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Adair, Iowa Train Robbery

July 21, 1873---The James-Younger Gang's first train robbery (and the first train robbery west of the Mississippi River) happened on this date. Nine gang members (and possibly one or two more) participated in this robbery. Namely, Jesse James, Frank James, Cole Younger, Jim Younger (who decided to rejoin the gang), John Younger, Clell Miller, Bill Chadwell, and newcomers Bob Younger and Charlie Pitts. The gang's target was the Chicago, Rock Island, & Pacific Railroad. A train of that company was coming through Adair, Iowa on July 21, 1873. The gang met near Adair. While two of the gang ate a meal at a house near the train station, the other seven men stole a tie hammer and a spike bar from a handcar house. A short time later, all the gang met up about a mile and a half away from the depot. The nine men used the hammer and spike bar to pry off the fishplate connecting two rails of the track, and then they pulled out the spikes. A rope was tied to the end of the disconnected north rail and it was slid under the end of the south rail. The gang then hid in a nearby in a small bank and held onto the rope. A short time later, the train came down the tracks. The gang had intended for the train to halt, but it didn't. Instead, Engineer John Rafferty slammed on the air brakes and the train derailed. Two cars went on their sides into a nearby ditch. Other cars laid on their sides. Rafferty was crushed by the engine and instantly killed. Fireman Dennis Foley was also seriously injured. The passengers were scared and some were wounded. The gang was shocked. Nevertheless, half of them boarded the train while the other half stayed outside holding the horses. They went to the express car and ordered, at gun point, guard John Burgess to open the safe. Burgess did this, but only $2,000 was in the safe. The gang took this. Disappointed that there wasn't more money, they decided to go through the passenger cars and order the passengers to give up their jewlery and money. They stole only from men, not women or children. While the were stealing the money from passengers, Cole told the passengers they had not intended to kill or physically harm anyone. While this was going on inside the train, the gang members outside were shooting their guns into the air to keep the passengers inside the cars. After the gang finished with the passengers (gaining only an extra $1,000 from them), they ran outside, jumped on their horses, and vanished.

The above photo is of the derailed train.


Amount of Money Stolen

Citizens Killed/Wounded