Northfield Bank Raid of 1876
by Stephanie Hess, Program Assistant, Minnesota Digital Library
eLibrary Minnesota Resources (for Minnesota residents)
1. Benson, Alvin K. “Jesse and Frank James.” Salem Press Biographical Encyclopedia, 2020.
2. BRANT, MARLEY. “The Robberies of the James--Younger Gang.” Wild West, vol. 11, no. 4, Dec. 1998, p. 38.
3. “Cole Younger.” Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th Edition, Feb. 2020, p. 1.
4. Gardner, Mark Lee. “The Other James Brother.” Wild West, vol. 26, no. 2, Aug. 2013, p. 30.
5. Gilmore, Donald L. “Showdown at Northfield.” Wild West, vol. 9, no. 2, Aug. 1996, p. 36.
6. Gilmore, Donald L. “When the JAMES GANG Ruled the Rails.” Wild West, vol. 13, no. 2, Aug. 2000, p. 38.
7. Gonyea, Don. “What Drove Wild West’s Jesse James To Become An Outlaw?” Weekend All Things Considered (NPR), Aug. 2013.
8. “Jesse James.” Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th Edition, Feb. 2020, p. 1.
9. Lalire, Gregory. “Frankly Speaking About Frank James.” Wild West, vol. 26, no. 2, Aug. 2013, p. 4.
10. McPherson, James M. “From Combat to Crime. (Cover Story).” U.S. News & World Report, vol. 143, no. 1, July 2007, p. 37.
Additional Resources for Research
1. Boggs, Johnny D. “The Great Northfield Raid Revisited: New research that changes our understanding of the James-Younger debacle.” True West Magazine, August 6, 2012. Web (accessed August 21, 2020).
2. File No. 1482: State vs. Younger brothers, 1876. Minnesota. District Court (Rice County). Case Files and Miscellaneous Court Papers. State Archives. Minnesota Historical Society. Web (accessed September 14, 2020).
3. Gardner, Mark Lee. Shot All to Hell: Jesse James, the Northfield Raid, and the Wild West’s Greatest Escape. New York: William Morrow, 2013.
4. Gale Family Library. Research guide for the Northfield Bank Raid. Web (accessed August 21, 2020).
5. Hess, Stephanie. "James-Younger Gang Bank Raid." Northfield History Collaborative, 2019. Web (accessed August 21, 2020).
6. Koblas, John J. Faithful Unto Death: The James–Younger Raid on the First National Bank, September 7, 1876, Northfield, Minnesota. Northfield, MN: Northfield Historical Society Press, 2001.
7. Koblas, John J. Minnesota Grit: The men who defeated the James-Younger Gang. St. Cloud, Minn.: North Star Press of St. Cloud, Inc., 2005.
8. Moore, Leslie. “Northfield Bank Raid.” MNopedia, Minnesota Historical Society. Web (accessed August 21, 2020).
9. The Northfield Bank Raid: September 7, 1876. Northfield, Minnesota: Northfield News, 1933.
10. Northfield Bank Robbery of 1876: Selected Manuscript Collections, [c.1880]–1962. Manuscript Collection, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul. Web (accessed August 21, 2020).
11. Northfield History Collaborative. James-Younger Gang Bank Raid Collection Guide. Web (accessed August 21, 2020).
12. "Northfield's Sensation." The Minneapolis Tribune, 8 Sept. 1876, p. 1. Web (accessed September 2, 2020).
13. Smith, Robert Barr. Last Hurrah of the James-Younger Gang. University of Oklahoma Press, 2001.
14. Topics on Chronicling America – The Fall of Jesse James and the James-Younger Gang. Library of Congress historic newspapers. Web (accessed August 21, 2020).
Teaching Guide: Northfield Bank Raid of 1876
Primary Source Analysis
For each source, ask students to indicate:
- the author's point of view
- the author's purpose
- historical context
For inquiry-based learning, ask students to:
- explain how a source tells its story and/or makes its argument
- explain the relationships between sources
- compare and contrast sources in terms of point of view and method
- support conclusions and interpretations with evidence
- identify questions for further investigation
This teaching guide helps instructors use a specific primary source set, Northfield Bank Raid of 1876, in the classroom. It offers discussion questions, classroom activities, and primary source analysis tools. It is intended to spark pedagogical creativity by giving a sample approach to the material. Please feel free to share, reuse, and adapt the resources in this guide for your teaching purposes.
1. Pick one of the photographs from the set and learn to analyze it like a historian. First, observe the photo and record what you see.
• What is happening in the photo? What just happened, or what is about to happen?
• Describe the people you see in the photo, if any. How do they relate to each other and to the photographer?
• Describe where the photo was taken. Were they inside, outside, somewhere identifiable?
• Look for details that show when the photo was taken—time of day, season, and year.
• Finally, using the clues you have observed, try to figure out why the picture was taken.
By asking these questions, you have begun to understand the what, who, where, when and why of the photograph—and ultimately, the story it tells.
2. Consider what happened in the First National Bank that day. Acting cashier Joseph Lee Heywood made a decision not to open the bank safe for the robbers. Why did he refuse? What would you have done?
3. Why do you think a Missouri gang of ex-Confederate soldiers traveled all the way to Minnesota to rob a bank? Consider the aftereffects of the Civil War as you discuss.
4. There were many eyewitnesses to the robbery in Northfield that day. Read the transcript of Thomas Hughes' letter for his account. How does he describe the events of the day? Evaluate his tone, his language, and the details he chose to include.
6. Post-mortem photography—taking pictures of dead people—seems gross today, but it was quite common in the late 19th century. People often died before getting their picture taken, but their family still wanted a photograph to remember them by. Photographers like Northfield's Ira Sumner specialized in post-mortem photography, and he was the one who photographed Clell Miller and Bill Chadwell. Why do you think Mr. Sumner photographed these men? Does it help you understand the bank raid story better since you can see the robbers' faces? Why or why not?
7. What would have happened to the city of Northfield if the James-Younger Gang had succeeded? Most of the businesses and both colleges kept their money in the bank, and it was not insured.
8. The posse that finally caught the gang was called the Magnificent Seven . Other than their names, historians do not know very much about them or why they decided to hunt down the outlaws. Why do you think that is? Would you have joined the posse? Why or why not?
9. Even though he was a criminal, Jesse James is famous to this day in American popular culture. Countless books and movies have been made based loosely on his life – what we would call historical fiction. What is the difference between a historical account (for example, a newspaper article or eyewitness testimony from 1876) and historical fiction? Even if historical fiction might not be based completely on facts, can we still learn something about real events through them? Why or why not?
1. Imagine you were in Northfield on September 7, 1876 and you saw the raid on the First National Bank. Choose a position for your eyewitness testimony, such as standing on the street, in a store across from the bank, inside the bank itself, etc. Write down what you saw and what you did as if you were telling someone about it in a letter. Use descriptive words to convey how you felt - excited, scared, mad, amazed, etc. What details do you include? Then compare what you wrote with your classmates. How are your stories similar? How are they different? How do they help you understand what happened more fully?
2. Create a comic book based on the bank raid. Choose your main character - will it be a hero, an outlaw, a bystander, a child, or someone else? Draw pictures of the scenes and write dialogue between the characters. What information can you convey with pictures that you can't with words, and vice versa?