There are three stories you need to know in order to piece together this year’s hunt puzzle. I could go on in detail about each but will try to summarize. Two of the stories are about blunders. One is of a great civil servant to Northfield. I hope you’ll find this write-up interesting and educational.

I must preface this with my great respect for the Northfield News and their decades of continued support of Northfield and documenting our stories one week at a time. This is proof-positive right here as I am going to use their archives to best tell the stories.

In 2006 the Horseshoe Hunt was 9 years old. At this time I was just about to join the DJJD committee and I was hunting for this horseshoe myself. I had put in many hours walking the parks in town, seeing new things, and getting some fresh air. I would ponder just what Northfield history the writers might be drawing upon and trying to outthink them only to find myself cursing their names. Franklin and Bette Lee were the clue writers and would give all 6 clues to the media outlets in town up front, each day having its own envelope for that clue to be unsealed each morning.  When I was a hunter I always wished they had planted “something” out there for us to find, even if it wasn’t the big winner. This is why I tried the mini $100 shoes this year.  For people who might be close but not right on. 

Suddenly it was announced that the hunt was over and someone had located the shoe. But…. an ineligible person claimed the prize after finding it in Babcock in the right field area behind the fence where horseshoe sand pits used to be. You could still see remnants of the old sand pits at that time. The horseshoe had been placed in one of the low-hanging branches of a tree nearby. 

An editorial employee from the newspaper had opened a clue a day early when preparing the next publication, sending a relative to retrieve the shoe. The hunt was canceled, money donated to charity, that employee was let go and many locals were not too happy.  The then editor Devlyn Brooks laid out the situation in an article which can be read here.  2006 Horseshoe Hunt Hits Snag.

The next year the Northfield News would donate $500 towards the hunt. The Committee matched that and would be the largest purse at the time.  $1000 for the 10-year anniversary.

On September 7th 1876 after the attempted band robbery, men from around the area joined the manhunt for these James-Younger gang fugitives. A group of 5 (later cited as more than 5) took a wagon from Faribault to Sheildsville where they stopped at a saloon, leaving their guns in the wagon outside, unloaded.  The bandits came upon the scene, realizing the wagon full of guns must belong to a posse group. The wagon owners quickly emerged from the bar, only to encounter bandits with guns drawn in their direction. The gang would leave without harming anyone. Here’s an article on this. Dead end for the James Gang. 

Now, onto Dr. Fager M. Babcock. In the 1920s a local doctor spent almost all of his free time building and tending to a beautiful “Tourist Park”. See, back then there were no hotel chains, and people getting out in their vehicles driving across the country would need a place to stay. Dr. Babcock had been in the military stationed in France and saw how they had these nice parks for travelers where small cabins were available for overnight stays. He replicated this along the Cannon River on the west side just north of the 2nd street bridge. He would spend his time caring for the site, planting flowers, and built a pergola over a natural water spring that was on site just along the stone walls that lined the Cannon. This is about where the new Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriot is today and used to be where the City kept the plows, and street maintenance equipment. This land was also known as “behind Godfathers” back in the day. And before that a grocery store. “Doctor B’s Baby”, as they called it, was in that location until the 40’s when floods hampered “Northfield’s Park” (the first park in town) and the cabins were dismantled. After his death, the City would name a park after him. A twenty-nine-acre park along the Cannon.  Babcock Park also incorporates the dog park and the grounds where the DJJD Rodeo is held.

Northfield once had a much-used tourist park

Clue #1. Wednesday, August 31st, 2022.

The posse of five had ridden far, in search of Jesse’s crew.

They stopped to have a drink or two, they couldn’t find the shoe.

Then suddenly the gang appeared, but their rifles in the carriage.

This would be a slip, a tricky blip, a blunder hard to manage. 

Explanation #1

This clue sets the scene drawing upon the infamous story of the Faribault-Five’s blunder in Shieldsville. It’s also tying in the 2006 Newspaper blunder. The Northfield News was on 5th street. The newspaper would donate $500 to next year’s hunt. I’m setting up a series of “five” references. My hope was for a hunters who had been doing this for a long time to recall this 2006 blunder and connect the dots to Babcock.

Clue #2. Thursday, September 1st, 2022.

The outlaws left, but not before, watering their nags.

These men had been all shot to hell, when circling the bank.

The brothers found a place to hide, a cabin in the forest.

A place well kept, perfectly swept, some respite for the sorest.

Explanation #2

Line 1.  This line references the Faribault-five again.  The story has it that the fugitives shot up the well/water pump at this location near the saloon the posse had stopped at.

Line 2. “Shot All to Hell: Jesse James, the Northfield Raid, and the Wild West’s Greatest Escape” by Mark Lee Gardner is one of my favorite books on the Northfield botched robbery. “Circling” is in reference to “Rotary” (Rotarian).  Dr. Babcock was VP of the Northfield chapter.

Line 3. “Brothers” is a ref to the Freemasons (Masons). Babcock was a member of 4 Masonic lodges. Masons are a fraternal order. The “cabin” is a ref to the cabins in the “Tourist Park”. NOT odd fellows.  (Although there used to be a functional cabin in the Odd Fellows forest.  This same “forest” happens to be the spot where groups of the James-Younger Gang came together prior to the robbery attempt that day.  But I digress). 

Line 4. “Place well kept”, refers to Babcock’s tidy nature. It was reported that he spent all of his spare time cleaning, grooming, and growing this first Northfield Park. This park gave some R&R to families traveling the country in their vehicles in the ’20s-’40s. 

Clue #3. Friday, September 2nd, 2022.

Bob was bad, the wounds they had, needed medical attention.

The raid went south, detoured their mounts, then made them change direction.

A dismal chase, full of disgrace, mosquitos by the millions.

They’d tell the tale, on every trail, that they were good civilians.

Explanation #3

Line 1. Bob Younger was in the worst shape. His elbow was shot/broken and he was bleeding badly.  They needed a doctor.  Dr. Babcock was a medical doctor.  Also, the medical reference could be to a vet and Aurora/Cannon Valley Vet Clinic (who donates the horseshoe ID tag each year).

Line 2. This is not a reference to a road detour (Detour Days). The “Tour” is a reference to “Tourist Park”. Incidentally, people in town called it “Northfield’s Park”. Yes, this was the first and only “park” at the time. This ties together the botched 2006 horseshoe hunt, the botched Faribault-Five opportunity as well as the actual botched robbery in 1876.  And like the JYG, the horseshoe hunt was changed. Specifically, how clues are handled. I give them to the media and post to websites one at a time. Changing direction also is indicative of the gang’s failed plan to head back through Mill square to smash the telegraphy machine but instead needed to head south on Division to cross the river at Dundas.  Being unable to smash the telegraph was very bad for the outlaws.

Line 3.  Dismal is a synonym for “Blue”.  The new color of the Taco Oasis siding.  They were on the run for 14 days in heavy rain.  Cole Younger later mentioned how awful the mosquitoes were while in the Big Woods on the lam. The shoe is hiding in the tall grass/woods. I had significant bites after hiding it this year.  

“I believe that there were in that country 7,000 lakes in between every two lakes there was a marsh. We suffered in those 14 days, a hundred deaths.”   -Cole Younger

Line 4. The JYG told false stories and hearsay that they were “Robinhood” like robbers. Robbing the rich to give to the poor.  An unlikely reality. The gang would often say they were a posse hunting for the bandits themselves when they’d come upon other groups. A “switch-a-roo”. Reverse psychology. But this clue points directly at “good civilians” (Outstanding Citizen).  Dr. Babcock was well known for, serving on as many boards, councils and clubs as Joseph Lee Heywood himself.  And of course, directing people towards a trail. (East River Trail). 

From 2005 Nfld News Article on Babcock.

“He was a member of Masonic orders, the Odd Fellows, the Modern Woodmen, the United Workmen, and the Eagles. He was the vice president of the newly formed Rotary Club. He was active in All Saints Episcopal Church. He served as city physician for years and a doctor for the Milwaukee Railroad for 20 years.”

Clue #4. Saturday, September 3rd, 2022.

As night approached, while making camp, Jesse saw the lights.

He just turned older, feeling bolder, proclaimed that there were 5.

Jesse’s horse, his little baby, threw her shoes while kickin’

Some landed near, some landed far, one landed in the thicket.

Explanation #4

Line 1.  Across the river from where the Northfield Knights play.  Seeing the light could be from that field, Aurora Pharmaceutical (Northern Lights), the Babcock softball field lights or the Rodeo arena lights. 

Line 2.  He just turned older.  Jesse turned 29 just a few days before the Northfield raid. Babcock Park is over 29 acres (nice).  It runs a long span starting along the East River Trail behind the Ice Arena all the way past the rodeo grounds to the Prowe pedestrian bridge. 

Line 3.  Jesse’s horse “threw her shoes”.  All 4 of them.  Making it 5 shoes out there.  Dr. Babcock cared so much for “Northfield’s Park” (a tourist park) that everyone called it Dr. B’s Baby. BAB-Y points to BABCOCK.

Line 4.  Indicating there are multiple shoes and one is in the weeds.

Clue #5. Sunday, September 4th, 2022.

Bab-y woke to a cock-a-doodle-do from a dream of blue oasis.

She had no shoes as all were thrown, one far out past the bases.

The gang was gone and she was left in woods behind the pickets.

She ate the grass, it went real fast, then moved to yellow thickets.

Explanation #5

Line 1.  Bab-y and Cock = Babcock.  Blue Oasis is Taco Oasis’s new blue siding.

Line 2.  Indicates that her 4 shoes are out there plus the main shoe. The grand prize shoe was “thrown” behind the softball field.

Line 3.  The gang had abandoned their horses along their escape route just as I abandoned my wordplay of the historical account as seen in the first few clues. It’s hard to guide hunters to specifics AND stick to the facts of a story you’re basing the narrative upon. But this reinforces it is behind the pickets (fences) of the outfield wall (chain link). Line 4.  When the gangs mounts were found, tied to trees in the Big Woods, they had eaten everything in sight. I hid the shoe back beyond the mowed grass area in the “forest” under some natiave yellow flowers.

25th Anniversary! 1998-2022

Clue writers: 

  • Gene Finger & Kris Ellison – 1998-2001 (3 hunts)
  • Franklin & Bette Lee – 2002-2010 (9 hunts)
  • Tim Freeland – 2011-present (13 hunts)

2022 Location: Babcock Park 29.8 Acres. Northfield has 35 parks totaling 564 acres of land, 22 miles of trails, 22 playgrounds, and four park shelters.

Payout: $1400 main prize. $700 if 2022 button is not registered. Four $100 Mini-shoes.  

2022 Prize Donors: Edina Realty, Hometown Credit Union, Professional Pride Realty, Cannon River Tree Care & the Defeat of Jesse James Days Committee.