first national bank

Some of the old west outlaw gangs were so bold that they would rob banks and such in broad daylight without even giving any thought about getting caught. They believed themselves to be invincible. One such gang, was the James-Younger gang. Many of the people in the towns in Minnesota were afraid of the James-Younger gang and rightfully so, but on September 7, 1876, the people of Northfield, Minnesota had had enough!! That morning, the James-Younger gang decided to make a bold daytime robbery of the Northfield Minnesota bank. Much to their surprise, the gang suddenly found itself surrounded by angry townspeople. The gang was nearly wiped out that day.

The gang started the robbery with a diversion. Five men galloped through the center of town, yelling and shooting their pistols in the air. In the old west, you might see such a display when cowboys got drunk. The men who worked on the cattle ranches would come to town, looking for a good time. Sometimes, things got out of hand, and the partying cowboys would ride through the streets whooping and hollering in a celebratory way…until the sheriff got tired of it anyway. However, this was different, because this was not after a hard day’s work, it was in broad daylight.

At first, the townspeople ran for cover from the five men, while three other men wearing wide-brimmed hats and long dusters took advantage of the distraction to walk unnoticed into the First National Bank. They pulled pistols on the bank cashier and ordered him to open the bank safe. The cashier recognized Jesse James, nevertheless, he stalled, claiming that the safe had a time lock and could not be opened. Somewhat thrown, Jesse James considered his next move, and the cashier took advantage of the moment. In a sudden move, he made a break for the back door. One of the robbers fired twice, hitting the cashier in the shoulder. Nevertheless, the man managed to stumble to safety and sound the alarm.

The citizens of Northfield were done being afraid. They ran to surround the bank and in their rage, they mercilessly shot down the robbers as they tried to escape. A 19-year-old medical student killed one gang member, Clell Miller, while the owner of the Northfield hardware store mortally wounded Bill Chadwell, peppering his body with bullets from a rapid-firing Remington repeater rifle. Jesse’s brother, Frank, was hit in the leg, while their criminal partners…Jim, Cole, and Bob Younger…were also badly wounded.

Jesse was the last one to leave the bank, stopping for a moment to shoot the uncooperative cashier in the head. Then he jumped onto his horse and joined the rest of the survivors as they desperately fled town. Jesse and his brother Frank decided to go their own way after the botched robbery, so they escaped to Dakota Territory. For them, it was a good decision, because the rest of the gang was pursued relentlessly for the next two weeks by a very determined posse. Eventually the posse killed or captured four more of the gang members. After things cooled down, Frank and Jesse James went to Nashville, Tennessee, where they started rebuilding their gang and planning new robberies. On April 3, 1882, a man named Robert Ford drew his weapon and shot the unarmed Jesse James in the back of the head. James’s original grave was on his family property, but he was later moved to a cemetery in Kearney. The original footstone is still there, although the family has replaced the headstone. James’s mother Zerelda Samuel wrote the following epitaph for him: “In Loving Memory of my Beloved Son, Murdered by a Traitor and Coward Whose Name is not Worthy to Appear Here.” James’s widow Zerelda Mimms James died alone and in poverty. Jesse’s older brother, Frank eventually ended his criminal activities. In his final years, he returned to the James Farm, giving tours for the sum of 25 cents. He died there at age 72 on February 18, 1915. He left behind his wife Annie Ralston James and one son. He is interred in Hill Park Cemetery, in the western portion of Independence, Missouri.

Wyoming has just two escalators, and they are both located in Casper. One is at Hilltop National Bank, and the other is at First Interstate Bank, in the historic part of Casper, the downtown district. My connection is to the escalator at First Interstate Bank, which was First National Bank then. The building that the bank occupies is located at 104 South Wolcott Street. Construction began in in 1956, the year I was born. According to a write up on, “That building opened in June 1958. A pamphlet published by the First National Bank of Casper around 1959 stated: “The dream of the directors began to take shape in 1953, when Architect Robert Wehrli presented preliminary plans for the bank and tower building that was to rise at First and Wolcott…” At the time of its completion it was the tallest building in the state and featured the state’s first escalator. Drive-through windows and two levels of underground parking were introduced in the early 1960s.”

So, I’m sure you are wondering what that information and that building could possibly have to do with me. Well, with the pamphlet came a public invitation to tour the new bank at their open house. My mother, Collene Spencer decided to go and take her three daughters with her, my older sister, Cheryl, who was 5 then; my younger sister, Caryl, who was a baby; and her 3 year old daughter…me. The open house was very cool, and there were a lot of people there. We toured every floor, and found it all to be interesting and sparkling with newness. Of course, the highlight of the whole bank was the escalator. It was the first one in the state and everyone wanted to see it, and have a ride…and we were no different.

As we prepared to leave, my mom assisted me into the escalator, and then turned for my sister, Cheryl, who had stepped aside to look at something. By the time Mom got Cheryl on the escalator, I was a couple of people ahead of them. It had only taken a couple of seconds really. Nevertheless, my place in historic downtown Casper was sealed. As I approached the bottom, the older woman in front of me wasn’t sure just how to get off. In her momentary panic, she started backstepping. At 3 years of age, I had no idea how to do that, and so when my feet hit hers, it pushed her off of the escalator, and I fell. My screams could be heard all over the bank. My frilly dress became entangled in the sharp teeth of the escalator’s steps as they cut my elbow and chin. With that incident, while few people ever knew about it, and you would not read about it in any historical accounts, I became the first person injured on the first escalator in Wyoming. The bank president came running over, promising to pay for medical bills and a new dress, while begging my mother not to sue the bank. Of course, back then things were different, and a lawsuit was the last thing on my mother’s mind. For me, while I was only 3, the picture of that woman backstepping on the escalator steps has always remained clear and vivid in my memory files, and the scars on chin and elbow remain too. While I can use escalators, I still get a pain in the pit of my stomach every time I get on or off.

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