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home : columns : ron kuecker
September 22, 2017


8/30/2017 10:28:00 AM
Frank and Jesse escaped through SW Minnesota

Ron Kuecker
Outdoors Columnist


It was a rainy spell, just like the one we just had, through which the shot-up James-Younger gang tried to escape. Draw a straight line between Mankato and Garretson, S.D., and it takes you right through Cottonwood County. Those were the only two confirmed whereabouts of Frank and Jesse James as they attempted their great escape from Minnesota.
It's little wonder then that when I first moved here a generation ago many related to me of the outlaw sightings by parents or grandparents. They usually came from north of Jeffers and some even spoke of them spending a night in an old barn on their farm.
It was Sept. 7, 1876, when the gang was shot up by Northfield residents as they attempted to rob the First National. Eight rode in on fancy horses wearing linen dusters and carrying expensive Colt six shooters. Only six rode out, two were left dead in the street and all were injured.
The citizens had armed themselves and repelled the most infamous band of outlaws in history. The same Minnesota spirit that sent the First Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiment into the Civil War still prevailed in Northfield. The First Minnesota was sent in a charge to repel a southern group of Alabamans as they threatened a hill with the North's artillery at stake. They are credited with saving the day at the most important battle of the Civil War, that being Gettysburg.
The James brothers stole two fresh horses and left the three younger brothers and Charley Pitts near Minneopa Falls near Mankato. The other four continued on foot.
A few days later a 17-year-old farm boy rode into Madelia and reported their location. Once again that Minnesota spirit took over and eight citizens joined the sheriff's posse. They rode out, engaged the outlaws in a gun battle, killed Charley Pitts and shot up the Youngers once again. They were all captured and taken to the Madelia Hotel.
An armed citizenry had done in two weeks what the famous Pinkerton Detective Agency couldn't do in two years. That is, break up the James-Younger brothers gang of southern sympathizing guerillas that had learned their "art" riding with Quantrelles Raiders.
A Minnesota historian wrote a poem called the Ode to Charley Pitts after the Madelia Posse's capture. It ends with this phrase: It took five hits, to kill Charley Pitts, down in Hanska Slough.
James great escape
But Frank and Jess did escape by traveling through our vicinity in the greatest manhunt of the time. They surely must have followed the Big Sioux River, through Sioux Falls and on to Sioux City.
From there they probably followed the Missouri River to St. Louis, then over land to Nashville, Tenn. Their great escape had been completed.
Frank became a farmer but Jesse returned to his outlaw ways. Ultimately he was shot in the back of his head by Bob Ford, a member of his new gang. The lure of a $2,000 reward was too great to resist.
The legend and its myriad of myths lives on but at least there are no statues of them to fight over in 2017.
DNR vs. BAH
It has been some time now since the Minnesota Board of Animal Health (BAH) was given jurisdiction over managing white-tail deer farms. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources retained management of our wild deer population.
But that was before CWD (Chronic Wasting Disease) was found in deer of both populations.
Now letters are being sent back and forth between the bureaus with no sign of resolving the issue of controlling CWD. The Minnesota DNR feels the Minnesota BAH is not enforcing rules governing farm herds of deer, especially those with a history of having CWD. They say they are not being watched closely enough by the BAH and that fines or other disciplinary actions are too light.
The BAH defends their actions and say it is equally possible that farmed deer could be getting the disease from the wild.
My thoughts, and that is the role of a columnist, are: what a shame it was that we ever allowed the farming of a beautiful wild animal such as the white-tail deer. But now that we have it and in the face of a very serious disease threat to the wild herd, we should depopulate infected confined herds as quickly as possible.
I have a lifelong history of working with both the DNR and the BAH as a practicing veterinarian. Most of the time they both do things well and are correct in the way they choose to achieve their goals. Once in a while they both do something wrong.
This time I side totally with the DNR in their attempt to control an extremely dangerous deer disease that could someday have human health implications.
Now, I have stood up and been counted. How about the rest of you?
Dove, goose openers
Dove hunting opens Sept. 1, nationwide. The Minnesota goose season opens Sept. 2. The dove hunt is not as good as it could be but the goose hatch was big around here. They both like to feed in harvested wheat fields.
Will the Sept. 1 dove hunt scare the geese from landing in a wheat field on Sept. 2 that has been shot over by dove hunters? Probably will.
Good luck, be safe, all fall.









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