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 ....


Anita said...

Always nice post by you
.and the music is beautiful❤

Fram Actual said...

Ahhhh, yes .... the music.

It surprised me how good this song is and how appealing. I thought it to be wonderful, and have been playing it over and over. As someone wrote beneath another version of this song, this last waltz .... "this tugs at my heart strings big time, don't know why."

Hmmmm .... the post, the words .... my words.

Everything in it is relevant to me and to my life, but it is sort of a convoluted, confused mess. I almost did not post it; I almost pulled it after I posted it. Then, I decided to leave it there and leave it there without revision. It has to do with my mood, I guess -- the "winter of my discontent," to paraphrase a line from William Shakespeare.

In any case, Anita, thank you .... for coming/ for listening/ for reading/ for commenting ....

Anita said...

Reading it twice it is a wonderful story.I do belive you did it good at work.So nice written.Sad about the drowned friend of yours.Just out for a shortcut way home.
There are many great links here.Books.The Wild Bunch..You.
I think it is nice you took the time telling something from your life.And for me.Good to read an interesting post.
Once again.Thank you for sharing.

Fram Actual said...

You, for sure, are a sweetie, Anita.

The story itself is fine, but I think I could have written it more concisely and just plain better if I would have devoted more time to it. Too often, I grow impatient with what I am doing and rush to finish. That is what happened this time. With hindsight, I think I should have broken it into three pieces.

Yes, it was sad about my friend. I never had met Doug's parents, but I collected what possessions he had at the newspaper and put together a packet with all I could find and copies of the newspapers which had articles in them that he had written and mailed them to his family. His mother replied with a thank you note filled with kind words.

Just in the past few days, I have seen listings for three different films about Jesse James which are currently showing on cable television. I became curious, and began counting .... according to my count, there have been fifty-nine films about Jesse, beginning with a silent movie in 1908, "The James Boys of Missouri," up to and including, "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Bob Ford," in 2007. How accurate my count might be is anyone's guess, and not all of those movies were directly about Jesse. Whatever .... it is difficult to avoid "old Jesse" these days.

You must be directing your snow toward me, Anita. It is expected to begin falling in an hour or two and continue for twenty-four hours, leaving twelve inches (thirty centimeters) or more on the ground before it ends. Strong winds will create blizzard conditions. Classes in most -- if not all -- schools in the southern one-half of Minnesota have been canceled.

Thank you, Anita .... your presence brought a bit of cheer to me on a wintry day ....

Smareis said...

Muito bonita essa ilustração Fram.
Gostei muito de ler a história dos irmãos James. Você construiu muito bem essa história.Detalhes bem tecidos. Esses jovens tiveram um final muito triste. Northfield deve ser uma cidade bem conhecida por essa invasão. E pelo que eu lia você está bem perto dela. Fica localizada perto de Minnesota.
Se cuida Fram!
Sorrisos muitos.

Fram Actual said...

Wood cuts/wood engravings are special from my point of view, Smareis. The skill and craftsmanship required to make them is absolutely amazing .... I know, because we tried making them with linoleum blocks in school around the age of thirteen or fourteen. The results of our work were sort of dismal.

I have purchased a number of Nineteenth Century newspapers simply for their visual concepts in the form of engravings. I have used a few as illustrations for my posts in the past, and probably will in the future, as well.

Jesse James and most of his compatriots led exciting lives, but relatively brief lives. Northfield is about a forty-minute drive for me. It is a beautiful town -- quiet and peaceful except during "Defeat of Jesse James Days" every September.

Thank you, for the "many smiles," Smareis .... they make me happy and keep me calm ....

Something special ....