Jesse And Frank James
Jesse And Frank James
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License: Public Domain

Jesse James And His Gang Turn To Train Robbery

On July 21, 1873, they turned to train robbery, derailing the Rock Island train in Adair, Iowa and stealing approximately $3,000 ($51,000 in 2007). For this, they wore Ku Klux Klan masks, deliberately taking on a potent symbol years after the Klan had been suppressed in the South by President Grant's use of the Force Acts. Former rebels attacked the railroads as symbols of threatening centralization. The James' gang's later train robberies had a lighter touch—in fact only twice in all of Jesse James's train hold-ups did he rob passengers, because he typically limited himself to the express safe in the baggage car. Such techniques fostered the Robin Hood image which Edwards was creating in his newspapers, but the James gang never shared any of the robbery money outside their circle.

Famous train robbers include Bill Miner, Jesse James and Butch Cassidy. Jesse James is mistakenly thought to have completed the first successful train robbery in the American West when on July 21, 1873 the James-Younger Gang took US $3,000 from the Rock Island Railroad after derailing it southwest of the town of Adair, Iowa. However, the first peacetime train robbery in the USA actually occurred on October 6, 1866, when robbers boarded the Ohio & Mississippi train shortly after it left Seymour, Indiana. They broke into one safe and tipped the other off the train before jumping off. The Pinkerton National Detective Agency later traced the crime to the Reno Gang. There was one earlier train robbery in May 1865, but because it was committed by armed guerrillas and occurred shortly after the end of the Civil War, it is not considered to be the first peacetime train robbery in the United States.