On September 7th, 1876 the James gang came to town. Eyewitnesses said they wore long white duster coats and posed as cattle buyers as an excuse for the Missourians with Southern accents to be in town. The bank robbery lasted but seven minutes, and in that time two towns- people and two of the gang were killed. Joseph Lee Heywood, the bank teller that day refused to open the vault, and payed for it with his life. Shortly a posse was mounted and the largest manhunt in the history of the United States at that time, either killed or captured all of the outlaws except Frank and Jesse James. Much has been speculated about the robbery and it’s aftermath but one thing is certain. The James gang, the most notorious outlaws of the time, was finished.
The town was Northfield Minnesota, my home town. A celebration has been held the weekend after Labor Day commemorating the event since 1948. It is a grand event that draws thousands to town, being the third largest celebration in Minnesota behind the Minneapolis Aquatennial and the St Paul Winter Carnival. There will be bank raid reenactments, a carnival, a two hour parade, fair food, art exhibits, craft shows, a car show, plays, beard contests, runs and races on foot and bike, a P.R.C.A. rodeo and dancing in the streets. It is a wild time to be a Northfield resident. Traffic is a mess, there are people everywhere and a zillion things to do and see. It’s also, in my opinion, a fun time to be a Northfielder. When I was a kid we looked forward to Jesse James Days all year long. It was the wildest thing happening in this otherwise sleepy mid-western town. The carnival, the lights, the food, the bank raid with shooting in the streets, all of it was exciting. At this time of year, our Summer was over and we were heading back to school, never a fun time. So the DJJD’s was a welcome distraction from our day to day lives.
I still feel that excitement when this weekend rolls around, though I don’t think I’ll be going on any carnival rides. Watching the carnival arrive, seeing tents go up in various places, and watching the rodeo prepare for another wild weekend is all fun. I love the crowds and the craft shows. The art exhibits and plays and music are all top quality. The fine folks who work so hard to make this celebration happen are all volunteers. And it is a massive undertaking. I found one mention of attendance on the internet of 100,000 for the weekend but that sounds a little light. It sure seems like more.
So this is it! This is the weekend. If you need me, I’ll be around, in town somewhere, eating cheese curds to raise hell with my diet. I’ll check out the car show, and the craft and art exhibits. I’m taking one of my granddaughters to the Rodeo. In 63 years I’ve never missed a Defeat of Jesse James Days, and this year will be no different. Come on over, it’ll be fun.