Also in the year 1866, thieves boarded an eastbound Ohio & Mississippi Railroad 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.
Signalling 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. In early 1866, 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.
A wave of train robberies followed the Seymour incident. Within weeks, two trains were derailed and their payroll cars robbed. In 1868, an Adams Express car was attacked again at Seymour.
This time the express man was tossed out the door before the safes were cleared of over $40,000.
Train robberies became frequent in the 1870’s and peaked in the 1890’s. Specialists in this form of crime included the Reno brothers, who operated in southern Indiana; the Farringtons’, whose escapades took them into Kentucky and Tennessee; and the Jesse James gang, who wreaked havoc upon rails in the Midwest. Hired by rail-road companies anxious to protect themselves, Pinkerton detectives were seldom far behind the robberies.
In the late 1930’s, a Federal Writers’ Project worker recorded a conversation that documents a New Mexico train robbery. “The Early Days in Silver City” provides an eyewitness account of the famous Stein’s Pass robbery of the late 1880’s: