Local history articles, news, and events from the Washington County Historical Society
This issue: Contents
Tuesday, September 9th, 2014
  • Editor’s Note
  • WCHS News: Hay Lake Speaker Series: The Story Objects Tell
  • WCHS News: WCHS Annual Fall Dinner Meeting
  • Photo of the Week: Northfield Bank Robbery Anniversary
  • Old News: Raiding the Fridge
  • Featured Article: Set-Set-Set Hike! Football in Stillwater

Editor’s Note

Hello! Welcome to the latest Historical Messenger!

As is the norm; we’ll start this issue by letting you good folks know about a few upcoming events we have in store in our News section.

It’s no secret that the story of the Younger Brothers is one of our prized feathers in the WCHS metaphorical hat. Our connection to the famous gunslingers truly helps put the Warden’s House Museum on the national map. The whole drama that lead to the trio’s unwilling migration to Washington County began on September 7th, 1876. We’ll retell that famous story in today’s Photo of the Week.

And we have another equally well-thought-out heist in our Old News as well!

Although we’ve now officially left the summer months behind us – at least football season is here, right?! To help kick-off the year, let’s take a quick look at some local football history.

Want to learn more about the history of Washington County? Become a fan of WCHS on Facebook or follow us on Twitter! See a new photo every week, read special articles, and stay up-to-date with the latest WCHS happenings.

Sean Pallas

Historical Messenger editor and Warden’s House Site Manager



Hay Lake Speaker Series: “The Story Objects Tell”

Mary Smith, the manager of the Stone House Museum located in Marine on the St. Croix, will be giving a detailed presentation on the importance of primary sources at the Hay Lake School Museum in Scandia on Sunday, September 21st at 2pm.

The definition of a primary source is that of a document or artifact from the actual time period in question. For many historians a primary source can give an accurate representation of a person, building, or location of a given time period.

Mary will not only be giving a presentation on the importance of primary source but will also have artifacts to show. These artifacts can be a small or large part of a story from Marine on the St. Croix, Scandia, and Washington County. This event is great for not only the experienced historian, but also for anyone who enjoys a physical history of the surrounding area.

This presentation is free to the public and will be at the Hay Lake School Museum located at 14020 195th St. N. Marine on St. Croix, MN 55047. If there are any questions about this event please contact Dustyn Dubuque at (651) 433-4014 or at dustyn.dubuque@hotmail.com.



Fall Membership Dinner Meeting

The Washington County Historical Society is excited to announce that Frederick L. Johnson will be the featured speaker for the Washington County Historical Society membership dinner meeting held on Thursday September 25th at the Water Street Inn in Stillwater.

Johnson has taught in St. Paul Public Schools for 34 years, earning the Minnesota Chamber Foundation’s Education Excellence Award in 1987 and receiving a 1990 national Thanks to Teachers award at the Kennedy Center Education Leadership Institute in Washington D.C. He also received the Minnesota Historical Society’s Excellence in Teaching History award in 1990 and 1992.

He was the associate editor and reporter for the South Washington County Bulletin from 1970 to 1983 in Cottage Grove. During this time he won the Minnesota Newspaper Association First Places for reporting in 1975 and again in 1977.

Johnson has written nine books about Minnesota history along with numerous magazine articles. His new book, “The Sea Wing Disaster: Tragedy on Lake Pepin” is an expanded and updated version of his original, The Sea Wing Disaster, published by the Goodhue County Historical Society in 1986. The new edition includes 185 photographs and maps along with new research found in letters, documents and public records.

The Sea Wing, a river steamboat, capsized during a storm on Lake Pepin on July 13, 1890. There were 215 passengers on the excursion out of Red Wing. Nearly 100 of the passengers died making it still one of the most deadly accidents on the nation’s inland waters.

The event is open to the public and the cost is $20 for WCHS members and $25 for nonmembers.

The evening will begin at 5:30 with a social hour, dinner at 6:30 and the business meeting will be at 7:30. Mr. Johnson’s presentation will be after the short business meeting. Books will be available to purchase at the event.

Reservations are required. To make reservations or for more information about the event please call 651-439-5956 or visit www.wchsmn.org.

Photo of the Week

Thomas Coleman “Cole” Younger – September 1876

At around 2:00 in the afternoon, 138 years ago this past Sunday, the eight-man strong James-Younger Gang had their sights on the vaults of the Northfield Bank. But their plan was about to fail in the most spectacular fashion.

As Frank James, Jesse James, and Bob Younger stood inside the bank itself, growing increasingly frustrated at Joseph Heywood’s refusal to open the safe, the citizens of Northfield began taking notice of the commotion. Hardware store owner J.S. Allen saw the armed men through a bank window and instead of adding him to their pool of hostages, gang member Clell Miller made the fateful decision of sternly suggesting that Allen should continue down the street minding his own business. Naturally, the cool-headed man raised the alarm instead.

Within moments, the whole street had turned into a warzone. Sharpshooting Northfield men made their way to every window and rooftop, quickly seizing the advantage against the outnumbered raiders. Both sides drew blood from one another.

Out of spite, Heywood had been slashed by a knife and then shot in the head by one of the Jameses. (The specific brother often shifts depending on who is narrating the tale.) In the confusion and crossfire, another bystander, Nicholas Gustavson, had been gunned down as well.

Two of the gang’s less-famous members, Clell Miller and Bill Chadwell were dead in the dust. They would suffer the further indignity of becoming a gruesome souviner photo – still found in Northfield gift shops today. Warning: Graphic Photograph of Two Corpses

After barely escaping the disaster, the surviving robbers decided to split their party into two sections. The James boys would flee in one direction and the three Youngers and Charlie Pitts in another. Mr. Pitts selected the wrong travelling companions.

On September 21st, the hundreds of Minnesotans who were now hunting the fugitives managed to track the three Youngers and Pitts a swamp outside of Medelia. After another brief but intense firefight – Pitts was dead and as Cole Younger later described, the three brothers had been “shot to pieces.” In the above photograph taken shortly after the Younger’s capture, you can see Cole’s eye swelled shut due to a bullet lodged underneath his skin. Jim had taken a shot to through his lip into the roof of his mouth that would cause him constant pain for the remainder of his life.

A few short weeks later, the Youngers would begin their 25 year stay at the Minnesota State Prison in Stillwater.


 Old News

Raiding the Fridge

Alright, we got a little heavy there with murdered bank cashiers and grisly post-mortem photography. Let’s cleanse our paletes with a slightly more light-hearted tale…although this will include a bit of criminal activity as well.

A Robber of Ice Boxes – Stillwater Messenger – September 9, 1905

John Currie, who lives with a widowed mother at 1218 Sixth Ave. South, was arrested by policeman Maher last Friday night while in the act of robbing the refrigerator at the residence of W. H. Caldwell. It was the third time within a couple of weeks that this same refrigerator had been robbed of its contents. Currie is a young man, aged 22 years and has been employed in the printing offices of this city. He pleaded guilty of petit larceny and was sentenced to 90 days in the county jail.


Set-Set-Set Hike! Football in Stillwater

by Brent Peterson

To go into the history of football in Stillwater, we should visit some of the high school’s championship clubs that have played on the gridiron in this city.

One of the most powerful football clubs in Stillwater High School history would have to be the 1943 team coached by Leo A. Rorman with Assistant Coach Phil Belfiori. In that year, the team went undefeated [7-0] and outscored the other clubs 192 to 13. If there were state championship that year surely Stillwater would have captured the trophy.

In 1971, playoffs were started for the state high school football champions. In 1975, four years after the playoff system was started and also just four years after George Thole became the high school football coach, the Stillwater Ponies found themselves playing Richfield for the State Class AA Championship.

The game was played on a cool Friday night in November at Parade Stadium in St. Paul. Both teams had extremely good years and were both undefeated entering the championship game. There were 14,000 fans on hand, and at that time it set a single-game playoff attendance record.

The game was hard fought and the scoring took place not only on the passing game but also on the ground. The quarterback for Stillwater was Mike Nolan. He completed only six passes in the game but they were good for 124 yards. His main target through the air was Bob de St. Aubin who caught five of those passes for 97 yards, which included the winning touchdown with 18 seconds left in the game.

Todd Butterfield and Terry Richert kept Stillwater moving on the ground. Richert scored a touchdown on a four yard run and de St. Aubin scored earlier on a 42-yard pass from Nolan. Richfield had scored on a Mike Connelly seven yard run a 56-yard pass play from Joe Smith to Mike Voelker and then Dave Larson added a 30-yard field goal.

With the score 17-13, the Stillwater Ponies drive 77-yards with the last play being the short pass to de St. Aubin for the touchdown. After the game, coach Thole said “we played a real worth opponent in Richfield. I know that. Our defense just rose up and stuck it to them in the second and third quarters. We shut down their running game.”

Since 1975 George Thole had led the Stillwater High School Football Team into the championship game several more times, winning some and losing some. As we watch this year’s squad get set to start a new era in the football teams history, let us not forget the history of champions that have been given to us.




Upcoming Events

More information: WCHS Events >>>


Preserve the Past, Share in the Future!

Become a member of the Washington County Historical Society!

Membership is one way that you can help support the Washington County Historical Society. Your membership helps us collect, preserve, and disseminate the history of Washington County for county residents and visitors in the belief that a historical perspective enhances our understanding of community and sense of place.

Benefits of membership:

  • FREE admission to the Warden’s House Museum in Stillwater and Hay Lake Museum Complex in Scandia
  • Discounts on purchases in the museum gift shop (10% Individual & Family members, 15% Patron & Sustaining members)
  • FREE use of WCHS library and research center
  • Subscription to Historical Whisperings, the society’s quarterly newsletter
  • Discounts on tickets to membership meetings
  • Knowing that your membership dollars support the preservation of our treasured past for generations to come

The Washington County Historical Society has depended on membership ever since it was formed in 1934. Please show your support for the organization by becoming a member today.

More: WCHS Membership >>>

Washington County Historical Society

Mission Statement

Washington County Historical Society collects, preserves, and disseminates the history of the county and state of Minnesota.

Find us on Facebook!