Jesse James and the "Great Winnipeg Manitoba Raid" of 1876?

By Hubner, Brian | Manitoba History, June 2006 | Go to article overview
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Jesse James and the "Great Winnipeg Manitoba Raid" of 1876?

Hubner, Brian, Manitoba History

If you were anywhere near Winnipeg last October you cannot have failed to notice that part of a major Hollywood movie entitled The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford was being filmed in the Exchange District. Jesse James, as played by Brad Pitt, made a brief appearance in the Winnipeg scenes, but it is possible that had the fates allowed, the real Jesse would have been in Manitoba for a much longer stay. There are at least two contemporary sources which mention that Manitoba may have been considered when the gang (including his brother Frank, and Cole, Jim and Bob Younger), was planning what became the "Northfield Minnesota Raid" of 7 September 1876. The raid was a fiasco for the outlaws ending with most of them dead or in prison. Only Frank and Jesse escaped to Dakota Territory, and then made their way back home to Missouri.

J. T. Younger, uncle of the Younger brothers, reported that Jesse and his gang may have wanted to retire and settle in Canada (Winnipeg is due north of Northfield) but were forced on route to change their plans when they lost their money gambling. (1) Frank Triplett, author of The Life, Times, and Treacherous Death of Jesse James, written at a rate of sixty pages a day for publication only weeks after the assassination, and later suppressed by Jesse's widow Zee, mentions a slightly more probable story. The following passage from the book is worth quoting at length:

   Cole Younger was for a bolder move. Tired of this
   continual riding and raiding, he had made up his
   mind to make one more grand stroke, secure a big
   booty, and retire to some foreign country, since he
   could have no peace in his. With this aim in view
   it is perfectly natural that he should desire to make
   this next stroke not only a successful one, but not a
   gathering of trivial spoil. It is said that he urged
   some rich town in Canada. In support of his
   proposition, and against that of Chadwell [the
   Northfield raid], he insisted on the fact that the
   Canadians were a people less inured to fire arms
   than of the Americans, certainly less so than the
   hardy borderers of Minnesota, and that, in
   consequence, a rush such as they contemplated
   would utterly terrorize them and place them
   completely at the bandit's mercy. They are said to
   be a quiet orderly people, not used to the pistol
   and knife combats of the Americans; they are men
   who settle a difficulty with their fists, or in their
   courts, and half a dozen desperate and well-armed
   men could ride through the biggest city in Canada
   and come out alive. 

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