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Train robberies were more common in the past when trains were slower, and often occurred in the American Old West. Trains carrying payroll shipments were a major target. These shipments would be guarded by an expressman whose duty it was to protect the cargo of the "express car".
Bandits would rely on the expressman to open the safe and provide the goods. Without the combination required for the combination lock, it was almost impossible to break into the safes. However, the invention of dynamite made it much easier to break into safes and rob the train. If the outlaw was unsatisfied with the goods, passengers of the train's carriages who were generally unarmed, would be held at gunpoint and forced to hand over any valuables they were carrying, usually in the form of jewelry or currency.
Contrary to the method romanticized by Hollywood, outlaws were never known to jump from horseback onto a moving train. Usually, they would either board the train normally and wait for a good time to initiate the heist, or they would stop or derail the train and then begin the holdup.
Famous train robbers include Butch Cassidy, Bill Miner and Jesse James. Jesse James is mistakenly thought to have completed the first successful train robbery in the American West when on July 21, 1873 the James-Younger Gang took US$3,000 from a Rock Island Railroad train after derailing it southwest of the town of Adair, Iowa. However, the first peacetime train robbery in the United States actually occurred on October 6, 1866, when robbers boarded the Ohio & Mississippi train shortly after it left Seymour, Indiana. They broke into one safe and tipped the other off the train before jumping off. The Pinkerton National Detective Agency later traced the crime to the Reno Gang. There was one earlier train robbery in May 1865, but because it was committed by armed guerrillas and occurred shortly after the end of the Civil War, it is not considered to be the first train robbery in the United States. Some sources say that the May 1865 robbery took place at a water siding while the train was stopped taking on water.
List of train robbers
Some of the most notable train robbers are:
- Butch Cassidy (1866–1908)
- Bill Miner (1847–1913)
- Bill Downing (1860-1908)
- Elmer McCurdy (1880-1911)
- Jesse James (1847–1882)
- The Dalton Gang (1890-1892)
- Arthur Morgan (1863–1899)
In two robberies on the Bristol and Exeter Railway two passengers climbed from their carriage to the mail van and back. They were discovered at Bridgwater after the second robbery. One was Henry Poole, a former guard on the Great Western Railway, dismissed for misconduct (possibly on suspicion of another robbery); his fellow passenger, Edward Nightingale, was the son of a man accused, but acquitted, of robbing the Dover mailcoach in 1826, when 2 thieves had dressed in identical clothes to gain an alibi for the other. They were transported for 15 years. Edward appears to have been transported to Perth in 1854.
- Great Gold Robbery of 1855, United Kingdom - France (1855)
- Union Pacific Big Springs robbery, Nebraska, USA (1877)
- Canyon Diablo Train Robbery, Arizona, USA (1889)
- Fairbank Train Robbery, Arizona, USA (1900)
- Rogów raid, Poland (1906)
- Bezdany raid, Lithuania (1908)
- Baxter's Curve Train Robbery, Texas, USA (1912)
- DeAutremont Brothers, Jackson County, Oregon, USA (1923)
- Newton Gang, Rondout, Illinois, USA (1924) - The target was Milwaukee Road's Fast Mail
- Kakori Train Robbery, India (1925)
- Attaque du train de l’or, France (1938)
- B & O Zoot Suit Bandits, W. Virginia, USA (1949)
- Japeri Train Robbery, Brazil (1960)
- Great Train Robbery, United Kingdom (1963)
- Sallins Train Robbery, Ireland (1976)
- Sino-Russian Train Robbery, Russia (1993)
- The Great Train Robbery, film (1903)
- Jesse James, film, (1939), starring Tyrone Power and Henry Fonda
- Whispering Smith, film (1948), starring Alan Ladd
- Rage at Dawn, film (1955), starring Randolph Scott and Forrest Tucker
- Man of the West film (1958), starring Gary Cooper
- O Assalto ao Trem Pagador (1962) a Brazilian film which portrays the Japeri Train Robbery
- Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, film (1969), starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford
- The Wild Bunch, film (1969), starring William Holden
- One More Train to Rob, film (1971), starring George Peppard
- The Train Robbers, film (1973), starring John Wayne
- The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, film (1974), starring Walter Matthau
- The Great Train Robbery, novel (1975)
- The Missouri Breaks, film (1976), starring Jack Nicholson and Marlon Brando
- The First Great Train Robbery, film, (1979), starring Sean Connery
- The Chase, novel by Clive Cussler
- The Grey Fox (1982) Canadian film starring Richard Farnsworth that was filmed on the British Columbia Railway
- Tough Guys (1986) a comedy film about two elderly train robbers, starring Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster
- Money Train, film (1995), starring Woody Harrelson and Wesley Snipes
- The Train Job, an episode of the TV series Firefly that involved a train robbery
- The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, film (2007), starring Brad Pitt
- The Taking of Pelham 123, film (2009), starring Denzel Washington and John Travolta
- Dead Freight, an episode of the TV series Breaking Bad in which methylamine is stolen from a train
- Solo: A Star Wars Story, film (2018)
- Red Dead Redemption 2, video game (2018)
- Goodman, Marc (24 February 2015). Future Crimes: Everything Is Connected, Everyone Is Vulnerable and What We Can Do About It. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. p. 52. ISBN 9780385539012.
- Sampson, James; Sampson, Lucille (7 August 1985). Calvert, Wade (ed.). "Jesse James and the Rock Island Lines". Iowa Train Robbery on the Rock Island. Archived from the original on 4 August 2008. Retrieved 8 June 2012.
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- "THE WOMAN WHO MURDERED BLACK SATIN". webcache.googleusercontent.com. Retrieved 2015-11-13.
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- "Robberies". Smithsonian National Postal Museum. Retrieved November 23, 2019.
- results, search (16 March 2015). "Bedlam on the West Virginia Rails:: The Last Train Bandit Tells His True Tale". Arcadia Publishing – via Amazon.
- Notorious train robber nabbed in 1916 - Pantagraph (Bloomington, Illinois newspaper)