Sandy Vesledahl

One hundred and forty-three years ago, the infamous James-Younger Gang attempted to rob the First National Bank of Northfield. The robbery was unsuccessful thanks to the Northfield citizens who came to the defense of the funds in the bank leaving two robbers dead in the street and two more badly injured. What followed was the largest manhunt in Minnesota history leading to the demise of the James-Younger Gang. Each year on the weekend after Labor Day, Northfield comes together again to celebrate the Defeat of Jesse James Days. The events are many, with something for every age and interest, and we hope you will join in the fun!

Starting with the Joseph Lee Heywood graveside memorial service at noon on Wednesday, this solemn event is the official kickoff to the festival. If you’ve never attended this event, we highly recommend you do as it is a great reminder of what happened that fateful day and why we hold this celebration each year. We take this time to remember Heywood, the acting bank teller, who died because he refused to open the bank vault. There were many heroes that day, and we celebrate those ordinary townspeople who came together with extraordinary courage. That evening we will honor Clancy Dokmo at the Joseph Lee Heywood Distinguished Service Award Banquet where each year we recognize a Northfield citizen who exemplifies a dedication to public service and the betterment of our community.

The weekend continues with eight bank raid re-enactments, bands and beverages at the Entertainment Center, food booths, carnival, bingo, pedal tractor pull and a display of local motorsport racing teams. There are three PRCA rodeo performances, soapbox car racing, bike ride, car show, 15K/5K run/walk, antique tractor and truck pull, bouncy horse race, kiddie parade, cornhole tournament, golf tournament and the annual horseshoe hunt. There’s also the Northfield Arts Guild theater performances, vintage baseball, craft show, market bazaar, fine arts fair, beard contest, rescue squad duck race, museum tours, and the celebration concludes with the Grand Parade on Sunday!

The Defeat of Jesse James Days (DJJD) committee is responsible for the organizing and the financial needs required to produce the annual festival. The DJJD committee is a non-profit organization who depends on individual and business donations. Several events require an official Defeat of Jesse James Days button along with a fee for entry. The button proceeds help the DJJD committee pay for expenses such as the many toilets, trash pickup, insurance requirements, licenses, sound systems, bands, parade entertainment and advertising, just to name a few.

At its core, DJJD is all about honoring the townspeople that were involved in defending the First National Bank of Northfield from the James-Younger Gang. At its heart, DJJD is a “community” celebration in every sense of the word. Many local non-profit organizations are recruited each year by the DJJD committee to provide services throughout the celebration. Last year, the DJJD committee donated nearly $40,000 directly to charities in the local community who provided services during the celebration. That does not include the more than $150,000 that charities made on their own using the DJJD celebration as a fundraiser. Without the DJJD celebration, these fundraising opportunities would not be available to local non-profit groups and organizations that depend on the funds raised each year during the festival which are ultimately funneled back into the community in many ways. The economic benefits to the local business community are many. Over 150,000 people will travel to Northfield over the five-day festival, staying at local hotels, frequenting local bars and restaurants and shopping in local businesses.

No part of this celebration would be possible without the efforts of hundreds of volunteers who work and plan year-round to produce not only the largest all-volunteer run community festival in the state of Minnesota but also the third largest community festival in the State. This is truly a community effort with folks working together from all aspects of Northfield.

On behalf of the Defeat of Jesse James Days Committee, we hope that you, your family and friends will find time to enjoy the many events during the five-day celebration and perhaps even receive a little local history lesson along the way! For a full schedule of events, visit our website,

Sandy Vesledahl is a longtime Defeat of Jesse James Days committee and board member.

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