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The Great Train Robbery

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

The first train robbery in the United States happened on May 5th, 1865, in Ohio. It took the Rock Island Lines another thirty-seven years to find itself worthy of such glamorous attention.

On the evening of November 21st, 1902, as Rock Island's Chicago to Kansas City Express pulled out of Davenport, the engineer noticed something burning red on the tracks near the entrance to Credit Island and slowed the train. Five men forced the engineer and fireman off the train at gun point. The robbers dynamited the safe, blowing the sides and top off the car, and made off with a large consignment of jewelry and $30,000 in cash being shipped to Kansas City.

As in the movies, the chase proved even more exciting than the robbery. The following morning, policemen from Moline, Rock Island, and Davenport, Rock Island Lines railroad detectives, the Scott County Sheriff and a complete posse, along with reporters from Davenport newspapers, boarded a Rock Island train to give chase. They had to wait for a special train sent down to Knoxville, Illinois, to get a pack of bloodhounds. The chase began at 11:50. It stopped at Blue Grass to take on another sheriff.

Then word was received that four of the robbers had been captured in Buchanan, and the chase train hurried there, only to discover that the men were hobos. On went the chase train.

Somewhere along the way, the detectives thought it might be possible that the robbers were going cross country rather than following train tracks, so an automobile of officers was dispatched to search for clues. The chase continued for four days, but the bloodhounds lost the scent somewhere west of Wilton, and the detectives in the automobile discovered only a few indeterminate clues. At New Liberty, the chase train discovered a sack of dynamite.

The Rock Island Lines offered a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the robbers, but they had vanished.

Then, in a Texas saloon, two years later, two men killed each other in a shootout. Before one of them died, he confessed to the train robbery, and talked about the money being buried somewhere. If the trains were still running today, you and I could go looking for it.

Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by the Scott County Regional Authority, with additional funding from the Illinois Arts Council and Augustana College, Rock Island.

Beginning 1995, historian and folklorist Dr. Roald Tweet spun his stories of the Mississippi Valley to a devoted audience on WVIK. Dr. Tweet published three books as well as numerous literary articles and recorded segments of "Rock Island Lines." His inspiration was that "kidney-shaped limestone island plunked down in the middle of the Mississippi River," a logical site for a storyteller like Dr. Tweet.