The Northfield Historical Society is pleased to announce that a portion of the Henry Wheeler Collection will be on permanent display as of June 16. It will include the Smith carbine that Wheeler used to kill Clell Miller and wound Bob Younger during the failed 1876 bank raid by the James-Younger Gang, and the watch Wheeler received from the First National Bank of Northfield in appreciation for his actions during the robbery. A small revolver that Henry carried with him for the rest of his life also is included.
The display will open June 16 at 7 p.m. at the Northfield Historical Society in downtown Northfield. The event is free and open to the public.
In November 2014 the NHS was loaned the collection by its new owner, Norman Oberto of Northfield, who purchased the collection from Gerald Groenewold and Connie Triplett — owners of the collection for more than 30 years. “I am grateful for the opportunity to assist our Northfield Historical Society in securing this collection,” says Oberto. “These unique artifacts will become the centerpieces in memorializing the failed bank robbery by the James-Younger Gang due to the heroism by the people of Northfield.”
NHS first learned about the Wheeler collection in 2012 when Dr. James Bailey, a forensic scientist who conducted a study of the skeleton in the NHS collection, was researching the Henry Wheeler and his carbine. In 2014 Scriven made an unsuccessful bid to get a grant from the Minnesota Historical Society that would allow NHS to purchase the rifle. Scriven then reached out to a mutual friend of Oberto and “the rest is history,” quips Scriven.
Oberto, who purchased the collection in November, explains that having this collection at the NHS will serve as a reminder to be like Henry Wheeler and the other townspeople who acted with courage on September 7, 1876. “We have the opportunity each and every day to be like the heroes of early Northfield by our actions as responsible citizens in making our town a better place to live,” he says.
New collection, new case
Since the collection came to NHS the staff at the society along with Museology (an exhibit design and fabrication firm in Minneapolis) have been researching, writing, and designing its new display case. The last time the bank raid exhibit was updated was 2005, explains Scriven, “So bringing in this collection allowed us the opportunity to start the process of updating the entire display. This is just the first step in a multiyear project to update the exhibit.”
The new display has been funded by the First National Bank of Northfield.
The Wheeler collection will be the “crown jewel” of the new display as the enhanced exhibit begins to shift the story from being about the raiders to telling the story of Northfielders. “The current exhibit has done a great job telling the story, but it does not highlight the townspeople as much as it should,” says Scriven. “The Wheeler collection is the first step in highlighting the townspeople properly.”