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Almost Yesterday is a glimpse into the rich history of our region. Dr. Frank Nickell takes listeners on a journey to specific moments in time, such as the first radio broadcast on KFVS, the history of Farmington’s Carleton College, and the short-lived safari on a Mississippi River island. A gifted storyteller and local historian, Dr. Nickell’s wit and love for the past are combined with sounds and music that augment his narrative.On Saturday, June 7, 2008, Almost Yesterday received First Place in the "Special Programs" category at the Missouri Broadcasters Association Awards Banquet in Kansas City, Missouri.Almost Yesterday airs every Wednesday at 5:42 and 7:42 a.m. and 5:18 p.m.

Almost Yesterday: The Gads Hill Train Robbery

Clay County, Missouri

It seems like almost yesterday that the first train robbery in Missouri occurred. The date was January 31, 1874 and the location was a small settlement named Gads Hill on the St. Louis and Iron Mountain Railroad, north of present day Piedmont, Missouri. The community consisted of three or four houses, and a combined store, post office and train platform.

Obviously, the founder of the town, George Creath, had a literary background as “Gad’s Hill” figured prominently in Shakespeare’s King Henry IV, and Charles Dickens’ summer home in
Kent, England was named “Gad’s Hill place.”

It was a cold January afternoon in 1874 when five masked men rode into Gads Hill, Missouri, and at gun point gathered the town’s residents in the store, robbed the store keeper, and waited for the 4:00 o’clock train. This armed group included Frank and Jesse James, two of the younger brothers, and perhaps a man named Arthur McCoy.

When the train arrived at the platform, almost one hour late, the outlaws scrambled aboard, brandishing revolvers and double barreled shot guns, and proceeded to rob the safe, and then the train’s passengers. One of the masked men announced they wanted the money of only the “Yankees,” and the “rich” – ladies and workingmen would be spared.

Legend has it that the bandits forced men to show their hands: and men with soft hands were robbed, while men with calloused hands were not. A member of the gang left a prepared press release describing the event so the newspapers could get the details correct.

Members of the gang were polite, bowing to the ladies and patting young children. Here, in the small town of Gads Hill, Missouri, on a cold day in January of 1874, enduring legends were born.

It seems like almost yesterday.

Frank Nickell is a retired history professor at Southeast Missouri State University.
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