Thousands of visitors head to Northfield every year on the weekend after Labor Day to see the town – and the re-enactment – where history was made and the Jesse James Gang was defeated. In addition to all the visitors, it feels like the entire city comes out for the fun during the annual Defeat of Jesse James Days (DJJD).
If you’re headed to town for one of the biggest events in Northfield, check out these Townie Tips:
Arrive early to park in the lot off Washington Avenue between 4th and 5th streets – just walk a block to the center of the action.
Take the FREE shuttle from the Northfield Ballroom or the carnival shuttle from the Post Parking Lot. The park and ride shuttle is highly recommended – there is even one if you’re planning to attend the rodeo. (Yes, there is a rodeo, and yes, you should plan to attend.)
There’s a Button?
Buy a button at any participating local business (many can be found along Division Street) or the entertainment tent. The benefits of the button will give all weekend long – get access to VIP seating during the re-enactments, exclusive access to some events, and discounts throughout the weekend.
Relive History through the Re-Enactments
The bank raid re-enactments are the highlight (and ultimate purpose) of the weekend. There are re-enactments Friday evening, Saturday afternoon, and twice mid-day Sunday. This is a must-see event – the same family has been doing the re-enactments for generations, and they’re wonderful. Strongly consider taking the Northfield Historical Society tour before you take in a re-enactment. The tour will cover events leading up to and through the re-enactment, which is helpful as there isn’t a narrator during the show. Plus, you can’t see what’s happening in the bank (which exists still as it was the day of the defeat – bullet holes and all) during the re-enactment, so a tour beforehand will be helpful.
Buttons are required to get bleacher seating. If you aren’t lucky enough to grab a spot on the bleachers, the re-enactment is not too long that you can’t stand and watch from the street (which is what most people do). Since many of the actors are on horses, you can still see from behind a few rows of people.
Be prepared – the actual bank raid included a lot of bullets flying from all directions, and the re-enactments aim to be as true to history as possible (while still staying safe). The actors use pop guns that don’t shoot bullets but do make loud noises, which can be startling for young children or those with sensory issues. Those easily startled or bothered by loud noises – or even packed crowds – can still see the actors on their horses while they wait in the staging area on the east end of the 4th and Division intersection, near the First National Bank.
You Said There was a Rodeo
Yes, there’s a rodeo, and it’s pretty good. Professional athletes from Sutton Rodeo come to town to show their talents with horseback riding tricks, bull riding, calf roping, barrel racing, steer roping, mutton busting (which is adorable), rodeo clowns, and more. Make sure to dress appropriately – this is an outdoor rodeo without cover from the sun or weather that can often get muddy. This is a ticketed event, and you can get them at some local retailers as well as at the shows Friday and Saturday. Note that all seating is general admission, so keep that in mind when you’re planning when to arrive. Don’t forget there is a free shuttle from the Northfield Ballroom.
All Good Festivals Have a Parade
The Grand Parade happens at 2 p.m. Sunday. The main action happens near Bridge Square – so if you want to see the performances or hear the announcer, find a spot downtown early. If you enjoy the floats and groups as they pass by, any spot along the route from Northfield High School down Division Street to the library. If you position yourself towards the end of the parade, rumor has it that’s where the floats dump the rest of their candy.
There’s Food, Right?
DJJD has all the quintessential fair food – cheese curds, Pronto Pups, fresh squeezed lemonade. There’s a cajun seafood stand with great paella and coconut shrimp, the local Masonic Lodge has a food truck with great corndogs, and local cupcakery Cake Walk has AMAZING cake balls (you NEED to try those). If you’re looking for something that isn’t fried, Maria’s Taco Truck has great street tacos – keep an eye out for them!
Other Must-Do Events
- Craft Beverage Festival – every evening on the Armory Square lawn. All local craft brewers, distillers, and cideries show up to offer seasonal exclusives or tried-and-true favorites. There is also live music and great food. Show up early to grab a seat if you would like to sit as it quickly gets to standing room only.
- Northfield Arts Guild Riverfront Fine Arts Festival – Saturday and Sunday. Peruse local artisans’ work as you stroll up and down the Cannon River. Make sure you cross over to the west side of the river for a snack – there you will find kettle corn and candied nuts vendors.
- Cornhole Tournament – Saturday at noon in the Entertainment Center. Get competitive and throw some bags. You must pre-register, and teams are limited. All proceeds benefit Give Cancer the Boot.
- Try your luck at the bingo tent on Bridge Square every evening. All proceeds benefit Northfield Fire and Rescue.
- There’s a beard contest Saturday immediately following the last re-enactment with many categories – including how fast competitors’ beards grow (they were all clean shaven on July 28), the Henry Wheeler “Push Broom” mustache, Cole Younger “Lamb Chop” sideburns, Jesse James goatee, and the Distinguished Joseph Lee Heywood full beard and mustache. That can’t not be interesting, right?
- DJJD Car Show – 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday. This is a decent sized car show, so wear your walking shoes. Go early or late if you want to talk to any of the car owners – they’re usually pretty busy.
- The Great Northfield Robbery: A Love Story – the tale of a star-crossed romance involving part of the James Younger Gang shows Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. at the Northfield Arts Guild Theater.
- Vintage baseball game – noon Saturday at the Sibley Elementary School soccer fields. This historically accurate game includes traditional uniforms, original rules, and a smaller, softer baseball.
- Rotary Market Bazaar – Saturday and Sunday at Central Park (4th and Winona streets). Dozens of vendors offer anything from lawn art to jewelry to Pampered Chef, and anywhere in between.
Don’t forget to book your stay at a local hotel early, as they will all likely book up quickly. The Archer House River Inn is just a quick walk from Bridge Square, the middle of the action. If you would like to stay away from all the excitement, try the AmericInn by Wyndham or the Fairfield Inn & Suites.