The town was established as a peaceful European-American agricultural and lumber center and the home of Northfield College, established in 1866 and later changed to Carleton College. Another college, St. Olaf's was established in 1874. However on September 6th, 1876 ( just a little over two months after Custer's defeat at the Battle of the Little Bighorn ) all of that didn't matter.
A notorious outlaw gang led by Jesse James tried to rob the First National Bank of Northfield. The robbery was a failure. The local townspeople discovered what was going on and armed themselves accordingly. A firefight ensued and the robbery was thwarted. Jesse James ( shown in an undated picture to the left ) and his brother Frank barely escaped. The remainder of the gang ( Younger Gang ), with Cole Younger's photo at right, were either killed or captured. During the robbery attempt a bank employee and bystander were killed.
Jesse James was a Confederate soldier during the Civil War. He was thought to have ridden with Quantrill's Raiders, a violent gang that terrorized much of Missouri which was a state that was fairly split between Union and Confederate sympathizers. He was bitter about the Souths defeat and remained so throughout his life. Some historians even refer to the 1876 Northfield bank robbery attempt as the last battle of the Civil War.
The James Gang's aborted robbery attempt in Northfield destroyed much of the gang, increased the pressure from the authorities and placed Jesse on a downward spiral which eventually led to his assassination by gang member Robert Ford.
In 1975 the Northfield Historical Society bought the old bank building and restored it to it's 1876 condition. They operate it now as a museum open to the general public. While there have certainly been many many bank robberies, I think that anyone interested in late 19th century western history will find this particular museum a very worthwhile driving trip. Northfield is located about 45 driving miles south of St. Paul and just east of Interstate-35.
You will also be interested in our Western Trips article about the infamous outlaw Sam Bass.
This site of the Northfield Historical Society will give you all the details you need for your visit: