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'They brought dynamite, guns and a getaway car'

New book tells the story of the infamous train robbery at Tunnel 13 near the Siskiyou summit
 Posted: 2:00 AM October 29, 2013

The back cover of Scott Mangold's book reads like a movie trailer for a vintage western, complete with grit, gunsmoke and iron.

"The DeAutremont brothers were looking for a big score," a synopsis for "Tragedy at Southern Oregon Tunnel 13" reads. "They brought dynamite, guns and a getaway car. On October 11, at the summit of the Siskiyou mountains in Southern Oregon, the three young men held up a passenger train, with disastrous consequences."

This rundown describes the infamous October 1923 train holdup in the hills above Ashland that claimed four lives and sent three men to prison. Roy, Ray and Hugh DeAutremont (also spelled D'Autremont), out to swipe fabled gold they thought was aboard the train, ended their failed robbery with a body count, a four-year manhunt and prison sentences.

Mangold, a 66-year-old Medford resident and U.S. Air Force veteran, said his book, now available in local bookstores and online at the Amazon and Barnes & Noble websites, took him more than two years to complete. Mangold plans to donate all profits to the Southern Oregon Historical Society. He said the book is meant to correct inaccuracies in accounts that have already been written.

"I had access to a lot of research material, and I thought, 'Maybe this could be fun,' " Mangold says. "It was a pleasant challenge."

Meeting Ray

Mangold's journey down the railroad tracks started years before he wrote a word. It was 1968 in downtown Salem when he met a man discussing watercolor paintings. After talking with this man for about 30 minutes, the two went their separate ways.

But the man wasn't just any stranger; he was convicted murderer Ray D'Autremont.

"A friend of mine said, 'Did you have any idea that was (him)?' And I didn't," Mangold says. "I was more concerned about the draft and graduating."

Research and writing

Mangold and his wife, Lori, moved to Southern Oregon in 2001. He met several history enthusiasts who encouraged him to write a book. Mangold had researched and written some magazine articles on the D'Autremonts.

He also served on the board of the Ashland Historic Railroad Museum and was a volunteer researcher for Southern Oregon Historical Society.

Immersed in history, Mangold hoped to write an account that was ironclad and told the true story of the infamous railroad holdup.

"There were a number of stories that were told that were not accurate," Mangold said. "There were a lot of little things, misspellings, sequences that were wrong."

In 2011, he set out to correct them.

The story

The incident at Tunnel 13 rocked Oregon during an already-devastating year.

During 1923, an earthquake had shaken Tokyo, killing thousands of people. A flotilla of U.S. Navy destroyers had taken a wrong turn in the fog and accidentally ran aground, claiming the lives of several sailors.

Roy, Ray and Hugh D'Autremont's motivation for sticking up a train was greed. They decided to rob it when it stopped to check its air brakes near Tunnel 13 on the Siskiyou Summit. The brothers practiced detonating dynamite and target shooting until the big day came.

Gold was thought to be inside a postal car the train pulled. The trio boarded the train and set off dynamite, resulting in an explosion that shredded the postal car's front end and curled the metal. Postal clerk Elvyn Dougherty was incinerated by the blast and resulting fire. Gunfire cut down brakeman Coyle Johnson, fireman Marvin Seng and engineer Sydney Bates.

"The boys admit freely that they didn't want any witnesses," Mangold says. "They did not intend that the crime would come out any other way."

They also came away empty-handed, because the train carried no gold. Four years later, they were finally caught and returned to the Rogue Valley to face trial. A jury found them guilty, and they went to prison for life. Hugh D'Autremont died of cancer in 1959, shortly after his parole. Roy went insane and spent the rest of his life in the state hospital. Ray was paroled in 1961. Roy died in 1983 and Ray passed in 1984.

The 'other mountain'

Mangold says the story is a reminder that choices have consequences, that they ripple outward and affect more than just those directly involved.

"It didn't have to happen the way it did," Mangold says. "These were boys who had chips on their shoulders. They were mad at society for how society and fate had treated their family."

But in Mangold's view, fate was not involved in the D'Autremont brothers' imprisonment. Their last name translates from French to "the other mountain," the road less traveled, perhaps.

"I don't think that things are cast in concrete. I think there are alternatives, and certainly consequences that go with choices," he says.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@mailtribune.com.


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