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 ONHORSE!

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!