The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

February 7, 2008

WANTED: Positive I.D. on them bones

Remains purported to be former member of Jesse James gang

MANKATO — When he was alive, he was a scoundrel, a varmint, a no good lowdown hellraiser who went around robbin’ banks and shootin’ people.

He got in with the worst of ’em — Jesse James and the Younger brothers. But when that famous meeting of the posse and the outlaws took place near Madelia, he went down shooting, in a gunfight famous for stopping a notorious group of Old West hoodlums.

His name was Charley Pitts, and if you can believe the loosely documented history, his may be the bones that have resided in the basement of the Northfield Historical Society Museum since 1981.

Today, however, those bones are sitting in a biology lab in Minnesota State University’s Trafton Science Center, where a pair of professors and a couple of graduate students hope to find conclusive evidence that proves the bones either are, or are not, the remains of Pitts.

Anthropology professor Kate Blue is examining the skeleton. Law enforcement professor Jim Bailey will lead the background investigation into what happened to Pitts’ remains after the gunfight, and whether the bones in the lab are indeed Pitts’.

Graduate students Nate Meyer and Lecia Sims are doing legwork, digging into old newspapers and trying to find out what exactly happened to Pitts.

“This is new for me. I’m not into skeletal analysis,” said Meyer, a cultural anthropology specialist. “I don’t even want to touch the bones.”

Sims, meanwhile, isn’t quite as squeamish.

“This is right up my alley,” she said.

The bones found their way to Mankato from Northfield after Bailey, attending a re-enactment of the Northfield bank robbery, read an article about the skeleton in the basement of the Northfield Historical Society Museum.

Pitts’ story is a sketchy one, but it goes something like this:

He met up with the Jesse James gang in Missouri (which happens to be Sims’ home state, hence her interest). Eventually, they came to Northfield that fateful day in 1876 and tried to rob the bank. A gunfight ensued and two members of the gang, Clell Miller and Bill Chadwell, were killed.

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