Jesse James Meets Conductor Alford

[This article was originally published in AAFA ACTION, Issue #5, June 1989.]

 


 

UPDATES: The author of the 1989 article excerpted below, Ronald H. Beights, published an expanded and updated article in Wild West magazine, June 2005. That article, “Jesse James and the Gads Hill Train Holdup,” identifies the conductor as Chauncey Alford. Read it online at http://www.historynet.com/culture/wild_west/3034996.html.

 

He also contributed an article, “The Great Gads Hill Train Robbery,” to AAFA ACTION, Issue #69, Summer 2005. In that article, AAFA provided genealogical information about Chauncey Higley Alford.

 

Although it is believed that Chauncey had a daughter, she does not appear on any census record with him:

 

1860 CENSUS

Hamburg, Calhoun Co., IL, dwelling #244 (next door is Rachel Chrysup, 67 b. GA, possibly Elizabeth’s mother):

 

Chancy Alfred                          25     PA                   farmer

Elizabeth                                   23     IL

Lawrence                                 23     PA                   lumberer [perhaps Chauncey’s brother]

 

1870 CENSUS

Carondelet, St. Louis Co., MO, family #991:

 

Chancy Alfred                          36     IL                     Gen. B.M. RR

Mary                                        24     IL                     [age incorrect here]

 

1880 CENSUS

St. Louis (District 285), St. Louis Co., MO, dwelling #62:

 

Chauncey Alford                      45     PA VT PA       R.R. Conductor  

Molly                     wife            43     MO KY KY

Eliza Francis           sister          39     MO KY KY    widow [obviously Molly’s sister]

Almira Shoults        servant       24     MO MO MO   single

 

1900 CENSUS

Los Angeles Ward 5 (District 45), Los Angeles Co., CA, dwelling #214:

 

Chauncey H. Alford                  65     MA MA MA   Deputy County Clerk

                                                b. June 1834             m. 16 years

Henrietta                wife            52     NY NY NY    

                                                b. Nov 1847             m. 16 years, 4 children, 2 living

Helen Kingsley       step-          21     CA MA NY     single

                              daughter     b. June 1879

Wm. H. Smith        brother-      62     NY NY NY     day laborer

                              in-law         b. Oct 1837

 

1910 CENSUS

Los Angeles Assembly District 75 (District 85), Los Angeles Co., CA, dwelling #11:

 

Chauncey H. Alford                  74     PA VT PA       U.S. Courts Bailiff

                                                         second marriage, m. 16 years

Henrietta A.            wife            68     PA PA PA [probably incorrect]

                                                         second marriage, m. 16 years, 4 children, 2 living

Helen K. Wright     step-          30     CA PA PA

                              daughter              divorced, 0 children

 

1920 CENSUS

Los Angeles Assembly District 64 (District 217), Los Angeles Co., CA, dwelling #286:

 

Chauncey H. Alford                  84     PA VT PA       no occupation

Henrietta A.              wife          72     NY NY NY

Cordeila K. Warren daughter    45     UT PA NY      widow

 

Cordelia was Henrietta’s daughter. She and her sister Marie Helen are listed with Henrietta, widow 32 b. NY, on the 1880 census in Salt Lake City, UT, living with Henrietta’s brother A.K. Smith, physician.

 

1930 CENSUS

Los Angeles (District 13), Los Angeles Co., CA, dwelling #54:

 

Chauncey H. Alford                  94     PA PA PA       no occupation

                                                age 26 at first marriage

Henrietta A.              wife          82     NY NY NY

                                                age 19 at first marriage

Cordelia K. Wern     daughter   54     UT PA NY      Christian Science practitioner

                                                age 22 at first marriage

 


 

The Lifestyles section of the Poplar Bluff (MO) Daily American Republic on January 29, 1989, printed a front page, full page article under the heading, “The Great Gads Hill Train Robbery,” written by Ron Beights of St. Louis.There are pictures of Jesse James in 1874 and a present day sign in Piedmont, MO. The sign reads:

 

Gads Hill Train Robbery

JESSE JAMES

with four members of his band

carried out the first

Missouri Train robbery here

January 31, 1874

The very interesting, well researched and thorough article goes on to tell about the big event. Mr. Beights wrote:

 

At 4:45 p.m. the Little Rock Express approached the station for what everyone aboard assumed would be a routine stop. Conductor Alford, who was in charge of the train, tells what happened next: “ ... on approaching the station, the engineer signaled by whistling to ‘brake,’ as danger was ahead ... looking forward over the side, I saw a red flag being violently waved by a masked mad; I jumped off the car and ran ahead to inquire about the cause of such a demonstration.” The outlaws had switched the tracks. As the conductor jumped the slowing train swerved onto the sawmill siding. As it came to a stop four other masked men brandishing Navy revolvers and shotguns emerged from hiding. One of them roughly seized the conductor and shoved a pistol in his face.      When later asked by a reporter if he had been frightened, Alford replied, “Well, I reckon I was somewhat frightened; but he put me right at my ease—he comforted me.”            What did he say?         “Stand still, or I’ll blow the top of your d--d head off!”        .... Some of the highwaymen then stepped aboard and robbed the express safe, rifled the mailbags and proceeded to make paupers of the passengers and crew…. In some instances money or items were taken and later returned. One man was given back $15 when the outlaws learned that he was in poor circumstances and so far from his destination; another had $5 returned. Conductor Alford was forced to surrender $50 and a gold watch, but the watch was handed back when he proved it was a gift from friends.       .... According to Conductor Alford the bandits netted $2444 at Gads Hill, “exclusive of several revolvers and watches,” but other sources estimated the loss as high as $22,000.

 

We wrote to Mr. Beights to see if we could learn the first name of Conductor Alford and to see if he could tell us more about him. Ron replied that in all he had read on the subject he had always been referred to as “Alford”, “Conductor Alford”, or “Mr. Alford.” He also was not able to give us his age. He did know that Mr. Alford lived in Carondelet, MO (now part of St. Louis) on Third street between Olive and Nebraska streets. He had a wife and a Newfoundland dog named Kate. His wife’s name was not mentioned nor was there any mention of children. At the time of the Gads Hill robbery Mr. Alford had been a railroad conductor for nine years, three of which were spent on passenger trains.When Alford returned to the St. Louis area, the day after the robbery, he found he had become something of a celebrity. A large crowd of citizens, railroad men and new reporters gathered to meet his train. Mrs. Alford was there also. She had come down from St. Louis, “so anxious was she to learn whether he had been hurt”.That same afternoon a reporter from the St. Louis Globe rode out to the Alford home in Carondelet and interviewed him. The interview was informal and reveals much about the personality and character of the man. The story begins with the reporter riding up to his door and hollering, “Hallo! Alford. Where can a fellow hitch up his horse?”The story ends with the reporter commenting:

 

Alford is a quiet man with a humorous style of describing what he sees, and told his story to the GLOBE in a quaint but straightforward manner. He is a man of nerve, and a man of strong common sense . . . In his narrative there was no bragging. He seemed to accept the inevitable situation and make the most of it.

 

The above newspaper interview was entitled “Fishbacked” and was printed in the St. Louis Globe, February 2, 1874.Another news story of interest was entitled “The Plundered Train”, St. Louis Times, February 2, 1874. In it, Alford gives a prepared statement regarding the details of the robbery.Only one reference is made to Alford in the (Sunday) Globe, February 1, 1874. It states: “Conductor Alfred [sic] was in charge of the train and is regarded as one of the safest men in the employ of the company.”

At the time these newspapers were printed, no one knew yet who had committed the Gads Hill robbery! Ron advised that all the referenced newspapers were available in the microfilm room at the St. Louis Public Library.