This summer the Northfield Historical Society will display one of the most important artifacts from the 1876 robbery attempt by the James-Younger Gang: the rifle that Henry Wheeler used to defend the First National Bank of Northfield. The weapon — a .50 caliber Smith carbine — is on loan from owners Gerry Groenewold and Connie Triplett and will be on display in the museum starting June 25.
“This is one of the most amazing things I have ever seen” stated Hayes Scriven, NHS executive director. “We have so many artifacts from the James-Younger Gang members, but little that represents the town’s defense of the failed 1876 raid.”
“We care greatly about historic preservation,” explains Groenewold. “Over the years our collecting interests have focused on artifacts having verifiable historic significance. Accordingly, we feel an obligation to allow the public to see these artifacts and learn from the stories they tell.”
Along with the rifle, NHS will be displaying the Smith and Wesson .38 caliber revolver that Wheeler carried in his back pocket after the family of Clell Miller threatened his life, since he had shot and killed Miller during the raid. A gold pocket watch the First National Bank presented to Wheeler for his efforts in defending the bank also will be on display.
“All of the artifacts are in good condition and will be a great addition to our bank raid exhibit this summer,” says Cathy Osterman, NHS curator.
‘One of those moments’
The museum also will display some items relating to Wheeler from their collection that have not previously been displayed, including an unpublished photo of Wheeler recently discovered by Ariel Butler, manager of the Northfield History Collaborative Project. The image seems to be of Wheeler around the age when he was attending Carleton College.
Scriven says he was speechless when Butler first showed him the photo. “That was one of those moments when you first see an item and you can’t believe what you’ve just found,” he says.
Also on display will be the actual glass plate negative taken by Ira Sumner of the dead Clell Miller and Bill Chadwell that was donated to NHS in 2009 by Benjamin Nystuen, a Colorado resident who grew up in Northfield. Scriven believes the negative to be the first photo taken of the dead raiders.
The artifacts will be on display June 25–September 30. Museum hours are Monday through Saturday 9:30 a.m.–6 p.m. and Sunday 1–6 p.m. Admission is $4 for adults, $3 for seniors, and $2 for children (6–12).
NHS is located in historic downtown Northfield at 408 Division Street. Visit northfieldhistory.org for more information.