Northfield: A Western Story

Written by Johnny D. Boggs
Review by John R. Vallely

Few American criminals enjoy the attention paid to Jesse James and his gang of Confederate guerrillas and post-Civil War bank robbers. He has gone from widely respected folk hero in earlier treatments to the contemporary, and more historically accurate, view as a man who habitually lived outside the law. Western writer Johnny D. Boggs is one of those writers who has little trouble placing his characters in their historical settings. He has performed all the required research but has also kept the dialogue and points of reference true to the time period.

The story unfolds as the Jameses and Youngers are talked into raiding Minnesota, a Union state during the war and one that has thus far not been the target of ex-Confederate brigands. Bill Stiles is new to the gang, and he is the one who portrays the Northfield bank as an easy target. While some of the robbers mistrust Stiles, a decision is made to leave Missouri for Minnesota. September 7, 1876, turned out to be a very different day than the one Jesse had expected. A courageous bank employee refused to open the vault. This gave the aroused citizens time to arm themselves against the gang. The resulting gun battle sees the robbers shot down or captured. Only Jesse and his brother Frank escape.

Boggs tells the dramatic story through the voices of several of the gang members and the Minnesotans they encounter. This can test the patience of the reader who wishes the author had been more conventional. But patience does offer a reward, and the tale unfolds in a more interesting fashion thanks to Boggs’s innovation.