Photo originally published Sept. 8, 1975
First, let’s get one thing straight: The city of Northfield celebrates the defeat of Jesse James, not the notorious robber himself.
Northfield’s connection to James began (and ended) on Sept. 7, 1876, when he and his crew rode into town expecting to hold up First National Bank. But Joseph Heywood, the banker on duty, foiled their efforts by refusing to open the safe. In frustration, Frank James shot and killed Heywood.
When the townspeople realized what was happening, they did something unexpected: They fought back. Accounts say it was all over in 7 minutes. Swedish immigrant Nicholas Gustafson was mortally wounded, two robbers were dead, two more were wounded and the remaining outlaws fled, putting an end to the James-Younger Gang, the most-wanted outlaws of their time.
Each year, the town celebrates Defeat of Jesse James Days on the weekend after Labor Day, to honor Heywood and the others who helped defeat the gang. Since 1948, part of the festival has included re-enactments of the robbery staged on Division Street, outside of the First National Bank of Northfield — the same building the James Gang tried to rob.
The bank is now home to the Northfield Historical Society, which fully restored the site to its 1876 state. For more information, go to northfieldhistory.org.