The First National Bank of Northfield

The events of September 7, 1876, are reenacted annually at the scene of the crime during Defeat of Jesse James Days.

The events of September 7, 1876, are reenacted annually at the scene of the crime during Defeat of Jesse James Days.

Built by merchant Hiram Scriver in 1868 on one of the town’s most prominent corners, the Scriver Building has housed many businesses. Scriver’s own store and the First National Bank were early occupants. Other businesses have included the Jesse James Cafe, a barbershop, and a butcher.

In 1975 the Northfield Historical Society purchased the building to use it as a museum and restored the First National Bank to its 1876 appearance.

The Raid
On September 7, 1876, eight bandits rode into Northfield to rob the First National Bank. It was a sunny Thursday at 2 p.m. What would later be called a “textbook James-Younger robbery” began with three of the gang members entering the bank and announcing that this was a holdup.

The desperadoes ordered the three bank employees to open the safe, but were told that the door was locked and couldn’t be opened.

Northfield's First National Bank as it would have looked during the time of the failed robbery attempt in 1876.

Northfield’s First National Bank as it would have looked during the time of the failed robbery attempt in 1876.

The Scene on the Street
Meanwhile, local citizens on the street began to arm themselves when a merchant discovered the robbery in progress and shouted, “Get your guns, boys — they’re robbing the bank!”

Upon this discovery, two of the gang members sprang to their saddles and began firing their pistols, yelling for everyone to leave the area or be shot. This forced the remaining robbers to enter the fray.

The first to fall was a Swedish immigrant named Nicholas Gustafson, who did not understand English well and remained on the street. Gustafson was wounded in the head and died several days later.

A Swift Defeat
When it was over after just seven minutes, two of the robbers lay dead on the street with two more badly wounded. The remaining six outlaws fled southwest, triggering the largest manhunt in U.S. history. Frank and Jesse James were not caught after the failed raid, but the Younger brothers were captured and Charlie Pitts was killed two weeks later during a furious gunfight near Madelia, Minnesota.

Artifacts related to the raid are on permanent display at the Northfield Historical Society Museum.

Artifacts related to the raid are on permanent display at the Northfield Historical Society Museum.

Day of Heroes
A number of townspeople are remembered for their actions that day: J.S. Allen, the merchant who first sounded the alarm; A.R. Manning, who used a single-shot rifle to shoot a horse, wound Cole Younger, and kill William Chadwell; and Henry Wheeler, who killed Clell Miller and wounded Bob Younger with an old single-shot army carbine he found in the lobby of the Dampier Hotel.

Bank teller Joseph Lee Haywood was shot and killed because he refused to open the bank vault.

It is the courage of these otherwise ordinary citizens that we honor on the weekend after Labor Day each year.