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DJJD: Adelbert Ames and His Recollection of the Attempted Robbery in Northfield

Through a series of letters, Adelbert Ames recalls the 1876 failed bank raid.

For most Northfielders, the name Ames is pretty common. Most people know it because of the Ames Mill, the current home to Malt-O-Meal and the only place in the world where its hot cereal is produced. In the early years, the Ames family played a major role in the development of Northfield. One family member in particular had an interesting role in the by the James-Younger Gang.

Adelbert Ames was born in Rockland, ME, on Oct. 31, 1835. He graduated West Point Academy in 1861 and was commissioned to the 2nd U.S. Artillery and fought in the First Battle of Bull Run where he earned the Medal of Honor. He was later reassigned to the 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment in 1862 where he fought at Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville and Gettysburg.

In 1868, Ames was appointed military governor of Mississippi and a few months later he was put in charge of the 4th military district, which included Arkansas. After Mississippi was readmitted to the Union in 1870, he was appointed to the U.S. Senate by the Mississippi Legislature and was appointed provisional governor of Mississippi by President Ulysses S. Grant. He was allowed to serve the two terms simultaneously.

He served in the Senate until 1874 when he was elected governor of Mississippi. Political tensions were already hot and got even hotter when Ames called in federal troops to help stop race riots in 1875. When the Democrats secured a majority in the next election they brought impeachment charges against Ames and other Republican officials. He would resign his post and move to Northfield to live a much quieter life. Little did he know who would follow him north in just a few months.

During the attempted robbery, Ames had just gotten back to the mill from a meeting when someone came in and told him of the robbery. Ames recounts the scene in a letter to his wife Blanche:

Dear Blanche: Yesterday (Sept. 7) this town was the scene of a very remarkable tragedy. Your letter (Ames to Blanche) of yesterday was written immediately after dinner and I took it to the mill to be mailed. I had been at the mill but a few minutes when someone rushed in and reported that the bank was being robbed. This was about two o’clock. Going to the door I heard rapid firing across the bridge. I walked over and made my way across the square to the corner of the stone building occupied by Mr. Scriver. As I went I saw quite a number of the citizens hiding behind houses and a few firing up the street toward the direction of our house. Going to the corner I found that it, the corner, was being raided on by some one that those, as I went up had run away excepting one man. I looked around the corner with that man (A.R. Manning), who had a riffle, and as were warned by those on the other side of the street we both left. I soon returned and saw half a dozen men riding away on horseback.

The following day Ames writes to his wife about his movements after the robbery. They centered on heading to his brother’s house to make sure that his family was OK. At the end of the letter, Ames mentions how the troubles of Mississippi have followed him North.

It's not strange that Mississippi should come up here to visit me. The killing of Republicans by a set of Mississippi K.K. produces a similar stare of sensation as the murdering of a number of men by Missouri cut-throats who are after plunder. It is thought they are of the James and Younger brothers of Mo.

For the next two weeks both Ames and his wife corresponded about daily life but every letter had some segment devoted to the robbery on Sept. 7, mainly Ames updating Blanche on the pursuit of the robbers. However, on Sept. 16, Ames writes:

Our robbers have escaped and it has been due to the cowardice of those who have been pursuing them. The bank offered $3,000 for their apprehension. We will save so much by their escape.

You can see in that last entry that Ames went from worrying about if the raiders were captured to worrying about his own personal money in the bank.

On Sept. 22, Ames writes to Blanche about the capture of the robbers:

Yesterday we had dispatches from the seat of war notifying us of the capture of four of the six escaping bank robbers. One was killed, three wounded. This town has been very nervous about robbers, and the news of yesterday seemed to relieve every man, woman, and child in town from personal danger. In the evening at about nine o’clock, when I went up to Nellie’s on guard duty, I saw a great bonfire in Mill Square, and saw the flash and heard the report of guns, pistols and Anvil Artillery. Everybody talks and laughs with everybody else, and all is happiness. Quite a number of people have received letters from St. Paul threatening to burn the town etc. The writer in St. P is supposed to been a accomplice of the robbers, as they were in the woods at the time the letters were posted. These letters increased the nervousness. Now, every frightened person feels relieved. But so far as I am concerned, it all seems rather tame. At the time of the attempted robbery there was $15,000 in the bank. The bank has given Heywood’s widow $5,000, one third of what was saved. It offered in the aggregate of $3,000 for the capture of the robbers. For the four already captured, $500.00 apiece, it will have to pay $2,0000. Thus $7,000 of the $15,000 they have already given. The capture of the other two will make $8,000 which will be more than one half of what was in the bank. As our firm owns one fifth of the stock, we will lose by the attempted robbery $16,0000. My individual share of this is $400.00. This would buy the much-coveted stem-winding watch—and—well, I have forgotten what the other thing is I stand so much in need of.

So even though the robbery was foiled by the townspeople, he still stood to lose $400 from the attempted robbery.

Many historians will point to Ames and his connection to Union General Benjamin Butler for why the gang came to Northfield—Ames married Butler’s daughter, Blanche, in 1870. The gang came to Northfield, thinking Butler had money in the First National Bank, he did not have any money in the bank. More than likely it was a coincidence that Ames was in Northfield at the time of the robbery.


Editor's note: Hayes Scriven is executive director of the .

Bill Murphy September 07, 2011 at 12:17 AM
Nice story
Kathy Ness September 07, 2011 at 09:47 PM
I never heard about this before! Ames wrote"Quite a number of people have received letters from St. Paul threatening to burn the town etc. The writer in St. P is supposed to been a accomplice of the robbers, as they were in the woods at the time the letters were posted. These letters increased the nervousness. Now, every frightened person feels relieved." Does anyone know who may have written these threatening letters?

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