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September 7: The Great Northfield Raid

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Today is the 153rd anniversary of the Great Northfield Raid, whereas the James-Younger Gang attempted a bold daylight robbery of the First National Bank of Northfield Minnesota. It didn’t go well. Instead of cowering before the outlaws, the locals, largely Swedish immigrants, armed themselves and started shooting at the gang, killing two and wounding four. Perhaps more importantly to the town folk, the raiders didn’t get away with any of the loot. This was before federal deposit insurance, so if the bank your savings was sitting in got robbed, you just lost that money. Which may have explained the townspeople’s eagerness to stop the heist by whatever means available, which included throwing rocks. As far as the James boys, Jesse and Frank would both suffer leg wounds. They would escape and head south to reform their gang, and from then on deny they had ever stepped foot in Minnesota. So, was alcohol involved in the raid? It was. One of the Younger brothers, all of whom would be arrested following the raid, said the three raiders who went into the bank, including Frank, had hastily split a quart of whiskey before riding into town. Now, using alcohol to steel your nerve has a long history. It was often given to soldiers before attacks to buck up their courage and make them less worried about losing their lives. During World War I, the British army would often issue rum to their infantrymen before they went “over the top.” The Germans issued schnapps. It’s hard to say if that quart helped or hindered the raid, but it may have caused Frank, usually the cooler head of the gang, to shoot a garrulous teller who refused to give up the dough, which set off the counterattack. So there you go. When it comes to bank robbery and booze, moderation is key.

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Editor/Publisher of Modern Drunkard Magazine.

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