The First Train Robbery


On October 6th, 1866, the first train robbery in the United States was committed. The robbery, committed by the Reno Gang occurred in Jackson County Indiana. Brothers Simeon and Frank Reno along with associate Frank Sparkes boarded an Ohio and Mississippi Railroad train as it started to leave the Seymour, Indiana depot. They broke into the express car, and overcame the guard. They proceeded to break open a safe containing about $16,000. From the moving train, the three men pushed a larger safe over the side, where other members of the gang were waiting.

Although the gang escaped capture, a witness George Kinney, stepped up and identified the men. All three were arrested but released on bail. In testament to the dilatory effects of bail reform, Kinney was almost immediately killed in a hail of gunfire. This was the second time a witness against the Reno Gang was shot to death while the brothers were out on bail. Neither murder was ever solved.

The Reno Gang went on to rob 4 more trains in Indiana and Ohio. By this time Pinkerton Detectives were on to their act. When they attempted to rob a 5th train, detectives were on board and a shootout engaged. Two gang members were wounded and one was captured. The captured perp flipped, and a series of arrests soon ensued with the Reno Brothers and other gang members being captured and held in custody. A series of vigilante groups tracked the members of the gang down in their respective jails and lynched the prisoners. A sheriff was shot attempting to protect the incarcerated Renos but they ended up at the end of a rope regardless.

Other criminals thought this train robbery gig was a good idea. The train robbery trade expanded and flourished in the open expanses of the American West. A game of cat and mouse ensued with railroad owners and Pinkerton Detectives inventing new ways of thwarting robbers and the robbers devising work-arounds to continue their lucrative crimes. The cat and mouse game between cops and perps continues to this day.


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