Jesse James: Riding Hell-Bent for Leather into Legend
Moving up to Trains
As time for the express drew near, the gang braced. They could see the great jet-black smoke from the locomotive stack gushing up across the lightening horizon and could faintly hear its arrival bell as the train chugged towards Adair. Onward it lumbered. At a signal from Jesse, the ambushers tugged at their ends of the hemp, splitting the stretch of track apart. The locomotive, moving at a speed too fast to brake, dashed onto flat earth, shook its immense body, screeched in hysteria, then leaned over slightly, a dead iron horse. Engineer John Rafferty had been thrown from the cab and crushed to death underneath.
In the passenger cars, hysteria broke loose. Travelers jarred and found themselves spilling over into the aisles and across each other. When the moment stilled, they realized they were at a tilt. They didn't have time to consider much more than "Thank God I'm alive" before a masked spoiler burst into their space to announce, "Hands up!" Such was the scene in every car as the robbers grabbed from every passenger something of value: a billfold, a handbag, a pocket watch, a brooch or a wad of pocket greenbacks.
Simultaneously, Jesse led the charge on the baggage car for the real prize, the $100,000. Shocked, bruised attendants didn't argue when the thieves demanded they unlock the express boxes now! doubly emphasizing their command with a dual-barrel shotgun poking their ribs. But, to the pirates' own dismay, they found most of the strongboxes empty only one contained $2,000 in federal reserve notes.
"Where the hell is the hundred-thousand that was supposed to be here?" Jesse asked, no time for subtlety.
"Ititcame throughthrough on the morning flyer," the conductor warbled.
"This is the morning flyer!" Frank smacked him with the back of his hand.
"N-no, sir that one c-came through through before sunrise."
Sure that the next sound he would hear would be the boom of those shotguns blowing him into eternity, the conductor winced. He was pleasantly surprised when, eyes still closed, he heard only a string of expletives growing distant, followed by the fading hooves of the robbers' retreating steeds.
Angered but not discouraged by their failure on the rails, Jesse and company tried their hand on them once more. This time they were much more successful. "On January 31, 1874, one of the most infamous train robberies in history occurred at Gads Hill, Missouri, on the St. Louis, Iron Mountain and Southern Railroad main line," reads the historic Iron Mountain Railway's web page, entitled All Aboard. "The masked gang arrived at Gads Hill station at 3:30 in the afternoon and rounded up waiting passengers and the station manager who they herded into a store room. They (then) stuck a signal flag out and threw a switch south of the station the wrong way to keep the train from passing. When the train rolled into Gads Hill at 5:30 p.m., the engineer saw the flag and stopped the train...'Give me your money and your wallet!' James ordered. The order was quickly followed with the conductor handing over his wallet and his gold pocket watch. The gang placed an armed guard on each platform and robbed each coach." Evidently, the robbers had inadvertently accumulated a trainload of very wealthy passengers, for the day's take was $10,000.
The web page continues: "As Jesse James got off the train, he tossed the conductor his gold watch, saying, 'You'll need this.' A posse was organized in Piedmont to go after the gang, but by the time it was organized the James Gang was over sixty miles away."