Nicholas Gonnerman is a junior at Northfield High School. He first became involved with the Northfield Historical Society through the 8th-grade SCOPE program, and since his work on the Posse has volunteered in the Society’s archives and the store. His grandfather is a founding member of the Society.
This town and its people are defined by stories. Without the unique histories to which each of us belong, what would separate Northfield from, say, Faribault or Owatonna? The answer to that question is: very little. This is why being part of the Northfield Historical Society’s tour guide programs, Junior Posse and Adult Posse, is vital to continuing the vibrant stories that have, and forever will, shape our city.
The Northfield Historical Society’s Junior and Adult Posse tour guide programs focus on the most important of these stories — the failed 1876 bank raid. No other part of Northfield’s history has helped put this town on the map than the raid, and as a past tour guide I can attest to the great pride, immense learning, and profound enjoyment that accompanies telling others about it.
The experience begins with a desire to tell our story. A sense of curiosity, and an appreciation for history is all that’s required. Weekly classes are taught by the program director, Earl Weinmann. These courses require some reading on the James-Younger Gang and Northfield past, but the true learning takes place as you immerse yourself into the history. For me, that learning occurred on an uniquely intimate level. It seemed like I got to know each gang member — his personality, interaction with the gang, and motive — on an incredibly unique and personal level. The same goes for the town’s defenders. Figures like acting cashier Joseph Lee Heywood became more than just names. They evolved into living characters in the raid story, and I was able to make a true connection with local history.
The education I received went beyond the weekly classes. As a group, we traveled to Missouri and the birth and death sites of members of the gang. We walked on the same floorboards as a young Jesse James did in his childhood home. We saw the bullet hole made by the shot that ended his life. And we tracked down his gravestone in a nearby cemetery. Along with some other sites, some for pure fun and others for historical pertinence, we learned more than facts that occurred on September 7, 1876; we learned about the lives that shaped the story. I had never experienced a more intimate level of history before joining the Posse.
After the learning and travels, our mission was to showcase what we knew to the public. We put together a tour that we would present to museum visitors. I had as much freedom as necessary to design my tour, and in no time, my fellow guides and I were showing people through the museum. My summer tours flew by. Conducting tours was a fun and rewarding experience. Obviously some public speaking skills were required, but apart from some first-tour jitters, tours went smoothly and my audiences were always kind. The tour itself was a pivotal part of the Posse. The enjoyment I got from telling this town’s stories and the excitement I saw others had from hearing them, not only shows how well the program is constructed, but how much it impacts Northfield.
Being a part of the Posse means being able to communicate and continue our town’s most famous moments. After all, what is Northfield without its stories?
If you are interested in being an Adult Posse tour guide member for the upcoming summer tour season, contact Earl Weinmann at 645-9488. Tour training takes place for one day a week during the months of April and May.