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Northfield, Minnesota Bank Robbery

September 7, 1876---That was the day that marked the beginning of the end for the James-Younger Gang. The gang had been planning for weeks to rob a bank somewhere in the state of Minnesota. One of the members, Bill Chadwell, suggested the idea, since he was from Minnesota and stated that he could get the gang in and out of the state easily. Jesse James and Bob Younger liked this plan very much, but none of the others apparently did. Cole Younger and Frank James attempted to talk Bob and Jesse out of the planned bank heist, but nothing either of them said worked. Since they couldn’t talk them out of it, Cole and Frank elected to go with them, probably hoping that if they told their younger brothers they were going along, Jesse and Bob would back out. However, they did not back out. Cole even went so far as to having his brother Jim, who had a peaceful life in California, return to Missouri to talk to Bob. When Bob still refused to listen, Jim said he would have to go along as well, again hoping this would cause Bob to back out. But once again, Bob did not. Cole, although angry with Bob, decided to ask his friend and fellow gang member Charlie Pitts go along as well. Pitts agreed, albeit reluctantly. Jesse also invited his sidekick and fellow gang member Clell Miller to go on the expedition as well. Clell, who probably would have done anything Jesse asked of him, agreed to go. Someone also suggested they bring a new member, Hobbs Kerry, along with them. It’s been claimed that Jim Cummins also agreed to accompany the gang to Minnesota. However, he can't be confirmed as having gone. Either way, the gang began making their plans for Minnesota.

The gang elected to rob a train in Missouri before going to Minnesota, for financing. They robbed a train at Otterville, Missouri on July 7, 1876 (Click here to read about the Otterville, Missouri Train Robbery). Shortly thereafter, Hobbs Kerry was arrested and gave up the names of his accomplices in the robbery. However, by that time, the rest of the gang had already left for Minnesota. When they left, they had no idea what town they would rob a bank in. They just figured on picking one once they arrived. On train, they traveled in separate groups, one being composed of Jesse, Frank, Clell, and Jim and the other composed of Cole, Bob, Charlie, and Bill. Both groups arrived in Minnesota sometime in mid-August 1876. Both groups began prospecting many small towns, to see which one would contain the best bank to rob. After prospecting about a dozen or more towns, they elected to rob the First National Bank of Northfield, Minnesota.

Early on the morning of the seventh day of September, all eight members of the gang met outside of town to discuss their plans. It was decided that they would break up into three groups, one to go inside the bank, one to stand guard outside of the bank, and one to cover their planned retreat path. Jesse and Bob elected to go inside the bank, since they organized the entire affair. Frank also volunteered to go inside. Cole and Clell would be positioned outside the bank as the guards. That left Jim, Charlie, and Bill to be the rear guards. They decided that Jesse’s group would ride into town first, on Bridge Street, over the bridge that led to the town square, around one o’clock in the afternoon. A short while later, Cole and Clell would enter town, and at that point Jesse and the others would enter the bank. When Cole and Clell reached the outside of the bank, Jim’s group would ride into town to guard the exit path, namely the bridge. After the bank had been robbed, all three groups would unite at the bridge. Bill, Clell, and Bob would then be counted on to destroy the telegraph lines and following that, the gang would ride out of town. Bill would then be trusted to lead the gang to safety. If any trouble was to occur, Cole or Clell were to fire one shot in the air to signal Bill's group to ride to their aid. It was also decided that no citizen was to be killed, no matter what. If they were fired on by any citizen, they were instructed only to wound that citizen in return, but not to kill.

At one o’clock, Jesse, Frank, and Bob rode across the bridge and towards the town square. They went to a restaurant located on Division Street (the same street the bank was located on) and had a fifty minute long breakfast. When they had finished dining, the three men walked over to the Lee & Hitchcock Dry Goods Store, located next door to the bank. The trio sat on a few crates outside of the store and casually waited for Cole and Clell to appear coming across the bridge.

Just before two o’clock, Cole and Clell rode across the bridge towards the square. Cole noted how crowded the streets were and wondered why the first group didn’t also notice this and simply continue on through town and call the whole thing off. Clell, however, seemed unconcerned and began smoking a pipe. At this time, precisely two in the afternoon, Jesse, Frank, and Bob entered the First National Bank of Northfield. However, for some reason, they left the front door ajar. As Cole and Clell neared the bank, Cole spotted former Mississippi governor Adelbert Ames walking down the street with some family members. Cole said to Clell, loud enough so Ames could hear him, “Look, it’s the governor himself.” They then continued towards the bank, but Ames knew immediately that the two men were from the South, since no one up in Northfield ever called him “governor.” Cole and Clell soon reached the bank, and both dismounted. Clell immediately walked to the bank’s front door and shut it. Cole walked his horse to the middle of the street in front of the bank and pretended to be adjusting the girth on his saddle. Clell, meanwhile, merely stood on the bank’s front porch, smoking his pipe, with his horse tethered to a post in front of the bank. Shortly thereafter, Jim, Charlie, and Bill rode up to the bridge and merely stayed there, mounted on their horses.

Inside the bank, the trio of robbers discovered that there were three other men inside, namely, Joseph Lee Heywood, the acting cashier, Alonzo E. Bunker, the teller, and Frank J. Wilcox, the bookkeeper. Jesse, Frank, and Bob immediately pulled their guns and aimed them at the three bank employees. Following this, Jesse announced, “We’re robbing this bank. Don’t any of you holler. We’ve got forty men outside.” The three robbers then jumped over the counter and Jesse asked Heywood if he was the cashier, to which Heywood said no. Bunker and Wilcox were then asked the same question, each of them denying being the cashier as well. Finally, Jesse brought his attention back to Heywood and told him he knew he was the cashier. He ordered Heywood to open the safe, located in the vault, and that he ought to be “damned quick” about it. Heywood replied that either he would not, or could not, open the safe. Meanwhile, Frank walked over to the open vault door to inspect the safe inside, while Bob kept his guns trained on Wilcox and Bunker. As Frank began to enter the vault, Heywood made a dash from Jesse and threw his weight into the safe door, attempting to lock Frank in it. Frank managed to get out of the safe just in time, but his arm and hand had been smashed inside it. Remarkably, he was not seriously injured and no bones were broken, yet his arm hurt immensly. Bob then ran to Heywood and knocked him to the floor with his pistol butt.

Meanwhile, things were going on even worse outside the bank. Two citizens walking down Division Street, J. S. Allen, who owned one of the town’s two hardware/gun stores, and nineteen-year-old medical student Henry M. Wheeler, noticed Cole and Clell standing outside the bank and became suspicious. Allen approached the bank, but Clell immediately grabbed his wrist, forcibly stopping him from entering the bank. However, Allen was able to see through a window what was going on inside and Clell whispered to him to keep his “goddamned mouth shut!” For some reason, Clell chose not to shove Allen inside the bank, where he could be well guarded, but shoved him away from the bank, presuming he would simply go on his way and remain silent about the gang’s activities. Clell’s plan backfired…big time. Allen walked merely a few feet before he began running and shouting “Get your guns boys! They’re robbing the bank!” Wheeler, meanwhile, also began running around and shouting, “Robbery! Robbery!” Clell immediately pulled one of his pistols and aimed it at Wheeler. He fired, but the bullet went just a little above Wheeler’s head. It would be the biggest mistake of Clell’s life by not killing him when he had the chance.

After Clell’s first shot, Cole and he mounted their respective horses and began charging up and down the streets, yelling “Get in! Get in!” and shooting their guns in the sky, through windows, and over people’s head. Jim, Bill, and Charlie, on the bridge, heard Clell’s first shot as well and quickly rode to join the foray, using exactly the same guerrilla tactics as Cole and Clell were using. At first, it seemed that the gang was actually overtaking the citizens, but the situation quickly flipped. The citizens ran to their homes or places of business to grab their derringers, pistols, shotguns, and rifles. J. S. Allen ran to his hardware/gun store and began loading and handing out whatever guns he could to every passerby near his store. The citizens then all ran to various places in town, including rooftops, porches, windows, sidewalks, and more. They began randomly opening fire on the five outlaws. In a matter of seconds, Division Street became a shooting gallery, with bullets flying and zipping in every direction from every possible location. The owner of the other hardware/gun store in town, Anselm R. Manning, ran to his store in hopes of procuring a formidable weapon. What he chose to use was his personal breech-loading rifle. With this gun and pockets full of cartridges, he ran to the street, searching for a target. Henry Wheeler, meanwhile, ran to the Dampier Hotel, located across the street from the bank. He ran to the top-story and found an old Army carbine and three slugs. He grabbed the gun, loaded it, and placed himself in a strategic position in one of the upper-story windows overlooking the siege.

Inside the bank, Jesse approached Heywood, still lying dazed on the bank floor. He knelt down in front of Heywood and pulled a small pocket knife out of his pocket, then placed it to the upper section of Heywood’s neck. “Open the safe, or I’ll cut your damn throat from ear-to-ear,” said Jesse to the terrified cashier. Heywood replied that Jesse would have to slit his throat, since he couldn’t open it. In anger and frustration, Jesse made a slight gash on the cashier’s neck, then dragged him back up to his feet. While Bob stuffed loose bills into a grain sack, Jesse pointed his pistol at Heywood and once again ordered him to open the safe. Heywood finally told him that there was a chronometer (time lock) on the safe and it could not be opened for any reason. However, if Heywood hadn’t stopped Frank from inspecting the safe, Frank would have discovered that while there was a chronometer on the safe, it had not been set and could have easily been opened. Heywood undoubtedly knew this. At this same time, Bunker noticed that Frank was guarding Wilcox and Bob was preoccupied with stuffing the loose bills into the grain sack. Bunker seized the opportunity and made a dash through the back door. Bob noticed this out of the corner of his eye and gave chase after Bunker. Bunker had made it out the door and was rounding a corner to get to the street when Bob appeared in the doorway behind him and fired a shot. The bullet tore through Bunker’s shoulder and exited under his collarbone, causing him to stumble. Somehow, he remained on his feet and made it around the corner, and out of Bob’s view. Out of harm’s way, Bunker, holding his wound, began running for help while screaming, “They’re robbing the bank! Help!” Bob, meanwhile, returned to the bank and helped Frank guard Wilcox. At this point, Cole quickly rode by the front door of the bank and shouted inside “Hurry up! They’ve given the alarm!”

Outside, the hopeless siege raged on. On the street stood a young Swedish immigrant named Nicholas Gustavson, paralyzed with fear, who could not speak nor understand English. Cole Younger, who sat mounted on his horse near Gustavson, yelled at him, “Get off the damn street!” Seconds after he spoke this, Gustavson fell to the ground with a bullet in his head, fired by an unknown person. He would die of this wound four days later. It’s most likely that whoever fired the bullet into Gustavson did it by accident, as the gang intended not to kill anyone, even though they were being shot at themselves. Clell Miller rode his horse back to the bank, dismounted, walked up to the door, and yelled inside for Jesse, Frank, and Bob to hurry it up. He then turned to remount his horse, and as he did so, a citizen named Elias Stacy spotted him from a few yards away. Stacy had been given a shotgun by J. S. Allen at the beginning of the foray, and, during the confusion, Allen had accidentally loaded it with light-birdshot. Stacy, not knowing this, took aim and fired at Clell’s head. The birdshot peppered Clell’s face, tearing holes throughout it, puncturing his left eye, and leaving pieces of skin and streams of blood running down his face. The force had knocked him back in his saddle, but he managed to stay seated. Screaming and moaning in agony, he reached forward for his reins and began to charge forward again, continuing to shoot off his pistols. Cole, meanwhile, rode by in front of Anselm Manning and ended up taking a slug in the side of his left shoulder from Manning’s rifle. However, Cole continued to ride, not turning back. Jim Younger rode his horse beneath the upper windows of the Dampier Hotel, with Henry Wheeler clearly seeing him. He took careful aim and fired a slug right through Jim’s left shoulder. Jim spun around and fired a poorly aimed shot in Wheeler’s direction, missing completely. Seconds later, Jim continued his charge.

It was at this point that Manning noticed the three horses that were tethered to the post in front of the bank. He rightly assumed that these belonged to the robbers inside and, hoping to keep the outlaws from fleeing, shot one of the horses in the head. The horse, Bob’s, dropped dead instantly. At this point, Manning noticed that the rifle hadn’t ejected the spent shell. He quickly ran back to his store, grabbed a ramrod, dislodged the shell with it, and then resumed his position on the street. Spotting Cole again, he fired, but his bullet only managed to knock Cole’s hat off his head, while leaving him unharmed. Manning then searched for another target and soon found one: Bill Chadwell, sitting on his horse, firing his pistol randomly, seventy yards away, and apparently not noticing Manning at all. Manning coolly aimed the rifle at Chadwell and took his time, waiting for the perfect shot. The people around him, including Gov. Ames, screamed for him to shoot. Ignoring them, Manning continued to wait. Then, after several more seconds, he finally fired, and his aim could not have been more true. The bullet hit Bill in the chest, and passed through the direct center of his heart. As a reflex motion, he stood in his saddle and gasped for air, before tumbling out of it and falling to the dirt street below. He was dead before he hit the ground. Wheeler, the sniper, meanwhile had spotted Clell, understandably still in his screaming rampage. Wheeler aimed from his high perch and fired down at Clell. The slug hit Clell just below the left shoulder, severing his subclavian artery. The blast knocked him off his horse and he landed face first in the dirt. With blood gushing out of his eye, face, and shoulder, he attempted to lift himself up on his arms, but after about three seconds of this, his strength gave up and he toppled over. Cole saw this and raced towards him. Reaching his body, he dismounted and, using his horse for cover, knelt to examine Clell. Discovering he was dead, he grabbed Clell’s pistols and cartridge belts and attempted to remount. As he was doing so, another bullet tore through his left thigh. He winced in pain, but managed to pull himself up on his horse and make another charge. He ran passed the bank door again and yelled inside, “They’re killing our men! Get out here!”

Jesse James, angrier than ever now, once again knocked Heywood to the ground. Then, in frusteration, he fired a bullet into the floor, just missing Heywood’s head. Bob Younger, meanwhile, decided to give it up and he raced outside with the grain sack over his shoulder and a pistol in his right hand. Jesse raced after him. Frank however, decided to exit last, and just as he was getting ready to do so, he noticed out of the corner of his eye that Heywood was getting back up. Some say that he was also pulling a small caliber pistol on Frank, but this is probably false. Either way, Frank turned back around, placed his pistol to Heywood’s temple, and blew his brains out. This done, he left the bank to join the rest of the gang in the street.

Once Frank was outside, Jesse mounted his horse, and Frank did the same. Apparently neither of them realized that Bob’s horse was dead. Shortly after beginning his charge down Division Street, Frank took a bullet in the right leg. Jim then took another bullet in his right shoulder. Bob, seeing his horse dead, attempted to capture either Bill’s or Clell’s horse, both of which were still running around the street. Not being able to do this, he took cover under an outside, wooden staircase located on the side of the Lee & Hitchcock Dry Goods Store. Kneeling there, he spotted Manning and vice versa. The two began taking potshots at each other, but somehow not a single bullet either of them fired reached its mark. Wheeler, still in his upper window perch, could see only Bob’s right arm reaching out to shoot at Manning from under the staircase. He aimed, then fired. The slug hit Bob squarely in the right elbow, shattering it and crippling his arm for the rest of his life. He screamed in pain, then switched his gun to his left hand and continued to shoot at Manning. At this point, one of the gang shouted out, “It’s no use Boys! Let’s go!” That said, they all took off on Bridge Street, heading for the bridge, which would also be the town's exit. Jesse, unhurt, reached the bridge first, and was thereafter followed by Frank. Jim followed next, and just before getting out of town, a bullet tore into the back of his right leg. He stopped only for a moment in pain, then continued on out of town behind Jesse and Frank. Charlie, unhurt, and Cole were close behind. Just then, Bob came out of his hiding spot and called out, “Don’t leave me Boys! I’ve been shot!” Cole and Charlie both heard this, and Cole turned back for his brother, while Charlie waited as a guard at the town’s exit. Cole raced his horse as fast as he could as the severely injured Bob ran to meet him. Charlie, covering Cole with his pistols through all of this, suddenly had a bullet or a few pieces of buckshot graze the upper section of his left arm. At this point, all gunfire was focused on Cole and Bob. As the two brothers met up, a volley of shots was fired their way. One bullet hit Bob in the left leg and he stumbled. Another took off Cole’s saddle horn and another severed Cole’s reins. Nevertheless, he managed to reach down and, gathering his strength, lifted Bob off the ground and onto the back of his saddle. Bob then wrapped his left arm around Cole’s waist and, with Cole holding his horse’s main, took off after Jesse, Frank, Jim, and Charlie. Nearing the exit of the town, another volley of shots was fired at Cole and Bob. One bullet hit Cole in the left hip, one in the right side, and a third in his right arm. Following this, he and Bob met up with Charlie at the end of town and three of them rode at breakneck speed after Jesse, Frank, and Jim. As they left, at least two citizens began picking up rocks and hurling them at the outlaws while yelling, “Stone ‘em! Stone ‘em!” Still others hurled pitchforks at them. But, by now, it didn’t matter. The James-Younger Gang, or at least what was left of it, was out of Northfield, never to return. They had been beaten at their own game…and beaten badly. They took with them a stolen amount of only $26.70. Behind them they left two good friends and fellow gang members dead, one dead horse, and two dead or dying Northfield citizens. One other citizen was wounded, and five out of the six surviving robbers were injured. There would be only two more weeks, to the day, of the James-Younger Gang’s existence. And in those two weeks, the largest manhunt in the country up until that time was launched.

The above photo is of Division Street in Northfield, circa 1876. The bank is cleary visible near the center of the photo. The hardware/gun store of Anselm R. Manning is the last completely seen building on the right of the photo. The outside staircase alongside the Lee & Hitchcock Store is where Bob Younger took refuge under after he fled the bank. The Dampier Hotel, where Henry M. Wheeler fired on the outlaws from his sniper's position, is off camera, but would be located across from the bank.


Amount of Money Stolen

Citizens Killed/Wounded