Attempting a bold daytime robbery of the Northfield Minnesota bank, the James-Younger gang suddenly finds itself surrounded by angry townspeople and is nearly wiped out on September 7, 1876.
The bandits began with a diversion: five of the men galloped through the center of town, hollering and shooting their pistols in the air. As the townspeople ran for cover, three other men wearing wide-brimmed hats and long dusters took advantage of the distraction to walk unnoticed into the First National Bank. Brandishing pistols, one of the men ordered the bank cashier to open the bank safe. Though the cashier recognized the famous face of the dangerous outlaw, Jesse James, he stalled, claiming that the safe had a time lock and could not be opened. As Jesse James considered his next move, a brave–or foolish–bank teller made a break for the back door. One of the robbers fired twice, hitting the teller in the shoulder, but the man managed to stumble to safety and sound the alarm.
The citizens of Northfield ran to surround the bank and mercilessly shot down the robbers as they tried to escape. A 19-year-old medical student killed one gang member, Clell Miller, while the owner of the Northfield hardware store mortally wounded Bill Chadwell, peppering his body with bullets from a rapid-firing Remington repeater rifle. Jesse’s brother, Frank, was hit in the leg, while their criminal partners—Jim, Cole, and Bob Younger—were also badly wounded.
Jesse was the last one out of the bank. After pausing briefly to shoot the uncooperative cashier in the head, Jesse leapt onto his horse and joined the rest of the survivors as they desperately fled town. For the next two weeks a posse pursued them relentlessly, eventually killing or capturing four more of the gang members. Luckily for Frank and Jesse James, the two brothers had decided to go their own way, escaping to Dakota Territory. After things had cooled down, they went to Nashville, Tennessee, where they started rebuilding their gang and planning new robberies.