While Pitts and I were waiting for Bob and Chadwell we scouted about, going to Madelia and as far as the eastern part of Cotton-wood county, to familiarize ourselves with the country. Finally, a few days later, the boys joined us, having5bought their horses at Mankato.
We then divided into two parties and started for Northfield by somewhat different routes. Monday night, Sept. 4, our partfy were at Le Sueur Center, and court being in session, we had to sleep on the floor. The hotel was full of lawyers, and they, with the judge and other court attendants, had a high old time that night. Tuesday night we were at Cordova, a little village in Le Sueur county, and Wednesday night in Millersburg, eleven miles west of Northfield. Bob and his party were then at Cannon City, to the south of Northfield. We reunited Thursday morning, Sept. 7, a little outside Northfield, west of the Cannon river.
We took a trip into town that forenoon, and I looked over the bank. We had dinner at various places and then returned to the camp. While we were planning the raid it was intended that I should be one of the party to go into the bank. I urged on the boys that whatever happened we should not shoot any one.
“What if they begin shooting at us?” some one suggested.
“Well,” said Bob, “if Cap is so particular about the shooting, suppose we let him stay outside and take his chances.”
So at the last minute our plans were changed, and when we started for town Bob, Pitts and Howard went in front, the plan being for them to await us in the square and enter the bank when the second detachment came up with them. Miller and I went second to stand guard at the bank, while the rest of the party were to wait at the bridge for the signal—a pistol shot—in the event they were needed. There were no saddle horses in evidence, and we calculated that we would have a considerable advantage. Wrecking the telegraph office as we left, we would get a good start, and by night would be safe beyond Shieldsville, and the next day could ride south across the Iowa line and be in comparative safety.
But between the time we broke camp and the time they reached the bridge the three who went ahead drank a quart of whisky, and there was the initial blunder at Northfield. I never knew Bob to drink before, and I did not know he was drinking that day till after it was all over.
When Miller and I crossed the bridge the three were on some dry goods boxes at the corner near the bank, and as soon as they saw us went right into the bank, instead of waiting for us to get there.
When we came up I told Miller to shut the bank door, which they had left open in their hurry. I dismounted in the street, pretending to tighten my saddle girth. J. S. Allen, whose hardware store was near, tried to go into the bank, but Miller ordered him away, and he ran around the corner, shouting:
“Get your guns, boys; they’re robbing the bank.”
Dr. H. M. Wheeler, who had been standing on the east side of Division street, near the Dampier house, shouted “Robbery! Robbery!”and I called to him to get inside, at the same time firing a pistol shot in the air as a signal to the three boys at the bridge that we had been discovered. Almost at this instant I heard a pistol shot in the bank. Chadwell, Woods and Jim rode up and joined us, shouting to people in the street to get inside, and firing their pistols to emphasize their commands. I do not believe they killed any one, however. I have always believed that the man Nicholas Gustavson, who was shot in the street, and who, it was said, did not go inside because he did not understand English, was hit by a glancing shot from Manning’s or Wheeler’s rifle. If any of our party shot him it must have been Woods.
A man named Elias Stacy, armed with a shot-gun, fired at Miller just as he was mounting his horse, filling Clell’s face full of bird shot. Manning took a shot at Pitts’ horse, killing it, which crippled us badly. Meantime the street was getting uncomfortably hot. Every time I saw any one with a bead on me I would drop off my horse and try to drive the shooter inside, but I could not see in every direction. I called to the boys in the bank to come out, for I could not imagine what was keeping them so long. With his second shot Manning wounded me in the thigh, and with his third he shot Chadwell through the heart. Bill fell from the saddle dead. Dr. Wheeler, who had gone upstairs in the hotel, shot Miller, and he lay dying in the street.
At last the boys who had been in the bank came out. Bob ran down the street toward Manning, who hurried into Lee & Hitchcock’s store, hoping in that way to get a shot at Bob from behind. Bob, however, did not see Wheeler, who was upstairs in the hotel behind him, and Wheeler’s third shot shattered Bob’s right elbow as he stood beneath the stairs. Changing his pistol to his left hand, Bob ran out and mounted Miller’s mare. Howard and Pitts had at last come out of the bank. Miller was lying in the street, but we thought him still alive. I told Pitts to put him up with me, and I would pack him out, but when we lifted him I saw he was dead, and I told Pitts to lay him down again. Pitts’ horse had been killed, and I told him I would hold the crowd back while he got out on foot. I stayed there pointing my pistol at any one who showed his head until Pitts had gone perhaps 30 or 40 yards, and then, putting spurs to my horse, I galloped to where he was and took him up behind me.
“What kept you so long?” I asked Pitts.
Then he told me they had been drinking and had made a botch of it inside the bank. Instead of carrying out the plan originally formed, seizing the cashier at his window and getting to the safe without interruption, they leaped right over the counter and scared Heywood at the very start. As to the rest of the affair inside the bank I take the account of a Northfield narrator:
“With a flourish of his revolver one of the robbers pointed to Joseph L. Heywood, head bookkeeper, who was acting as cashier in the absence of that official, and asked:”
“ ‘Are you the cashier?’ ”
“ ‘No,’ ” replied Heywood, and the same question was put to A. E. Bunker, teller, and Frank J. Wilcox, assistant bookkeeper, each of whom made the same reply.
“ ‘You are the cashier,’ said the robber, turning upon Heywood, who was sitting at the cashier’s desk. ‘Open that safe—quick or I’ll blow your head off.’ ”
“Pitts then ran to the vault and stepped inside, whereupon Heywood followed him and tried to shut him in.”
“One of the robbers seized him and said:”
“ ‘Open that safe now or you haven’t but a minute to live.’ ”
“ ‘There’s a time lock on,’ Heywood answered, ‘and it can’t be opened now.’ ”
Howard drew a knife from his pocket and made a feint to cut Heywood’s throat, as he lay on the floor where he had been thrown in the scuffle, and Pitts told me afterward that Howard fired a pistol near Heywood’s head to scare him.
Bunker tried to get a pistol that lay near him, but Pitts saw his movement and beat him to it. It was found on Charley when he was killed, so much more evidence to identify us as the men who were in Northfield.
“Where’s the money outside the safe?” Bob asked.
Bunker showed him a box of small change on the counter, and while Bob was putting the money in a grainsack Bunker took advantage of the opportunity to dash out of the rear window. The shutters were closed, and this caused Bunker an instant’s delay that was almost fatal. Pitts chased him with a bullet. The first one missed him, but the second went through his right shoulder.
As the men left the bank Heywood clambered to his feet and Pitts, in his liquor, shot him through the head, inflicting the wound that killed him.
We had no time to wreck the telegraph office, and the alarm was soon sent throughout the country.
Gov. John S. Pillsbury first offered $1,000 reward for the arrest of the six who had escaped, and this he changed afterward to $1,000 for each of them, dead or alive. The Northfield bank offered $700 and the Winona & St. Peter railroad $500.