Minnesota Historical Society Acquires Rare Prison Records of Infamous Younger Brothers

For immediate release

Release dated: 
August 16, 2006
Media contacts: 

Marjorie Nugent, Marketing and Communications, 651-296-9108, marjorie.nugent@mnhs.org

Minnesota Historical Society Acquires Rare Prison Records of Infamous Younger Brothers

Sept. 7, 2006, is the 130th anniversary of a botched attempt by the legendary James-Younger Gang to rob the Northfield First National Bank. After weeks of planning, the gang’s plans went awry, as the citizens of Northfield traded gunfire with them on the street in front of the bank. Two of the gang were killed outright. Frank and Jesse James escaped but the Younger brothers, Cole, Jim and Bob, were captured in a shootout in nearby Madelia two weeks later and sentenced to 25 years in the state prison at Stillwater in November 1876.

Recently, the Minnesota Historical Society acquired a Stillwater State Prison record book that includes information about all three Younger brothers. It is one of a very few primary sources concerning the Youngers’ incarceration. The book is titled “Cell Room Daily Report,” and dates from June 1, 1880, through Sept. 28, 1882. It is the prison’s daily record listing prisoners who were sick in their cell, isolated in the “dungeon,” sent out of the prison on work details or staying in the prison for the day. The Younger brothers were often “sick in cell,” especially Cole Younger. Why Cole was sick in his cell is not detailed, but all of the brothers were seriously wounded in their capture.

The record book is particularly valuable, since the State Archives of the Minnesota Historical Society previously had only a few records documenting the brothers’ imprisonment at Stillwater, where they were in adjacent cells, a surprisingly generous act considering their crimes and the feelings at the time. Cole served his time as a model prisoner, and started the prison’s first newspaper, the Prison Mirror. Bob Younger died of tuberculosis in prison in 1889; Jim was pardoned in 1901 and committed suicide in 1902; Cole, also pardoned in 1901, died of natural causes in 1916.

The “Cell Room Daily Report” will be available for public viewing through the Society’s library located at the History Center in October. For more information about the James-Younger Gang, visit www.mnhs.org/library/tips/history_topics/16northfield.html or read “The Story of Cole Younger,” written by Younger himself after his parole and recently reprinted by the Minnesota Historical Society Press. It is available in bookstores or online at shop.mnhs.org/mhspress.cfm.  

The Society’s calendar of events is posted on the Internet at www.mnhs.org/calendar. The web site also has information about all of the Society’s programs, museums and historic sites. To request a free guide to museums and historic sites, call 1-800-657-3773.

The Minnesota Historical Society is a non-profit educational and cultural institution established in 1849 to preserve and share Minnesota history. The Society collects, preserves and tells the story of Minnesota’s past through museum exhibits, libraries and collections, historic sites, educational programs and book publishing.