jack-kobias_legendary-western-writerAt any moment, Minnesota native John J. “Jack” Koblas was likely to break out into an animated talk about baseball, Science Fiction, Horror or Western literature, or even into a song. After all, his post-high school band, the Magpies, was inducted into the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame in 2007. But get him into a conversation about Jesse James, and he was off and running.

Koblas died on March 8 at age 70 in Minneapolis. He had Parkinson’s and had recently suffered a stroke and heart attack.

A prolific and well-versed writer, Koblas covered Ma Barker, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Sinclair Lewis, the Dakota War of 1862, the Civil War and even a young adult series of historical mysteries. He is best known, however, as a James-Younger Gang historian, specializing in the outlaws’ famous failure in Northfield, Minnesota, in 1876. Shared here are five must-read Koblas books.

—Johnny D. Boggs, author of Northfield, winner of the
Milton F. Perry Award from the National James-Younger Gang

1. Faithful Unto Death: The James-Younger Raid on the First National Bank, September 7, 1876, Northfield, Minnesota (Northfield Historical Society Press, 2001): The definitive account of the bank robbery attempt that led to the downfall of the James-Younger Gang.

2. The Great Cole Younger & Frank James Historical Wild West Show (North Star Press of St. Cloud, 2002): An insightful, often comical and sometimes poignant account of the two ex-outlaws’ glorious failure in show business.

3. When the Heavens Fell: The Youngers in Stillwater Prison (North Star Press of St. Cloud, 2002): A detailed study of Cole, Jim and Bob Younger’s time in prison after the Northfield raid.

4. Minnesota Grit: The Men Who Defeated the James-Younger Gang (North Star Press of St. Cloud, 2005): A slim, but thorough, examination of the real heroes of the raid—the Minnesotans who brought down those Missouri outlaws.

5. Jesse James Ate Here: An Outlaw Tour and History of Minnesota at the Time of the Northfield Raid (North Star Press of St. Cloud, 2001): A road-trip fave, as Koblas sorts through facts and legends, following the path of “the boys” in Minnesota.


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