Skip to main content

Cultural Heritage Center program to focus on hunt for James brothers

One of the longest manhunts in United States history will be the subject of a June program at the Cultural Heritage Center in Pierre.

Wayne Fanebust of Sioux Falls will discuss his book “Chasing Frank and Jesse James: The Bungled Northfield Bank Robbery and the Long Manhunt” at 7 p.m. CDT on Tuesday, June 12.

“The outlaw Jesse James leapt into South Dakota history during the manhunt for him,” said Catherine Forsch, president of the South Dakota Historical Society Foundation, the nonprofit partner of the South Dakota State Historical Society. “According to legend, Jesse encountered a ravine in Split Rock Creek near Garretson while attempting to evade a posse after the bank robbery at Northfield, Minn. Jesse found that the only way to evade the posse was to jump the chasm, now known as the Devil’s Gulch. This he did on his horse, leaving the posse on the other side and giving him time to escape.”

Fanebust’s program is part of the History and Heritage Book Club sponsored by the foundation. Everyone is welcome to attend the free program, made possible by a grant from the South Dakota Humanities Council, an affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

On Sept. 7, 1876, Jesse and Frank James, Cole, Jim and Bob Younger, and three other outlaws tried to rob the First National Bank of Northfield, Minn. The attempt failed when townsfolk realized the bank was being robbed and sounded an alarm. The bank cashier and a Northfield resident were killed, while two robbers were shot to death by townsfolk before the rest of the gang fled. Two weeks later, the Younger brothers were captured and another gang member was killed following a gunfight near Madelia, Minn. The James brothers fled west. Their improbable escape through Dakota Territory and Iowa elevated the James brothers from notorious criminals to legendary figures in American history and folklore.

“My interest in the notorious James brothers goes back to my grade-school days,” Fanebust said. “My folks would take us to the Palisades and Devil’s Gulch and introduced me to the legendary jump.”

Fanebust’s book “Tales of Dakota Territory Vol. 1” includes a chapter about the James brothers’ escape through Dakota Territory. Interest was so great when he presented a paper on the topic several years ago at a history conference that he decided a book was in order.

“When I learned that the Library of Congress had begun a newspaper archive, with numerous newspaper articles that had been for the most part forgotten, I was able to access information that had escaped other writers,” Fanebust said. “I think this new source of research has allowed me to write a book that has a much different focus than previous books.”

“Chasing Frank and Jesse James” is available at the Heritage Stores at the Cultural Heritage Center and the Capitol.

It is possible for people in locations other than Pierre to join the program by Skype and other methods. People wanting to do so should call 605-773-6006 for more information.

About the South Dakota State Historical Society
The South Dakota State Historical Society is a division of the Department of Education. The State Historical Society, an Affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, is headquartered at the South Dakota Cultural Heritage Center in Pierre. The center houses the society’s world-class museum, the archives, and the historic preservation, publishing and administrative/development offices. Call 605-773-3458 or visit for more information. The society also has an archaeology office in Rapid City; call 605-394-1936 for more information.

About the South Dakota Historical Society Foundation
The South Dakota Historical Society Foundation is a private charitable nonprofit that seeks funding to assist the South Dakota State Historical Society in programming and projects to preserve South Dakota’s history and heritage for future generation

Powered by Firespring