Bandits part of area history
As far as we know, the only famous bandit who visited Lyon County was Jesse James. And he did not come to rob the residents, but rather to find overnight accommodation or ask directions on his journey through the area. According to an article submitted by Tracy resident, Mrs. Harold Hook, to the Centennial History of Lyon County, 1970, the Nils Rosvold family of Lucas Township received a visitor one evening in 1876. “He was mounted on a splendid horse with ornate riding equipment and was heavily armed with rifle and pistols. The Rosvolds indicated that the man had a sinister aura about him, but he asked civilly enough for food and a night’s lodging. The family avoided displeasing the stranger. He refused a bed but chose a place to sleep across from the kitchen door and carefully laid out his weapons close to hand. In the morning he was gone. About a year later the Rosvolds, after seeing newspaper pictures about the Northfield gang, were able to identify their visitors Jesse James.”
A couple of other incidents that took place in the area indicate that James may have passed through southwest Minnesota a couple of times. One incident involved a burial site in Section 22, again in Lucas Township. In 1876 three strangers camped on a hillside for several days, and when they left, neighbors found a fresh grave. These neighbors believed that Frank and Jesse James were the strangers and that they stayed with their wounded comrade, burying him after his death. They believed this tied in with the time period after the Northfield raid in which the James brothers disappeared for several weeks to reappear in South Dakota.
The other incident took place in the 1870s near Lake Wilson where a girl was herding cattle when a man on horseback asked directions. The beautiful horse, costly accouterments and current pictures of the outlaw gang convinced the girl’s family that the rider was Jesse James.
It is also believed that the Burdette brothers, who were the first people to occupy the northeast quarter of Section 20, Lucas Township, once belonged to the Jesse James gang. As a boy in the 1870s Tennis E. Anderson of Lucas Township used to herd cattle in the neighborhood of the Burdettes. He told of their beautiful horses and fancy saddles. In their sod dugout they had one bunk entirely covered with shotguns, rifles and revolvers. According to Anderson’s account, the Burdettes had no interest in farming but spent their time hunting. On occasion they would pay Anderson one quarter (an extravagant amount) for retrieving ducks from the lake.
It is interesting to note that many of the villains of the 1870s came from fairly well-to-do, normal families. Some had fathers who were prosperous farmers (Bill Doolin); others came from ministerial backgrounds (Jesse and Frank James) or store owners (Butch Cassidy). At anywhere between the ages of 14 and 20, restlessness overtook them, and they headed West, seeking adventure and excitement. Some started their crime sprees early, as soon as they linked up with already established gangs. Others worked as cowboys, deputies or marshals before turning to the more lucrative and exciting life of crime.
Sources: “Bandits Get $4,500 in Raid This Morning,” Marshall News Messenger, Jan. 3, 1933; Article by Mrs. Harold Hook, Centennial History of Lyon County, 1970.