The Crazy Story Behind This Iowa Train Robbery Is Nearly Unbelievable
When most Americans think of cowboys, bandits, bank robberies and train heists, the mountains and range of the American West comes to mind. What some people don’t realize, though, is that the wild west was never really, well, all
that west. Plenty of bandits hit out in Iowa, and perhaps the most famous train robbery of all time occured right in the small town of Adair.
Perhaps there was no more famous Wild West bandit than Jesse James, who specialized in bank and train robbery throughout the Midwest.
Today, in Adiar, Iowa you can find a monument to the world's very first robbery of a moving train.
The heist took place on July 21, 1873.
The story of the gang's bold robbery made headlines across the world, and eventually led to the James gang's demise.
In July, the Jesse James gang learned that a large shipment of gold, worth over $75,000, would be heading through Adair on the way east from Cheyenne, Wyoming. The main line of the Chicago, Rock Island, & Pacific Railroad passed right through this rural town, and the gang though it the perfect place for a heist.
While a few bandits, including Jesse's brother Frank, left town to help track down the train, Jesse, Jim and Tom Younger, Clell Miller and Bill Chadwell hid in the hills just outside of Adair, waiting their cue. The gang in Adair broke into a handcar house and stoll equipment necessary to pull off the robbery. They pried off a plate connecting two rails, pulled out spikes, and tied the now loose rail to a rope that led back to their hideout in the hill. The bandits yanked the rail away when the engine approached, and their plan worked to derail the train. In the crash, and both the Engineer and Foreman were killed. Several passengers were injured, and the gang leaped into action. One part of the plan, however, failed - there was no gold. The shipment had been delayed, and was on a later train. Still, the gang made out with over $3,000 in cash from the train's safe and from the robbery of the passengers, making it the world's first robbery of a moving train. The news quickly spread of the Bandit's heist, and their actions eventually led he governor of Missouri to offer a $10,000 bounty on the capture of Jesse James. The James gang continued to lead a fugitive lifestyle, robbing banks and trains, for nearly a decade more until James was shot by one of his accomplices on April 3, 1882.
Today, a monument sits in Adair, featuring the shifted piece of track and a replica of one of the steam engine's wheels.
When you see just how large the wheel is up close, you'll be blown away by the foolish bravery the bandits displayed on that fateful night. It's nearly 6' tall!
To add a strange twist to the story, several years ago the historic location was the site of another kind of robbery. One night, under the cover of darkness, a man stole the plaque commemorating the Iowa train robbery. It wasn't recovered until the thieves house burned down, and the plaque was found in the ashes. Perhaps it was the ghost of Jesse James, acting to ensure his legacy would never be forgotten. You can find the Jesse James HIstorical Site at 1156 Anita-Adair Road, Adair, Iowa.
Nowadays, the trains still roll through Adair, and many passengers have no clue they're rolling through the town that made history way back in the days of the wild, wild west.
This wasn’t the only strange thing to happen in the tumultuous history of the Hawkeye State. For more tales from Iowa history, check out
9 Moments Everyone Born In Iowa Will Always Remember.
OnlyInYourState may earn compensation through affiliate links in this article. As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases.