Adair, Iowa: The Site of the First Train Robbery in the West

Many of you have grown up hearing stories of the Wild, Wild West.  Although you do not see as many Wild West stories today, they surface from time to time.  For those who are younger and do not know about the Wild West, it was plagued with gun fights and lawlessness and outlaws.  One of the most famous outlaws is a man by the name of Jesse James.  The name stirs up the minds of many.  Jesse James and his gang of outlaws did many robberies in his heyday.  Although he was not the first to rob people in the west, he was the very first outlaw to rob a train west of the Mississippi River, and it was not an ordinary train robbery.

The day was July 21, 1873.  Jesse James and his gang set themselves up at a site west of the town of Adair, Iowa.  Days earlier, they had received word of a shipment of gold headed for Omaha, Nebraska, and it was passing through the town of Adair.  As the train was approaching, the men, who were hidden inside a cut in an embankment, yanked a rope that the tied to the rail causing it to jerk out of its place.  The train immediately derailed.  The locomotive overturned killing the engineer.  Many of the passengers were injured.  Jesse and his men made their way to the car with the safe, and they forced the guard to open it.  What they did not find was the gold but only $3,000.  (The train with the gold was delayed.)  They continued to take the money from the passengers before getting away from the train.  This was not only the first robbery of a train west of the Mississippi River, but it was the first ever robbery of a moving train.  Jesse James was hunted for the rest of his life as a massive reward was offered for his capture.  He was shot by one of his own men at his home in Saint Joseph, Missouri who later collected the reward.

Today, you can visit the site of this entire event.  One of the wheels of the locomotive marks the site and holds a plaque marking what happen at the site.  You can see a set of tracks with the split rail.  It is just south of I-80 / U.S. 6 at Exit 75 on Anita-Adair Road (Old U.S. 6).  The site is accessible day and night.

You have heard of Jesse James making history in the west.  Now you can visit the place where he made railroad history.

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