Saturday, January 20, 2018
Doug, Greg, Jesse & Cole
A wood engraving once was the one and only way to create an illustration for a newspaper, and this engraving shows an artist's conception of the infamous Jesse James/Cole Younger gang botched bank robbery in Northfield, Minnesota, on September 7, 1876. The target of the robbery was the First National Bank, located on the side street behind the Lee & Hitchcock building. Here is a post meant to mention three of four "whatever" facts about Northfield .... like anyone really cares other than me ....
Tying up some sort of loose ends
I am reminded that Northfield, Minnesota, has two institutions of higher learning. One is Saint Olaf College, with Lutheran and Norwegian roots, which I mentioned in my December 24, 2017, post. The other is Carleton College, founded in 1866 as "Northfield College" by members of the Minnesota Conference of Congregational Churches. It was renamed Carleton College after Massachusetts brassware manufacturer William Carleton donated $50,000 to the fledgling school. Both are private liberal arts colleges.
One of my better friends graduated from Carleton. Actually, we partied off and on while he was a Carleton student and I was working as a journalist in a town not far from Northfield. I moved along to another newspaper in another town and we went a few years without seeing one another. Then, out of the blue, Doug walked into the newspaper where I was employed to apply for an opening as a sports reporter. I saw to it that he got the job.
Doug Bezechek originally was from Iowa. He was sort of a "wild and crazy guy." After several hours of drinking one night, he decided to walk home when his car would not start. Rather than go the long way, he chose to swim across the Cannon River. He did not make it all the way. I learned of his death when I arrived at work the next morning. I still think about Doug and wish I would have been with him that night ....
Moving on .... Carleton has a fellow named Gregory Blake Smith on its staff. Having written a number of novels and short stories, Smith, who teaches American literature and creative writing, would seem well qualified for the position. His most recent novel, "The Maze at Windermere," was released only a few days ago. It is difficult to describe this tale in only a few sentences, but here goes:
The novel contains five distinct stories spread over three centuries. Smith cycles through these eras, again and again, from today back to the late Seventeenth Century. In the final section, the divisions between these stories collapse, but they are tightly folded in translucent layers of time so that contemporary and previous eras appear to mingle while retaining their respective hues.
Since this piece is not a book review and since I have more on my mind yet to write about, I think I will let it go at that and advise you to either buy the book or to search out "real" reviews and read them. I have a copy, but have yet to sit down with it. After I have read it, I might have more to say about it .... depending on if it is as good as his earlier work.
Northfield has another claim to fame other than its two colleges. It was the town where the Jesse James/Cole Younger gang was sort of shot out business during a failed bank robbery on September 7, 1876. For a number of years, the city has staged a reenactment of the event. I was present as working journalist for one such "mock shoot 'em up production."
Some "highlights" of the raid are these: Gang members Bill Stiles and Clell Miller were killed during the botched holdup, along with two residents of Northfield. Charlie Pitts was killed, and Cole, Jim and Bob Younger were captured when a posse surrounded them in a slough on September 21. Frank and Jesse James had been wounded in Northfield, but managed to escape to Nashville, Tennessee. There has been a number of films made about the James brothers, and the "Northfield raid" often forms a significant segment of them.
The Younger brothers pleaded guilty to murder and were given life sentences at the state penitentiary in Stillwater. Bob died there of tuberculosis in 1889. Cole and Jim were paroled in 1901. Jim committed suicide in a Saint Paul hotel room in 1902. Cole "partnered up" with Frank James in a touring "wild west" show. He died in 1916.
Frank James did some jail time, but never saw the inside of a penitentiary. His jobs included being a shoe salesman and a burlesque theater ticket taker before teaming with Cole Younger. Jesse James was murdered by Bob Ford in 1882 in St. Joseph, Missouri .... although every now and again some dispute that "fact" .... Frank managed to last until 1915, dying in Kearney, Missouri, the town in which he had been born.
All right .... enough about Northfield and its history .... do a bit of research if you are curious .... actually, due to a number of classmates having graduated from Saint Olaf; my Carleton buddy, Doug; Smith's stories; and periodic encounters with Jesse James films; I think about Northfield with some frequency .... and, with the town only thirty miles away from where I now live, I drive there periodically to make certain the place has not vanished ....