July 21, 1873: The Rock Island train is derailed in Adair, Iowa. Jesse James and his cohorts commit what is considered to be the first successful train robbery in the American Wild West. Their robbery netted them about $3,000 (~ $59,000 in today’s dollars). The robbers were dressed in Ku Klux Klan masks years after the Force Acts suppressed their presence in the Old South. The idea was that former rebels were attacking the train as a symbol of threatening the establishment. Their later train robberies were less violent as they usually just took the money from the express safe in the baggage car and left the passengers keep their belongings.
The James Gang was made up of Jesse and his brother Frank along with the Younger brothers, Cole, Jim, John, and Bob. At various times all these and a few more (Clell Miller, Arthur McCoy, Charlie Pitts, John Jarrette, Bill Chadwell, and Matthew Nelson) were also included. Their origins stem from a group of Confederate bushwhackers who fought in the state of Missouri, a bitter battlefield during the US Civil War. Their postwar crimes began in 1866 but they did not truly become the James-Younger Gang until two years later. The gang dissolved after the capture of the Younger brothers during a failed bank robbery in Minnesota in 1876. Three years later, James organized a new group and was back in the business.
Jesse James was born in Missouri in 1847. His father was a commercial hemp farmer and a Baptist minister in Kentucky and moved to Missouri after he married. He was a successful and prosperous man and owned six slaves and more than 100 acres of farmland. He went to California to minister to those searching for gold and died there when Jesse was three. His mother married two more times. The area the James family lived in was dubbed “Little Dixie” during the War and had been a hotbed of discontent on the slave issue since 1854. Jesse and his older brother, Frank, were guerrilla fighters for the South during the War and gained much of their experience during this time.
After the war, Missouri was in shambles and the bushwackers were held together by their wartime leader. The men began to harass Republican authorities and they were probably the group that committed the first daylight armed bank robbery in the US during peacetime. As their robberies continued legends grew up around them and stories may have been embellished to include criminal acts in which the James brothers did not participate. Their crime spree continued with the crimes becoming more violent. Many of the gang had been killed or jailed and Jesse was relying solely on Charley and Robert Ford. This was a mistake. As they were getting ready to leave on another robbery attempt, Bob Ford shot Jesse point blank in the back of the head. He died at the age of 34.
I had hope, however; I had been wounded seven times during the war, and once before in this same lung; and I did not believe I was going to die.
I knew, however, that the next morning after the fight I would have to get away, and I did just in time, for a full company came early to look for me and were furious because I had escaped them.
No, I think it taught me to be independent and never expect a handout and never wait for anybody to hand you anything in any aspect of my life.
Surrender had played out for good with me. – all from Jesse James
Also on this day: Brrrrrrr – In 1983, the coldest recorded temperature is captured at Vostok Station.
Destruction – In 356 BC, the Temple of Artemis was destroyed.
Wild Bill Hickok – In 1865, the first shoot out in the wild west took place.
Constitutional – In 1997, the USS Constitution goes back out to sea.