Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Cowgirls, cowboys and cows, all at The Defeat of Jesse James Days parade in Northfield, Minn. September 14, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 11:50 AM
I shot this image of the James-Younger gang riding their horses along the parade route. Because my shutter speed wasn't set fast enough for the action, the photo is a bit blurry. But I like it that way.

I shot this image of the James-Younger gang riding along the parade route. Because my shutter speed wasn't set fast enough for the action, the photo is blurry. But I like it that way because it looks more dramatic.

Members of the St. Paul bouncing team entertained parade watchers when a member bounced off a blanket.

Members of the St. Paul Bouncing Team entertain parade watchers.

AFTER MORE THAN 1 ½ hours of baking in the scorching sun, we grabbed our single-serving packages of Malt-O-Meal cereal, folded our lawn chairs, admitted defeat and fled Northfield.

And we weren’t the first. At 2 p.m. on September 7, 1876, the James-Younger gang rode into Northfield intent on robbing the First National Bank. They too left defeated, with two of the outlaws lying dead in the street and two more wounded.

Sunday at 2 p.m. we watched as actors depicting the notorious outlaws stormed down Northfield’s Division Street, guns blazing, during The Defeat of Jesse James Days parade.

They were followed by actors and actresses posing as townspeople, those Northfield residents who 133 years earlier fought back against the desperadoes. Each year those heroes, including bank employee Joseph Lee Heywood who was shot when he refused to open the bank vault, are honored.

It had been several years since my family attended the Northfield parade. So on Sunday my husband, son and I packed a picnic lunch, which we ate behind the NAPA store where Randy works, only a half-block from the parade route. Then we settled into our lawn chairs, in the blazing afternoon sun, to await the start of the 134-unit parade.

The Defeat of Jesse James Days parade is unlike any I’ve ever seen. Beginning with those costumed, horse-riding outlaws, horses and cowboys/cowgirls quickly became the theme of the event.

Never have I seen so many queens and princesses (and the occasional prince) from so many Minnesota communities in one location, all sporting cowgirl (cowboy) hats and all riding on floats decorated with horses. The northeast Minneapolis royalty brought stick horses. Promoters of Isanti Rodeo Jubliee Days rode oversized wooden rocking horses. The Albertville float carried plush toy ponies.

Some rode into town aiming bubble-shooting pistols and twirling lassoes. The St. Francis float locked Jesse James and another outlaw behind bars. But they all arrived with their royal waves, arms swaying, most times in unison, at the crowd.

While the majority of the parade featured Minnesota royalty, plenty of other units provided crowd-pleasing entertainment like the Zuhran Drum Corps from Minneapolis, the St. Paul Bouncing Team, Faribault’s Fair-Bow-Si-Do square dancers, the Saint Paul Clown Club, the Coon Rapids High School marching band and lots more.

There were even cow floats in this community with the slogan of “Cows, Colleges and Contentment.”

And somewhere in between all of these units, a cereal-bearing Malt-O-Meal semi arrived. Yes, free cereal. My family got two packages of Frosted Flakes, one of Honey Nut Scooters and another of Cinnamon Toasters. That’s better than candy.

But given the heat of the day, I was hoping Northfield beer distributor College City Beverage would show up with free beer.

Don’t laugh. While driving through central Minnesota many, many years ago, we came upon a parade in Morrill where they were giving away free beer, straight from a keg perched atop a float.

Now if we had gotten free beer in Northfield on Sunday, we may have stayed until the end of the parade instead of admitting defeat, giving in to the heat and fleeing south to Faribault.

Richfield promoted its Fourth of July celebration with a patriotic, western-themed float.

Richfield promotes its Fourth of July celebration with a patriotic, western-themed float.

I couldn't even tell you the origin of this royalty, but I liked the contrast of the blue sky as they waved from high atop their float.

I like the serenity of the blue sky as the Miss Princeton women wave from high atop their float.

I never planned or manipulated this image, but was humorously surprised to see that I had shot a two-faced cow, the Kwik Trip cow, in Northfield, the city of "Cows, Colleges and Contentment."

I never planned or manipulated this image, but was humorously surprised to see that I had shot a two-faced cow, the Kwik Trip cow, in Northfield, the city of "Cows, Colleges and Contentment." I don't think I could have planned this quirky photo if I had tried.

The northeast Minneapolis contingent arrived with stick horses.

The northeast Minneapolis contingent arrived with stick horses on their float.

Even this marching band, and I don't know where they came from, wore cowboy hats.

Even this marching band, and I don't know where they came from, wore cowboy hats, fitting the day's theme.

Plush ponies decorated the Albertville float.

Plush ponies decorated the Albertville float.

This member of the Saint Paul Clown Club shows off for my camera.

This member of the Saint Paul Clown Club shows off for my camera during The Defeat of Jesse James Day parade.

© Copyright 2009 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

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