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The Northfield, Minnesota Robbery
December 30, 2004: Coming soon: an update/addition with photos of the bank/museum in Northfield, courtesy of the Northfield Historical Society
From a contemporary woodcut from John Jay Lemon's "Northfield Tragedy, " 1876
Northfield, Minnesota - First National Bank of Northfield
September 7, 1876
failed robbery attempt - bank clerk murdered, one townsperson killed
from the Northfield
Sept. 14. 1876
The town motto of Northfield, Minnesota is "Cows, colleges, and contentment." Despite this placid motto, the Scandinavian settlers of this town brought down the most dangerous and successful outlaw bands operating at that time.
On September 7, 1876 three men entered the town of Northfield about 2pm. They were noticed because of the long linen dusters they wore (which concealed their weapons), the exceptionally fine horses they rode (attention paid to their horses had apparently caused them to cancel a robbery attempt shortly before in Mankato, Minnesota), and, some witnesses said, the rather arrogant confidence with which they moved. Several townspeople, some of them former Civil War soldiers, immediately recognized the look of a "guerrilla raid." One of them is even said to have shouted, "It's a St. Alban's raid" (a bank near the Canadian border robbed by Confederate agents during the war).
Much to the outlaws' surprise, the people of Northfield not only refused to cooperate with the robbery, they shot back. A lot of them shot back. With deadly accuracy. And they organized huge posses that didn't give up but kept after them for days and weeks. As many as 2000 men chased them for weeks. This just didn't happen to them in Missouri. The guns the Northfield townspeople grabbed quickly to use may have been old or in poor working order, but they had an advantage of range over the handguns the robbers used. It's worth noting, though, that despite accounts written at the time mocking the apparent poor marksmenship of the Missouri robbers, the outlaws were very pointedly trying not to kill anyone. Cole Younger later said, "Chadwell, Woods and Jim rode up and joined us, shouting to people in the street to get inside, and firing their pistols to emphasize their commands. I do not believe they killed any one however... Every time I saw any one with a bead on me I would drop off my horse and try to drive the shooter inside..." The townspeople, on the other hand, were shooting to kill.
Fleeing the town under heavy gunfire, with no money, the James brothers, Frank and Jesse (presumably), and the Younger brothers (Cole, Jim, and Bob), along with Charlie Pitts, left behind two dead gang members, and two dead townspeople. Elias Stacy shot Clell Miller with a shotgun loaded with birdshot. A shot from Dr. Henry M. Wheeler killed him. Anselm R. Manning, armed with a finicky breach-loading rifle killed Chadwell/Stiles. Cole Younger was shot in the thigh; Bob Younger had his right elbow shattered.
Northfield, Minnesota 1869
Dead in Northfield was Nicholas Gustafson, a Swedish immigrant who apparently didn't understand the shouts in English for him to get off the street. He was killed in the crossfire. Though Cole Younger pleaded guilty as the primary killer in his death, he claimed he wasn't the one who actually fired the lethal shot. "I have always believed that the man Nicholas Gustafson... was hit by a glancing shot from Manning's or Wheeler's rifle. If any of our party shot him it must have been Woods," said Cole Younger later.
Also dead, in the bank, was Joseph Lee Heywood, the bank clerk who refused to open the safe. He is, to this day, honored as a local hero in Northfield. For a long time it was believed it was Jesse James who killed him. But Cole Younger, on his deathbed, is said to have told Jesse James' son and Harry Hoffman (a relative) that it was Frank James who fired the shot that killed Heywood.
Among the dead outlaws was, unfortunately for the gang, the one man who knew his way around the swamps and forests of Minnesota. Most suffering gunshot wounds, lost, hungry, and relentlessly pursued, the gang split up, with the James brothers (with, it is believed, Frank seriously injured) going west where, after 400 miles of pursuit, they got away.
The Youngers were surrounded by a posse in a swamp near Madelia (pron. ma-dee-lee-uh). They did not consider surrendering as they thoroughly believed that they'd be lynched on the spot, so they came out shooting and were all shot again, with Charlie Pitts killed.
To their surprise, they weren't lynched but, as Cole Younger commented upon with surprise and gratitude many times, were treated as kindly as circumstances allowed.
The Youngers pleaded guilty to the murder charges against them which, under Minnesota law, saved them from hanging. They were sentenced to life in prison and sent to the penitentiary at Stillwater, Minnesota. "The excitement that followed our sentence to state prison, which was popularly called 'cheating the gallows,' resulted in the change of the law in that respect," Cole Younger said. Bob Younger died in prison in 1889 of consumption, but Cole and Jim Younger were paroled and released after twenty-five years. Despite their wild outlaw reputations, they behaved in prison at all times as obedient, model prisoners, never causing trouble or attempting to escape.
The Youngers in 1889, shortly before Bob's death. Shown with sister Henrietta.
"Come with me to the prison, where for a quarter of a century I have occupied a lonely cell. When the door swings in on you there, the world does not hear your muffled wail. There is little to inspire mirth in prison. For a man who has lived close to the heart of nature, in the forest, in the saddle, to imprison him is like caging a wild bird."
(Cole Younger in "What My Life Has Taught Me")
"...imprisonment has brought out the excellencies of many men. I have learned many things in the lonely hours there. I have learned that hope is a divinity; I have learned that a surplus of determination conquers every weakness..." (Cole Younger in "What My Life Has Taught Me")
"A man has plenty of time to think in prison, and I might add that it is an ideal place for a man to study law, religion, Shakespeare, not forgetting the president's messages. However, I would advise you not try to get into prison just to find an ideal place for these particular studies." (Cole Younger in "What My Life Has Taught Me")
"When the iron doors shut behind us at the Stillwater prison I submitted to the prison discipline with the same unquestioning obedience that I had exacted during my military service." (Cole Younger, regarding the 25 years he spent in prison for the Northfield robbery and murders)
The surviving Younger brothers, Cole and Jim, were paroled to within the borders of Minnesota in 1901, having served 25 years of their life sentences in prison. October 19, 1902 Jim Younger killed himself in St. Paul, Minnesota, apparently despondent over the limitations of his parole that not only prevented him from returning home to Missouri, but prevented him from marrying. Early in 1903 Cole Younger was pardoned on the condition, among others, that he leave Minnesota and never return. That condition he doesn't seem to have found a hardship.
The dead outlaws in Northfield, picture from the Northfield newspaper, 1876,
Clell Miller & Bill Chadwell
"The Northfield Tragedy," written in 1876 by John Jay Lemon, a journalist who investigated the robbery and interviewed the Youngers immediately after their capture, gives the following descriptions of the two outlaws killed in Northfield:
Chadwell/Stiles - 6' 4½" tall, face elongated oval with sharply cut features, high cheekbones, well arched brow, deep-set blue eyes, hair dark reddish auburn inclined to curl, 23-25 years old
Miller - 5' 8" tall, hair same as Chadwell's, stouter, face rounder, blue eyes
He gives the descriptions of those in the bank thus:
The man shut in the vault door - slim, dark complexioned, black moustasche, slight but tall
Second man - sandy side-whiskers, shaved chin, blue eyes
Third man - heavy-set, curly brown hair, week's growth of beard
Bank employee, A. E. Bunker, identified those in the bank as one of the James, Charlie Pitts, and Bob Younger.
Younger, Thomas Coleman, The Story of Cole Younger by Himself: An Autobiography of the Missouri Guerrilla, Confederate Cavalry Officer, and Western Outlaw, original publication 1903 - The ultimate primary source on the Northfield robbery written by one of the robbers, Cole Younger. He does give a reasonably full account of the robbery from his perspective, and of their capture and imprisonment. Cole is less than totally forthcoming in his information and is trying very hard to provide a sympathetic front--he was trying to get a full pardon at the time he wrote--yet still provides some fascinating personal insights into the Northfield raid. He also gives his war-time history, much of which is lifted pretty much verbatim from Edward's "Noted Guerrillas," a book of which he thought highly. Cole Younger's book is especially interesting to read for what he doesn't say as what he does, and for the careful dance of semantics he goes through to avoid outright lies.
Koblas, John, The Jesse James Northfield Raid: Confessions of the Ninth Man, North Star Press of St. Cloud, Inc., 1999 - just a dandy book in every regard. This is a purely Minnesota-centric history of the James and Youngers unfortunate visit to Minnesota in 1876. The author begins with the story of a man who claimed that Chadwell and Stiles were two separate people and that he was "the ninth man" at the Northfield robbery. Koblas tracks the James and Youngers progress and movements across Minnesota in minute, exacting detail (yet still very good reading!) and gives credence, or not, to Stiles claim. Lots of photos and good writing.
Possibilities and unanswered questions...
Were Frank and Jesse James at Northfield?
Cole Younger says: Every blood-and-thunder history of the Younger brothers declares that Frank and Jesse James were the two members of the band that entered Northfield who escaped arrest or death.
They were not, however. One of those two men was killed afterward in Arizona and the other died from fever some years afterward.
There were reasons why the James and the Younger brothers could not take part in any such project as that at Northfield. (he goes on to describe an incident that illustrated his intense dislike of Jesse James, though he remained friends with Frank James until his death) He says two other men "whose names on the expedition" were Woods and Howard were the two who got away. Jesse and Frank James around this time, and for several years after, used the names Woodson and Howard. Cole Younger was, however, careful never to implicate the James in the Northfield robbery in any substantive way, though such testimony may well have gotten them shorter sentences (they were denied parole several times because they refused to name the two who got away).
The day after their capture, in a hotel where they were treated for their numerous bullet wounds, a reporter interviewed Cole Younger. John Jay Lemon in "The Northfield Tragedy" says:
The writer mentioned to them that the other two, the James Brothers, were captured, one dead and the other dying. This seemed to affect them. Cole asking who was dead, the smaller one or larger of the two, adding the caution, "mind I don't say they are the James brothers." When the writer said that they had acknowledged who they were Cole then asked, "Did they say anything of us?" When answered in the negative he replied, "Good boys to the last."
When Sheriff Glispin asked Cole to name the two who escaped capture, Cole responded by handing him a note saying, "Be true to your friends if the Heavens fall." He never named the James in the robbery except in the apparent deathbed admission. Jim Younger, in letters written from prison, did apparently name both the James as the other two participants, however.
Another possibility that has occasionally been suggested is that Frank James was at Northfield, but not Jesse.
Cole Younger's statement, "One of those two men was killed afterward in Arizona and the other died from fever some years afterward," I believe is trying to suggest that the other two were John Jarrette--who is later placed in Arizona by Edwards in Noted Guerrillas--and Arthur McCoy--who is said to have died of fever or pneumonia in Texas. This is a purely speculative observation but may be the direction Younger was trying to shift credit away from the James. Jarrette and McCoy would fit the descriptions of the other two at Northfield reasonably well.
Was there a ninth man at Northfield?
This is an occasional theory. In 1913 a man named Bill Stiles claimed that Bill Chadwell was not an alias for Stiles; that they were two separate people and that he-Stiles-was the ninth man at Northfield, covering their exit from town. Other suggested as the "ninth man" include Jim Cummins (who really, really wanted to be as notorious as his dime novel legend but never was) and various others of the gang.
At the time of the robbery there was a statement from witnesses that nine strangers had been seen riding toward the town. Other stray bits of information support the idea, but even more information does not. It's certainly possible that there was a ninth, or even tenth or eleventh, man involved in the Northfield robbery, but solid evidence to support the idea does not seem to exist.
Was the bank targeted because of Ben Butler?
Cole Younger claimed they chose the bank at Northfield because it was owned by the hated Union General Benjamin Butler. If so, it was a last-minute choice. After roaming around half of southern Minnesota, they had apparently planned to rob a bank in Mankato. That plan was aborted when they attracted too much attention from a crowd near the first bank. They thought they'd been discovered, but it was apparently just admiration of their fine horses that caused the attention. The gang was reported to have scouted numerous banks in various towns in Minnesota and, in their roamings, had been as far north as St. Paul. Had Northfield been their original target such roaming would not have been necessary.
Cole Younger said: "Butler...had a lot of money invested, we were told, in the First National Bank at Northfield, as also had J. T. Ames, Butler's son-in-law, who had been the 'carpet-bag' governor of Mississippi after the war." Cole Younger wrote this in 1903, after having had time to consider it. I haven't found this claim being made at the time of the robbery. Indeed, an article in the St. Peter Tribune in an interview with Bob Younger given soon after their capture says: We also asked why they had selected Northfield in preference to any of the other banks, and he said they thought there was much more money to be had there. He said that in Mankato there were three banks and the money was too much divided. In St. Peter they thought they wouldn't have gotten much.
Did Butler actually own, or invest in, the bank at Northfield, Minnesota? It does not appear to be so. Benjamin Butler's daughter Blanche married Adelbert Ames, son of Jesse Ames. Maj.-Gen. Adelbert Ames had served during the war under General Butler and was later a 'carpetbagger' governor of Mississippi (not J. T. Ames as Cole Younger said). His father Jesse Ames, after retiring as a sea captain, was an owner of the flour mill in Northfield. They bought the mill in Northfield in 1864, building a new mill in 1870. He was retired by 1876 with his son John T. Ames then owning the mill. Gen. Benjamin Butler had visited Minnesota a number of times (he lived in Massachusetts), including visits to Northfield, home of his daughter's in-laws. The officers of the First National Bank of Northfield do include Jesse Ames as Vice-President, and Jesse Ames and J. T. Ames as two of the directors. There does not appear, however, to be any direct link to Benjamin Butler or direct participation by his son-in-law Adelbert Ames. The "J. T. Ames" Cole Younger names above was John Thomas Ames, a brother to Adelbert, not related to Butler.
Adelbert Ames is said by some sources to have been in Northfield at the time of the robbery and was recognized by the robbers. J. T. Ames was one of the organizers of the pursuit of the robbers. It is, however, not impossible that Adelbert Ames was there visiting family at the time (he did not live in Minnesota). John Koblas in "The Jesse James Northfield Raid" cites Adelbert Ames' presence to the "Northfield News," a 1929 article, with a second source from a Faribault newspaper in 1876. Koblas say Adelbert Ames was near Wheeler during the shooting.
About three years after the Northfield robbery Ames appears to have leased some interest in his mill to Benjamin Butler. Cole Younger's attributing the robbery to Benjamin Butler is, at best, stretching the inaccurate thread of connections and is more likely what it is usually taken to be—a convenient excuse rather than a primary motivation. Invoking Butler's name, as Younger did, would cause an immediate, visceral reaction on the part of most Southerners in sympathy to the robbers, whether justified or not. It was, if nothing else, a shrewd publicity move. Whether to take the Butler story seriously as a motivation for the robbery depends, too, on what the outlaws believed at the time--at present the only claim I've found that Butler was their motivation comes from Cole Younger nearly 25 years after the fact.
Officers of the bank at the time of the robbery were:
J. C. Nutting, President
Jesse Ames, Vice-President
G. M. Phillips, Cashier
J. C. Nutting
J. T. Ames
E. T. Archibald
C. S. Hulbert
W. M. Norton
G. M. Phillips
(sources: Rice County Journal, Sept. 14, 1876, Northfield Newspaper headline index, various genealogical source records, Minnesota cemetery records and newspaper indexes, 1880 US Census, The Union Army A History of Military Affairs in the Loyal States 1861-65, "Frank and Jesse James" by Ted P. Yeatman, autobiography of Cole Younger, "Robber and Hero" by George Huntington)
Was Northfield Cole Younger's first and only robbery?
So he claimed. Interestingly, George Sheperd backed Cole in that claim in a quite forthright statement (as opposed to a vague denial). Sheperd, in an interview with J. W. Buel, said, "Speaking of Cole Younger, I have no hesitancy in saying that, outside of the affair at Northfield, I don't believe he was ever connected with the James Boys, or that he ever participated in any of the robberies." All things considered it seems extremely improbable, but decide for yourself. The Robberies chart does suggest Cole Younger was probably guilty of far fewer things than is generally thought. George Sheperd and Cole Younger were not on good terms and Sheperd had no reason to defend Younger or his reputation, yet, as a reliable witness, Sheperd has some serious credibility problems.
Bob Younger also said it was his first robbery. If not his first, it may have been very near to it.
In the case of Jim Younger, a number of people then and now think it may have been, in fact, his first and last robbery. When he was greeted by his sister, Retta, in jail, she is reported to have said, "Oh! Jim, this is too bad. If it had not been for Cole and Bob you would never have been here. They enticed you to do this." - from "The Northfield Tragedy" 1876
The Citizens & Heroes of Northfield...
A man modest, true, gentle; diligent in business; conscientious in duty; a citizen benevolent and honorable; towards God reverent and loyal; who, while defending his trust as a bank officer, fearlessly met death at the hands of armed robbers, in Northfield, Sept. 7, 1876
This tablet is inscribed by his friends as a tribute to heroic fidelity.
ESTO FIDELIS USQUE AD MORTEM.
(Carlton College memorial plaque--Heywood has served as college treasurer)
Joseph Lee Heywood, was born August 12, 1837 in Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire of a farming family. He joined the Union army August 21, 1862 as a member of the 127th Illinois Regiment, Co. B. Participated in the siege of Vicksburg and the capture of Arkansas Post. He enlisted as a private and was discharged as a corporal. Heywood moved to Northfield, Minnesota in the fall of 1867. He worked for five years as a bookkeeper in a lumberyard. In 1872 he became bookkeeper of the First National Bank of Northfield, in service of which he was murdered.
Heywood was married first to Martha R. (Mattie) Buffum (she died May 3, 1873) and, after her death, to Lizzie Adams. One daughter, Lizzie May (born April 25, 1871), by his first marriage, age five at his death, survived him. Lizzie May later graduated from Carlton College and became a music teacher (she died Dec. 1947, wife of Rev. Edwin Carlton Dean). Banks in the United States and Canada donated $12,000 to the support of Heywood's family after his death.
At the time of his death, Heywood was both City Treasurer and treasurer of Carlton College.
"Mr. Heywood was, beyond most men, modest and timid. He shrank from the public gaze; and, considering his high gifts and his standing in the community, he was retiring almost to a fault. He set a low estimate upon himself. He would not own to himself, did not even seem to know, that he was lovable and well-beloved. He courted no praise and sought no reward. Honors must come to him unsought if they came at all. He would be easily content to toil on, out of sight and with services unrecognized, but in every transaction he must be conscientious through and through, and do each hour to the full the duties of the hour." --Funeral Discourse on Joseph Lee Heywood
The President has been inspecting the new time lock which had just been placed upon the door of the vault. The circumstance recalled to his mind the famous St. Albans bank-raid, which had especially interested him through his personal acquaintance with the victimized cashier. Having spoken of the course pursued by the raiders in that case, he said, in mere playfulness, to Mr. Heywood, "Now if robbers should come in here and order you to open this vault, would you do it?" With a quiet smile, and in his own modest way, Mr. Heywood answered, "I think not."
--Robber and Hero by George Huntington, 1895
quoting James Woodward Strong, Carlton College President
"The part taken by Mr. Bunker in the encounter with the robbers in the bank... shows him to be a man of nerve, cool and self-collected in danger, and capable of bold action. Though not subjected to the brutal treatment inflicted upon Mr. Heywood, he was subjected to a similar temptation to secure his own safety by yielding to the demands of the robbers; and he kept such possession of his faculties; mental and physical, as to seize the first opportunity--an opportunity not afforded to Heywood--to break from his captors and escape under fire. The wound he received at that time was a dangerous one, and narrowly missed being fatal..."
--Robber and Hero by George Huntington, 1895
Bunker also tried to get a hold of a derringer kept on a shelf below the teller's window but was spotted. The small gun was later found on Pitt's body.
A. E. Bunker was the second son of Enos A. and Martha M. Bunker of Littleton, New Hampshire, where he was born March 29, 1849. He came to Minnesota in 1855. In 1869 he graduated from St. Paul Business College. In 1871 he studied for two years at Carlton College in Northfield. In 1873 he began working for the First National Bank of Northfield. Bunker married Nettie L. Smith in 1875. After the robbery, Bunker remained with the bank for two more years. In 1880 he left Northfield, moved several times, in connection with the Western Newspaper Union. In 1890 he was a manager in Des Moines, Iowa.
Frank J. Wilcox was the son of Baptist minister James F. Wilcox. Frank was born September 8, 1848 in Taunton, Massachusetts. The family moved to Northfield when he was ten years old. He attended Carleton College in Northfield, followed by Chicago University. After returning to Northfield he worked numerous temporary jobs, one of which landed him as assistant bookkeeper in the First National Bank on the day of the robbery. Though his role in the robbery was largely passive, he was praised for his support of his co-workers refusal to cooperate with the robbers even at risk of their lives. After the robbery his job was made permanent and he remained at the bank for at least twenty more years. In 1879 he married Jennie M. Blake and with her was an active member of the Northfield community.
A number of Northfield citizens immediately moved to defend their town but were either unarmed or poorly armed. Elias Hobbs and Justice Streater resorted to throwing rocks at the bank robbers. Elias Stacy shot Clell Miller in the face with bird shot. J. B. Hyde, Ross Phillips, and James Gregg also used shotguns that weren't powerful enough to do much damage. The two men with rifles, Wheeler and Manning, were credited with routing the bank robbers from their town.
Henry M. Wheeler, killed Clell Miller and wounded Bob Younger. At the time of the raid he was a 22 year old medical student. He was home on summer vacation from college when the bank robbery occurred. From his father's pharmacy he saw the suspicious strangers. He gave an alarm then was driven from the street by the armed robbers. With an old army carbine and three cartridges, he fired from a window of the Dampier Hotel. Wheeler moved to Grand Forks, North Dakota in 1881 where he worked as a doctor.
Anselm R. Manning, killed Bill Chadwell and wounded Cole Younger. Manning was 43 years old at the time of the robbery. He was carpenter and blacksmith from Canada who had lived in Northfield since 1856. His first shot was standing in the open on the street and killed one of the robber's horses. Then his breech-loading rifle jammed and he had to go back to his store to fix it. Coming back to the fight he fired more carefully, from better cover, wounding Cole Younger. He reloaded and killed Chadwell. Manning died in 1909.
Link: Jesse James and the Northfield Bank Raid
Excepts from the dime novel "The James Boys in Minnesota," published in 1882...
The cold steel-like glitter which had been indelibly stamped in their eyes, on that summer day in 1861, when Jesse's back smarted under blows, and he swore to wipe out the indignity with blood, seemed to become colder and harder, as they reflected on what the night might bring forth.
"Jesse, we are in a nest of robbers," said Frank.
"Yes, and murderers," replied Jesse. "We must teach them a lesson."
"I think so."
"We must wipe the entire bloodthirsty set from the face of existence!"
"It's a duty we owe society," said Jesse, with a light laugh. "We are working now wholly for the benefit of society."
"Yes," replied Frank, without the least bit of humor in his voice.
"It may be that by ridding the world of such wretches, Frank, that we may kind a balance accounts for some of our own missteps." [subplot, fictitious, I believe, about their trip to Minnesota]
"The James Boys and the Youngers. The noted Missouri train robbers and highwaymen will make an attack upon the town today.!"
One of the bandits now placed a revolver at Mr. Heywood's head and fired. The man who had been so faithful to his duty fell to the floor and expired without a groan.
Jesse mounted his horse with the reins in his teeth and a revolver in each hand, old guerrilla fashion, charged again and again up the street, clearing it each time.
Three more men came out of the bank and joined the other bandits in the fight. Through the shifting clouds of battle smoke which hovered above the field of carnage, the eager eyes of Eva Leigh pierced. Now her heart leaped wild with fear as she thought or feared she recognized a familiar form.
The bandits are mounted, their tall commanding chieftain, the Bandit King orders the retreat. [subplot of the dime novel was a romance between this girl and Cole Younger]
Bob Younger was almost disabled from the start, and when the besiegers closed in upon the little camp, they found Cole Younger down with seven wounds, Jim Younger with his jaw shattered, Bob with his right arm hanging useless and with two fresh wounds, and Clell Miller with his hands still clutched, and a hard look upon his dead face. [Charlie Pitts, actually]
They were now prisoners, but captives among a Christian people. Their wounds were dressed, they were moved as gently as the situation allowed, and at Madelia, where they rested for a time, were treated with kindness.
Frank and Jesse James were the only outlaws of the eight who had gone on the disastrous expedition to Northfield, Minnesota, who escaped.
They were pursued vigilantly to the very border lines and far beyond; but no man can yet boast that he has ever captured one of the wonderful James Boys. A price was set upon their heads, and they seemed never to forget it, as their atrocious acts since bear witness.
Another Dime Novel "Jesse James, The Outlaw" on-line from Stanford University
More information on the Northfield robbery will be forthcoming.
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