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While one may want to spy out on Hannibal, Missouri's most visited destination, there’s a Missouri railway that’s special in so many fascinating ways. Known as the St. Louis Iron Mountain & Southern Railway, its scenic rides start from the city of Jackson, Missouri, to Gordonville, Missouri. But, unlike many train rides, this is not just some scenic movement above screeching steel. The St. Louis Iron Mountain & Southern Railway is a heritage railway. For those wondering what this means, a heritage railway, unlike a typical one, is a railroad that has been intentionally repurposed to preserve or re-enact railway scenes of the past. In that special sense, this railway line is like a traveling history museum.


While there are amazing by-the-window scenes that one will enjoy in this ride—as well as some interesting performances inside—there’s one intriguing show, reenacting the state’s first train robbery, that none will want to miss out on.

How Missouri’s First Train Robbery Took Place

It may have disappeared like Babylon of antiquity, but the town of Chalk Bluff in Clay County, Arkansas—was where the drama that would culminate in Missouri’s first train robbery—initially began. Five strangers, all men, called on a blacksmith in the area to have their horses shod. They were all holding Colt revolvers that had come largely into prominence in the wake of the civil war. This done, they crossed over into Missouri—going northwards along St. Louis & Iron Mountain railroad tracks. They were planning to stage a raid on the railway—an incident that would seriously jolt the country—not only because it was the first in the state but also in the manner in which it was carried out.

They would then make their way to Gads Hill, now located on Missouri Route 49 between Des Arc and Piedmont on the northwestern side of Wayne County, Missouri. This town was named after Gads Hill Place in Higham Kent, the country home of Charles Dickens, arguably the most successful British author of the Victorian era. Back then, only about 15 people lived here. On reaching the railway station, which was the settlement’s fulcrum, they robbed the attendant of about $800 and harassed the inhabitants—after which one of the gang members pried open the railway switches. His intention was to force the expected St. Louis Iron Mountain & Southern Railway train—onto the side track.

At about a quarter to 5.00 PM, the Iron Mountain train was hurtling to the Gads Hill Station. The engineer, as was the practice then, whistled to the conductor to set up the wagon brakes in anticipation of a stop. The conductor quickly went to a door in between the cars. He would first look over towards the station before setting up the brakes. What he saw made him freeze. A masked man was frantically waving a red flag. He instinctively jumped from the slow-moving train to find out what was going on. He was quickly subdued. When the train eventually stopped, the engineer was forced out by the revolver-wielding robbers.

Related: Times Beach Was Once A Missouri Dream Town Until It Was Contaminated And Abandoned.

Why Missouri’s First Train Robbery Was Unforgettably Strange

The five robbers, all members of the infamous James-Younger Gang, at first made a curious announcement. They would only rob Yankees and the “sons of bitches” who wore high silk hats. They would also rob capitalists but spare working men. This is how they went about identifying Yankees and capitalists from working men. They would hold the palms of their hostages and then examine them for texture and feel. Passengers with hard, calloused palms were lucky. However, their counterparts with soft hands and soft faces would have to part with the source of their soft lives. Another man was spared when he pleaded that he was a minister of the gospel. The man then asked the robbers if he could pray for them. After first declining the offer, they changed tune and requested the gospel minister to pray for them—so they “may all get to the good country.” The robbers cracked jokes, patted the heads of children, and quoted some lines from Shakespeare.

Related: Experience The Great Smoky Mountains By Train On This Scenic Railroad.

How To Re-live Missouri’s First Train Robbery

One of the most exciting experiences that the St. Louis Iron Mountain & Southern Railway offers is the re-enactment of the Iron Mountain James-Younger Gang Train Robbery. Passengers riding the train are subjected to the experience of a real robbery, just as was experienced by their counterparts—about 150 years ago. While most elements of the infamous crime are on display, what’s exciting about this re-enactment is the palpable suspense: Passengers do not really know what to expect and at what time.

When Can I Relive The Iron Mountain James Gang Robbery? The St. Louis Iron Mountain & Southern Railway offers this experience on most Saturdays as per their online schedule.

This show is all the more exciting because of the chance to relive this experience, not as victims—but as perpetrators as well. One can hide out in the lair, rob the train, and meet the crew. A ride on the St. Louis Iron Mountain & Southern Railway is a journey back to the past and provides a chance to experience once more—one of the strangest robberies ever done.