History comes to life each fall in DJJD

If you live in Northfield, I don't have to explain who these men are and what's going on this weekend. If you're not volunteering, you've already picked out your favorite events and made plans to be a part of the Defeat of Jesse James Days -- DJJD as its known here. As usual with big events, we have a photo gallery set up and will update it through the weekend. And you can go directly to the DJJD homepage and schedule by clicking here or on the logo at right.

For those of you new to town or visiting, this is a typical festival, with food, entertainment, a parade, craft show and bank robbery...

OK, a bank robbery is a little different. And it's what has set this event apart for 58 years now.

More inside...

Today, Trip De Mann, 19, isn’t a bit self-conscious as he walks through downtown Northfield on a warm summer afternoon in a western hat, duster, tall boots – and a shiny pistol strapped on his hip.

“When I was born, they brought me home from the hospital wearing a duster,” he says. And he isn’t kidding.

De Mann is the third generation of the family that operates the James Younger Gang re-enactors, the group has become the heart and soul of the Defeat of Jesse James Days. They’re the riders who camp along the Cannon River, ride into town to open the rodeo, and of course, rob the bank -- several times over two days. They have drawn a following throughout the U.S. and Europe, bringing to life the hard times, and hard crimes that were a part of life in the late 1800s.

Trip has been riding with the gang since he was 15, right alongside his dad, Chip, his uncles, and granddad Chuck De Mann. “For a long time it was the five De Manns and three others,” says Chip De Mann, son of Chuck and dad of Trip and brother to Jerry, Doug and Chris. The group eventually grew to 24 riders, two uncles have retired and another son  soon will join. (That's Trip in the center above, flanked by Chip and Chuck.)

Through it all, Chuck, now 81, has been the patriarch. He still dresses in character, taking off his glasses and watch and making sure his duster covers the cell phone he uses more often than his gun.

And he’s the link to the group’s past, to that first bank raid in 1948.

The best ideas are born over good cup of coffee. And while the De Manns have always lived in Dundas, Chuck De Mann found reasons to come to Northfield each morning to have coffee with his friends at Tiny’s. says that’s how he and and few friends, restless after returning home from World War II, decided to put a little excitement in Northfield’s annual fall festival back in 1948. They’d put on a show about one of  the city’s most famous moments, the day the James Gang robbed the bank.

They brought in the “Hook’em Cow” riders from South St. Paul, not some city boys, but stockyard workers who knew how to handle cattle and horses. A writer at the Northfield News wrote the script. There was a quick re-enactment, and it was over. But crowds loved it and it became a feature of the event. The De Manns moved away a few years later and moved back in 1970, when Chip was ready to join the show. He and his brothers really got caught up in the history as much as the drama. Chuck’s wife Audrey sewed the dusters to make them accurate. They searched the country for bootmakers and hatmakers who wouldn’t try to make them look like a bunch of country music stars.

These are not cowboys. No Stetsons, no chaps, no silly fringe. “We’re southern gentlemen,” says Trip, with a shy smile straight out of an old Hollywood Western, but the serious passion of a historian.

Trip would love to do this full-time, but knows he’ll have to settle for the 20-30 appearances the group makes each year. He’ll play Clell Miller, who was killed in the Northfield raid.

“I’m young, so I can fall down and die easier,” he said, flashing that smile.

History is in good hands.