A True and Reliable Account of the Attempted Daylight Robbery of the First National Bank of Northfield, Minn. by the Notorious James-Younger Gang, as Related by a Witness to the Events

{ Reprinted from the very first 1876 issue of THE REVELATOR }

Scans from original newspaper }

Many stories have recently come over the telegraph wires about the events in Northfield, Minnesota this September past, but I assure you none are as verifiable as mine, which is a story told from true experience and the witness of mine own eyes. No-one has yet presented as full an account as I can offer. Though I am not a man of letters, and so must trust the reader to forgive any infelicities of prose, I assure you that the story I intend to relate is singular enough to carry its own burdens.

I had only recently arrived in the city of Northfield that morning of September the seventh, having come originally from New Hampshire on a journey of salesmanship. My travels began at the railroad station in Ashland, New Hampshire, where I boarded with three valises filled not with clothes or accoutrements, but with bottles of Saint Matthew’s Passionate Liqueur and Tonic, a restorative of my own devising. It had proved remarkably powerful as an aid to women and men suffering the effects of forlorn-ness, and it was nothing less than a command from God Himself that sent me across the country with my humble wares. By the time I arrived in Minnesota, I had brought inspiration and grace to so many lives that I had but three bottles remaining. My pockets were, I will confess, stuffed with coins and folding money, and after performing my morning ablutions in Northfield, I resolved to bring my modest treasury to the First National Bank and secure my fortune.

I woke late and tarried too long over breakfast, so that by the time I made my way to the barber for a more professional shave than I had been able to render that morning upon my cheeks, the afternoon light already cast its long shadows across the land. It was through these foreboding fingers of darkness that the eight men who would soon be so notorious rode on their gallant steeds. Four of the eight men galloped into town just as I stepped out of the barber’s emporium, and I believe I paid more attention to them than the citizens of Northfield because I was not as accustomed to seeing wealthy cattle men, which these riders, outfitted in long dust-colored coats, presented themselves to be.

Fortune was with me that day, for just as I was about to enter the bank, I heard shouts from the second group of four men, who, when they crossed the bridge entering town, drew navy revolvers and dashed through the streets, shouting for all citizens to get inside the buildings, and ornamenting their shouts with the most fiendish curses and imprecations. Three of the eight men entered the bank, while five stayed on the outside, waving their pistols, firing them occasionally in the air, and warning all to stay away.

The men were not, in fact, cattle dealers, but were instead desperados. The actions inside of the bank I know from newspaper stories, not having witnessed them myself. I heard the shots that killed the Cashier, Mr. Haywood, and wounded the Assistant Cashier, Mr. Bunker, and those shots decided me not to venture into the bank at that time. I found a position of safety on the other side of the Hardware store, from which I observed the extraordinary events that followed.

The people of the city of Northfield are of an extraordinary character, fearless and noble, and the moment they discovered their bank was under attack, they — men, women, and children, alike — took arms against the foes. The memory of the war of the last decade was strong in everyone’s minds, and many of the citizens, I am certain, suspected the robbers had been among the TRAITOROUS SLAVERS who had fought so shamefully against the Union Cause, for it is only such men that would descend to an action as dastardly as the robbing of the First National Bank.

A young man in a building opposite to the bank opened a window and extended a Springfield Rifle through it. His aim was true — one of the villains fell dead mere footsteps from my feet. The young man fired again, and again hit his target, though not in as fatal a segment of the body. The man fell from the horse he had mounted seconds before, and crawled in search of shelter from the storm of bullets, his blood mingling with the dirt of the street. Another bold citizen wounded a third robber, but this one held to his horse and escaped.

The young man, whose name, I later discovered, was Wheeler, organized a band of citizens to follow in pursuit of the villains. They set off on their noble quest, and were to succeed at capturing some of the men, but the fates of the two leaders — the notorious brothers FRANK AND JESSE JAMES — have been, UNTIL NOW, unknown.

After Wheeler had led his party in search of justice, I continued on my journeys, and so packed my valises and climbed onto the old mare that had carried me so faithfully to the honorable town of Northfield. We traveled at a reluctant speed on a small path out of the town, and two hours had not passed when I saw on the horizon a most REMARKABLE SIGHT.

At first, I believed a dark cloud had obscured an area of the sky, but the movement of the object proved that an unfounded thought. Clouds do not, as a rule, bob and bounce. Nor, in my experience, do they produce sounds similar to those of a steam conveyance — like the wails of an iron banshee. The orbical object at first appeared to be moving in the direction of I and my horse, growing larger in the sky, but it soon changed its path and settled downward in the distance.

At this moment, two men on a single horse rode toward me, and from the coats they wore and the malevolent countenances they displayed, I knew them to be members of the murderous outlaw band.

“Get gone from here!” the lead rider said to me, and for a brief moment of terror I believed he would shoot me dead, but as I did not, I surmise, present a frightful figure to them, their intent was in truth quite different. “Beyond here,” the second said — and I noted that his accent was, indeed, that of a barbarous Southern Traitor — “lies something not natural, something sent by THE DEMONS OF HELL!”

The two men on the horse rode past swiftly, turning in a direction parallel to the city of Northfield, while I and my steed sauntered forth. I do not trust the spawn of the Confederacy, nor have I ever consented to one of their demands. They commanded us to go in a direction other than the one we traveled in, and so we stayed our course.

Once again, my distrust of bloodthirsty Southerners proved well founded. Had we not continued in the direction from which we began, my horse and I might never have lived into the evening.

After traveling down the path for another few minutes, I heard a terrible, unearthly sound again, but different this time from the previous. Where the object in the sky before emanated a screeching, ear-aching noise, now the sound had more harmony to it, something akin to a chorus of angels, though not so Heavenly — imagine the most beautiful woman-singers in the world hollering down a metal tube, and you may begin to approximate in your mind the sound that echoed through the air at that moment.

The sound came from behind us now rather than in front, and both I and my horse turned our heads in its direction. The spheroid object we had previously seen from a distance now proved to be much closer than before. Details of its design became apparent. It was a flying machine, but though I knew it to be mechanical — its steel glistened in the sun — it was unlike any invention of my experience. Its edges were finely curved, like molded silver, and various protuberances seemed to have grown organically out of its central form. Additionally, it issued bright bubbles of green and yellow light from portals in its top and bottom.

As I watched, transfixed, the object issued a bolt of blue light that brought fire and smoke to the ground around it. Screams filled the air — screams tinged with the distinctive drawl of a man from the South. I know that sound, and it is one that gives me joy, for it is always the sound of a coward going to eternal damnation. The bolt of blue light struck again, and again fire and smoke and screams burst into the air, which itself smelled singed with righteous vengeance.

Hardly had I time to conceive what had happened than the object moved upward and away, becoming but a dot against the darkening sky.

I am by nature a curious man, a devotee of science and scholarship, and I could not resist the temptation to investigate this extraordinary occurrence. Though my horse was reluctant, I spurred it toward the site of the conflagration.

What we found when we arrived was a clearing amidst the forest the central path wound through. A hillock of rocks stood at the far end, and it was these rocks that provided the most astounding sight, for against them appeared a shadow uncast by any object — A SHADOW OF TWO MEN ON A HORSE!

I dismounted and cautiously approached the scene. I quickly discovered the rock itself was issuing smoke, for what I had taken to be a shadow was, in fact, a dusting of foul ash.

The men had, I deduced, been INCINERATED against the rock.

Moments after I came to this conclusion, a soft rain began to fall, and the smoldering rocks turned the raindrops to steam. I returned to my horse, determined to ride into Northfield and find a witness to this most extraordinary moment, but by the time I was able to bring men back from the city to the clearing, the rain had turned torrential, and all evidence of the destruction cast upon the desperados had washed away.

I fear the good people of Northfield did not give great credence to my account, for which I cannot fault them, for had I, a man inclined to science, not witnessed it all with my own eyes, I, too, would be of skeptical mind.

As anyone who has benefitted from the restorative properties of Saint Matthew’s Passionate Liqueur and Tonic can attest, however, I am a man of honesty and truth, and it is with honesty and truth that I present all I saw that notorious day in Northfield. I do believe justice has been brought to that noble city, whether by God or some other entity, and it is with utmost confidence that I proclaim the suspected leaders of the attack on the First National Bank, FRANK AND JESSE JAMES, to be no longer among the land of the living. Other men have since claimed to have sighted these two outlaws in the lower states, but we know the character of Southerners, and the love they showered on their evil sons, and none among us is any longer surprised by their habits of dishonesty. Should people of the defeated Confederacy claim, too, that they won the terrible war of disunion, we would pity them, but not lend their beliefs any more credence than we would those of an idiot child, a dog, or a Mormon. The case here is the same.

The vengeance brought against Frank and Jesse James was no less than they deserved — swift, vast, and beyond anything heretofore seen in this world!