Reno Gang & the 1st Big Train Robbery

Ohio & MississippiRailway

Ohio & MississippiRailway

On July 9, 1868, the six members of the Reno Gang, who had returned to Jackson County — Sparks, Elliott, Moore, Roseberry, Jerrell, and Clifton, attempted to rob an Ohio & Mississippi train at the Shields watering station near Brownstown, west of Seymour. However, when the outlaws attempted to enter the express car they were met with a volley of gunfire. The ten Pinkerton detectives hidden in the express car wounded Henry Jerrell, Volney Elliott, and John Moore. However, all the gang members, with the exception of Elliott were able to escape. Soon though, Theodore Clifton and Charles Roseberry were arrested near Rockford, and all three prisoners were taken to the Seymour jail. On the night of July 20, 1868, the prisoners were to be moved by train; however, three miles west of Seymour, the train was stopped by a group of hooded men who called themselves the Jackson County Vigilance Committee. Forcing the officials to give up the prisoners, the vigilantes lynched Elliott, Clifton, and Roseberry from a nearby tree.

The other three bandits who had gotten away were soon tracked to Coles County, Illinois, where they were hiding at the farm of a friend. The day after the trio was lynched by the vigilante committee, Henry Jerrell, Frank Sparks, and John Moore were captured and brought to Seymour by train. However, while the lawmen were escorting the prisoners to the Brownstown jail in a wagon on July 25th, they were again stopped by the vigilantes who lynched them from the same tree as three previously hanged.

The same month, lawmen were beginning to catch up with the Reno brothers who had so far eluded the law. William and Simeon were soon captured by Pinkertons in Indianapolis and taken to the Scott County Jail in Lexington. Upon their arrest, the vigilantes announced that they would raid the jailhouse and hang these two as well. Laura Reno soon offered to pay all expenses if the county would transfer her brothers to the sturdier New Albany jail, an offer that was quickly accepted. Secretly moved in the middle of the night, the outlaw pair were turned over to Sheriff Thomas Fullenlove of Floyd County on July 29th.

In the meantime, the Pinkertons had tracked Frank Reno and Charlie Anderson in Canada and worked diligently to get them extradited.  However, the gang had different plans, concocting a scheme to murder Allan Pinkerton, but the crafty detective was able to thwart two different attempts on his life. The outlaws then resorted to bribery, but this too failed.  Finally, after several delays and political maneuverings, Pinkerton was finally given custody of the prisoners on October 6, 1868.

The Reno Gang was held in the jail at New Albany, Iowa.

The Reno Gang was held in the jail at New Albany, Iowa.

The next day Pinkerton and his and his heavily armed men boarded a steamer bound for Cleveland where they traveled by train to Cincinnati, Ohio, then finally delivered the pair to the New Albany, Indiana jail where Frank Reno was unhappily reunited with his brothers, Sim and William. Pinkerton then inspected the jail and urged Sheriff Thomas Fullenlove to remove his prisoners to an even stronger jail at Indianapolis, but Fullenlove refused.

When the New Albany citizens heard that two more of the Reno Gang had been ensconced in the town jail, they were terrified. It was no secret that the vigilantes had already tried to hang Sim and William and they were sure to make more concerted efforts to follow through now that the jail head even more members.   In response, what was left of the gang soon contacted a Fort Wayne newspaper who reported that if the Renos were hanged, the rest of the gang would lay Seymour in ashes.  A number of newspapers publicly ridiculed Sheriff Fullenlove and Scott County for imprisoning the outlaws in New Albany, a move which was sure to incite violence.

In response, Sheriff Fullenlove made a public announcement, “We do not believe that there is any danger of the Jackson County Vigilance Committee extending their visit to New Albany. They would be sure to meet a hot reception here, and they had better keep at a safe distance. These men were sent here for safekeeping and they will be safely kept if it is in the power of the authorities to do so.”

But Fullenlove’s statement would prove to be as flimsy as his jail. In the pre-dawn hours of December 12, 1868, more than 50 hooded men crept up upon the New Albany jail, cutting the telegraph wires and seizing outside guard Chuck Whitten, who was patrolling the grounds. They then forced their way into the building that housed both the ail and the sheriff’s residence, where they seized Sheriff Fullenlove and his wife. When the Sheriff refused to hand over the keys to the  Renos’ cells, the vigilantes beat him and shot him in the right arm. Mrs. Fullenlove then surrendered the keys and the determined men proceeded to the cells where they dragged out the three Renos and Anderson. Hauled to the top of the iron stairway at on the second story of the jail, they vigilantes first hanged Frank, then William, then Simeon and lastly, Anderson, who actually had to be strung up twice because the first rope broke.  The time was approximately 4:30 a.m.

After the bodies were cut down, they were displayed in pine coffins in the jail as the doors were opened for thousands of people to stream by and gawk at the remains of the notorious Reno Gang.

A Chicago newspaper would say of that evening: “one of the most violent nights in the history of our country.”

Afterward, there was a half-hearted investigation into the lynching but nothing came of it.

Laura Reno made arrangements for her brothers’ bodies to be returned to the Seymour City Cemetery, where they were buried. Charlie Anderson’s widow also buried her husband in the New Albany area.

Indiana State Prison in Michigan City, Indiana

Indiana State Prison in Michigan City, Indiana

John Reno was finally released from prison in February 1878 and returned to Seymour. Seven years later he would be sentenced to three years in the Indiana State Prison at Michigan City for passing counterfeit bills. Once again, when he was released, he returned to Seymour where he died at home on January 31, 1895.

Though Reno brother Clinton, who was labeled as “honest” never participated in the Reno Gang’s activities, he too was in trouble with the law over the years, indicted for assault and battery in 1874, accused of selling liquor to a minor in 1878, and arrested twice for keeping a gambling house in 1885 and 1890. Later, he moved west and died in a Topeka, Kansas insane asylum in 1921, reportedly after suffering from religious delusions for several years.

Laura Ellen Reno, who always supported her brothers, eventually married and became a respectable citizen.


“Jackson County contains more cutthroats to the square inch than Botany Bay.”
– Indiana newspaper account


Train Robbery

Train Robbery

© Kathy Weiser/Legends of America,  updated October 2019.

Also See:

Pinkerton Detective Agency – For 150 Years

Outlaws of the American West

The Railroad Blasts Across America

Outlaws and Scoundrels Photo Gallery


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