This past weekend, I headed to The Defeat of Jesse James Days in Northfield.
Part of an annual event held the weekend after Labor Day, this festival began in 1948 as the “Fall Festival” including “Jesse James Day” on that Saturday.
On September 7, 1876, eight men rode into downtown Northfield intent on robbing the First National Bank. Three members of the James-Younger gang entered the bank and announced that it was a holdup. They ordered three bank employees to open the safe but were told the vault was locked and couldn’t be opened. On the street, local citizens began to arm themselves when a merchant discovered the robbery in progress. When the gang became aware, two members sprang to their horses and began shooting and yelling at the townspeople to leave the street. This forced the other three robbers into the fray.
The battle lasted only seven minutes, but when it was over two robbers lay dead and two more badly wounded. Six outlaws fled south, ensuing the largest manhunt in U.S. history (at that time). As it continued, the Younger brothers were captured. Charlie Pitts was killed near Madelia, MN. Jesse and Frank James escaped the posse and made it to Missouri.
Every year, thousands of visitors witness volunteers reenactment of the robbery, one of the most lively outdoor performances you will find in Minnesota. Staged on Division street, outside of the First National Bank of Northfield, the volunteers dress in authentic 1876 costumes, galloping through the middle of town, discharging blank rounds of ammunition until the last the gang dispersed. Incredible to see live.
Other activities during the festival included a championship rodeo, carnival, car show, parade, arts and crafts expositions, and musical performances. Also, food stations and live music on Water Street.
If you haven’t been to The Defeat of Jesse James Days, I highly recommend penciling it in for Labor Day next year.