On a September day in 1876, the James-Younger Gang dropped by the First National Bank of Northfield to make an unauthorized withdrawal. The eight armed men, including Jesse James and his brother Frank, held a dagger to teller Joseph Lee Heywood's throat and demanded he open the safe. In an act of inhuman bravery, rank stubbornness, and legendary skinflintery, Heywood refused, and the gang put a bullet in his head.
Meanwhile, the native Minnesotan suspicion of outsiders served the townspeople of Northfield well. They turned on the James-Younger Gang. With old rifles and birdshot, the townsfolk killed two gang members and wounded two of the Younger brothers and Frank James. The surviving robbers fled into the woods of southern Minnesota, abandoned their horses, split up, and hid out in the swamps.
A fortnight later, a sheriff's posse captured the three Youngers after a shootout in Madelia, 20 miles southwest of Mankato. But the James brothers trudged west, stole some horses, reached South Dakota, and ultimately got away clean.
While the James-Younger Gang wanted nothing more than to hightail it out of town, we're inclined to think they'd have found a lot to like if they'd arrived under more pleasant circumstances. As the founder of a community newspaper called the Mirror, Cole Younger might even have published his own Best Of issue for the river town of Stillwater. His first item: Best State Prison.
One hundred and thirty years later, many of us are trapped in prisons of our own making. We take the same route to work every day, eat the same fast food on our lunch breaks, and go home to watch the same shows on TV.
Which is why we decided to take inspiration from the James-Younger Gang and offer you a plan for your own Great Escape. No, we're not advocating that you terrorize the Midwest at gunpoint. You should patronize these restaurants, stores, and clubs in a spirit of honest and cordial exchange.
Hop on horseback and try the doughnuts at Mel-O-Glaze. For lunch, trot over to our best new restaurant, the Town Talk Diner. Just a block north, the newly extended Midtown Greenway bagged our best bike trail nod (just look out for the desperados wearing Lycra.) And you'll want to zigzag between Minneapolis and St. Paul to gulp the best cocktails in town at Babalu, then sample the best beer selection at the Muddy Pig.
And in our own take on mob justice, we've invited you to name your favorite establishments in our annual Readers' Poll. There's wisdom in crowds—especially those armed with ballots instead of birdshot.