Attack of the Yeggmen

In the first half of the 20th Century, stories of Yeggmen  and their explosive work abounded in the media, even in rural South Georgia.   The famous detective, William Pinkerton, was a expert on the “The Yeggman” and published professional articles on the subject.

The Yeggman, by William Pinkerton.

The Yeggman, by William Pinkerton.

On December 6, 1921 the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported the attack in Ray City. Postmaster at the time was James “Joel” F. Fountain.

Ray City, GA post office wrecked by dynamite. The Atlanta Constitution, Dec 6, 1921.

Ray City, GA post office wrecked by dynamite. The Atlanta Constitution, Dec 6, 1921.

The Atlanta Journal Constitution
Dec 6, 1921


As a result of dynamiting by yeggmen, the post office in Ray City, Ga., in Berrien County, was almost totally wrecked Sunday night, according to word received Monday morning. Immediately, inspectors were assigned to investigate the case by Louis A. Johnson, inspector in charge. No word was received as to the extent of the loot secured.

The followup on December 8th reported the safecrackers were still at large.

The Thomasville Daily Times-Enterprised reported on the Ray City Post Office robbery, December 8, 1921

The Thomasville Daily Times-Enterprised reported on the Ray City Post Office robbery, December 8, 1921

Thomasville Daily Times Enterprise
December 8, 1921

Live News From Towns in South Georgia

No Clue To Robbers Of Post Office At Ray City

Valdosta, Ga., Dec 8. – Although post office inspectors have been at work on the case continuously, no clue has been found in connection with the robbery of the post office at Ray City, when the safe was blown by a high explosive on Monday night.  Only a small amount of mony was secured, but several blank money order books and other records were taken.  These are only valuable to the post office and worthless to the robbers.  The building was entered by means of a crowbar and the high explosive used blew the door from the safe and broke all the windows in the building.

Attack of the Yeggmen

The Argot of the Vagabond,
by Charlie Samolar, published in American Speech, 1927, by the American Dialect Society, Duke University Press:

The bluebird sings by the lemonade springs in the rock-candy mountains …

From a Vagabond Ditty.

A few of the words used in the early days of vagabondage in this country have undoubtedly been handed down to the present, but it is difficult to segregate them, as the old-timers are surly or short-memoried and the vag leaves practically no literature. The word drill, a relic of the Civil War, is still in use; it means “to hike.” Counting ties and beating trains, now well-know phrases, probably originated in the days of young railroads.

Hobo gang-life in the fourth quarter of the nineteenth century produced a great many terms, but most of them are now archaic, having passed out of use with the death of the gang-form. A few, however, should be mentioned. A yegg was a burglar who travelled by beating trains. The word is supposed to be derived from “John Yegg,” who is said to have been the first safe-cracker to use nitro-glycerine as an adjunct to the prosecution of his art. A gang of yeggs was generally known as the folks. Sometimes, they were called the Johnson Boys, from the “Johnson-bar,” the reverse lever of the locomotive of those days; yeggs used a tool somewhat similar to it. Any kind of a gang was known as a push, a word credited to Australia, but I think it is a sister of the mob of the city underworld. An obie, or O.B. was a post-office. O.B., I believe, is P.O. reversed with the P. made into a B. The yegg pushes specialized in obies for two reasons; they were easily broken into and Federal big-houses were more comfortable than state penal institutions. Handing the match was a custom practiced by pushes in their open-air hang-outs. The intruding stranger was handed a match, which signified: “Go and build your own fire.” This was always done when a job was being hatched or when one of the folks was making soup (nitro-glycerine). A uniformed officer, now termed a harness-bull, was called a finger, from his itching desire to get his fingers on one. A plainclothesman, now called a fly-dick, was an elbow, from his way of elbowing through a crowd when he saw someone he wished to keep in sight. A lighthouse was a vag who knew all the ropes in a particular territory and tipped off the visiting vag regarding rocks and shoals. A light-piece, still used, but rarely, was a piece of silver money; probably because of its color. Stamps was, at one time, a name for money, yeggs handled considerable quantities of stamps, part of the proceeds of obie jobs.


Ray City Post Office Wrecked By Dynamite

A brief but interesting sidebar in the Dec 6, 1921 edition of the Atlanta Journal Constitution contains a now obscure reference to the ‘yeggmen’  that beset  the Ray City Post Office.   Fortunately for our understanding, the intellectuals of that time were there to document such obscurities.

Read Attack of the Yeggmen

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