Book Review: The Last Ride of the James-Younger Gang, by Sean McLachlan

The Last Ride of the James-Younger Gang: Jesse James and the Northfield Raid 1876, by
Sean McLachlan, Osprey Publishing, Oxford, England, 2012, $18.95.

Osprey, a British publisher of lavishly illustrated military histories, seldom ventures into the American West, except to cover the American Civil War, Indian wars and various conflicts involving Mexico. In the 35th entry of its Raids series, however, the protagonists are civilian—though several were Confederate veterans—and their objective is simply to steal a lot of money from a target far afield from their usual area of operations. Of course for Wild West fans, there is nothing “simple” about the September 1876 raid, because Jesse James, Frank James and Cole Younger head the outlaw cast, and because it devastated the most famous gang of 19th-century America.

Archaeologist and historian Sean McLachlan fits the Missouri-based James-Younger Gang’s attempted bank job in Northfield, Minn., into the same format as the military operations covered by the series, including focused looks at the participants (based on what is known of them) and a tactical analysis of the results, which in this case were none too favorable (for the outlaws, anyway). Wild West aficionados will probably already be familiar with what is presented in this 80-page offering, but they may be intrigued by the book’s approach, along with the many photographs, maps and graphic depictions. For those looking for more good reading on the Northfield bank raid, see the bibliography, which lists two fine offerings from the late John Koblas—The Jesse James Northfield Raid: Confessions of the Ninth Man and Faithful Unto Death: The James-Younger Raid on the First National Bank, September 7, 1876, Northfield, Minnesota.

Jon Guttman

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