this day in crime history: july 21, 1873


On this date in 1873, a group of western bank robbers known as the James-Younger gang tried their hand at train robbery.  The gang sabotaged the track just outside Adair, IA and waited for the Chicago Rock Island & Pacific train’s approach.  Around 7:00 PM, the locomotive derailed, killing the engineer.

Some of the robbers hit the express car while the rest guarded the train’s passengers and crew.  The gang believed that the train would be carrying tens of thousands of dollars in gold.  As it turns out, they were mistaken.  They left the scene about ten minutes later with a few thousand in cash.

Some have referred to the 1873 Rock Island &Pacific robbery as the first peace-time train robbery in US history, but this is incorrect.  The Reno gang beat the James-Youngers to it, robbing an Ohio and Mississippi train in Seymour, IN in 1866.

Further reading:

NY Times – “Daring Railway Robbery”

Old West Legends: The James-Younger Gang – Terror in the Heartland

Wikipedia – James-Younger Gang


7 thoughts on “this day in crime history: july 21, 1873

  1. John D.:
    Interesting that they got “fooled” with the haul they managed.
    And leave it to INDIANA t have the 1st train robbery in peace-time…

    Very good post…didn’t think the James-Younger gang came that far east.
    (learn something new every day) 🙂

    Stay safe out there.


    • The James boys and the Youngers were from Missouri . Adair was actually due north of St. Joseph, MO, where Jesse spent his last years. The most famous James-Younger robbery was the Northfield, MN raid. Northfield is actually northeast of Adair. While we think of them as creatures of the old west, The J-Y gang largely operated in a part of the country that we think of these days as the Midwest.


  2. The James gang must have had better publicists than the Reno gang. Over the years numerous movies have been made about Jesse James, while the only movie I can think of about the Reno bunch was Rage at Dawn with Randolph Scott.


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