Iowa History Daily: July 21 - Jesse James Robs a Train

Iowa History Daily: On July 21, 1873, famed American outlaw Jesse James robbed the Chicago, Rock Island, and Pacific Express near Adair. Believed to be the first successful robbery of a moving train in the American West, a wheel donated by the Rock Island Railroad in 1954 marks the crime scene today.

Born and raised in the “Little Dixie” area of western Missouri, both Jesse and Frank James fought as pro-Confederate “bushwhackers” throughout the American Civil War. After the close of the conflict, the brothers started robbing banks, stagecoaches, and trains throughout the Midwest. From 1866 to 1876 the James-Younger gang rose to national fame with a Robinhood image despite the brutal nature of their crimes.

Starting with bank robberies including the 1871 heist of the Ocobock Brothers bank in Corydon, the James-Younger gang moved toward train robbery. With intel $75,000 ($1,821,584.02 today) in gold rolled east from Cheyenne on the Chicago, Rock Island, and Pacific Railroad, the gang prepared for what they hoped would be their biggest score to date. As Frank James and Cole Younger went to Omaha to check on the train schedule, Jesse and the rest camped out near Adair.

On the 21st of July, the gang used a spike-bar and hammer to bust out two spikes on the curve near Turkey Creek just to the west of Adair. Concealing themselves along the bank, the James-Younger Gang watched as the train derailed and splashed into the creek. The crash killed the train’s engineer and fireman while injuring many passengers. Climbing aboard, the James brothers forced a guard to open the safe.

Much to the bandits’ chagrin the safe only contained $2,000 ($48,575.57 today) due to a delay in the shipment coming out of the Wyoming gold fields. Unfazed, the gang fleeced the passengers to collect another $1,000 or so in cash and valuables before riding off into the night back toward Missouri. #IowaHistoryDaily #IowaOTD #IowaHistoryCalendar


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