The National Postal Museum’s new virtual exhibition, “Tragedy at Tunnel 13: The Crime, the Victims, and the Legacy” is now available for viewing on the museum’s website. The exhibition was curated through the collaboration of the National Postal Museum, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the Southern Oregon Historical Society.
Train 13 of the Southern Pacific Railroad Company regularly carried mail between Portland, Oregon, and San Francisco. Both mail and freight cars frequently carried rich cargo, including payrolls, cash, gold, negotiable bonds and other valuables.
On Oct. 11, 1923, four workers lost their lives during a holdup of Southern Pacific Train 13 at Tunnel 13 in the Siskiyou Mountains in northwestern California and southwestern Oregon. The attempted robbery ended with the murders of railway personnel Sidney L. Bates, Charles O. Johnson and Marvin B. Seng and postal clerk Elvyn E. Dougherty. Investigations by local law enforcement, railway special agent staff, U.S. postal inspectors and a forensic scientist led to the search for Ray, Roy and Hugh DeAutremont. For four years, the brothers evaded the authorities until members of the public recognized the suspects from the more than 2 million wanted posters circulated through the U.S., Mexico, Central America and Europe. Arrested, tried, convicted and sentenced to life, the brothers each eventually received early releases from prison.
The attempted train robbery and the murders had a tremendous impact on many, especially those in the communities of Southern Oregon and Northern California, where the four victims, their families and co-workers resided. The crime, the long but ultimately successful search for the perpetrators and their trials garnered public attention throughout the 1920s. Since then, the stories have been told and retold in song, film, comic books, history books, documentaries and podcasts. The collections of museums and archives, including those from which the materials for the exhibition have been drawn, continue to be sources for new research and analysis of this complex and tragic history.
“The virtual exhibition is a visual essay of records and artifacts from participating organizations and other archives and museums, recounting this historic case and its legacy,” said museum curator Lynn Heidelbaugh. “Online programs and events in Oregon and California are scheduled to honor the lost lives, recall the impact on the communities and contribute to shared meaning in an effort reconcile with the difficult history.” Participants at select onsite events in October will have the opportunity to view a pop-up version with access to the full content of the virtual exhibition through a QR code.
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