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.
NY Times – “Daring Railway Robbery”
Old West Legends: The James-Younger Gang – Terror in the Heartland
Wikipedia – James-Younger Gang