Highwaymen of the Railroad
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William A. Pinkerton in 1893
recent epidemic of train robbing in different sections of the country has
naturally caused considerable discussion as to the best means of checking
this peculiar class of crime. Train robbing has been practiced pretty
steadily in the South and West during the last twenty years, but during
the last few months outrages of this character have increased at an
alarming rate. The greater portion of these occurred south and west of the
more than any other State, has suffered from this newest and just now most
threatening form of crime.
My experience with
train robbers began with the earliest operations of these daring
criminals. There were no train robberies of any importance before the
war. The first our agency had to do with were perpetrated by the
Reno brothers, of Seymour, Indiana.
Four of these
brothers became noted as train robbers. They commenced their robberies
immediately after the war and became terrors to the community in which
they lived. It was impossible to get the necessary evidence to convict
them, as, to a certain extent, they controlled, through terrorizing,
some of the local judges; and the local authorities, either through
sympathy or fear, were afraid to do their duty.
The downfall of this
gang commenced in 1867 with the arrest of
John Reno, who, in company with others, had robbed the county
treasurer’s safe at Savannah,
He was tracked back to Seymour, and, as there was no chance of his
being extradited, a party of masked men went into Seymour and bodily
carried him on board a train that was about to start for Missouri,
where he was convicted and sentenced to twenty-five years of
imprisonment. Later on,
William and Sim Reno committed a number of train robberies
throughout Indiana, extending their operations as far west as Iowa. In
the winter of 1868 they "held up” a train near Marshfield station,
Indiana, forced their way into the Adams Express car, threw the
messenger from the car while the train was under headway and robbed
the Express Company of $80,000. Sim and
William Reno were arrested at Indianapolis. Frank Reno
and Charles Anderson, another of this gang, were also arrested at
Windsor, Canada. After bitterly contesting their extradition in all
the courts of Canada they were finally brought to Indiana and confined
in the jail at New Albany. The people in the vicinity of Seymour
became aroused to the fact that war had actively commenced against the
Reno brothers, and, as they had been terrorized by these men for
years, they were willing to take a hand in exterminating them.
One stormy night the jail at New Albany
was surrounded by a band of masked men, the sheriff and jailer were
overpowered and the three Renos
and Anderson taken from their cells and hanged in the corridors of the
jail. Their execution was rapidly followed by that of the other
members of the gang, their sympathizers and abettors, who lived in the
vicinity of Seymour, no less than nine being hanged by the vigilance
committee. For years after that, and in fact up to the present time,
Seymour, Indiana, has been noted as a model, flourishing city, and I
do not recall a single case of train robbing in southern Indiana since
the execution of the Renos,
whereas previous to this a train was usually robbed there about every
next train robbery of any importance was committed by
Levi and Hillary Farrington, William Barton and William Taylor. These
people came from western Tennessee. Levi Farrington was arrested by ns at
Illinois, after making a desperate resistance. We arrested Hillary
Farrington and William Barton near Venetta, Indiana Territory.
The house where they were in hiding was surrounded by a posse, the door
broken down, and the house fired, when they were compelled to come out
with their "hands up.” William Taylor was arrested by our men at Red Foot
Lake, in western Tennessee. While conveying Hillary Farrington and William Barton from the
to Union City, Barton made a complete confession as to the other members
of the gang and what had been done with the proceeds of the robberies.
While traveling from Cairo, to Columbus, Kentucky, I was about to enter
the barroom of the steamer, when Hillary suddenly seized a large pistol which was sticking from my
overcoat pocket and tried to conduct a murderous assault on me.
During the struggle which ensued for the possession of the pistol,
Hillary Farrington fell over the low railing of the boat, nearly
dragging me with him, and was drowned. Levi Farrington was the most desperate of the gang. When he was
brought to Union City, Tennessee, the citizens held a jollification
meeting, as he had shot and killed a marshal and his deputy in eastern
and a deputy sheriff in Tennessee. About two o’clock in the morning fifty
masked men came to the house where he and the other prisoners were under
guard, as the town jail was not strong enough to hold them. They over
powered the guards, dragged out a man who had attempted to rescue
Farrington and hanged him. Levi Farrington was shot in his room, his body being fairly riddled
with bullets. William Taylor and William Barton pleaded guilty and were
sentenced to long terms of imprisonment in Tennessee.
Train robbery was not a Federal offense unless
the robbers stole U.S. mail, which most did.
courtesy, Harper's Weekly, January 16, 1892
The capturing and
sentencing of the members of this gang were the means of breaking up train
robberies in western Tennessee. There has not been a train robbery in that
vicinity since 1871, the date of the execution of these men. The
Farringtons were among the most desperate of this class of men that I
have ever known and were as successful as any of the desperadoes who have
been engaged in "holding up” and robbing trains.
next train robbers of any importance were the
Younger brothers of western and southwestern Missouri.
The robbery that brought them into prominence occurred at a small station
on the Iron Mountain Railway, known as "Gad’s Lull," where they "held up”
the train and got a large amount of money from the Adams Express Company’s
safe. This was in 1873. A short time previous to this they had robbed the
safe of the Hot Springs stage coach, holding up the coach with its twelve
passengers and taking all the express money. One of our best men, Joseph
Whicher, was detailed to go to the neighborhood of the home of the James boys and obtain work as a farm hand. He was dressed up as a
farmer, his hands being hardened and his skin darkened in order to
complete the disguise.
About dark he approached the home of the
knocked at the door and applied for work. The door was opened by Mrs.
Samuels, the mother of the James
brothers, who invited him in and gave him a chair.
While he was seated the
door was suddenly thrown open and he was confronted by
Frank James and some of their followers, who entered and accused him
of being a detective. This he denied. The Jameses,
however, said they were at war with all police officials and taking him
from the house, gagged and bound him, tied him to a horse and took him
across the old Blue Mill Ferry, telling the ferryman that he (Whicher) was
a horse thief, whom they were going to deliver up to the authorities.
took him to within about five miles of
and there murdered him by shooting him in the back. Captain Lull, who went
in search of the
Younger brothers in St. Clair County, Missouri,
shot and killed
John Younger, and wounded his brother,
Jim Younger, but was himself shot by the latter and died from his
wounds. Jim Younger is at present in the Minnesota Penitentiary. But, it is
said, he never recovered from the wounds received at Captain Lull’s hand.
It now became a war of extermination on the part of the express companies
and our officers against the remnant of this gang. The three Younger
Brothers, consisting of
Coleman, Jim and
Robert, were arrested and convicted for the murder of bank cashier
Haywood at North Northfield, Minnesota and were sentenced to life
imprisonment. Shortly after this Jesse James
was shot and killed by
Robert Ford, the youngest member of his gang.
Charles Ford were arrested and pleaded guilty to the killing of
and were sentenced to be hanged, but were immediately pardoned by Governor
Crittenden, and they were paid the reward of 5,000 which had been offered
for the arrest of Jesse James,
dead or alive. This was according to an arrangement the Ford brothers had made with the Governor. After this,
Frank James surrendered and as far as I am advised has been living an
honest life since.
Continued Next Page
Bob Younger (rear),
image available for photographic prints
Allan Pinkerton, William's father, founded the
famous Pinkerton Detective Agency. Photo, 1862.
This image available for photographic prints
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