This issue: Contents
Tuesday, September 8th, 2015
  • Editor’s Note
  • WCHS News: “Pro Wrestling in Minnesota” Program
  • WCHS News: Fall Membership Dinner Meeting
  • What Is This Thing?!
  • Old News: Stealing the Front Page
  • Featured Article: The Infamous Younger Brothers

Editor’s Note

Happy September everybody!

The summer months are over, the classrooms are full once again, and I even saw a few trees showing their fall colors…but there’s still plenty going on here at WCHS!

Grab a metal folding chair and check out today’s first News Story to get all the info about our pro-wrestling program coming up this weekend!

Be sure to get your reservation for our Fall Membership Meeting, learn how in our second News Story.

After filling you in on the latest WCHS news, we’ll wander back into the massive WCHS artifact collection to take a look at another mystery object for today’s “What Is This Thing?!”

Yesterday marked the 139th anniversary of the Northfield Bank Raid. This attempted robbery left four men dead and marked the end of the one of the most well-known “Wild West”-style gangs of American history.

The rest of today’s Historical Messenger will focus on the Younger brothers. We’ll start by reading the initial reports of the attack on Northfield from the next day’s newspaper in today’s Old News and finish by taking a more in-depth look at the raid and its aftermath in today’s Featured Article.

Want to learn more about the history of Washington County? “Like” WCHS on Facebook and follow us on Twitter!

Sean Pallas

Historical Messenger editor and Warden’s House Site Manager

WCHS News 

Pro Wrestling in Minnesota Program

Join former American Wrestling Association (AWA) commentator Mick Karch and George Schire, author of “Minnesota’s Golden Age of Wrestling” on Sunday, September 13th, 2015 at 2:00 PM at the Warden’s House Museum for a free program covering the long relationship between Minnesota and pro wrestling.

Minnesota’s professional wrestling history can be traced back to the 1950s with the founding of the AWA. Mad Dog Vachon, Verne Gagne, The Crusher, and of course, Jesse Venture are just some of the Minnesotan names to impact the pro wrestling world.

Whether you are a current pro wrestling fan or have cherished childhood memories of screaming at your television, this program will be filled with rich history and stories from the “Golden Age” of Minnesota wrestling.

This free and open to the public presentation will be held at the Warden’s House Museum which is located at 602 Main Street N., Stillwater, MN.

Please contact Sean Pallas at or 651-439-5956 with any questions regarding this event or to schedule a tour of the museum.

More: Events

WCHS News 

Fall Membership Dinner Meeting

The Washington County Historical Society is excited to have Author Denis Gardner as the featured speaker at the Fall History Dinner meeting to be held on Thursday, September 24th at the Lowell Inn Banquet Hall in Stillwater.

Gardner, an award-winning historian who has documented properties for the National Register of Historic Places and the Historic American Engineering Record, authored the book, “Wood, Concrete, Stone & Steel: Minnesota’s Historic Bridges” in 2008.

Through arresting photographs and lively narrative, Gardner makes a compelling argument for the value of preserving our bridges and the cultural heritage they carry and brings to life their importance in Minnesota’s past, present and future. In Washington County, Gardner will touch on the significance of many of the crossings that dot the landscape and tell the vital history of Minnesota’s most historic county. From the Stone Bridge in Stillwater Township to the old Spiral Bridge in Denmark Township to Stillwater’s historic Lift Bridge to the “Dillinger Bridge” in St. Paul Park, he will tell our story through the history of Washington County Bridges.

Richard Moe, the President of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, said of Gardner’s book that it “reminds us that bridges have played a significant role in Minnesota’s history.” Moe continued by saying that Gardner “tells the compelling story of the visionary people, historic events, and technological advances that helped make Minnesota the special place we know and cherish.”

The event is open to the public. Cost for the dinner and program is $20 for WCHS Members and $25 for Non-Members.

The Lowell Inn Banquet Center is located at 102 North Second Street and there is parking available in the city parking ramp next to the facility.

The evening will begin at 5:30 with a social hour, dinner at 6:30 and the business meeting will be at 7:30 PM.

Mr. Gardner’s presentation will be after the short business meeting. Reservations are required. To make reservations or for more information about the event please call 651-439-5956 or visit

What is This Thing?!

What Is This Thing?! (Round 16)

Last issue’s What Is This Thing?! comes straight from the horrors of pre-20th century dentistry!

These dental forceps were manufactured by the Noyes Bros & Cutler company which operated out of St. Paul and was the largest wholesale drug company in the Midwest. This particular model appeared in their 1888 company catalogue and cost between $2.00 and $2.25 a pair.

As you can probably tell, these were used in tooth extraction and 1888 is definitely before the era of Novocaine…and that finger grip on the shorter handle shows they really yanked those teeth out of their patients’ faces with some force! Yesh!

As always, thank you everyone for participating and congratulations to everyone who correctly identified this intimidating medical device!

Can you identify the WCHS artifact photographed above? If you’d care to venture an answer, you can send an email to me at, tweet @WCHSMN, or post your guess on our Facebook page.

Good luck!

Full Image

Old News

Stealing the Front Page

Typically the front page of the Stillwater Messenger was reserved for re-prints of national newstories from other papers. I usually have to dig to page 3 before I find any sort of local reports. However, the intensity of the Northfield Raid had thrust the encounter onto the national stage. The name “Heywood” would be read in homes across the country.

In the normally quiet rural bank at Northfield, a party of former Confederate soldiers had murdered Joseph Heywood, a man who had served opposite his killers as a corporal for the Union. As the details of Heywood’s death circulated the country, an outpouring of support and donations made their way to Heywood’s widow and young daughter. In the following months, the family received almost $13,000 (around a quarter million in 2015 dollars).

Stillwater Messenger – September 8, 1876

One of the boldest attempts at robbery ever made in this country took place at Northfield, Minnesota, about two o’clock yesterday afternoon. Eight powerful men, heavily armed, rode into the place at intervals during the forenoon from the same direction upon unusually fine horses. At the hour named a squad of them entered the First National Bank and commanded the cashier to open the safe, which he steadfastly refused, preserving its contents with his life.

Several shots had been fired at random in the streets previous to this, and a crowd assembling, one of the robbers shot the cashier, Mr. Heywood, in the head, killing him instantly, when the band decamped, two being killed on their flight and two wounded.

The robbers are supposed to have gone into the Big Woods southeast of Northfield. A large force of men started in pursuit, and it is hardly probably that they will escape.

Through the sublime heroism of Mr. Heywood the bank and depositors were preserved from loss. His death at his post of duty is a sad calamity, as he was one of the most highly esteemed citizens of Northfield. If lynching is ever justifiable it will be if these desperadoes are captured.

Featured Article

The Infamous Younger Brothers

by Sean Pallas

It doesn’t matter that Bob Dylan left Minnesota as soon as he could; you’ll still see a “Bob Dylan Way” in Duluth and a newly finished mural in downtown Minneapolis celebrating the musician. When aviator Charles Lindburg moved away from his boyhood home, he only returned to the property on a single occasion, yet, the town of Little Falls, Minnesota maintains the home in shrine-like fashion.

Here in Minnesota we’re a bit obssessed with the famous folk who were born or lived in our communities. Even if they didn’t exactly call our city ‘home’ by choice…

The core group of the James-Younger gang were comprised of two sets of brothers; Frank and Jesse James and Cole, Jim, and Bob Younger. The group had bonded years prior while serving together in the Confederate Army during the Civil War. After the war, the gang robbed a series of trains and carriages across the South and enjoyed a “Robin Hood”-esque reputation among the bitter defeated Southern states.

However, on September 7th, 1876 the gang had set their targets a bit northward.

Through half-whispers and rumors, the outlaws believed that General Adelbert Ames had recently deposited $50,000 into the First National Bank of Northfield, Minnesota. Until recently, General Ames had been the hated military governor of the Younger’s homestate of Missouri. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation would not be created for another 50 years meaning that any money stolen from physical banks were simply gone. The lack of any sort of robbery insurance would ensure General Ames would feel every penny of his missing $50,000.

Shortly before noon on that Thursday morning, Jesse James, Frank James, Thomas “Cole” Younger, Jim Younger, Bob Younger, Charlie Pitts, Clell Miller and Bill Chadwell were sitting around a table at a local eatery near the town’s mill. The gang shared a meal of fried eggs and according to later testimony, smelling heavily of alcohol.

Over the next few hours, the gang trickled into town to avoid raising suspicion. In a moment of historic irony, Cole even found himself passing Gen. Ames himself on the street. The would-be bank robber, recalled tossing the General a sarcastic greeting before making his way into the town center.

The James brothers along with Bob Younger burst into the bank, quickly taking command of the frightened employees. The remainder of the gang were either guarding the doors of the bank or securing the group’s escape route across the town’s bridge.

So far the plan had gone without a hitch…but suddenly, the entire operation stalled. What ideally should have taken brief seconds was turning into minutes. Inside the bank, the robbers were growing increasingly frustrated at cashier Joseph Heywood’s refusal to open the safe. And outside, 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 to instead sternly suggest that Allen should continue down the street minding his own business. The cool-headed man immediately raised the alarm once he was out of the gang’s sight.

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. In the confusion and crossfire, another bystander, Nicholas Gustavson, had been gunned down as well. Clell Miller and Bill Chadwell were dead in the dust and all of the Youngers were sporting mild to serious gunshot wounds.

After barely escaping the disaster, the surviving robbers decided to split their party into two portions. 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.”

The photograph above was 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 weeks later, the Youngers would begin their 25 year stay at the Minnesota State Prison in Stillwater and unwittingly secure their position as Stillwater’s most famous residents.

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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.

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Mission Statement

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