Nicholas Gustafson

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First National Bank building in Northfield, MN site of the robbery.

Nicholas Gustafson (August 20, 1846 – September 11, 1876) was a Swedish immigrant who was mortally wounded in the James-Younger Gang bank raid in Northfield, Minnesota. Various sources use alternate spellings of his names including Nicolaus, Nicholaus or Niclas and Gustavson.[1] He was born in Fiddekulla, Vissefjärda parish in Småland province.[2]

Bank raid[edit]

Gustafson was a recent immigrant to the USA from Sweden. Swedish emigration records show that a "Nicolaus Gustafson" arrived in Faribault, Minnesota on June 9, 1876.[3]

Gustafson is known to have settled in the Millersburg, Minnesota area about 12 miles southwest of Northfield and 12 miles northwest of Faribault. At that time, the community was attracting a number of Swedish immigrants.

It is the general consensus that, because of his recent arrival, he didn't speak enough English to understand what was going on during the raid on September 7, 1876. Consequently, when members of the James-Younger Gang were yelling at local citizens to get off the street, he may not have understood them and was mortally wounded during the gun battle.[4][5]

Cole Younger pleaded guilty to Gustafson's murder (perhaps, in part, to avoid Minnesota's mandated death sentence if he had been convicted of the crime), but claimed he wasn't the primary killer. He later stated "I have always believed that the man Nicholas Gustafson... was hit by a glancing shot from Manning's or Wheeler's rifle. If any of our party shot him, it must have been Woods."[6]

Gustafson died from his wound four days after the raid. John Olson of Northfield was the only eye witness of the Gustafson murder and testified against the Younger brothers. Olson was from Sweden and was working as a carpenter on a basement door at the corner of Fifth Street and Division (Bierman building). Olson's affidavit was instrumental in refuting Cole Younger's testimony and keeping the Younger brothers in the state penitentiary after repeated parole attempts. In 1877 the Millersburg Swedes commissioned John Olson to build the Christdala Church. For twenty years he received death threats from ex-Confederates in Missouri for his testimony.[citation B. Wayne Quist, History of Christdala]

Gustafson was buried in Northfield because the Millersburg Swedish community had no church or cemetery at that time. After his death, Millersburg Swedes immediately started planning for the construction of their own church and cemetery.[citation B. Wayne Quist, History of Christdala]

In 1948, Northfield citizens founded Jesse James Days to honor the heroism of Northfield's townspeople. It has become one of the largest celebrations in Minnesota. Every year Gustafson's death, along with Joseph Lee Heywood, the acting cashier at the First National Bank, are commemorated in a graveside memorial service at Northfield City Cemetery on September 7.[citation B. Wayne Quist, History of Christdala]


  1. ^ The Northfield, Minnesota Robbery (Civil War St. Louis)
  2. ^ Anbytarforum
  3. ^ Emigranten Populär, 1783-1951
  4. ^ The bank the Younger Gang attempted to rob in 1876(First National Bank of Northfield) [1]
  5. ^ Attempted Bank Raid (Northfield Area Chamber)
  6. ^ The Story of Cole Younger, by Himself (by Cole Younger. Minnesota Historical Society Press. 2000)

Related reading[edit]

  • Quist, B. Wayne. The History of the Christdala Evangelical Lutheran Church (Dundas, Minnesota: Small World Press, 1996)
  • Huntington, George Robber and Hero: The Story of the Northfield Bank Raid (St. Paul: Minnesota: Historical Society Press, 1986)

External links[edit]