An Aroused Populace—With Guns

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At the Pulse nightclub on June 16, Omar Seddique Mateen, a Muslim on his own personal jihad, opened fire on the crowd of more than 300.  No one shot back.  Some tried to hide in the bathrooms.  One of those in a bathroom texted his mother, “He’s coming.  I’m gonna die.”  He was right.  Mateen opened the bathroom door and fired.  Before a SWAT team arrived and killed Mateen, the jihadist shot to death 49 of the Pulse patrons and wounded another 53.  Those patrons were like sheep in a pen set upon by a hungry wolf.  Pulse was a slaughterhouse.

If only a few of the patrons had been armed.  If only that man who had texted from the bathroom was waiting for Mateen, not with a cellphone but with a gun.  Maybe his text message would have read, “I sent the son-of-a-bitch to hell.”  But what did President Obama tell us?  “The notion that the answer to this tragedy would be to make sure that more people in a nightclub are similarly armed to the killer defies common sense.”

What defies common sense is the notion that when facing an attacker people are better off unarmed.  Common sense tells me the most basic human right of all is the right to self-defense.  Moreover, that right is meaningless without the means to effect it.  People without arms will suffer the fate of defenseless sheep.

American history is replete with examples of the people, when armed, fighting ferociously and warding off attackers.  The James-Younger gang’s Northfield Raid is but one of many such examples.  Too bad, but not surprisingly, it is omitted from what passes for history in our schools today.

In July 1876 the James-Younger gang left Missouri bound for Minnesota.  Things had been getting particularly hot for them in Missouri, and gang member Bill Chadwell suggested they hit the banks in his home state.  He could lead them into Minnesota and, more importantly, lead them out.  It would be a cakewalk.  Jesse James and Bob Younger liked the idea.  Frank James and Cole Younger did not.  It was far from home, and no one but Chadwell knew the country.

Unable to dissuade Jesse and Bob, Frank and Cole reluctantly agreed to go.  So, too, did Jim Younger, Clell Miller, and Charlie Pitts.  Arriving in Minnesota in mid-August, Chadwell led them to several towns with banks ripe for the picking.  They cased the towns not as a gang of eight but by the ones and twos, hoping not to arouse suspicion.  By early September they settled on the First National Bank in Northfield.

Camped in a secluded spot outside of Northfield, they planned the robbery carefully.  They would divide into three groups, each with a distinct mission.  Jesse, Frank, and Bob would enter town first and casually enjoy a meal at a restaurant near the bank.  They would then wait until they saw Cole and Clell approaching town.  The outlaws didn’t want to give the impression they were in any way connected.  Jesse, Frank, and Bob would then enter the First National just before Cole and Clell arrived in front of the bank.  Jim, Charlie, and Bill would stand guard at a bridge on the edge of town on the road that provided the best escape route.  If trouble occurred at the bank, Cole would fire a shot as a signal for the boys at the bridge to gallop into town.

At one in the afternoon on September 7, Jesse, Frank, and Bob sat down to dine at the restaurant.  They took their time and enjoyed the meal.  After nearly an hour, they walked to a dry-goods store next to the bank and sat down on crates outside.  Just before two o’clock, they spied Cole and Clell, right on time, crossing the bridge.  At two o’clock sharp, Jesse led Frank and Bob into the First National.

Cole and Clell soon took up positions in front of the bank.  Clell stood at the entrance smoking a pipe.  Cole pretended to tighten the girth on his horse’s saddle.  Meanwhile, Jim, Charlie, and Bill arrived at the bridge.  Everything was going like clockwork.

Inside the bank, the James boys and Bob Younger found acting cashier Joseph Lee Heywood, teller Alonzo Bunker, and bookkeeper Frank Wilcox.  Jesse and his accomplices leveled guns at the bank employees, and Jesse declared, “We’re robbing this bank.  Don’t any of you holler.”

The bank’s vault was open, but there was a safe inside.  Jesse ordered Heywood to open it and be “damned quick” about it.  Heywood claimed only the regular cashier could open the safe.  Frank stepped partly into the vault to get a better look.  Thinking he might trap Frank inside, Heywood threw himself at the vault’s door, but he managed only to snag part of Frank’s arm.  Bob Younger rewarded Heywood for his efforts by clocking him on the head with a pistol butt.  The cashier fell to the floor.

The well-planned bank robbery was going awry outside as well.  The owner of one of the town’s two hardware stores, J.S. Allen, was walking down the street when he spied Cole and Clell in front of the bank.  He didn’t recognize them as locals, and they had a hardened look about them.  His profiling instincts told him they were up to no good.  He thought he’d take a look inside the bank but was grabbed by Clell.  Nonetheless, Allen had seen enough through the bank’s window to confirm his suspicions.  Clell told him to keep his “God-damned mouth shut” and shoved him down the street, evidently thinking that the gang would be racing out of town before Allen could raise an alarm.

Allen continued walking in the direction he was shoved but soon broke into a run and yelled, “Get your guns, boys!  They’re robbing the bank!”  Also near the bank was Henry Wheeler, a young medical student at Carleton College.  He saw what was happening and took off running, yelling “Robbery!”  Clell let a round fly and it whistled just over Wheeler’s head.

Cole and Clell now swung into the saddle and raced up and down the street, shooting their guns into the air and yelling at people to get inside.  Hearing the gunfire, Jim Younger, Charlie Pitts, and Bill Chadwell galloped into town.  They joined Cole and Clell in shouting and shooting.  Townsfolk fled the street and took cover in various businesses.  Nicholas Gustavson was not quick enough.  A recent immigrant from Sweden, he knew but a few words in English and didn’t understand the commands of the outlaws.  A round from one of the outlaws hit him in the head, and he toppled over, mortally wounded.

By now, Allen was in his hardware store, loading and handing out guns to all who had taken cover in his establishment.  These townsfolk then raced to firing positions along the street and began giving the outlaws what for.  The proprietor of Northfield’s other hardware store, Anselm Manning, emerged from his store with a rifle and took a position behind some crates.  Henry Wheeler, who had narrowly escaped a bullet fired by Clell Miller, reached the Dampier Hotel, immediately across the street from the bank.  He grabbed a rifle in the hotel and raced to the top floor.  Resting the rifle on a windowsill, he searched for a target.

Meanwhile, things had gone from bad to worse inside the First National.  Jesse pulled out a knife and bent down to the fallen Heywood.  “Open the safe or I’ll cut your damn throat from ear-to-ear.”  Heywood said he could do nothing, claiming the safe was time-locked.  It wasn’t, but he hoped the bluff would work.  While Jesse was engaged with Heywood and Frank was guarding Wilcox, Bob Younger decided to scoop up cash from the teller’s drawer.  He momentarily took his eyes off Bunker, who seized the opportunity to race for the bank’s rear door.  Bob gave chase, but Bunker cleared the door and sprinted for his life.  Bob stepped out of the door and fired.  The bullet blew a hole in Bunker’s shoulder, but he managed to continue running and disappeared around the corner of the bank.

By now Cole and Clell were riding up to the First National and yelling for their compatriots to hightail it.  While doing so, Clell was hit in the face by a shotgun blast fired by Elias Stacy.  Fortunately for the outlaw, the gun had been loaded with birdshot.  Nonetheless, his left eye was shot out, and his face was a bloody mess.  Seconds later, Cole was hit in the shoulder by a round fired by Anselm Manning.  At about the same time, Henry Wheeler finally had his target, Jim Younger.  Wheeler’s bullet took effect in Jim’s left shoulder.  The outlaw was rocked but stayed in the saddle and continued his charge down the street.

Manning soon had Bill Chadwell in his sights.  Manning squeezed off a carefully aimed shot, and the round pierced Chadwell’s heart.  The outlaw toppled out of the saddle and hit the ground dead.  Wheeler was also back in action.  From his top-floor perch he drew a bead on the wounded Clell Miller.  Wheeler’s round found Miller’s shoulder and severed an artery.  Miller was knocked off his horse and hit the ground hard.  He attempted to get to his knees but collapsed in a bloody heap, dead.  Cole galloped to Miller and dismounted to render aid.  He saw that Miller was gone and took his dead comrade’s revolvers and cartridge belt.  As Cole was swinging back into the saddle a round tore into his thigh.

Bob Younger now came charging out of the bank only to find his horse had been shot dead.  He tried to collar Bill Chadwell’s horse and then Clell Miller’s.  Having no luck, he took cover under a staircase on the outside of the dry-goods store.  Manning spotted him and fired.  Younger fired back.  Several rounds were exchanged before Wheeler joined the action.  The staircase hid Younger from Wheeler’s view, but the medical student could see Younger’s right arm when the outlaw extended it to shoot at Manning.  Wheeler fired, and the bullet ripped through Younger’s elbow, taking bone and tendon with it.  Younger switched the gun to his left hand and continued firing at Manning.

Jesse and Frank now determined to make their exit from the bank.  Thoroughly frustrated by the brave Heywood, Jesse (or Frank, as some reports have it) put a bullet into the cashier’s head.  The James boys then made their way out of the bank, mounted their horses, and galloped for the bridge.  Jim Younger joined them.  Frank was hit in the thigh, and Jim again in the shoulder, this time the right.  Then Jim took a bullet in his leg.

Cole Younger and Charlie Pitts were close behind in the race for the bridge.  Cole, though, thought he heard his brother, Bob, calling for help.  Cole wheeled his horse about, and Charlie followed.  Bob Younger emerged from the protection of the staircase and ran for Cole, who was preparing to help his brother onto his horse.  Pitts laid down covering fire but the townsfolk were not deterred.  A bullet struck Pitts in the arm, another tore into the back of Bob’s leg, one blew off Cole’s saddle horn, and still another severed Cole’s reins.

With lead flying everywhere, Cole reached down and helped his brother swing onto the horse.  Without reins, Cole grabbed a handful of mane and spurred his horse into a gallop.  Using his one good arm, Bob hung onto Cole as the two of them bent low.  Before they were clear of Northfield three more rounds hit Cole—one in his left hip, a second in his right side, and a third in his right arm.  Cole now had five bullets in him.

Rendezvousing at the bridge, the outlaws knew their chances of escape were slim.  Bill Chadwell, who was to lead them out of Minnesota, was dead.  So, too, were Clell Miller and Bob Younger’s horse.  All but Jesse James were wounded.  As one of the Youngers later said, the gang had been “Shot all to Hell.”  And they had been shot all to hell not by lawmen or soldiers or hired guns but by the townsfolk of Northfield. 

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