Transcontinental railroads opened the West to immigrant pioneers, restless North American settlers, and also gangs of train robbers. Rootless Civil War veterans, seeking opportunity like everyone else, instigated many of these late 19th century crimes.
Outlaw gangs boarded the baggage cars of trains, made their way cross the roofs of the cars, and descended to force the driver to stop the train, notes Delancey Place in their Sept. 19, 2017 blog. Later bandits realized they could wreck a train by merely removing a rail from the track.
Jesse James and his brother Frank personified this post-Civil War era. Former Confederate guerillas, “Bushwhackers,” their gang of ruthless murderers captured the public imagination, especially after the Pinkerton Security Agency, hired by the railroads to protect the trains, tossed a bomb through a window of their family home. The bomb killed their brother and injured their mother.
James’ father a Missouri farmer of commercial hemp, had owned six slaves. He travelled to California to minister to prospectors searching for gold during the Gold Rush. He died when Jesse was three years old.
Much of the public saw the James brothers as Robin Hoods heroically standing against the corrupt and all-powerful railroads. Although the criminals never shared their loot, Southern sympathizers saw them as embodiments of a Confederate insurgency. Those with no sympathy for the railroads, saw the attackers as heroes.
Courtesy Wikipedia, Delancey Place, 9/19/17