During the years after
Civil War, much of the nation suffered a period of unemployment and
lawlessness, spawning a number of notorious desperadoes and
gangs. It was during this time that the
Reno Gang from Indiana began to terrorize the Midwest.
One of the first
brotherhoods in the United States, the
Reno Gang was primarily made up of four brothers -- Frank, John, Simeon and
William Reno who all came from the small rural community of Rockford two
miles north of Seymour, Indiana.
The Reno family, comprised of five sons and one daughter, was headed
up by J. Wilkison and Julia Ann Reno
who owned a 1,200 acre farm. Frank was the first son born in
1837, followed by John in 1838, Simeon ("Sim") in 1843, Clinton
in 1847, William in 1848, and Laura, in 1851.
A mock train robbery, courtesy
Shadows of the Past.
Strictly religious, the children were required to study the bible for
hours on Sundays, attend school, and work on the farm. Perhaps
resenting their stringent religious upbringing, all but Clinton, who
was called "Honest Clint,” rebelled and found trouble at an early age.
Even the daughter, Laura, was known to have been as wild as her four
brothers who would later form the
The older boys began to play crooked card games along the farm road
when they were still very young, bilking travelers as they passed by.
The trouble increased with a number of small burglaries and a rash of
horse thefts. But by 1851, the bunch had become out-right criminals
when several retailers’ businesses were set ablaze and the Renos were
suspected of arson.
Civil War began, Frank and John became "bounty jumpers.” At
this time, federal recruiting officers paid a cash bounty to any man
who signed up for military service, so the Reno's joined, pocketed the
cash and deserted. Later, they would turn up in another area and go
through the whole process again. When the draft began, they
would make money from prosperous draftees who wanted to avoid the war. After taking the money from the man to be drafted, they would then
appear as demanded, only to desert days later.
In 1864, the pair
returned to Rockford, followed by a number of other "bounty jumpers”
and lawless types the pair had met during their travels. Forming a
gang, Frank, John, Sim, and William, along with the other miscreants,
headquartered in the burned out buildings of Rockford.
Late in 1864,
Frank, along with two other gang members by the names of Grant Wilson
and Dixon robbed
post office and Gilbert's Store in nearby Jonesville,
Indiana. Before long, they were captured by
U.S. Marshals, but were able to post bond and released with a
trial date pending.
next year, two more post offices were robbed in Dudleytown and
Seymour, as well as several retail burglaries.
meantime, Grant Wilson, who had been involved in the Jonesville
robbery turned state’s evidence, agreeing to testify against Frank
Reno. However, before the trial was scheduled, Wilson
was murdered and without his testimony, Frank was acquitted.
made their headquarters in a Seymour Hotel called the Radar House, where
unfortunate travelers who stayed there often left penniless. From here,
they also orchestrated a number of robberies across the Midwest, as well
as operating a counterfeit ring.
members of the gang were arrested a number of times, but they were always
released. The brothers bragged that they had "political clout,” but the
real story was that they were bribing or terrorizing officials into