Detonator Used in Mail Robbery

Object Spotlight
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Detonator used by the DeAutremont brothers in their 1923 train robbery.

The Du Pont Company manufactures two different styles of blasting machines, but these are designed on the same general principle. They are: Reliable or U.S. Standard (Push Down) and Pull Up.- Page from 1911 edition of 'DuPont Blasting Supplies' describing the specs of their number 3 blasting machine
Page from 1911 edition of "DuPont Blasting Supplies"; describing the specs of their number 3 blasting machine.

Three brothers stole this blasting machine and dynamite from the Oregon City Construction Company and used it to perpetrate the robbery of a mail train on October 11, 1923. The detonator is made of 5/8-inch thick wood joined with mortice and tenon and flathead screws. It has a plunger, a leather strap handle, and two butterfly connections. The metal advertising plate on top of the device provides instructions for use. The detonator includes an identification sticker on its side noting that it is from "E. I. du Pont de Nemours & Company."; The company was founded by Eleuthere Irenee du Pont de Nemours, who arrived in the U.S. from France in 1800. The company started with an abandoned cotton mill near Wilmington, Delaware that DuPont turned into a gunpowder factory.

Detonator used by the DeAutremont brothers

The brothers were twins Roy and Ray DeAutremont and their younger brother Hugh. Hoping to steal a rumored $40,000 in gold aboard the train the trio stopped and tried to rob Southern Pacific train #13 just outside a tunnel near Siskiyou, Oregon. The inexperienced trio used too much dynamite, destroying the safe and train car. The gold was just a rumor, and nothing was left to steal after the explosion. The blast killed mail clerk Elvyn Dougherty. The brothers also shot and killed the train's brakeman, engineer and fireman during the bungled attempt.

The reward posted for the three brothers was set at $15,900. They were eventually brought to justice after an extensive manhunt was rewarded in February 1927 with the arrest of Hugh DeAutremont who had joined the army. Hugh’s arrest revived media interest in the story and Ray and Roy were recognized and apprehended in Steubenville, Ohio, a few months later. All three were convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. Hugh died in 1958, Roy died in 1983, and Ray died in 1984.

By Nancy A. Pope

Learn more

DeAutremont brothers’ robbery

Mail train robberies in the U.S.

Additional Imagery

Page illustrating proper use of a du Pont Push-Down Blasting Machine from DuPont's 'Blaster's Handbook' from 1922
Page illustrating proper use of this type of machine from DuPont’s "Blaster’s Handbook"; from 1922.
$15,900 Reward in Gold!- Wanted poster for the brothers
Wanted posters for the brothers were distributed across the U.S. and a number of foreign countries