this day in crime history: october 6, 1866


On this date in 1866, the Reno brothers committed the first peacetime train robbery. The Renos, a family of ne’er do wells, started their criminal careers as bounty jumpers (Army enlistees who collected the sign on bonus, then took off, only to enlist again elsewhere under another name and repeat the process) during the Civil War.

After the war, they searched for new ways to make money. On October 6, 1866, brothers John and Simeon Reno, and associate Frank Sparkes, boarded the east-bound Ohio & Mississippi train at the Seymour, IN depot. While the train was in motion, they stormed the express car and held the messenger at gunpoint. They broke open one of the safes and stole a large sum of cash from it. They pushed a larger safe off the moving train for other gang members to retrieve. Then they pulled the emergency stop cord and fled the train. The gang wound up abandoning the second safe when they were unable to get it open.

The Renos went on to commit several more robberies before most were captured by the law (and the Pinkerton Detective Agency). Most of the gang, including Simeon Reno and Frank Sparkes, died at the hands of vigilantes in three separate lynchings in Indiana. John Reno was tried and convicted. He was sent to prison in 1868, and was paroled in 1878.

Further reading:

Wikipedia – Reno Gang

Legends of America – The Notorious Reno Gang

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this day in crime history: october 5, 1892

On this date in 1892, members of the Dalton gang — Bob, Emmet and Grat Dalton, Dick Broadwell, and Bill Power — rode into the town of Coffeyville, KS. Their mission: a spectacular double bank robbery. It was a great plan, but for two serious miscalculations. The first being that Coffeyville was the hometown of the Dalton boys. In spite of attempts to disguise themselves, they were recognized when they entered the banks. The second miscalculation involved the tolerance of the local population for bank robbery (they had none), and the lengths they would go to in thwarting would-be bank robbers. Said lengths involved guns, lots of guns.

The townsfolk armed themselves and confronted the Daltons as the gang emerged from the banks. After a fierce gun battle, four of the townspeople lay dead. As for the gang, four of the five were killed, leaving a wounded Emmet as the lone survivor. After being tried and convicted, Emmet Dalton was sentenced to life in prison. His sentence was commuted in 1907. He moved to California, where he wrote a book and even acted in a few Hollywood movies. He died in 1937 at the age of 66.

Further reading:

Historynet – Dalton Gang’s Raid on Coffeyville

EyeWitness to History.com – The Dalton Gang’s Last Raid, 1892

Emmett Dalton – His Life After the Coffeyville Raid

this day in crime history: september 7, 1876

On this date in 1876, the infamous James-Younger outlaw gang attempted to rob the First National Bank of Northfield, MN. When some of the local citizens saw what was going on, they armed themselves and confronted the gang. A gun battle ensued, leaving two townsfolk and a couple gang members dead. The remainder of the gang fled, and several were captured a few days after the attempted robbery. Frank and Jesse James managed to escape, but the Northfield raid was the last hurrah for the James-Younger gang.

Every year, the city of Northfield holds a celebration called The Defeat of Jesse James Days.

Further reading:

The Defeat of Jesse James Days website

Minnesota Historical Society: Northfield Raid & the James-Younger Gang

Wikipedia: James-Younger Gang

this day in crime history: august 19, 1895

JWH-DOA

On this date in 1895, notorious gunman John Wesley Hardin, was shot and killed in El Paso, TX. Hardin was shot in the back of the head while playing dice. The shooter, John Selman, Sr, was a local constable.  The shooting was believed to have been motivated by an argument the two had earlier regarding the arrest of one of Hardin’s friends by Selman’s son.

Selman was arrested and charged with murder. The trial resulted in a hung jury. The matter was scheduled for retrial, but Selman died before that could happen. He was shot and killed during a dispute over a card game.

Further reading:

Murderpedia – John Wesley Hardin

Find a Grave – John Wesley Hardin

Wikipedia – John Wesley Hardin

this day in crime history: august 2, 1876

On this day in 1876, James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok was murdered in Deadwood, Dakota Territory. Hickok was playing poker, his back to the door, when a man named Jack McCall walked up and shot Wild Bill in the back of the head. Hickok was holding two pair, aces and eights: the “dead man’s hand.”

The motive for the murder was never clear. McCall claimed he was avenging the killing of his brother by Hickok. A trial was held in Deadwood and McCall was acquitted and told to leave Deadwood. As it turns out, McCall may have never had a brother. So much for the justice system.

But all was not lost. McCall, as dumbass crooks often do, bragged about killing Hickok. He was eventually arrested and taken to Yankton, Dakota Territory for trial. It turns out that Deadwood was an illegal town, as it was built on Indian land (like they say in the real estate biz, it’s all about “location, location, location!”). Consequently, the trial that was held there was not legit, so a trial in Yankton wouldn’t constitute double jeopardy (“I’ll take screwed, blued, and tattooed for $1000, Alex”). McCall was tried and found guilty. He was hanged (I’m not sure if he was hung, you’ll have to ask Mrs. McCall) on March 1, 1877. Legend has it that when his body was exhumed in 1881, it was discovered that he’d been buried with the noose still around his neck.

Further reading:

Legends of America: Jack McCall – Cowardly Killer of Wild Bill Hickok

John “Jack” McCall Trials

this day in crime history: july 21, 1873

RIandP

On this date in 1873, a group of western bank robbers known as the James-Younger gang tried their hand at train robbery.  The gang sabotaged the track just outside Adair, IA and waited for the Chicago Rock Island & Pacific train’s approach.  Around 7:00 PM, the locomotive derailed, killing the engineer.

Some of the robbers hit the express car while the rest guarded the train’s passengers and crew.  The gang believed that the train would be carrying tens of thousands of dollars in gold.  As it turns out, they were mistaken.  They left the scene about ten minutes later with a few thousand in cash.

Some have referred to the 1873 Rock Island &Pacific robbery as the first peace-time train robbery in US history, but this is incorrect.  The Reno gang beat the James-Youngers to it, robbing an Ohio and Mississippi train in Seymour, IN in 1866.

Further reading:

NY Times – “Daring Railway Robbery”

Old West Legends: The James-Younger Gang – Terror in the Heartland

Wikipedia – James-Younger Gang

this day in crime history: july 19, 1879

DocH

On this date in 1879, John Henry Holliday, an 1872 graduate of the Pennsylvania College of Dental Surgery, became former Army scout Mike Gordon’s Huckleberry. Mr. Gordon, it seemed, started an altercation in Dr. Holliday’s saloon in Las Vegas, NM. Big mistake. The argument spilled out into the street, where Mr. Gordon drew his pistol–an even bigger mistake–and fired it at Dr. Holliday. In what was sure to be the biggest mistake of all, Mr. Gordon missed. Dr. Holliday responded by drawing his own pistol and shooting at Mr. Gordon. He didn’t miss. Mr. Gordon died. And Dr. Holliday discovered a new favorite game: Play for Blood.

Further reading:

Wikipedia: Doc Holliday

Legends of America: Doc Holliday – Deadly Doctor of the West