Of Rails and Robbers
On October 6, 1866, thieves boarded an east bound Ohio & Mississippi passenger train near Seymour, Indiana and entered an Adams Express Company car. Pointing guns at Adams Express employee Elem Miller, the masked bandits demanded keys to the safes. Miller held keys for the local safe only, so the robbers emptied that safe and tossed the other off the train intending to open it later. Signaling the engineer to stop the train, the robbers, later identified as the infamous Reno brothers, made an easy get away. Unaware of what had happened, the engineer sped off into the night while the thieves congratulated themselves on a job well done.
Considered the first train robbery, the incident at Seymour was preceded by a similar train burglary. Exactly nine months before, bandits entered an Adams Express car en route to Boston from New York and stole over half a million dollars from safes on the unoccupied car. As in the Seymour case, detectives from the Pinkerton National Detective Agency quickly identified the criminals.
A wave of train robberies followed the Seymour case. Within weeks, two trains were derailed and their pay cars robbed. In 1868, an Adams Express car was attacked again at Seymour. This time the expressman was tossed out the window before safes were cleared of over $40,000.
Train robbery peaked in 1870. Specialists in this form of crime included the Reno brothers, who operated in southern Indiana; the Farringtons, who terrorized passengers in Kentucky and Tennessee; and the Jesse James gang, who wreaked havoc upon rails in the Midwest. Hired by railroad companies anxious to protect themselves, Pinkerton detectives were seldom far behind.