Dalton Gang Swings and Misses on its First Train Robbery


Their Life of Crime Gets Off to a Rocky Start 

The Dalton family was a large tight knit family that lived on the plains of Missouri and Kansas in the years following the Civil War.  There were twelve children in the family.  With that many kids its pretty likely that not all of them are going to be perfect.  A few of them became infamously “less than perfect”.

Frank Dalton, one of the older siblings became a US Marshall in Arkansas.  By all accounts, he was a hard working and honest lawman who worked for “hanging judge” Isaac Parker.  Several of his younger siblings followed him into law enforcement, but after Frank was shot and killed by a horse thief, the younger Daltons decided that law enforcement careers were not for them.  Brothers Robert, Emmitt, Bill, and Gratton Dalton started careers in the robbery business instead. 

The Dalton Gang’s first attempt at train robbery was an outright disaster. On February 6, 1891, the Dalton Gang tried to rob a Southern Pacific train near Alila, California. Boarding the train, the gang members began firing into the air to keep passengers from acting up.  During the robbery a train engineer was killed. (possibly accidently by another train engineer)  Approaching the fortified cash car, the crew ran into a dilemma.  It seemed impossible to get into the car.  They demanded that the guard inside open the heavy door. The guard refused and began firing out at them from a small peep hole.  The Dalton Gang had no choice but to tactically retreat to cover and give up on the heist.  

Being pursued by lawmen and under indictment for the train robbery, the Dalton Gang continued their robbery spree.  Brothers Gratton and Robert Dalton were killed in an October 1892 bank robbery in Coffeyville, Kansas.  Two other members of the gang were also killed and Emmitt Dalton was shot several times in this robbery but survived to serve a lengthy prison sentence.  Bill Dalton took up the mantle as head of a new Dalton Gang, but it didn’t last long.  Bill was hunted down and killed in June 1894 after committing a robbery in Longview, Texas.  

Although short lived, the Dalton Gang’s robbery spree was widely publicized.  They were one of the last outlaw gangs of the American Wild West.  The frontier was declared closed in 1890 and the wild west was seeing its last days.  

Christopher Flanagan
photo By Pecos – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7873916


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