Desperado Stopped at Eleva, Wisconsin after Northfield Robbery
Among the notorious characters in American history is Jessed James. Jesse, the son of a southern minister, became a desperado, it is said, because in his home community of St Joseph, MO, he was constantly taunted by northern sympathizers. His comparatively short life of law violation was at its height during and a few years immediately following the Civil War. It was in the latter months of his life that Jesse visited Trempealeau County and stopped for two nights with the late R. P. Goodard, early day merchant, black smith and hotel keeper at Eleva, Wisconsin.
This story came to light through Roy H. Matson, county clerk, who is taking an active interest in arranging and indexing antiques in the House of Memories. Roy attended high school at Mondovi, Wisconsin and stayed at the home of Mrs. L. A. Merritt, mother of Harry Merritt, state supervising teacher. Mrs. Merritt is a daughter of the late Mr. and Mrs. R. P. Goddard of Eleva.
According to Mrs. Merritt’s story, a few weeks following the attack of Jesse James and his bandits on Northfield, MN, Jesse rested for a period of a day and two nights in Eleva. The Goddard’s had rooms above the store which were frequently occupied by transients. Mrs. Merritt recalls that Jesse came to town on horseback and asked for accommodations at their place. There was nothing about him that caused suspicion and he was accommodated. He arranged that his horse be well cared for and then spent his time sleeping and resting. While he kept pretty much to himself, when opportunity arose, he was sociable, in a modest and pleasant way. An incident which Mrs. Goddard remembered was that while she was milking the cow one evening, Jesse, leaning on the rail fence which enclosed the pasture, where now stands the bank building and garage in Eleva, asked her if she liked to milk.
Other than observing that, the arranger had unusually sharp eyes, no particular attention was paid to Jesse during his stay in Eleva. But after paying his bill and departing, Mrs. Goddard found a $ 5 gold piece on a table in his room when she went there to change the bedding. While $ 5 tips were not common, it was accepted as an expression of appreciation.
Jesse departed from the Goddard hotel early one morning. Three days later a sheriff and his deputy from the state of Minnesota drove into Eleva with a team and buckboard. They had trailed the bandit from Northfield, where he had robbed a bank. The officers inquired of citizens if a man of the description they gave had been in the hamlet. They soon learned that apparently the man they wanted and rested at the Goddard hotel. Later they learned that Jesse had stopped at Hamlin, a post office at the time between Eleva and Strum on the old stagecoach route. From there his trail led into Chimney Rock, after which it disappeared.
At the time Chris Spangberg of Strum was a small boy engaged in herding cattle in the bluffs of Chimney Rock. One day he saw two men on horseback and one had a large sack or pouch on his saddle. The men rode into a coulee or ravine where they remained for a time and then rode out over the trail on which they had entered and continued down the valley toward the Trempealeau River. The coulee into which the horsemen rode was a forty of land later owned by the late Barney Ness. According to Mr. Spangberg’s observation the saddle pouch was not in when the men departed, which later led to the belief that the stolen money which it was thought to contain was buried in the ravine. Following the episode, pioneer settlers spent much time digging in the gulch in search of the booty, without success.
Mrs. Alfred Blom, of Eleva, told this story: When my grandmother, Anne Prestodden, and my uncle, Gunuf Prestodden, first lived on this land, a stranger appeared at their door and asked for shelter for the night. He did not, however, go to bed, but rested in a chair. Once or twice in the night, he went ouside and blew a shistle. He remained until dawn, when he asked for some sandwiches to take with him. My maternal grandparents lived just across the hill from the rock formation called Chimney Rock. They had an old iron teak kettle standing out on the ground and someone evidently took it that night. That gave rise to the idea that the gold from the Northfield Bank was buried in it near Chimney Rock which was a good landmark in those days. There were no big trees on the hills surrounding the Rock as the Indians set fires to keep the brush and trees down so they would have good crops of blueberries.
Many people have searched for the gold. In the summer of 1939, a party from Eau Claire asked permission to look for it as they hasd a gold detecting contraption that was guaranteed. They dug at the place it indicated and gained only slimmer waistlines.
Without doubt, it was Jesse James who stopped at the Goddard hotel in Eleva and then successfully got out of the state, probably fording the Mississippi river and returning to his old home near St Joseph, MO. Shortly after the group of Gorillas was organized which included Jesse and his brother, Frank James, and the outlaws of the post Civil War period, the state of Missouri offered a $ 10,000 reward for the capture of Jesse, the leader of the gang, dead or alive. This prompted his accomplice, Robert Ford to take his life. History has it that Jesse seldom laid aside his six-shooter from his belt and stepped onto a chair to adjust a picture of his mother which hung on the wall, and as he did this, his companion, Robert Ford, shot him in the back.
This closed the life of Jesse James. (THE WHTEHALL TIMES, September 19, 1940)
THE STORY OF THE NORTHFIELD ROBBERY
September 7, 1876---That was the day that marked the beginning of the end for the James-Younger Gang. The gang had been planning for weeks to rob a bank somewhere in the state of Minnesota. One of the members, Bill Chadwell, suggested the idea, since he was from Minnesota and stated that he could get the gang in and out of the state easily. Jesse James and Bob Younger liked this plan very much, but none of the others apparently did. Cole Younger and Frank James attempted to talk Bob and Jesse out of the planned bank heist, but nothing either of them said worked. Since they couldn’t talk them out of it, Cole and Frank elected to go with them, probably hoping that if they told their younger brothers they were going along, Jesse and Bob would back out. However, they did not back out. Cole even went so far as to having his brother Jim, who had a peaceful life in California, return to Missouri to talk to Bob. When Bob still refused to listen, Jim said he would have to go along as well, again hoping this would cause Bob to back out. But once again, Bob did not. Cole, although angry with Bob, decided to ask his friend and fellow gang member Charlie Pitts go along as well. Pitts agreed, albeit reluctantly. Jesse also invited his sidekick and fellow gang member Clell Miller to go on the expedition as well. Clell, who probably would have done anything Jesse asked of him, agreed to go. Someone also suggested they bring a new member, Hobbs Kerry, along with them. It’s been claimed that Jim Cummins also agreed to accompany the gang to Minnesota. However, he can't be confirmed as having gone. Either way, the gang began making their plans for Minnesota.
The gang elected to rob a train in Missouri before going to Minnesota, for financing. They robbed a train at Otterville, Missouri on July 7, 1876 (Click here to read about the Otterville, Missouri Train Robbery). Shortly thereafter, Hobbs Kerry was arrested and gave up the names of his accomplices in the robbery. However, by that time, the rest of the gang had already left for Minnesota. When they left, they had no idea what town they would rob a bank in. They just figured on picking one once they arrived. On train, they traveled in separate groups, one being composed of Jesse, Frank, Clell, and Jim and the other composed of Cole, Bob, Charlie, and Bill. Both groups arrived in Minnesota sometime in mid-August 1876. Both groups began prospecting many small towns, to see which one would contain the best bank to rob. After prospecting about a dozen or more towns, they elected to rob the First National Bank of Northfield, Minnesota.
Early on the morning of the seventh day of September, all eight members of the gang met outside of town to discuss their plans. It was decided that they would break up into three groups, one to go inside the bank, one to stand guard outside of the bank, and one to cover their planned retreat path. Jesse and Bob elected to go inside the bank, since they organized the entire affair. Frank also volunteered to go inside. Cole and Clell would be positioned outside the bank as the guards. That left Jim, Charlie, and Bill to be the rear guards. They decided that Jesse’s group would ride into town first, on Bridge Street, over the bridge that led to the town square, around one o’clock in the afternoon. A short while later, Cole and Clell would enter town, and at that point Jesse and the others would enter the bank. When Cole and Clell reached the outside of the bank, Jim’s group would ride into town to guard the exit path, namely the bridge. After the bank had been robbed, all three groups would unite at the bridge. Bill, Clell, and Bob would then be counted on to destroy the telegraph lines and following that, the gang would ride out of town. Bill would then be trusted to lead the gang to safety. If any trouble was to occur, Cole or Clell were to fire one shot in the air to signal Bill's group to ride to their aid. It was also decided that no citizen was to be killed, no matter what. If they were fired on by any citizen, they were instructed only to wound that citizen in return, but not to kill.
At one o’clock, Jesse, Frank, and Bob rode across the bridge and towards the town square. They went to a restaurant located on Division Street (the same street the bank was located on) and had a fifty minute long breakfast. When they had finished dining, the three men walked over to the Lee & Hitchcock Dry Goods Store, located next door to the bank. The trio sat on a few crates outside of the store and casually waited for Cole and Clell to appear coming across the bridge.
Just before two o’clock, Cole and Clell rode across the bridge towards the square. Cole noted how crowded the streets were and wondered why the first group didn’t also notice this and simply continue on through town and call the whole thing off. Clell, however, seemed unconcerned and began smoking a pipe. At this time, precisely two in the afternoon, Jesse, Frank, and Bob entered the First National Bank of Northfield. However, for some reason, they left the front door ajar. As Cole and Clell neared the bank, Cole spotted former Mississippi governor Adelbert Ames walking down the street with some family members. Cole said to Clell, loud enough so Ames could hear him, “Look, it’s the governor himself.” They then continued towards the bank, but Ames knew immediately that the two men were from the South, since no one up in Northfield ever called him “governor.” Cole and Clell soon reached the bank, and both dismounted. Clell immediately walked to the bank’s front door and shut it. Cole walked his horse to the middle of the street in front of the bank and pretended to be adjusting the girth on his saddle. Clell, meanwhile, merely stood on the bank’s front porch, smoking his pipe, with his horse tethered to a post in front of the bank. Shortly thereafter, Jim, Charlie, and Bill rode up to the bridge and merely stayed there, mounted on their horses.
Inside the bank, the trio of robbers discovered that there were three other men inside, namely, Joseph Lee Heywood, the acting cashier, Alonzo E. Bunker, the teller, and Frank J. Wilcox, the bookkeeper. Jesse, Frank, and Bob immediately pulled their guns and aimed them at the three bank employees. Following this, Jesse announced, “We’re robbing this bank. Don’t any of you holler. We’ve got forty men outside.” The three robbers then jumped over the counter and Jesse asked Heywood if he was the cashier, to which Heywood said no. Bunker and Wilcox were then asked the same question, each of them denying being the cashier as well. Finally, Jesse brought his attention back to Heywood and told him he knew he was the cashier. He ordered Heywood to open the safe, located in the vault, and that he ought to be “damned quick” about it. Heywood replied that either he would not, or could not, open the safe. Meanwhile, Frank walked over to the open vault door to inspect the safe inside, while Bob kept his guns trained on Wilcox and Bunker. As Frank began to enter the vault, Heywood made a dash from Jesse and threw his weight into the safe door, attempting to lock Frank in it. Frank managed to get out of the safe just in time, but his arm and hand had been smashed inside it. Remarkably, he was not seriously injured and no bones were broken, yet his arm hurt immensly. Bob then ran to Heywood and knocked him to the floor with his pistol butt.
Meanwhile, things were going on even worse outside the bank. Two citizens walking down Division Street, J. S. Allen, who owned one of the town’s two hardware/gun stores, and nineteen-year-old medical student Henry M. Wheeler, noticed Cole and Clell standing outside the bank and became suspicious. Allen approached the bank, but Clell immediately grabbed his wrist, forcibly stopping him from entering the bank. However, Allen was able to see through a window what was going on inside and Clell whispered to him to keep his “goddamned mouth shut!” For some reason, Clell chose not to shove Allen inside the bank, where he could be well guarded, but shoved him away from the bank, presuming he would simply go on his way and remain silent about the gang’s activities. Clell’s plan backfired…big time. Allen walked merely a few feet before he began running and shouting “Get your guns boys! They’re robbing the bank!” Wheeler, meanwhile, also began running around and shouting, “Robbery! Robbery!” Clell immediately pulled one of his pistols and aimed it at Wheeler. He fired, but the bullet went just a little above Wheeler’s head. It would be the biggest mistake of Clell’s life by not killing him when he had the chance.
After Clell’s first shot, Cole and he mounted their respective horses and began charging up and down the streets, yelling “Get in! Get in!” and shooting their guns in the sky, through windows, and over people’s head. Jim, Bill, and Charlie, on the bridge, heard Clell’s first shot as well and quickly rode to join the foray, using exactly the same guerrilla tactics as Cole and Clell were using. At first, it seemed that the gang was actually overtaking the citizens, but the situation quickly flipped. The citizens ran to their homes or places of business to grab their derringers, pistols, shotguns, and rifles. J. S. Allen ran to his hardware/gun store and began loading and handing out whatever guns he could to every passerby near his store. The citizens then all ran to various places in town, including rooftops, porches, windows, sidewalks, and more. They began randomly opening fire on the five outlaws. In a matter of seconds, Division Street became a shooting gallery, with bullets flying and zipping in every direction from every possible location. The owner of the other hardware/gun store in town, Anselm R. Manning, ran to his store in hopes of procuring a formidable weapon. What he chose to use was his personal breech-loading rifle. With this gun and pockets full of cartridges, he ran to the street, searching for a target. Henry Wheeler, meanwhile, ran to the Dampier Hotel, located across the street from the bank. He ran to the top-story and found an old Army carbine and three slugs. He grabbed the gun, loaded it, and placed himself in a strategic position in one of the upper-story windows overlooking the siege.
Inside the bank, Jesse approached Heywood, still lying dazed on the bank floor. He knelt down in front of Heywood and pulled a small pocket knife out of his pocket, then placed it to the upper section of Heywood’s neck. “Open the safe, or I’ll cut your damn throat from ear-to-ear,” said Jesse to the terrified cashier. Heywood replied that Jesse would have to slit his throat, since he couldn’t open it. In anger and frustration, Jesse made a slight gash on the cashier’s neck, then dragged him back up to his feet. While Bob stuffed loose bills into a grain sack, Jesse pointed his pistol at Heywood and once again ordered him to open the safe. Heywood finally told him that there was a chronometer (time lock) on the safe and it could not be opened for any reason. However, if Heywood hadn’t stopped Frank from inspecting the safe, Frank would have discovered that while there was a chronometer on the safe, it had not been set and could have easily been opened. Heywood undoubtedly knew this. At this same time, Bunker noticed that Frank was guarding Wilcox and Bob was preoccupied with stuffing the loose bills into the grain sack. Bunker seized the opportunity and made a dash through the back door. Bob noticed this out of the corner of his eye and gave chase after Bunker. Bunker had made it out the door and was rounding a corner to get to the street when Bob appeared in the doorway behind him and fired a shot. The bullet tore through Bunker’s shoulder and exited under his collarbone, causing him to stumble. Somehow, he remained on his feet and made it around the corner, and out of Bob’s view. Out of harm’s way, Bunker, holding his wound, began running for help while screaming, “They’re robbing the bank! Help!” Bob, meanwhile, returned to the bank and helped Frank guard Wilcox. At this point, Cole quickly rode by the front door of the bank and shouted inside “Hurry up! They’ve given the alarm!”
Outside, the hopeless siege raged on. On the street stood a young Swedish immigrant named Nicholas Gustavson, paralyzed with fear, who could not speak nor understand English. Cole Younger, who sat mounted on his horse near Gustavson, yelled at him, “Get off the damn street!” Seconds after he spoke this, Gustavson fell to the ground with a bullet in his head, fired by an unknown person. He would die of this wound four days later. It’s most likely that whoever fired the bullet into Gustavson did it by accident, as the gang intended not to kill anyone, even though they were being shot at themselves. Clell Miller rode his horse back to the bank, dismounted, walked up to the door, and yelled inside for Jesse, Frank, and Bob to hurry it up. He then turned to remount his horse, and as he did so, a citizen named Elias Stacy spotted him from a few yards away. Stacy had been given a shotgun by J. S. Allen at the beginning of the foray, and, during the confusion, Allen had accidentally loaded it with light-birdshot. Stacy, not knowing this, took aim and fired at Clell’s head. The birdshot peppered Clell’s face, tearing holes throughout it, puncturing his left eye, and leaving pieces of skin and streams of blood running down his face. The force had knocked him back in his saddle, but he managed to stay seated. Screaming and moaning in agony, he reached forward for his reins and began to charge forward again, continuing to shoot off his pistols. Cole, meanwhile, rode by in front of Anselm Manning and ended up taking a slug in the side of his left shoulder from Manning’s rifle. However, Cole continued to ride, not turning back. Jim Younger rode his horse beneath the upper windows of the Dampier Hotel, with Henry Wheeler clearly seeing him. He took careful aim and fired a slug right through Jim’s left shoulder. Jim spun around and fired a poorly aimed shot in Wheeler’s direction, missing completely. Seconds later, Jim continued his charge.
It was at this point that Manning noticed the three horses that were tethered to the post in front of the bank. He rightly assumed that these belonged to the robbers inside and, hoping to keep the outlaws from fleeing, shot one of the horses in the head. The horse, Bob’s, dropped dead instantly. At this point, Manning noticed that the rifle hadn’t ejected the spent shell. He quickly ran back to his store, grabbed a ramrod, dislodged the shell with it, and then resumed his position on the street. Spotting Cole again, he fired, but his bullet only managed to knock Cole’s hat off his head, while leaving him unharmed. Manning then searched for another target and soon found one: Bill Chadwell, sitting on his horse, firing his pistol randomly, seventy yards away, and apparently not noticing Manning at all. Manning coolly aimed the rifle at Chadwell and took his time, waiting for the perfect shot. The people around him, including Gov. Ames, screamed for him to shoot. Ignoring them, Manning continued to wait. Then, after several more seconds, he finally fired, and his aim could not have been more true. The bullet hit Bill in the chest, and passed through the direct center of his heart. As a reflex motion, he stood in his saddle and gasped for air, before tumbling out of it and falling to the dirt street below. He was dead before he hit the ground. Wheeler, the sniper, meanwhile had spotted Clell, understandably still in his screaming rampage. Wheeler aimed from his high perch and fired down at Clell. The slug hit Clell just below the left shoulder, severing his subclavian artery. The blast knocked him off his horse and he landed face first in the dirt. With blood gushing out of his eye, face, and shoulder, he attempted to lift himself up on his arms, but after about three seconds of this, his strength gave up and he toppled over. Cole saw this and raced towards him. Reaching his body, he dismounted and, using his horse for cover, knelt to examine Clell. Discovering he was dead, he grabbed Clell’s pistols and cartridge belts and attempted to remount. As he was doing so, another bullet tore through his left thigh. He winced in pain, but managed to pull himself up on his horse and make another charge. He ran passed the bank door again and yelled inside, “They’re killing our men! Get out here!”
Jesse James, angrier than ever now, once again knocked Heywood to the ground. Then, in frusteration, he fired a bullet into the floor, just missing Heywood’s head. Bob Younger, meanwhile, decided to give it up and he raced outside with the grain sack over his shoulder and a pistol in his right hand. Jesse raced after him. Frank however, decided to exit last, and just as he was getting ready to do so, he noticed out of the corner of his eye that Heywood was getting back up. Some say that he was also pulling a small caliber pistol on Frank, but this is probably false. Either way, Frank turned back around, placed his pistol to Heywood’s temple, and blew his brains out. This done, he left the bank to join the rest of the gang in the street.
Once Frank was outside, Jesse mounted his horse, and Frank did the same. Apparently neither of them realized that Bob’s horse was dead. Shortly after beginning his charge down Division Street, Frank took a bullet in the right leg. Jim then took another bullet in his right shoulder. Bob, seeing his horse dead, attempted to capture either Bill’s or Clell’s horse, both of which were still running around the street. Not being able to do this, he took cover under an outside, wooden staircase located on the side of the Lee & Hitchcock Dry Goods Store. Kneeling there, he spotted Manning and vice versa. The two began taking potshots at each other, but somehow not a single bullet either of them fired reached its mark. Wheeler, still in his upper window perch, could see only Bob’s right arm reaching out to shoot at Manning from under the staircase. He aimed, then fired. The slug hit Bob squarely in the right elbow, shattering it and crippling his arm for the rest of his life. He screamed in pain, then switched his gun to his left hand and continued to shoot at Manning. At this point, one of the gang shouted out, “It’s no use Boys! Let’s go!” That said, they all took off on Bridge Street, heading for the bridge, which would also be the town's exit. Jesse, unhurt, reached the bridge first, and was thereafter followed by Frank. Jim followed next, and just before getting out of town, a bullet tore into the back of his right leg. He stopped only for a moment in pain, then continued on out of town behind Jesse and Frank. Charlie, unhurt, and Cole were close behind. Just then, Bob came out of his hiding spot and called out, “Don’t leave me Boys! I’ve been shot!” Cole and Charlie both heard this, and Cole turned back for his brother, while Charlie waited as a guard at the town’s exit. Cole raced his horse as fast as he could as the severely injured Bob ran to meet him. Charlie, covering Cole with his pistols through all of this, suddenly had a bullet or a few pieces of buckshot graze the upper section of his left arm. At this point, all gunfire was focused on Cole and Bob. As the two brothers met up, a volley of shots was fired their way. One bullet hit Bob in the left leg and he stumbled. Another took off Cole’s saddle horn and another severed Cole’s reins. Nevertheless, he managed to reach down and, gathering his strength, lifted Bob off the ground and onto the back of his saddle. Bob then wrapped his left arm around Cole’s waist and, with Cole holding his horse’s main, took off after Jesse, Frank, Jim, and Charlie. Nearing the exit of the town, another volley of shots was fired at Cole and Bob. One bullet hit Cole in the left hip, one in the right side, and a third in his right arm. Following this, he and Bob met up with Charlie at the end of town and three of them rode at breakneck speed after Jesse, Frank, and Jim. As they left, at least two citizens began picking up rocks and hurling them at the outlaws while yelling, “Stone ‘em! Stone ‘em!” Still others hurled pitchforks at them. But, by now, it didn’t matter. The James-Younger Gang, or at least what was left of it, was out of Northfield, never to return. They had been beaten at their own game…and beaten badly. They took with them a stolen amount of only $26.70. Behind them they left two good friends and fellow gang members dead, one dead horse, and two dead or dying Northfield citizens. One other citizen was wounded, and five out of the six surviving robbers were injured. There would be only two more weeks, to the day, of the James-Younger Gang’s existence. And in those two weeks, the largest manhunt in the country up until that time was launched.
The above photo is of Division Street in Northfield, circa 1876. The bank is cleary visible near the center of the photo. The hardware/gun store of Anselm R. Manning is the last completely seen building on the right of the photo. The outside staircase alongside the Lee & Hitchcock Store is where Bob Younger took refuge under after he fled the bank. The Dampier Hotel, where Henry M. Wheeler fired on the outlaws from his sniper's position, is off camera, but would be located across from the bank.
• Jesse James
• Frank James
• Cole Younger
• Jim Younger
• Bob Younger
• Clell Miller
• Charlie Pitts
• Bill Chadwell
• Jim Cummins (possibly)
Amount of Money Stolen
• Acting Cashier Joseph Lee Heywood---killed
• Nicholas Gustavson---killed
• Teller Alonzo E. Bunker---wounded
The remains of the James-Younger Gang fled the town of Northfield, Minnesota shortly after 2:00 PM on September 7, 1876. They had just attempted to rob the First National Bank in town, but, unexpectedly, the town citizens fought back. Eight members of the gang entered the town; only six left. Two of the gang, Clell Miller and Bill Chadwell, lay dead on Division Street back in Northfield’s town square. Of the surviving six members, five were wounded. Cole Younger had been shot five times, in the left thigh, left hip, right arm, right side, and left shoulder. Jim Younger had been shot three times, once in each shoulder and in the back of his right leg. Frank James and Charlie Pitts had each been shot once; Frank in the right leg, above the knee, and Charlie in the upper left arm. Frank, however, also had his arm and hand slammed in the door of the vault of Northfield’s bank, and this wound cause him much pain for several days to follow. It was Bob Younger, however, that was in the worst shape. He had been shot twice, in the left leg and in the right elbow. His elbow wound was bleeding profusely and the bone was completely shattered. Only Jesse James was not wounded at all. The total take from Northfield’s bank was mere $26.70, hardly worth what the gang had just endured. To make matters worse, the six outlaws were on five horses; Bob’s had been killed back in Northfield and he was riding on the back of Cole’s horse. Also, the gang’s lone guide, Bill Chadwell, was dead. The entire expedition to Minnesota had depended on Bill’s knowledge on the layout of Minnesota’s lands and back trails. None of the other gang members had ever been to Minnesota in their lives. Without Bill, they were literally riding blind. Minnesota did not provide the hundreds of friends and sympathizers that would shelter the gang and hide them from pursuing posses and the gang certainly could not afford to stop and rest. The thing that may have hurt the gang the worst was the fact that the telegraph lines in Northfield had not been destroyed, as had originally been the plan. In short, the gang couldn’t have been in worse shape if it tried.
Shortly after the gang exited Northfield, a small posse was put together. The posse trailed them for a short while before turning back. Meanwhile, the telegraph wires in Northfield were abuzz, sending messages to every city, town, and village in the area with the news of recent events. By the end of the day, over five hundred men would be on the trail of the gang. Within the next few days, several thousand men were after them. The men ranged from professional law officers, trackers, soldiers, glory hunters, bounty hunters, and fame seekers.
The gang fled until they reached the Cannon River, near the town of Dundas. There, they bandaged their wounds as best they could and tried to come up with some kind of plan. Charlie had previously studied medicine, so his medical knowledge may have helped the gang to some degree. The gang used torn pieces of clothing to bandage their wounds. A sling was made for Bob’s right arm as well. When the bandaging was complete, it was decided that they would travel west, towards the Dakotas, then head south. As these plans were being made, Philip Empey, a Dundas farmer, was passing by the river. The gang spotted him and, at gunpoint, ordered him to hand over his horse. Empey did this and Bob was put on Empey’s horse. With that, the six outlaws rode off.
The gang soon arrived in the town of Millersburgh. Lucky for them, the telegraph wires had not yet brought news of the robbery to Millersburgh. By the time they reached the town, Bob’s elbow needed to be re-bandaged. They stopped at the house of a local named Robert Donaldson and were able to acquire some fresh water and bandaging equipment from him. When Donaldson asked what happened to Bob, one gang member stated he got into a gunfight with a gambler in Northfield named Stiles. The man went on to say that while Bob was wounded, the gambler was killed. With the bandaging complete, the gang left the Donaldson place and continued to ride. By the end of the day, Bob had lost so much blood, he was lightheaded. From then on, Bob would merely hold the horn of his saddle with his left hand while another gang member would lead his horse by the reins. On the night of September 7, the gang reached Shieldsville, where they watered their horses. While their horses were drinking from a watering trough, a local posse was spotted as laying their guns outside of a building before entering it. As the posse exited the building a short time later, they found the robbers aiming several guns at them. The robbers told them not to touch their guns, then rode off quickly. Afterwards, the posse gathered up their guns and went off in pursuit of the gang. They caught up with them four miles outside of Shieldsville and the two groups of men exchanged a few shots, before the gang took off and were once again out of sight. That night, the gang slept in an area known as the “Big Woods.” No one discovered them as they slept that night.
On the morning of September 8, a torrential rain began. The rain would continue for two weeks. This downpour served as both a blessing and curse to the gang, however. While the rain would help cover their tracks, it would also slow them down even more. As the gang continued to move, they would frequently run across a posse. The six outlaws were able to conceal their wounds and merely told the other posses that they were a posse looking for the Northfield robbers as well.
In the afternoon of Sept. 8, the gang tried to cross over the Cannon River, but the water was far too high for their horses to cross. They decided to make a detour down nearby Cordova Road. On the road, they met a group of road workers and, once again posing as a posse, they asked the workers where they could successfully cross the river. The workers told them about a nearby bridge and the robbers were on their way. Near the bridge, they discovered another posse and, rather than trying to deceive them by posing as another posse, they headed toward Tetonka Lake. At the lake, another posse spotted them and a few shots were fired at the gang. However, the gang charged their horses into the lake and they managed to make it to the other side.
Throughout the day, the gang managed to steal a total of six fresh horses to replace the ones they already had. By nightfall, the gang was camped near the town of Janesville. Two of the gang, most likely Jesse and Charlie, approached another posse while the rest of the gang set up camp not too far away. Jesse and Charlie were able to borrow a large amount of food from the posse, and they brought it back to Frank, Cole, Jim, and Bob. Throughout the day of the ninth and tenth of September, the gang continued to head west at a slow speed without any notable incident. On the night of the tenth, the gang put up camp on a small island located in Lake Elysian. During the night, a posse of around two hundred men surrounded the lake and waited for the outlaws to awake. Early the next morning, the gang apparently discovered they were surrounded and made a plan of escape. They released three of their horses, which ran off the island and to the shore, creating a much-needed diversion. They left the other three horses tethered to a tree on the island. The six robbers, however, waded on foot from the island the lake’s shore and miraculously escaped once again. A mile or two away from the lake, the gang stopped to dress their wounds again. Later in the day, the gang discovered an abandoned farmhouse near the town of Mankato. Realizing they needed to rest, they decided to stay here for the rest of the day and half of the next. It also became apparent at this time that Bob’s right elbow was beginning to get severely infected. Bob himself was becoming feverish as well. One of Jim’s shoulder wounds began to fester as well.
During the afternoon of September 12, shortly after leaving the abandoned farmhouse, the six fugitives crossed paths with a farmer by the name of Jeff Dunning. Some of the gang wanted to kill Dunning, because he might give away their position, but others thought he should be allowed to live. Eventually, Dunning was made to promise not to tell anyone he had spotted the gang and they let him go on his way. Three hours later, Dunning announced he saw the Northfield robbers. However, by the time anyone could get on the chase, the gang was long gone.
The next day, the thirteenth, the gang stole some chickens for food from the farm of L. M. Demarary. After they finished eating, they crossed over the Blue Earth River on a railroad bridge. Following these railroad tracks, they made their way around the town of Mankato. Bob’s elbow by now was severely infected. He was lightheaded and feverish and was constantly falling out off his horse. The gang would have to stop constantly to get him up and put him back in the saddle. Jim’s shoulder had festered even more as well and neither he nor Bob could keep of the pace of the rest of the group. That night, the gang made camp outside of Mankato. After nightfall, Jesse and Frank left camp in order to go find (and steal) some fresh mounts for them all. They returned a few hours later, but with only two stolen horses; they could find no more. The gang all agreed that next morning, Bob and Jim would ride the two fresh mounts.
Early on in the day of the fourteenth, Bob once again fell off his horse. While the gang stopped to put him back in the saddle, Bob suggested that he be left behind in order to allow the other five to travel faster. Bob was well aware that both he and Jim were slowing the gang down considerably, Bob in particular. If he were to be left behind, the rest of the gang would have a much better chance of escape. However, all the other members of the gang were appalled by the idea and insisted that no one be left behind. This did give Cole an idea, however. He suggested that the gang be divided into two groups: one consisting of the lesser-wounded outlaws and the other of the more badly wounded ones. The lesser-wounded group would be able to travel much faster, while the more wounded group could move slowly and take their time. The rest of the gang liked this idea, since everyone would benefit from it. With the lesser-wounded group traveling faster, the posses would likely pursue them, most likely overlooking the more heavily wounded group’s trail. It was decided that Jesse and Frank would compose of the one lesser-wounded group while the Youngers and Charlie would compose the heavily wounded one. Although Charlie had only received a grazing wound on his arm at Northfield, and therefore should have gone with Jesse and Frank, he insisted that he stay with the Youngers. With that, Cole, Bob, and Charlie gave most of their money and personal possessions to Jesse and Frank, knowing that Jesse and Frank would have better use for their money than they would. Jim, however, apparently disliked the Jameses and didn’t trust them at all, so he kept all of his possessions to himself. With the swapping of possessions complete, the Youngers and Charlie said their good-byes to the Jameses and the gang split up. It was decided that Jesse and Frank would continue to head west, while the Youngers and Charlie would now head directly south.
By the evening of the fourteenth, Jesse and Frank had covered a considerable amount of distance compared to when they still were riding with the Youngers and Charlie. That night, they neared a bridge hanging over Lake Crystal. Sleeping on the bridge was a large posse. The brothers hoped to cross over the bridge quietly and not arise the posse. As they first started to set foot on the bridge, they awoke one of the posse members, who raised his rifle and took a shot at them. The single bullet hit Jesse in the leg, tore through it, and went on to lodge in Frank’s leg. The brothers were able to overcome the pain and made their horses charge at breakneck speed in another direction. By the time the rest of the posse awoke, Jesse and Frank were long gone. Shortly thereafter, Jesse and Frank bandaged their new wounds and abandoned the tired horses they had. They then stole two new ones from a local farm and rode them bareback. Over the next few days, it became apparent that the gang’s plan had worked: the majority of the posses were tracking Jesse and Frank and were overlooking the Youngers and Charlie. For forty-eight hours, all of the fifteenth and sixteenth, Jesse and Frank continued to ride nonstop. Late on the sixteenth or early on the seventeenth, the Jameses crossed the Minnesota border and entered South Dakota. Shortly after arriving in South Dakota, the brothers abandoned their horses and stole two new ones. Oddly enough, one horse was blind in one eye and the other was blind in both eyes! After a short time of riding these two horses, the robbing duo ditched them and stole two new ones.
The Youngers and Charlie, meanwhile, had been moving much slower, which wasn’t putting as much strain on their wounds. However, either Cole’s left thigh wound and/or left hip wound were causing him much pain and, when not on his horse, he walked with a walking stick he made for himself out of a large branch he’d found. One night, probably the nineteenth, the gang stopped at a sloping bank near the town of Linden and were able to steal a few chickens, a turkey, a watermelon, and some corn from a local farmer. They prepared the food, but just before they began to eat, they heard voices coming from above them on the bank. Suspecting the voices may belong to posse members, they abandoned their camp (and their food and horses) and took off on foot. It was a good thing they did; it was a posse that was above them on the bank. This posse soon discovered the outlaws’ camp and found several items that had been left behind, such as two coats, a blood-soaked handkerchief, two leather bridles, and two torn and bloody shirts.
By the night of the twentieth, Cole, Jim, Bob, and Charlie had reached the town of Madelia. They put up camp that night about seven miles outside of town. Surrounding Madelia were thick woods, several swamps, and many lakes. In the early hours of the next morning, the twenty-first, the four robbers were following a road along Lake Linden when they encountered a seventeen-year-old boy named Axle Oscar Sorbel milking cows on his family’s farm. The outlaws and young Sorbel casually exchanged greetings and the robbers were on their way. After Sorbel lost sight of the outlaws, he told his father that he suspected they might be the infamous Northfield robbers. His father merely told him to get back to work milking the cows and to stop being so imaginative. An hour or so later, Charlie and Jim returned to the Sorbel farm and asked Axle if they could buy some bread off of him. Sorbel obliged and the two robbers gave him some money for the loaves of bread they were given. After Charlie and Jim wandered off again into the thick woods surrounding the farm, Axle showed his father the footprints the outlaws had left in the mud. He pointed out that the soles of the boots the men were wearing were worn through and that some of their toes could clearly be seen in the mud, as if they had been walking on foot in the mud for a long time. This convinced Axle’s father that the men were possibly the Northfield robbers. He told Axle to get on his horse, ride to Madelia (seven miles away), and tell the sheriff what he saw. Axle did exactly this.
Axle reached Madelia a short time later and told the sheriff, James Glispin, what he saw. Glispin immediately contacted former Union Army captain and Civil War veteran William W. Murphy and Thomas L. Vought. These three men then built up a posse of volunteers as soon as they could. By the time the posse was completed, there were around two hundred members, nearly all the adult male population of Madelia. With that, the large posse and Axle rode as fast as they could to the Sorbel farm.
Around an hour’s distance away from the Sorbel farm, the posse spotted the outlaw quartet. They were in a godforsaken boggy swamp surrounded by thick woods known as Hanska Slough. The posse was not able to walk their horses through the thick bog, so they dismounted near the beginning of it to wait for Sheriff Glispin’s orders. The outlaws were heading for the Watawon River, where the Slough would clear. Glispin yelled out to the robbers to halt. The outlaws, startled by this, took off running as fast as their feet could carry them. Glispin ordered his men to open fire, and this they did. Due to the fact that the robbers were so far ahead and concealed mostly by the thick trees, not much affect was caused by the firing. The gang ran deep into the heart of the Slough and decided to make a stand. They were exhausted and realized that they would have next to no chance of escape if they merely continued to run; they would have to fight. Cole, Jim, Bob, and Charlie got behind a large deadfall and prepared for battle. It was decided that, since Bob was far too weak and disoriented to aim a gun with his left hand, he would reload the guns of the other three when need-be. Cole told the others that if they had the chance, all of them would make a run for it, but it would be every man for himself; no one would be able to stop to help a fallen comrade.
With the four outlaws out of sight, Glispin realized that he and his men would have to go into the Slough themselves and drag them out if they had to. Capt. Murphy had an idea and called for five volunteers. Ben M. Rice, Charles A. Pomeroy, Thomas L. Col. Vought, George A. Bradford, and S. James Severson answered the call. It was decided that these five men, along with Murphy and Glispin would march with their rifles into the Slough on foot in a line formation. Meanwhile, the other members of the posse would stay behind on a hill overlooking the Slough. The plan was that the first seven men would march at a steady pace, firing as they went, in an attempt to flush the outlaws out of their hiding spot. The rest of the posse, many yards in the rear, would then be needed to cut the outlaws down as they ran. Glispin announced that his group would not fire unless the outlaws fired first. He also stated that if at any point during the onslaught did the outlaws wish to surrender, that all firing would cease. Their goal was to take the outlaws alive, if possible, and therefore would shoot to wound, not to kill, unless absolutely necessary. With that, Glispin, Murphy, Vought, Rice, Pomeroy, Severson, and Bradford began their march towards the outlaws.
For the first few moments as the seven-man posse marched, everything was silent. Then, suddenly, Cole fired his pistol through the deadfall he was behind. The bullet hit Capt. Murphy in the side, but the wound was not serious at all and Murphy stayed on his feet. With that shot, the Battle of Hanska Slough began. The seven-man group open fired on the deadfall, while the backup posse fired over the heads of the men in the front group. Cole, Jim, and Charlie began rapidly and blindly firing over and through the deadfall as well. In the ensuing melee, Cole was shot three more times, with one of the bullets hitting the right side of his neck. Posse members Severson and Vought were also hit, Severson in the side and Vought hit just above the hip. Charlie as well took four bullets throughout his body. As Jim turned his back to the deadfall for some reason, possibly to reload his pistols, a slug hit him the back, near his spine. Miraculously, he continued to fight with all he had. Seeing how desperate the situation was, Charlie turned to Cole and said, “We and entirely surrounded. We had better surrender.” Cole looked Charlie in the eye and said flatly, “Charlie, if you want to surrender, go, but this is where Cole Younger dies.” The ever brave and tenacious Charlie shrugged, looked right back at Cole and said, “All right, Captain, I can die as game as you can. Let’s get it done.” With that, Charlie jumped straight up, a Colt .45 in each hand. As he jumped up, Glispin spotted him and instantly took a kneeling position, all the while bringing his rifle up to a firing position. At the same instant, Charlie fired each of his pistols once and Glispin fired his rifle once. One of Charlie’s bullets grazed the hand of posse member Bradford, but Glispin’s slug hit Charlie in the heart. With a groan, Charlie fell dead to the ground behind the deadfall, face first in the mud. One of the posse then called out again to the outlaws, asking them to surrender. The response the posse was received was more gunfire from Cole and Jim. A bullet hit Cole’s right hand, knocking the gun he was holding over the deadfall, leaving it unreachable. Cole then reached down and grabbed one of the pistols in Charlie’s dead hands and continued firing. In the next volley of shots, Cole took another bullet, this one in the chest. As Jim peered over the deadfall to better aim his pistol, a bullet, fired by backup posse member Bowen G. Yates, hit Jim in the upper jaw, between the lip and nose. The bullet shattered his jaw and knocked out several teeth, before lodging near the back of his right ear. Jim fell to the ground in a semi-unconscious state, holding his gaping jaw wound with both his hands. As Cole turned his head to look at his fallen brother, yet another slug hit Cole in the back of the head, just behind the right ear. The slug traveled upwards and lodged over Cole’s right eye. With that, Cole also fell in the mud in a semi-unconscious state. Glispin ordered all his men to cease firing and yelled out, “Do you men surrender?” A few seconds later, a faint voice, Bob’s, could be heard saying, “I surrender! They’re all down but me! For God’s sake, don’t shoot me, too!” Glispin ordered Bob to stand up if he really wanted to surrender, and this Bob did waiving a bloody white piece of cloth above his head with his left hand. The Battle of Hanska Slough was now over. As the seven front men approached Bob, one of the backup posse members, Willis Bundy, fired a lone shot at Bob, which hit Bob in the right lung, dropping him to his knees. Glispin, enraged, shouted that the next man to fire a shot without his orders would be shot by Glispin himself. The seven front men reached Bob and helped him to his feet, all the while Bob was muttering, “I was surrendering. Someone shot me while I was surrendering.” The posse went behind the deadfall and saw the dead Charlie and the wounded Cole and Jim. Jim was moaning in agony and was still semi-unconscious. Cole was beginning to awake already and offered to fight the posse’s two best men in hand-to-hand combat. Bob walked over, wrapped his left arm around Cole, and whispered in his ear, “Cole, it’s over. Give it up or they’ll hang us for sure.” Cole reluctantly agreed and also surrendered. Not too long after, Jim also awoke. The three Youngers were then escorted to a wagon and put inside. Charlie’s body was carried out of the Slough and tossed in the wagon with the Youngers. While in the wagon, Bob asked for some tobacco to chew to dull his pain. Axle Sorbel, who came with the posse to the Slough, gave Bob a plug and he thanked him.
The wagon and posse headed back to Madelia. On the way, Jim hung his head over the side of the wagon while the blood gushed out of his upper jaw. Cole meanwhile joked and talked with his captors. As the wagon went through Madelia, Cole rose to his feet and tipped his hat to a group of young women standing on the sidewalk watching the entire spectacle. The Youngers were then taken to the Flanders House hotel, where they were allowed to rest and their wounds were clean and dressed. To show the extreme weather they endured, as Cole’s boots were removed, all of his toenails fell off. It was discovered that Bob had suffered a total of three bullet wounds; two in Northfield and the one chest wound at Hanska Slough. Jim had suffered a total of five; three in Northfield, and two at Hanska Slough. Cole had suffered an amazing total of eleven wounds; five in Northfield and six at Hanska Slough. Jim had to have his jaw wound cauterized, what must have been an amazingly painful ordeal. Over the next few weeks, his wound would be cauterized several more times. Eventually, Jim would have to have sections of his upper jaw removed. However, the bullet never could be removed itself and Jim never ate a meal of solid food in his life again.
The James-Younger Gang was obliterated now. On November 18, 1876, with their wounds healed, all three Younger brothers entered the Minnesota State Penitentiary at Stillwater, Minnesota. They had plead guilty to all four charges that they faced: robbery of the First National Bank of Northfield, attacking with attempt to do bodily harm on Alonzo E. Bunker, murder of Nicholas Gustavson, and accessory to the murder of Joseph Lee Heywood. They were all given life sentences. Bob would end up dying in prison of tuberculosis on September 16, 1889. Many believe that he acquired TB from the wound he received in his right lung at Hanska Slough, a wound from which he never recovered. From the time they were captured until Bob’s death, Bob was guilt ridden by the way he insisted on going to Northfield, and thereby getting himself and his brothers imprisoned. Cole and Jim would be paroled on July 14, 1901, after serving twenty-five years in prison. In all these years, neither Cole, Jim, nor Bob ever revealed the true identity the two robbers that escaped Minnesota. Whenever asked, they would give their names as Woodson and Howard (Frank’s and Jesse’s aliases, respectively, although it was unknown at the time). They always denied that either James brother had anything to do with the Northfield raid. Cole was fond of saying, “Stick by your friends even if the heavens fall” to those that asked why he wouldn’t reveal the robbers’ true names.
Meanwhile, Jesse and Frank James began heading south after arriving in South Dakota. Their last confirmed siting was in Sioux City, Iowa on September 25. From there, it’s believed they went either to Nebraska, Kentucky, Texas, or Missouri. They had family in each state that would feed and shelter them. As far as the authorities were confirmed however, the James brothers dropped off the face of the earth. During this time, stories began about the James brothers that said they were down in Mexico continuing their outlaw ways, or that they married a pair of Indians in Nebraska and had children there. These stories are all false. It’s not really known what the brothers did during this time frame, and the odds are that it’ll remain unknown forever. However, in October of 1879, the Jameses would be back in the public eye again, with a bang....when the second James Gang came into view.
James-Younger Gang members involved in Battle of Hanska Slough
• Cole Younger---wounded and captured
• Jim Younger---wounded and captured
• Bob Younger---wounded and captured
• Charlie Pitts---killed
Captors of the Younger Brothers
• Sheriff James Glispin
• Captain William W. Murphy---wounded
• George A. Bradford---wounded
• Ben M. Rice
• S. James Severson---wounded
• Charles A. Pomeroy, Junior
• Colonel Thomas L. Vought---wounded
• Bowen G. Yates
• George Yates
• Willis Bundy
• Around two dozen others