Joseph Lee Heywood

Joseph Lee Heywood (August 12, 1837 - September 7, 1876) was the acting cashier at the First National Bank of Northfield, Minnesota when the James-Younger Gang attempted to rob the bank. At the time, Heywood also held positions as Treasurer for the City of Northfield and Treasurer of Carleton College.

Early Life and Career

Heywood was born August 12 1837 in Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire (some sources claim Royalton, Massachusetts) to Benjamin Heywood and Sarah Cutler Heywood, a farming family. He was the youngest of seven children.

He enlisted in the Union Army as a private on August 21, 1862 as a member of the 127th Illinois Regiment, Co. B. He participated in the Siege of Vicksburg and the capture of Arkansas Post. He was diagnosed with consumption and sent for light duty to an Army Dispensary in Nashville, Tennessee. He was a corporal at the time of his discharge.

Heywood moved to Northfield, Minnesota in the fall of 1867. He worked for five years as a bookkeeper in th S. P. Steward lumberyard. In 1872, he became the bookkeeper of the First National Bank of Northfield.

Heywood was married first to Martha (Mattie) Buffum (1838 - May 3, 1873) in 1869. The marriage produced one daughter, Lizzie May (b. April 25, 1871). After Mattie's death, he married Lizzie Adams.

The Northfield Bank Raid

On September 7, 1876, First National Bank of Northfield's President John C. Nutting and Cashier G. M. Phillips were at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Around 2 p.m. on that day, three members of the James-Younger Gang entered the bank and discovered Heywood, Alonzo E. Bunker (bank teller) and Frank J. Wilcox (bookkeeper). The outlaws immediately pulled their guns and aimed at the employees. One of the robbers asked Heywood if he was the cashier, to which Heywood said no (as he was technically the "acting cashier"). Bunker and Wilcox were also asked and both also denied being the cashier. A second outlaw ordered Heywood to open the safe, located in the vault. Heywood refused. The second gang member began to go into vault, Heywood threw himself against the vault door and attempted to lock the outlaw inside. The outlaw managed to get out of the safe, but his arm and hand had seriously bruised, though not broken. The third outlaw ran over to Heywood and knocked him to the floor with his pistol butt.

The first outlaw approached Heywood, who was lying dazed on the floor. He knelt in front of Heywood and took a pocket knife out of his pocket, then placed it against Heywood's neck and threatened to cut his throat. Although terrified, Heywood bravely replied that the outlaw would need to slit his throat, since Heywood could not open the safe. In anger and frustration, the outlaw made a slight gash on the Heywood's neck, then dragged him to his feet. Meanwhile, the third outlaw stuffed available bills into a grain sack. The first outlaw pointed his pistol at Heywood and again ordered him to open the safe. Heywood finally lied and told him that there was a chronometer (time lock) on the safe and it could not be opened. (There was a chronometer on the safe, it had not been set and could have easily been opened.)

Bunker then noticed that the second outlaw was guarding Wilcox and the third outlaw was busy collecting money. He made a dash out the back door. The third outlaw gave chase, following him out the door and fired, wounding Bunker in the shoulder.

Gang member Clell Miller, who was keeping watch on the street -- which by this time was the site of a pitched gun battle between Northfield citizens and gang members -- rode his horse back to the bank, dismounted, walked up to the door, and yelled inside for the gang members inside to hurry up. Within minutes, two of the gang members on the streets had been killed and others were seriously wounded. Gang member Cole Younger rode his horse to the bank and screamed for the others to come out.

The first outlaw inside the bank once again knocked Heywood to the floor. Frustrated, he fired a bullet into the floor by Heywood's head. The third outlaw ran outside with the bag of money, followed by the first. The second outlaw left last and noticed Heywood trying to stand. The outlaw went back, placed his pistol to Heywood's head and fired -- then left the bank.

The gang members managed to abscond with only US$26.70. The bank reportedly held over US$12,000 at the time of robbery.

The Aftermath

Heywood's body was taken back to his home on 4th Street West (which is still standing) and was buried in the city cemetery. At his funeral on September 12, 1876, the Reverend Delavan Levant Leonard gave the following funeral discourse on Joseph Lee Heywood:

In God's good providence we are permitted to gaze upon the charming spectacle, alas, too seldom seen, and when seen, too seldom considered, of the walk and conversation of a good man. Here was one thoroughly Christian in all his instincts and ambitions and practices - one of the pure in heart, with vision for unseen things, and who walked by faith; who lived not for himself, but for others; who knew not how to be base, or dishonorable, or mean; knew not how to slight his work, or leave it half undone, or leave it for others to do; knew not how to prove false to his truth, or to flee from his post of duty; but who did know how to be faithful and true, utterly careless of the cost.

Mr. Heywood was beyond most men modest and timid. He did not even seem to know that he was lovable and well beloved, and was held in high esteem by all. He courted no praise, and sought no reward. Honors must come to him unsought if they were to come at all. He would be easily content to toil on, out of sight and with services unrecognized, but in every transaction must be conscientious through and through, and do each hour to the full duties of the hour.

Yes, something such a one as this walked our streets, entered our homes, worshiped in our assemblies, and bore his share of our public burdens. And so dull is human appreciation, that had he ended his days after the ordinary fashion of humanity, it is much to be feared his worth had never been widely known.

We shall reread the record he has made with sharpened vision. Besides, some of the virtues in which he excelled, such as integrity, moral courage, unflinching steadfastness in pursuing the right, in the tragic circumstances surrounding the close of his life, found not only their supreme test, but their sublime climax as well. The charm lies in the perfect harmony existing between the acts of the last hour and the conduct of all the years that went before.

There was no Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation covering bank funds at the time. When robbers stole from a bank, the money was lost forever. As the story of Heywood's bravery became public, banks all across Canada and the United States honored Heywood’s heroic act protecting the funds of his community by making contributions to his widow and young daughter that amounted to over US$12,600. In 2004 dollars, that would be the equivalent of slightly more than $1.5 million.

His family eventually left Northfield, but Heywood's daughter later returned to attend Carleton College and graduated in 1893. She became a music teacher, married the Rev. Edwin Carlton Dean and died in December 1947.


Since that fateful day, Joseph Lee Heywood continues his reputation as the hero of Northfield and is used as a supreme example to the community of a man faithful to duty. The Northfield Grand Army Post was named for him. The local United Church of Christ (Congregational) Church, of which he was a member, honored him with a memorial window.

After his death, Carleton College established a Heywood Library Fund and installed a memorial plaque on campus which reads:

"A man modest, true, gentle; diligent in business; conscientious in duty; a citizen benevolent and honorable; towards God reverent and loyal; who, while defending his trust as a bank officer, fearlessly met death at the hands of armed robbers, in Northfield, Sept. 7, 1876. This tablet is inscribed by his friends as a tribute to heroic fidelity. ESTO FIDELIS USQUE AD MORTEM. (Faithful unto Death.)"

In 1948, Northfield citizens founded the Defeat of Jesse James Days to honor the heroism of Northfield's townspeople. It has become one of the largest celebrations in Minnesota. [] In 1983, The Joseph Lee Heywood Distinguished Service Award was created and is awarded annually to a Northfield citizen who exemplifies the commitment to public service for which Joseph Lee Heywood lived and died to "remind us of our past and our promise to improve our community for the future." []

In 1995, Carleton College also created The Joseph Lee Heywood Society for those who make a commitment to Carleton’s future through an estate provision or a life-income gift (such as a gift annuity or unitrust). The organization was begun as a way for the College to honor all alumni, parents, and friends whose gifts of future support ensure Carleton’s continued excellence. The Heywood Society now includes over 1,200 members, spanning eight decades of Carleton alumni.

Heywood's life and death -- as well as that of Swedish immigrant Nicholaus Gustavson, who was also killed in the raid -- is commemorated annually by a service of remembrance at the Northfield City Cemetery on September 7.

External links

* [ Northfield Raid] at [ Minnesota Historical Society]
* [ Northfield Historical Society]
* [ The Defeat of Jesse James Days Celebration]

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