By Al Benson Jr.
I recently returned from a trip to Minnesota, not the warmest place in the country this time of year. I visited with folks I’ve not seen in several years and it was a good reunion, even if the temperature hardly ever got up to freezing.
While there I got to go over to the town of Northfield, which should be a familiar name to many who study history, and particularly to those who have studied some of the personalities on both sides during the War of Northern Aggression. Northfield is a nice little town of about 20,000 and much of the architecture in the center of town is still of the type you saw in many parts of the country, particularly the Midwest, South and West during the late 19th century. Much of it looks very little changed since that time. Over the years we’ve been in many towns across the country that have sought to retain their original flavor and we enjoy them very much. Modern I am not. I like the older, traditional things, which, I suppose, makes me somewhat of an anachronism to the modern or post-modern (or whatever they call them nowadays) crowd.
Anyway, one of Northfield’s claims to fame is that Jesse James and his gang tried to rob the First National Bank there on September 7, 1876. That might seem a long way out of traditional Jesse James territory, but there were reasons for this particular expedition.
To understand that Jesse James was more than just your ordinary bandit out to steal whatever he could, you have to understand the conditions that prevailed in Missouri before, during and after the War of Northern Aggression. Missouri was a state in which slavery existed before the War, but, as an aside, it also existed in Minnesota before the War. I recently read an article on the Internet entitled Slavery at Fort Snelling (1820s-1850s). The article noted: “The officers and civilians in and near Fort Snelling (Minnesota) who used slave labor were in violation of the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which stated that slavery was forbidden in the territory gained through the Louisiana Purchase north of the 36 degree-30 degree latitude line (except within the boundaries of the state of Missouri). Slavery had existed in this region prior to the Compromise, however, and it continued in spite of it.” History books ever bother to mention that? Slavery in Minnesota—what a surprise!
At any rate, the state of Missouri, because slavery existed there, had had, from about 1854, problems with the state of Kansas, which was fast turning into an Abolitionist’s paradise, which it still is today. You can still feel the “we love John Brown” atmosphere in Eastern Kansas as you pass through it even today. But, as the number of abolitionists increased in Eastern Kansas, most of them being from the Northeast or Upper Midwest, so did their desire to “free” the slaves in Missouri, right across the border. Unfortunately for the folks in Western Missouri, the Kansas abolitionists had a decidedly socialist “redistribution of the wealth” attitude in which they felt it their bounden duty to redistribute everything and anything they could purloin in Missouri over into Kansas. Once the War commenced Kansas brigandage was given the cloak of federal legality and yesterdays thieves became today’s Yankee/Marxist brigadier generals.
Although Missouri was considered a “Union” state, though I believe their governor did sign a secession ordinance, the federal armies invaded Missouri, and treated the state’s citizens as prisoners of an occupied state. Lots of good Missouri folks sent their sons off to fight for the Confederacy, but some stayed on at home to try to protect their families and property from the “benefits” of Yankee occupation, and those “benefits” were substantial, especially if you owned anything the Yankees wanted. Missouri resisted—and its resistance forces were called “guerillas, bushwackers,” etc. Families who had sons in the Confederate service were special targets of Yankee beneficence. Jesse James was once, when he was fifteen years old, beaten by Yankee soldiers because he would not reveal the whereabouts of his brother, Frank, who had been fighting for the South, and his stepfather had also been hanged by Yankee soldiers for the same thing. He did survive the hanging but it was no great benefit to his health, being an elderly man.
When the War finally ended and Yankee/Marxist charity was fully able to reign, those who had fought against it in Missouri were promised amnesty if they would come in and surrender. Jesse James and some others rode in to surrender and the generous Yankee soldiers shot him. It was almost the identical situation portrayed in the “Outlaw Josie Wales” movie where “General” Jim Lane, the infamous Kansas Redleg, said of the Southern boys that surrendered “They were decently fed and decently shot.” I guess a bit of that sort of amnesty went on in Missouri that the “history” books forgot to mention.
And, after the War, the Yankee bankers took over in Missouri. Marley Brant, in her book Jesse James—The Man and the Myth observed that: “The Eastern power elite decided to expand its domination of the area after they had gained control of the majority of the Midwestern banking institutions.” Does that little fact give you any inkling as to why the James Gang and others went after the banks? The Yankee/Marxists had made their lives miserable, even those who were allowed to surrender without being shot. This was the only way they could fight back—in effect, steal from the thieves that had stolen from them.
Which brings us to Northfield in Minnesota. Ms. Brant stated, on page 176 of her book that: “Bill Chadwell (one of the James Gang) was in immediate agreement. He was familiar with Northfield and gave his associates some very interesting information. Chadwell informed them that Adelbert Ames and Benjamin Butler were prominent citizens of the town. These two men were no doubt recognized by Frank and Cole as two of the foremost carpetbaggers who took advantage of the people of the South after the war. Ames had been elected governor of Mississippi (a “reconstruction” governor) several years before but had been impeached by that state’s legislature earlier in the year…He eventually showed up in Northfield to join his father and brother. Ames bought a major interest in the Northfield mill operations with money said by those sympathetic to the South to have been obtained from his carpetbagging activities. Ben Butler also had carpetbagging interests in Mississippi and relocated to Northfield…The Southerners had nicknamed him Spoons as a reflection of their opinion that he would steal even his grandmother’s silverware. Chadwell told Jesse and the others that both of these men kept their money in the First National Bank of Northfield. The thought of robbing two representatives of the carpetbagging community must have delighted the members of the gang.” Not mentioned was the fact that Butler was also the infamous “Beast” Butler of New Orleans infamy and that Adelbert Ames was his son-in-law. The carpetbag fraternity that had stolen the South blind was well represented in Northfield.
Ultimately the robbery attempt failed and Bill Chadwell, who was to guide the gang safely back out of Minnesota, was killed, which fact left the gang to try to find its way to safety on its own. In the end, only Jesse and Frank James escaped. The Younger brothers and the others were either killed or captured.
Many over the years have wondered why the James Gang picked a bank so far north to attempt to rob. Most of their robberies had taken place in Missouri, Iowa, Kentucky, Arkansas, and even one in West Virginia, so one in Minnesota seems out of character for them until you understand just a bit about the miserable carpetbaggers and their “reconstruction” governments in the South after the War. The James Gang was, in effect, trying to steal from the thieves. The War did a lot of damage to the South and to the country as a whole. The “reconstruction” instituted by the Yankee/Marxist government in Washington never really ended—it just expanded quietly and without fanfare until we now have it nationwide—via the Patriot Act, Obamacare and a host of other federal programs, all for our “benefit” so we are told, yet they never seem to benefit us as much as they seem to benefit those who institute them, and that ain’t by accident, boys, it’s by design. Connect the dots, folks, and learn to “follow the money.” In 1876, Northfield was one of the dots.