The Gads Hill Train Robbery
About 3:30 p.m. January 31, 1874, just two years after Gads Hill had been established along the Iron Mountain Railroad in northwest Wayne County, five desperadoes rode into the village and took over the place. Gads Hill consisted only of a general store, a sawmill, and a platform that served as the train depot. The gang robbed the storeowner and rounded up all the other people in the small community, amounting to about a dozen individuals. Each of the outlaws carried at least two Navy revolvers, and three had double-barreled shotguns. Flourishing their weapons, they compelled the captives to stand on the platform while they relieved them of their money. Meanwhile, one of the gang threw a switch on the railroad so that the next train would be shunted to a siding and have to stop.
The Little Rock Express from St. Louis was delayed, forcing the bandits and their hostages to wait more than an hour. To ward off the January chill, they huddled around a bonfire near the platform until the train finally came into sight about 4:45 p.m. One of the gang grabbed a red flag and started waving it as a signal for the train to stop. The train consisted of a combination express/baggage/mail car, two passenger coaches, a sleeper, and the locomotive. As the engineer slowed the train to a crawl, the conductor stepped onto the platform, and a large masked man immediately shoved a pistol in his face. One of the robbers took the conductor’s gold watch but handed it back upon orders from his “captain.”
Two outlaws jumped onto the locomotive and made the engineer and fireman get down, while two others hauled a brakeman and the baggage man out of the baggage car. Returning to the baggage car, a couple of the bandits rummaged through the mail, stealing registered letters. Then they turned their attention to the express messenger, forcing him at gunpoint to turn over his keys to the safe, from which they took over $1,000 in cash.
Next, the thieves went through the coaches accosting the passengers. They took all the money they could get but were more selective with the valuables they appropriated. Besides returning the conductor’s watch, the outlaws passed over another gold watch and several silver watches. The conductor later remarked that the bandits “didn’t seem to care for watches.”
After stealing all the money they could lay their hands on and all the valuables they took a fancy to, the outlaws mounted up and rode off toward the northwest. Initial reports put their total take anywhere from $2,000 to over $20,000. The best estimate seems to be somewhere around $3,000.
Reports also differed regarding the number of bandits. Some said seven, but most said five. The best evidence suggests the lower number is correct. The identity of the thieves was unknown at first as well, although within a day or two, a man named McCoy and two Younger brothers had been tentatively named as being with the gang. It has since been established that Frank and Jesse James, John Younger, and either Cole or Jim Younger composed four of the gang. The fifth member might have been the other Younger brother, Arthur McCoy, or one of several other men.
Pinkerton agents trailed the robbers to western Missouri, and one of the officers was found dead on March 11, just after visiting the James home in Clay County. On March 17, another Pinkerton agent and a local deputy were killed in St. Clair County by Jim and John Younger. The shootout also left John Younger dead.