around the corner, and launch across the square and over the bridge. He galloped only a few yards, when he spotted a man with a rifle up stairs across the street. It appeared to be a billiard parlor. Cole shot a pane of glass out over the man’s head and the man retreated from the window.
Then Cole turned back, searching for the rest of his party. He had assumed the remaining two men were right behind his brother.
But they were still inside.
Cole returned, and moved his horse close to the Bank’s open doorway and shouted inside, “Come out of the bank!” And a moment later, “For God’s sake, come out! They’re shootin’ us all to pieces!”
* * *
While J. Sim Allen passed out rifles and shotguns with price tags still attached to patrons within his own establishment, a Reverend named Ross Phillips laid out rifles and revolvers on a counter inside of Anselm R. Manning’s hardware store.
Soon, a number of citizens re-emerged in the street, armed and eager to find a target.
J.B. Hyde and James Gregg were good examples. Both arrived with ineffective shotguns, attempting to aid in the town’s defense, any way they could. But it was Elias Stacy who scored the first hit. As Clell Miller was re-mounting his horse, Stacy aimed a shotgun filled with birdshot and sprayed much of Miller’s face and upper chest, penetrating one of his eyes, off center. The result was described by one eye-witness as, “…a bloody mess.” The blow even knocked Miller from his horse.
Just then, Miller called out, “Cole, I’m shot,” and quickly remounted with blood smeared across a very stunned expression.
Cole turned to see Clell Miller’s face literally covered in blood.
But Stacy had only fired one barrel, and as Clell’s horse spun around and around, Stacy fired again, this time closer, and hitting Miller directly in the back.
* * *
George E. Bates was moving past Dampier House Hotel, when he heard a report over his head; he flinched, seeing Clell Miller hit a third time just below the left shoulder. Bates turned sharp and looked in the direction of the previous report, finding Wheeler in the open hotel window, hastily reloading the rifle. Bates turned sharp again and watched as Clell’s horse plunged forward, then suddenly stopped, remained on its forelegs, and allowed its rider to pitch forward and fall face first into ground still muddy from previous rain.
* * *
South on Division Street, approximately twenty feet past the corner of 5th Street, was a stairway that led to a basement cellar, servicing as a pub. A somewhat intoxicated man named Nicholas Gustafson climbed stairs from the below ground pub and ran across the street, with curious, ubiquitous interest.
Gustafson was a Swedish immigrant, who had come into town this day to sell some vegetables he’d harvested, and barter for goods. According to various witnesses, the men on horseback variously shouted at him to get out of the way, but Gustafson was a recent arrival to the U.S., and spoke only his native language. Members of the James-Younger Gang barked orders and shouted obscenities at him while waving their guns in the air. But Gustafson had little comprehension of the meaning, and a moment later he was grazed above the eye by a shot which wouldn’t immediately kill him, but strangely put him in critical condition less than a day later, resulting in his death on September 11th. The ball had gone under the skin, damaged part of the skull, and exited skin at the top of head.
Gustafson had been shot just as he ran past John Olsen. Olsen was running for the safety of the “cellar” when Gustafson had been shot and had fallen back, dropping on Olsen’s lower leg as he fell. Olsen ran down into the stairway, and found the door locked. He crouched, and after a few seconds, he raised his head up intending to go to the aid of Gustafson. But a robber on horseback looked down at him, his pistol aimed point blank and said, “Sit right still where you are, or I’ll kill you, too.”
Witnesses reported that Gustafson had meanwhile staggered and ran for the nearby Canon River, where he bathed his wound in the waters.
* * *
In a later interview, Cole Younger himself maintained that Gustafson, being in the South end of town, could only have been hit by a ricochet off a brick wall. However, he also added that if a member of their party had been directly responsible, he could only attribute that shot to “Woods.” (Reference 6.)
The attorney who prosecuted the Younger brothers wrote a letter to the pardon board in 1897 indicating that he traveled to Northfield in 1876, to interview eye-witnesses, and could find no one who could identify the “Swede’s” shooter. He said that residents had at that time determined that Gustafson had possibly been hit by stray gunfire. However, a jeweler named John Morton, whose store was located five doors down from the bank, watched from a nook “beside the door of his store,” and saw “the Swede” come around the corner, just as one of the robbers rode up to him, and shouted, “Get back, you Son-of-a-bitch!” Getting only a confused response, the robber brought his pistol around and fired upon Gustafson, who then fell. Morton also reported that soon after this, the robber who shot Gustafson went to the body of a dead robber (Miller,) and took off the man’s pistols and his other things. Morton also visited the Younger Brothers in prison, and identified Cole Younger as Gustafson’s killer. P.S. Dougherty also reported that he had seen one of the robbers “throw his pistol over his head,” and shoot “The Swede.”
* * *
Back in the bank, Pitts re-emerged from the hallway running straight to the front entrance. Through the windows, he saw what Bob Younger had seen before him: the attention of those within the bank had wavered, to say the least. Outside, the robbers had found themselves surrounded by a murderous mob, and consequently, the men had gone from shooting over citizens heads in hopes of scaring them back indoors, to shooting to kill to save their own lives.
This was a lost cause.
Reluctantly, Pitts exited through the folding doors and onto the sidewalk.
Behind him, the first James brother vaulted upon the side counter, and was angling for the door, when suddenly…he froze. He had spotted Clell Miller’s dead body lying in the street outside, and it took him completely by surprise. Two seconds later, he peripherally spotted Heywood returning to the cashier’s desk, sitting down, and opening a drawer. The James brother may have believed Heywood was acquiring a gun from the drawer. The last robber in the bank later confirmed to Cole Younger that as he jumped up on the bank counter to cross it, he could see Miller’s body lying in the street. And when he saw Heywood spring up and jump for a pistol hidden somewhere under the counter, he ordered the banker to stop, but Heywood took no heed of his warning. In rebuttal, banker Frank J. Wilcox later claimed that much of Younger’s version of Heywood’s shooting wasn’t possible. Mainly because Heywood was unable to stand without supporting himself; he had never recovered from the blow to his head. Wilcox also stated that Heywood was at this time leaning on the table in the center of the room. Said Wilcox, “When the robbers had let go of Mr. Heywood he was left on his feet and was reeling toward the desk in such a condition that anyone would know he was not reaching for a pistol and would not have used one had he held it in his hand.” (Reference)
In either case, the robber’s boots hit the floor of the bank lobby, and with one hand still on the counter, he turned back with nothing but violence in his eyes, and fired on Heywood. But Heywood had spotted the robber aiming for him only a second before, and had just enough awareness to quickly duck, almost under the counter. The James brother lunged; leaning across the teller’s window, placing his pistol very near the top of Heywood’s exposed head, and fired, striking Heywood in the temple. Heywood popped up, then turned, staggered a step, and fell. Drops of his blood were later found on a desk blotter.
Wilcox darted down the hallway, out the back door, and into the rear entrance of Anselm R. Manning’s store.
Joseph Lee Heywood only lived a few moments, breathing easy, but unable to speak.
Within the bank, the three robbers had left behind the grain sack filled with around $12 in currency, and a linen duster; possibly torn from its wearer during the preceding scuffle.
But it wasn’t over yet.
* * *
Out on Division, a barrage of unending gunfire thundered, and shots ricocheted everywhere. Bullets were whistling, revolvers glistened in the sun. A moving mural of violence had exploded like somebody kicked a hornet’s nest.
The first James brother, the last to step out, found himself witness to a war zone. He was truly shocked. With a quick look around, the men spotted dozens of citizens firing upon them from windows up and down Division Street, many using rifles with price tags dangling from their barrels and trigger guards. Adding to the gang’s dilemma, there were additional citizens firing from behind cover, on the ground all around them.
Quickly, the ZING of a shot went right by the James brother’s ear, and the three men moved to take horses, with a daisy-chain of shots striking ground all around them.
When J.B. Hyde returned to the scene, it was with a double-barreled shotgun. Quickly, he fired off both barrels, striking Charlie Pitts in both the shoulder and wrist, before retreating to reload.
It was during these confusing moments that Anselm R. Manning’s aim found Bob Younger. Earlier, Manning’s Remington rifle had jammed, and he had retreated to his hardware store and used a ramrod to eject the empty shell from the breech of the weapon. Now he was back on the field of battle and ready to defend the township. Younger spotted him, dismounted, and used Charlie Pitt’s horse as cover. He fired his pistol from under the neck of the animal more than once. In response, Manning shot the horse in the head!
Bob turned and lunged behind some crates stacked underneath the base of the steel staircase on the corner. Dentist Whiting, in his office above Bob Younger at the top of the staircase, was at this time bouncing back and forth from an open doorway to an open window, excitedly observing the melee. He could see Bob Younger hiding behind some crates which he described as being stacked on or near a lumber wagon. Whiting additionally claimed that he himself wasn’t armed and never fired a single shot. But in Cole Younger’s own personal recollection, the robber claimed Whiting was armed, and when he saw the dentist hovering over them above, he shouted, “Shoot that man up in the window!”
Mortar rained down on Whiting as a volley of shots struck the wood all around him. Whiting quickly moved away from the window and doorway.
In the street, Elias Hobbs, Colonel Streeter, and Ben Richardson threw rocks at the robbers, making it difficult for any one of the men to get a steady shot at Anselm R. Manning.
In response, Cole shouted to the others, “Kill the white livered son of a bitch on the corner!” Then Cole shouted for Bob to “charge up” on Manning.
Bob Younger immediately ran up to Manning, firing a volley. Manning took cover at the corner, but quickly resumed firing. Then Cole shouted, “Shoot through the stairs!”
Bob Younger re-positioned himself beneath the steel staircase. But due to the angle, witnesses reported that each man kept stepping out to shoot at the other, before darting back for cover—Younger using the crates and steel girders of the staircase for cover, Manning the corner of the building. The men were playing a very dangerous and peculiar game of peek-a-boo.
Younger charged again, and Manning retreated around the corner, into Lee & Hitchcock’s store. Once inside, Manning moved quickly to one of the windows on the side of the building, hoping to get a shot at Bob as he approached and possibly rounded the corner. But Younger retreated beneath the stairs, again. And unfortunately, this left him vulnerable to Wheeler in the upstairs room of the Dampier Hotel across the street.
Wheeler’s third shot shattered Bob Younger’s elbow, and Bob began scrambling to hide himself.
Cole looked over, saw his brother wince in pain, and change his pistol from his right hand to his left. Bob’s right arm now hung limp, broken by the shot. Bob then fired two, maybe three shots through the girders of the staircase, in his own defense. But gunfire continued in his direction, unabated. Soon Bob realized he was surrounded—and worse—separated from the other men.
* * *
Up in the third floor bedroom of Dampier House, Wheeler reached for his last cartridge, but it fell from a bed to the floor, breaking the tissue paper forming the cartridge, allowing the powder to escape. Wheeler’s ammunition was now exhausted.
* * *
Cole called out to Bob to run to him, before instructing his other brother Jim to catch Clell Miller’s horse for Bob.
Anselm R. Manning exited the store, moved carefully to the corner of the building, and stuck his head out. Mr. C.O. Waldo spotted Manning, and called out to him, “Take good aim before you fire!”
Manning took a breath, and launched around the corner, finding a position on the lower part of the staircase along Scriver Building. He then aimed carefully, and fired. The shot punched through a wooden post, continued on, and struck Cole on the left of his body, between the hip and thigh. Manning then retreated back around the corner.
Cole returned fire at random, not knowing where the shot had come from. Then, without letting the reins of his horse leave his grip, he crawled to Clell Miller’s lifeless body and jostled him. There was no response. Charlie Pitts was now at Cole’s side. Cole removed Clell’s pistols and cartridge belt, and instructed Pitts to help him lift Clell up onto his horse.
“Put him up with me; I’ll pack him out!”
But when the men turned Clell over, what both saw convinced them that Miller was dead.
Soon, Cole was having difficulty mounting his own horse with his own wound. It was awkward and with he and a wounded Pitts attempting to mount the same horse together, it made them both easy prey. So Younger told Pitts to run across the square toward the bridge, and Cole would catch up to him and pull him up onto the horse.
Pitts instantly took off running, fast as he could run while still being wounded.
“Let’s head out!” Cole shouted to the other men.
Cole mounted, and was simultaneously fired upon from both sides of the street. Someone, possibly Manning, had fired a round which struck Cole in the shoulder. And Wheeler, having returned to the hotel window after running out of cartridges and “hastening” for more, was reportedly just in time to shoot off Younger’s hat.
As Chadwell rode around the corner of Scriver Building, and onto Division Street, Manning revolved around the corner with him—and took a shot. But Manning missed. So once again Manning climbed the staircase which hugged the building. This time, he went a full halfway up. And from there, he leveled the rifle and carefully aimed. Seventy yards from him, Chadwell was turning around and preparing to ride back.
The shot went right through Chadwell’s heart, and the horse, with Chadwell still on it, was seen galloping up the street in Manning’s general direction. Witnesses reported that the robber swung his left arm around the horse’s neck, and bent over with a horrifying look of pain on his face, before the his body began to reel this way and that, and fell to the ground directly opposite an establishment known as Eldridge’s Store. His horse had kept running, and was later found loitering around a local livery stable.
Due to Frank having been shot in the calf at some point during the shooting, he had difficulty mounting on his own horse, and thus the James brothers would share a horse. The voice of the second James brother was heard stressfully shouting, “We’re beat—let’s go!”
* * *
Seeing the men preparing to flee, Bob Younger fatefully stepped out from under the stairs and began limping up the street. Almost instantly, he spotted Mr. Bates aiming at him. Bob strained to keep his hand steady, before firing a shot which grazed Bates’ cheek and the bridge of his nose, before burying itself in a collar box inside the man’s store.
Bob Younger then shouted, “My God, boys! Hold on! Don’t leave me—I’m shot!”
As the others had already fled to the town square beyond Division Street, this left Bob’s brother Jim the last man on horseback still on Division. Holding onto the reins of a second horse (Clell Miller’s,) Jim was racing to catch up with the others, when he unexpectedly heard the voice of his brother, Bob. Coming to a halt, he turned, and rode back to the area opposite an establishment referred to as Mr. Morris’s Store. Once there, he leaned over, and pulled his brother up onto Clell Miller’s horse. (Reference 7.)
As this time, J.B. Hyde reportedly fired a reloaded shotgun at Bob Younger, striking him in the wrist as the men fled; possibly shooting off his thumb. (Reference 8.)
* * *
Cole had given Pitts a suppressing cover fire, to allow for his escape. Now, somewhere between forty and a hundred yards later, Cole rode alongside Pitts who had climbed up onto a barrel on a sidewalk running down the right side of the Square. Cole strained, pulling him up onto the horse, and Pitts said jokingly, “What kept you so long.” Younger did not respond. It was then that Pitts revealed that the three men in the bank had consumed too much alcohol together in the woods, and “botched” the job, as a result.
Jim Younger, while holding the reins of the second horse his brother was mounted on, was shot first in the back of his right leg, and then his shoulder. Cole shouted to him, ‘Lead on ahead,’ and Jim took the lead across the square. Bypassing the Cannon River Bridge, and taking an alternate route out of town.
Cole and Pitts followed, with the James brothers bringing up the rear.
Behind them, an entire crowd chased the men across the square.
* * *
Cole Younger later confirmed in a hand-written letter, that a single quart of whiskey was essentially to blame for the unprofessional way in which the bank robbery was handled. The first iteration of three men had separated from the others earlier in the day, and consumed the whiskey in a wooded area outside of town. In fact, all three of them, including his brother Bob, were drunk. Cole opined that this clearly accounted for the lack of judgment on the part of the three men, in respect to the crowded street, and also explains why they left the folding bank door open. Cole Younger also stated that had he known the men were drunk, he himself would never have gone into town. Cole was not a drinker and did not approve of alcohol consumption.
Witnesses reported that soon after the departure of the rest of the gang, Clell Miller, having been left for dead, tried to rise up on his hands and knees one last time, then simply rolled over, finally dead.
As stated, the remaining men fled out of town to the Southwest, instead of back across the 4th Street Bridge, as planned. And as a result, their plan to flee back across the bridge, stopping at the railroad depot west of the river to cut the telegraph wires, had either been neglected. Now on the run, the surviving members of the gang left behind two of their party, dead, drifting gunsmoke propagating all over Scriver Block, extensively damaged and defiled building faces (a large area of town, up and down both Division and 4th Streets, resembled an actual war zone,) and the legacy of a melee which would be well remembered by history.
And only seven minutes had passed from the moment the first two men had crossed the square.
* * *
Later, the bodies of Bill Chadwell and Clell Miller would be searched. Identification would not be found on either. On Chadwell was a puzzling slip of paper torn from a two-week-old edition of the local Rice County Journal, detailing the new burglar-proof safe with its vault doors and chronometer time-lock. There was also a fine Waltham gold watch, ten cents, and unspent cartridges in a belt around his waist, along with many more within his pockets.
Among the effects of Miller, Northfield citizens discovered a fine Howard gold watch worth at least a hundred and seventy-five dollars, a pocket map of larger Minnesota purchased from Williams Bros., Minneapolis, a pocket compass, and five dollars seventy-five in currency. Another slip of paper was also found on one of the two men, with “A.S. Coywood”—or Haywood—“1,129 Eleventh N.W.,” written on one side in pencil, and a record of ballot for a U.S. Senator at the last election printed on the other.
Chadwell’s corpse had been later placed on display in a neighboring county, to discourage young children from a life of crime. When Dr. Wheeler’s vacation ended, he returned with Clell Miller’s remains to Ann Arbor, Michigan for his senior year, and utilized them for medical study. Possession of the corpse resided with Dr. Wheeler for many years to come. In fact, he was known to keep Miller’s skeleton in the corner of his medical practice office in the city of Grand Forks.
* * *
While direct involvement with the event had essentially concluded for the majority of Northfield’s citizens, it wasn’t over for the James-Younger Gang. Not by a long shot. Only fifteen minutes passed before two men, Jack Hayes and Dwight Davis, secured two of the horses left behind, and armed with two rifles and several revolvers, pursued after the surviving members of the gang. And they weren’t the only hunting party dispatched. As news of the incident spread, the Governor of Minnesota offered a one thousand dollar reward for each of the surviving men, while The First National Bank of Northfield, offered five hundred dollars. In an interview conducted years later, Cole Younger remarked that if they’d remembered to “wreck” the telegraph office following the robbery, as planned, much of their trauma evading armed citizens and agents of law enforcement would have been cut by two-thirds.
On a curious note, the Chief of Police is said to have been later found hiding inside a dry goods box behind Skinner & Drew’s store. This is where he had been throughout the entire incident.
Every time October 26th rolls back around, I find myself wondering: what would it have been like, to be an eyewitness to the most famous gunfight in history?
At one point there was footage readily available on the internet of a reenactment from the late 20’s or early 30’s, which reportedly placed the participants in the gunfight, in various areas on large expanse of Fremont Street where they had actually been seen, by a handful of living witnesses. That footage along with a few stills from it, has long since vanished from the internet. But my memory of that footage lingers. It was so curious and intriguing, it mesmerized me that much. Somewhat like that widely circulated YouTube footage “appearing” to show a woman talking with a cell phone to her ear, around the turn of the last Century. A trick of the mind, that for about 48 hours or so, had several members of the media believing time travel might actually be possible, and taking it seriously. LOL And that reminded me of why I wrote Western Legend in the first place. In 1992, I started working on material for a time travel story, and the bygone era time traveling romp within the larger science fiction story, got bigger and spiraled out of control. In fact, it took on a life of its own, eventually generating a separate screenplay, and then a book called, WESTERN LEGEND.
Sometimes I remember how the story came to be, and the original intention of that material. And I’m left wondering. If the motion picture camera had been in use and present in Tombstone, Arizona, on October 26th, 1881 … what would have been more fascinating: the shocking reality of what we are watching ? Or the mystery of how we are seeing it ?
And thus, for stimulating my imagination, I wish a Happy Birthday to the infamous streetfight in Tombstone. Otherwise known as The Gunfight at the OK Corral.
(Below are some photos I discovered on the Internet, related to the incident in Tombstone)
This photo was taken from Fremont Street, and features the vacant lot located between the little house formerly owned by William A. Harwood (still present on the right,) and the former location of the Boarding House operated by Mollie Fly. (In back of which was located Camillius Fly’s Photographic Studio.) By the time this photo had been taken (sometime in the 1940’s,) Harwood’s House was decrepit, and Fly’s Boarding House and Photographic Studio, was long gone. Having been replaced by what appears to be a barn. In fact, almost half the lot space formerly occupied by Fly’s is seen vacant in this photo, somewhat extending the original 18 foot wide vacant lot, where the infamous street fight began.
This much earlier photo, however — taken from “behind” the Vacant lot, instead of the street — appears to show Camillius Fly’s Studio at right, and Harwood’s little House on the left, with the 18 foot wide vacant lot intact, in-between. The donkey, of course, is unrelated. The photo is said to have been taken sometime in the 1920’s, or perhaps earlier.
This photo of Fremont Street, was taken by someone standing near the Vacant Lot where the street fight began, and shows Grid Block on the left, followed by the Court House where the Wells Spicer hearing was later held. Best guess for a date would be the early 1900’s.
This photo was taken in 1931 looking down Fremont from the other direction. The white building on the left is the Post Office (Notice the Flag pole,) still in its original location from 1881, located at the intersection of Fremont and Allen. Beyond, would be the Court House and Grid Block, and far down on the right, and out of sight, would be the location of the Vacant Lot where the street fight started.
The real OK Corral, taken sometime between the early 1900’s and 1930’s. It was located one block over from where the gunfight actually took place. When newspapers around the Country initially picked up the story, they had been told that the gunfight had occurred, “… at the West End of the OK Corral, in a Vacant Lot that served as an exit, out back.” Thoroughly confused and without a confident geography of the area, the newspaper men shorted that description to simply, The OK Corral. Thus, for many years, even before John Sturges’ film, Gunfight at the OK Corral, the street fight in Tombstone was known under the aforementioned monicker, in print all over the world.
This illustration gives one a general idea of the size of the street, and how the fight spread out and quickly — and also the general location of the buildings. Though the the size of the lot is misrepresented as being much larger than the acknowledged 18 ft. width, and the corner of Third Street is erroneously represented as being far closer to the melee than it actually was. (Please Note: the Telegraph Pole at right was several yards further from Harwood’s House, than represented here.) Also, none of the citizens present in the street that day, are represented. But the illustration does give a certain perspective, with it’s bird’s-eye view of the incident.
A very interesting “authenticated” photo of Virgil Earp when he was 19 years old. Many years before the incidents in Tombstone, Arizona.
A blow-up of one individual in a photograph taken of the dedication of the Tombstone Engine Co. No. 1, in the summer of 1881. It is believed by some to be Wyatt Earp.
Another “authenticated” photo, this one of Morgan Earp, taken shortly before the events in Tombstone.
And a photo of Allen Street in Tombstone, around the early 1900’s. (This was the street the actual OK Corral was located on, one block over.) Notice the board (plank) sidewalk running through the dirt. This is the style of walk that remained prominent all over town, well into the early 20th Century. It is this style of sidewalk which originally stretched in front of the Vacant Lot between Harwood’s House, and Fly’s Boarding House and Photographic Studio. Morgan Earp was standing on a walk just like this one, facing the men in that lot, alongside his brothers and John “Doc” Holiday, when the shooting began.
Anniversary of the James-Younger Gang’s failed robbery of the First National Bank of Northfield, Minnesota
Been a while, hasn’t it. I’ve been so busy with work, I haven’t had a chance to update this blog. But as of today, that is changing.
What follows will be the first of three posts, commemorating the Anniversary of the James-Younger Gang’s very badly planned and executed robbery of a bank in Northfield, Minnesota, on September 7th, 1876. Over the next three weeks, I will be presenting the “revised” Chapter (9) from my book Western Legend — which greatly details this historical incident.
This Chapter has been revised incorporating new sources, only recently made available by the State of Minnesota, and the Northfield Historical Society.
So, without further adieu or pomp and pageantry, I give you …
Chapter 9 — Northfield
In addition to some truly inaccurate ramblings found in a multitude of period dime novels, the September, 1876 incident in Northfield, Minnesota has been depicted on film and television many, many times. Most notably in the 1940’s with The True Story of Jesse James, the 1970’s with The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid, and in the 1980’s as both an action center piece in the film, The Long Riders, and an interesting episode of the ‘mysteries of the unexplained’ style television show, In Search Of. But all such depictions have been produced for the purpose of entertainment, and generally eschew the complexity of the incident, without delving into the finer details of the robbery. And while it’s true that a handful of recent cable television recreations have focused on portraying the incident with definitive accuracy (such as The History Channel’s Shootout,) limitations in such productions have illustrated the bank robbery in a manner which strays from the facts and inserts false details into the general narrative. And to make matters worse, a routine internet search reveals numerous, somewhat expected inaccuracies far too frequent to mention here.
In lieu of this, and for the purpose of attempting a relative degree of accuracy in respect to an attempted bank robbery now more than a Century old, this author has first consulted the recollections of Frank James, and for further clarification, the two most regional newspaper reports to be printed within days of the “affray.” The first of these being Northfield’s own Rice County Journal, and the second being the Winona Daily Republican, from the distant but regional town of Winona County, Minnesota. These accounts were made first- or second-hand, by journalists who were either eye-witnesses themselves, or who rushed to Northfield in the aftermath of the incident, and spoke directly with eye-witnesses directly involved. For obvious reasons, reports from these papers have been utilized, as opposed to accounts printed in other well-known, distant publications, such as The Pioneer Press and Tribune, The San Francisco Examiner, or The Chicago Tribune.
I have also utilized documents recently made available on-line by the Minnesota Historical Society. These include statements made in 1897 by Frank J. Wilcox, D.J. Whiting, John Morton, P.S. Dougherty, and W.H. Riddell. Said statements were made to the parole board when Cole Younger was lobbying for his release from prison. I have additionally consulted Cole Younger’s own personal recollection printed in The Story of Cole Younger, by Himself. But use of this information has been tempered with the understanding that Younger distorted certain facts, in an attempt to further leverage his attempt at securing parole, and also to protect Frank and Jesse James.
Finally, although supplementary conclusions have been drawn with the assistance of a handful of internet pages, these have been carefully selected. This information was helpful in taking an aggressively convoluted event and reverse-engineering it into a clearer narrative. And also helped pepper what follows with further details, colorizing an otherwise static moment in history.
* * * *
Setting the stage: two weeks before the fateful day, two of the men involved visited a local man named John Mulligan, residing approximately two and half miles west of Northfield. Both men claimed to be “prospecting for land,” and opened an impromptu negotiation with Mulligan for his homestead. After a brief argument, they apparently agreed on a price. It is not recorded whether this was a legitimate and mutual negotiation, or whether this was a negotiation conducted with the use of intimidation. Certain members of the James-Younger Gang were known for using bullying tactics to get what they wanted. And given that none of the gang would have been interested in sticking around after having robbed the local bank, this meeting is suspected to be a confrontation.
The men stated that part of their currency was in another bank in the town of Red Wing, located on the Minnesota-Wisconsin border, and that the remaining amount would be raised soon. It was also later confirmed that four horses had been purchased in Red Wing on August 21st from a P. Watson, together with equipment such as blankets, rain coats, etc.
Next the men quizzed Mulligan on the subject of the nearby city of Northfield, the “general character of her people,” and whether they were a “peace-loving people.” Their rational for this line of questioning reportedly being, that they preferred to “…cast their lot with such people.”
When Mulligan described the town and its citizens with apparent accuracy, one of the two men declared, “Why, according to your statement of (sic) Northfield people, a very few men so inclined could capture the town, couldn’t they?”
“Of course they could,” Mulligan replied.
The men held Mulligan at bay for some time. Further questioning him about local roads and where they led, and local woods and how far they extended.
Eventually, though, the two men left and never returned.
* * * *
Within a week or so later, two men arrived in Northfield around midday; hitching their horses at posts a few feet north of an establishment known locally as Mr. Trussell’s Brick Block, or Trussell’s Corner. Moseying over, the larger of the two men sparked a conversation with Trussell, who was in process of selling a plow to a local farmer named Mr. Jones. The larger man reportedly did all the talking, questioning Trussell and his patron, Mr. Jones, for around half an hour. The larger man-made inquiries about the roads in the area, specifically the road to St. Peter. Trussell admitted that the better route was through Faribault, and so on, but due to the manner of the two men, Trussell was immediately suspicious. In fact, feelings of intimidation were described by all who entered into conversation with these men, with their manner being described as almost confrontational.
The Night of the sixth of September, four of the men attempted to gain lodging at the home of a certain Mr. Ross. Unable to accommodate them, Ross simply directed them to search for lodgings in town. Instead, the men later found accommodation with a Mr. C.C. Stetson, three miles south of town, on the road to Faribault.
On the morning of the seventh, the very day of the bank raid, an African-American man named Walter Lewis drove from the nearby town of Dundas. Arriving at Trussell’s Corner at approximately ten in the morning, he mentioned to Trussell that he had seen four men on horseback exiting the woods and coming toward town. And specifically, he remarked that they looked suspicious. This would seem conclusive proof that many around the area of Northfield were aware of these men as a potential threat, or at the very least, a curiosity. And also, that such a view had been disseminated among numerous local residents within just a few days time.
Moments after being seen by Walter Lewis, the four men rode into town, two by way of Division Street and two by way of Water Street. One hitched his horse near the bank, and waited. The other hitched his horse near Trussell’s Corner as he had the previous week, and proceeded to pace past the bank to a business known as Misses’ Whittier & Balch’s Store.
Then, he suddenly did an about-face, and hastily walked back.
For the second time, Trussell observed the strange behavior of these men, and now filled with suspicion, followed on the opposite side of the street, passing Dampier House—a hotel. But another man named Elias Hobbs—reportedly the town Marshall—assured Trussell that the men were cattle buyers, and in response, the second of the two supposed cattle buyers remarked to Trussell that he was “too suspicious.”
Sometime between eleven and noon, two men crossed the 4th Street Bridge to dine at J. G. Jeft’s Restaurant. An establishment located on the North side of the Cannon River, and in the near vicinity of the local railroad station and Ames Mill. After each of the men had finished off a plate of ham and eggs, their party left—and two other men arrived to take their place. All four were said to be dressed noticeably alike, in their long, glowing duster coats, with their pants tucked into their boots. And Mr. Jeft himself noted that their horses were, “…sleek and clean-limbed, and showing indications of good blood.”
It was sometime later, when the two n had a drink at John Tosney’s saloon on the west side of town. One had wine, the other whiskey, both drinking lightly. Meanwhile, two additional men visited the Exchange saloon on the east side of the river, with both consuming whiskey.
Ascertaining just how many of the men had actually entered town at this point, was then, and is still today, difficult. But their repeated presence speaks volumes in respect to just how conspicuous these experienced bandits had actually made themselves. In fact, conspicuous would be a rather powerful understatement, something all eight of the men may not have been conscious of.
That afternoon, the full complement of men, again, all in long prairie linen “Ulster” duster coats light beige or white in color, fine suits, and hats—huddled and squatted in a field of grass, “two or three miles” away from the 4th Street Bridge. These coats were essentially “cavalry style” stockmen coats, and were complete with a short cape. They conferred over one of two maps they’d procured weeks earlier. The first, a pocket map of larger Minnesota, and the second, a hand-drawn map of Northfield reportedly purchased from a bookstore in another town. A map which crudely evidenced the placement of major streets, a few businesses, the bridge itself, and prominently, The First National Bank of Northfield.