Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Jesse James: Riding Hell-Bent for Leather into Legend

Yankee Do-Gooders

The people of Northfield, Minnesota were a God-fearing lot of mostly Swedish descent who believed in liberty and the right to work hard and earn hard; they believed in the merits of the soil and in the merits of mankind. They were tough in their beliefs and not given to subterfuge. They flew the American flag and meant it; they celebrated the Fourth of July harder than many other Americans. They were a mixed lot of farmers who grew corn and potatoes and other produce, of cattlemen who helped feed a hungry, developing nation; of tradesmen who plied their trade on a daily basis. As a unit, Northfielders saw it as their privilege to succeed by sweat, not by fraud. Many of them quoted the Bible and understood it. They put forthrightness first and thanked God every morning and evening they were placed as part of this community where everyone thought alike. Yankee do-gooders, yes. and they were proud f it.

Though they never had a reason to defend themselves, they were, in their hearts, ready, willing and quite able to do it. Had Chadwell totally understood the folks in Northfield, he would have realized that their money in the First National Bank symbolized more to them than financial gain; it meant their reward for living and working freely and honestly. And they would fight for it to the death.

Strangers, who stood out in Northfield, were always welcomed there, but dare they act suspiciously. When the eight fancy-dressed long riders with saddle carbines galloped onto the main street together, then immediately separated into three distinctly strategic groups...well, this was suspicious. Merchants gazing out of their shop windows noted with alarm that three of the men (Jesse, Bob Younger and Charley Pitts) sauntered into the bank, while two others (Cole Younger and Clell Miller) remained out front; the final trio (Frank James, Jim Younger and Bill Chadwell) tarried on to harangue in their saddles at the street's far end, staring over their shoulders in the process.

Though they had never seen one, to the Northfielders this had all the earmarks of a bank robbery. Though most of the citizens never expected trouble they all owned guns to protect their shops should the devil ever whip up any. Barbers told their customers to wipe off the shaving cream and to get ready to fight. Butchers picked up their meat cleavers and headed for their front stoops. Milliners warded the lady folks away from the cloth counters and into the back room just in case. Hardware dealer J.A. Allen, whose store faced the bank, was blunt. He walked up to Clell Miller and asked him, "What's going on here, young man?"

"Shut your damned mouth and git," Miller glowered; he shoved Allen off the boardwalk.

First National Bank of Northfield
First National Bank of Northfield

That's all it took. The barbers came out and the butchers came out and the milliners came out, and the citizens of Northfield all along the facing street, they all came out gripping handguns and shotguns and cleavers and knives and canes and brooms.

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