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1874-Jesse James gang robs a train at Gads Hill, Missouri

January 31, 2023

Today in history, on January 7, 1874, Jesse James and his gang of outlaws rode into Gads Hill, Missouri, with a plan to replenish their cash supply. Jesse, Frank, and three of the Younger brothers robbed the general store and held townspeople hostage as they waited for the 4:00 train. It arrived forty-five minutes late. The five men stopped it by building a bonfire on the tracks and waving a red flag.

As the train slowed, the outlaws jumped aboard and put their plan into action. Two kept the passengers and crew quiet by brandishing guns while the others rifled through the safe, cargo, and mail bags. Unfortunately for the passengers, the bandits collected less than expected from the cargo. The gang roamed the train and got the rest of their cash from the riders.

However, the James and Younger brothers avoided women and working men, checking their hands for calluses and only stealing from those with "soft" hands. Witnesses said the gang was jovial, making jokes and bowing to ladies as they went. Before disembarking, Frank James recited a few lines from William Shakespeare. The exact lines are lost to history, but it may have been from King Henry IV, in which a highway robbery occurs in the English town of Gad's Hill — the namesake of Gads Hill, Missouri.

The gang made off with $12,000, about $312,000 present day. They also made history by committing the first train robbery in Missouri. While it wasn't their largest haul, it was a big part of their legacy as Western Robin Hoods. Whether that's accurate or a carefully crafted image from the James brothers is impossible to tell. The gang dissolved in 1876 after a failed bank robbery.


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