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Train robberies were more common in the past than today, when the speed of trains was 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". Expressmen, conductors, and other personnel took enormous pride in their duty and had no problem with risking their lives for a shipment.
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 Bill Miner, Jesse James, and Butch Cassidy. 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 peacetime 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
- Jesse James, (1847 – 1882)
- Butch Cassidy, (1866 - 1908)
- William L. Carlisle, (1890-1964)
- Ben Loftin, (1964-)
Famous train robberies
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)
- Kakori Train Robbery, India (1925)
- B & O Zoot Suit Bandits, W. Virginia, USA (1949)
- Japeri Train Robbery, Brazil (1960)
- Great Train Robbery, United Kingdom (1963)
- Attaque du train d'or, France (1968)
- Sallins Train Robbery, Ireland (1976)
- The Great Train Robbery, film (1903)
- Tex Rides with the Boy Scouts (1968)
- O Assalto ao Trem Pagador (1962) a Brazilian film which portrays the Japeri Train Robbery
- The Great Train Robbery, novel (1975)
- The First Great Train Robbery, film, (1979), starring Sean Connery
- The Train Job, an episode of the TV series Firefly that involved a train robbery
- Dead Freight, an episode of the TV series Breaking Bad in which methylamine is stolen from a train
- The Chase, novel by Clive Cussler
- 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 Robbers, film (1973), starring John Wayne
- Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, film (1969), starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford
- The Wild Bunch, film (1969), starring William Holden
- Man of the West, film (1958), starring Gary Cooper
- Whispering Smith, film (1948), starring Alan Ladd
- One More Train to Rob, film (1971), starring George Peppard
- The Missouri Breaks, film (1976), starring Jack Nicholson and Marlon Brando
- The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, film (1974), starring Walter Matthau
- The Taking of Pelham 123, film (2009), starring Denzel Washington and John Travolta
- The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, film (2007), starring Brad Pitt
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- "THE WOMAN WHO MURDERED BLACK SATIN" (PDF). webcache.googleusercontent.com. Retrieved 2015-11-13.
- Maggs, Colin G (May 1963). "The Great Western Mail Robbery". Railway Magazine: 117–119.
- "Start exploring | British Newspaper Archive". www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk. Exeter and Plymouth Gazette. January 20, 1849. Retrieved 2015-11-13. (subscription required (. ))
- "18th and 19th Century: Mail Coach Robberies". 18thcand19thc.blogspot.co.nz. Retrieved 2015-11-13.
- "Read The Bristol Royal Mail Post‚ Telegraph‚ and Telephone by R. C. Tombs, Read free on ReadCentral.com". www.readcentral.com. Retrieved 2015-11-13.
- "Edward Nightingale - Western A - Genealogy.com". www.genealogy.com. Retrieved 2015-11-13.