The Legend of the Reno Gang
By Alan Garbers
Somewhere, hidden under an old foundation, in a cave, or buried in a long-forgotten hiding spot in Jackson County, Indiana, is possibly $96,000 in gold and cash. Stolen in a daring train robbery in 1868, the secret of the gold's location lies buried with the men who stole it, the infamous Reno brothers.
The Reno brothers were the sons of an illiterate but shrewd farmer, Wilkinson Reno, and a highly educated mother, Julia Ann Reno.
Of the brothers, Frank was characterized as courageous and a natural born leader, yet completely crooked, and John had a bloodthirsty temper and commanded the gangs early operations. Simeon and William also joined their older brothers in terrorizing the Midwest.
This bloody chapter in Indiana's history started with the Civil War. Traveling around the state, the Reno brothers became notorious bounty jumpers. When signing up for military service with a Federal recruiting officer, each man would receive a cash bounty. Then, upon commencement of their military service, they would disappear only to find another unsuspecting federal agent looking for volunteers.
At the close of the war, the crooked Renos bought up sections of land bordering the small town of Rockford, just north of Seymour. Soon, mysterious fires afflicted the community until most of its inhabitants vacated to safer climates, Gathering a gang of horse thieves, safe-crackers, gamblers and counterfeiters, the Reno brothers made the ghost town their headquarters.
They based their operations in a downtown hotel known as the Rader House,located not far from the railroad. From there, the brothers orchestrated robberies of county treasuries across the Midwest, Their gifted counterfeiters added to the stolen money with phony bills.
Added to their almost daily income was the constant influx of unwary travelers who unknowingly chose the Rader House for a night lodging. Many a poor soul was relieved of his money, his valuables, or his life while resting in that notorious hotel.
The Reno brothers and members of their gang were arrested countless times, but on each occasion they were released without reprisal. The brothers often boasted of their political power in and around Seymour; many an official padded his pockets with Reno money. Those who couldn't be bribed were bullied and terrorized into submission.
While robbing county treasuries, counterfeiting and muggings were quite lucrative for the gang, John had grander ideas. On any given day, express cars rolled into Seymour bound for the banking centers of the country. They were filled with gold, bonds, and cash. To the Renos these express cars were banks on wheels ripe for the picking.
On the night of October 6th, 1866, John and Simeon Reno along with Frank Sparks quietly hid themselves aboard an east-bound express. As the train was gathering speed, the three masked men silently made their way to the express car. Overpowering the messenger, they found a jackpot of $ 12,000. As the men scooped up the loot, one yanked on the pull cord, signaling the engineer to stop the train. As the train slowed, the bandits jumped into the darkness but not before pulling the cord a second time giving the engineer the "all clear."
As the train headed east, the express messenger finally relayed his urgent message to the engineer and the world - the train had been robbed!
The Adams Express Company quickly sent two agents to Seymour where they were able to find a witness who saw the Renos aboard the train that night. Warrants for the three were quickly written but due to the Renos' considerable influence in town, no law enforcement agent would serve the papers. In desperation, the two agents tricked John and Simeon onto a waiting train where they were subdued and taken to the Jackson County jail in Brownstown.
An indictment hearing was set for February 1861, and bond for the three was set at $i3,000. Bond was easily posted by the gang. Loose again, the gang continued to plunder the surrounding countryside.
Meanwhile the Renos' exploits didn't go unnoticed by other outlaws. On September 28th, 1867, the world's second train robbery was pulled by Walker Hammond and Micheal Colleran in the same manner as the first, Not wanting the competition, the Reno brothers captured Hammond and his stolen loot. After severely beating the man, they handed him over to local authorities, but kept the stolen money as their reward.
The Adams Express Company was outraged by the last robbery. Being the largest carrier in the country, they hired the famous Allan Pinkerton National Detective Agency to stop the unacceptable losses.
In December, looking for other ripe plums to pick, John Reno decided to head west for Missouri and the Daviess County treasury. There they cracked two safes and removed $22,065.
After slinking through the freezing rivers, forests and fields, the gang finally hitched a train ride back to Indianapolis where they split up the loot and parted ways. No one realized that Pinkerton was hot on their trail.
A week or so after the Daviees County robbery, Pinkerton got a tip that John Reno would be traveling to the railroad station to wait for the arrival of a friend. Pinkerton quickly commandeered a special train with plans to take John back to Missouri. Pinkerton waited two days before the signal was given. As the train slowed for the stop, six Pinkerton men leapt from the train and dragged the kicking and screaming Reno back on board where he was slapped in irons.
John was sent back to Missouri, but this time he and his captured friends were facing an angry town that wanted its money back.
While the Reno influence worked well in Seymour, it had no effect in Missouri. Here, John was facing 50 years of hard labor - if he survived the mobs outside the courthouse,
John Reno fully expected Frank and the rest of the gang to bust him out at any moment. But a few days after his arrival at Jefferson City Prison, he received a letter from Frank stating that he had trouble "getting the materials ready," and that some friends had missed a train.
While John may have felt unlucky, he was in fact quite fortunate that he didn't share the fate of the rest of the gang.
With John's capture, Frank lead the gang in a punishing raid through the Midwest, robbing post offices, banks, and county treasuries. In February 1868, the Reno Gang almost bankrupted the citizens of Magnolia, Iowa, when $14,000.00 was stolen.
On the evening of May 22nd,1868, the depot platform in Marshfield, Indiana, was deserted except for a solitary figure wandering about the tracks. Occasionally the dark figure would kneel next to the tracks and listen. Suddenly the figure jumped to his feet and barked some commands into the darkness. In a moment, the train's headlamp shone through the trees and the steel wheels squealed in protest as the engine slowed to a stop at the platform.
As Engineer George Fletcher swung down from the cab, the men rushed in from behind woodpiles, tree clumps, and shadows. In a moment, the engineer and Fireman David Hutchinson lay unconscious on the railroad bed. A split second later the telegraph wires were cut so no alarm could be sent.
Due to the commotion, Conductor Americus Wheeler came forward. Seeing the bandits standing over his friends, he pulled his revolver and fired. The outlaws returned fire, wounding the conductor badly.
Seconds later, the engine, tender, and express car were uncoupled from the rest of the train. Placing the throttle full open, the bandits raced away into the night. Climbing over the tender car the bandits landed on the platform of the express car and pried open the door. Even though the messenger was quickly overpowered, he still refused to disclose the location of the keys to the safe. [n frustration, the outlaws threw the messenger out the door of the moving car. Fortunately the ground was marshy and the messenger survived with minor wounds.
With no more distractions the Reno Gang destroyed the three poorly made safes to find a virtual jackpot. Either by luck or by plan they had hit a train en-route to the Federal Treasury in Washington and there was a mind-numbing $96,000.00 in gold and government bonds aboard!
Abandoning the stolen train near Farmington, the gang gathered their waiting horses and rode away.
This third train robbery created quite a negative stir around the country and a movement was growing against the Reno Gang, Realizing their tantrums and antics were making them quite unpopular, the Reno boys went into hiding. William and Simeon hid in the seedy parts of Indianapolis, while Frank and his friend Charlie Anderson cooled their heels in Windsor, Canada.
Plans Gone Wrong
In their absence, John Moore, a man Pinkerton classified as a desperate outlaw, took over as leader of the remaining gang members. Moore foolishly decided to attempt another train robbery after soliciting the aid of a train engineer. Unknown to Moore, the engineer had tipped off Pinkerton and his men.
The robbery went as planned until the gang opened the express door to find a band of armed Pinkerton agents waiting, in the ensuing gun battle, two of the gang members were taken prisoner outright. Another was also captured, but Moore and two of his friends narrowly escaped to Illinois.
On July 20th, 1868, the three captured outlaws were placed on a train for the short trip from Seymour to the Jackson County Jail in Brownstown. Halfway there, a red distress lantern stopped the train, Suddenly an army of hooded men sprang from the darkness. On board the train, the three outlaws thought rescue was at hand, but within moments they were dangling at the end of a hangman's rope.
Soon afterwards Moore and his companions were caught and sent back by rail to Seymour in the same bullet-ridden car they had stolen.
In Seymour, they were transferred to awaiting wagons and sent to Brownstown. As the band of Pinkerton agents traveled west with their prisoners, hundreds of crimson masked men swarmed the wagons and demanded the outlaws at gun point. Knowing they were hopelessly outnumbered and outgunned, the agents left the prisoners and headed back to Seymour. When the Pinkerton men returned later, they found that Moore and his gang had been hanged by persons unknown.
The vigilante movement in Seymour drew harsh criticism worldwide but it also got the attention of many outlaws and crooked citizens in Jackson County. It put them on notice that lawlessness would no longer be tolerated in or around Seymour.
Rest Of The Gang
During the summer and fall of 1868 The Pinkerton Detective Agency was still attempting to bring the remaining Renos to justice and were partially successful. William and Simeon were captured in lndianapolis and incarcerated in the New Albany jail for their own safety,
Pinkerton also sought the extradition of Frank Reno and Charlie Anderson from Canada, but the notoriety of the new Jackson County justice was working against him. As the U. S, Canadian, and British governments haggled over the two outlaws' fates, Reno decided to take manners in his own hands.
Using some of his ill-gotten money, he attempted to bribe the Canadian officials. When that failed, they selected an assassin to kill Pinkerton and stop the tide against them. However, both attempts on Pinkerton failed to stop the man and only served to help Pinkerton gain the extradition of Frank and Charlie.
Finally in the early winter of 1868, Frank Reno and Charlie Anderson joined William and Simeon Reno in the strongly fortified New Albany jail to await trial.
The Jackson County Vigilante Committee had different ideas. The Renos were back home where their money and their influence had bought their freedom too many times before. Fearing the Renos would be released, a call for action was sent through the county.
In the cold pre-dawn hours of December 12th 1868. 56 hooded men gathered outside the New Albany jail. With military precision, they forced their way into the fortified structure.
Sheriff Thomas Fullenlove heard the commotion and tried to stop the invasion by escaping with the jail keys. A wounding shot stopped him, and the hooded vigilantes headed for the cells,
Cell Guard Tom Matthews met the assailants at the cell block door and stated he would shoot anyone attempting to enter. One of the hooded men shouted back that they had five nooses, four for the outlaws and one for the jailer if he didn't let them in the easy way - Matthews opened the door.
Quickly the vigilantes swept into the cells and strung up Frank Reno. As the noose tightened around his neck he gasped, "Lord, have mercy on my soul."
Simeon and young William were next. As the Renos jerked at the end of their ropes, some of the hooded men swung on them to add their weight and quicken the job. Charlie Anderson watched the Renos swing before he himself was strung up. Upon praying for divine intervention, the rope around his neck broke, dropping him to the floor, As he lay there begging forgiveness for his many sins, he was jerked to his feet by a vigilante, who said, "It's too late now for prayers, Charlie." This time the rope held.
As quickly as the unknown men had appeared, so they vanished. An inquiry into the vigilante group was made at a local level, but no one was ever charged.
Eventually the whole affair was swept away by time and the stolen gold was never found. Did the gang spend the $96,000 in the short time they had? Or is it buried in some secret spot waiting for the Renos' return? Those that knew can't say - for dead men don't tell tales.
Southern Indiana Genealogical Society Quarterly Jan. 2003
The Reno Brothers Gang, also known as the Reno Gang and The Jackson Thieves, were a group of criminals that operated in the Midwestern United States during and just after the American Civil War. Though short-lived, they carried out the first three peacetime train robberies in U.S. history. Most of the stolen money was never recovered.
The gang was broken with the lynchings of ten of its members by vigilante mobs in 1868. The murders created an international diplomatic incident with Canada and Great Britain, a general public uproar, and international newspaper coverage. No one was ever identified or prosecuted for the lynchings.
Family and early life
J. Wilkison (also known as Wilkinson or Wilkerson) Reno moved to Indiana in 1813 from the Salt River region of Kentucky, one of the Civil War border states. He married Julia Ann Freyhafer in 1835. Future gang members Franklin (Frank), John, Simeon (Sim), and William (Bill) Reno were born to the couple in Rockford, Jackson County, Indiana. There was also another son, Clinton ("Honest" Clint), and a daughter, Laura. In their early years, the siblings were raised in a strict, religious (Methodist) farming household and were required to read the Bible all day on Sunday, according to John Reno's 1879 autobiography. Neither Clint nor Laura were involved in the gang's crime spree.
The brothers got into trouble early. John claimed that he and Frank bilked travelers in crooked card games. Also, the Renos were suspected when a series of mysterious fires broke out around Rockford over a period of seven years beginning in 1851. The community also suspected the brothers in the theft of a horse. The crimes caused considerable tension in the town and Wilkison and four of his sons fled, living near St. Louis, Missouri for some time, before returning to their farm in 1860. The war broke shortly after and the brothers enlisted in hopes of escaping the angry citizens of the town. Relatives of the Reno Brothers Gang fled to Colorado and now reside in Highlands Ranch.
During the American Civil War, Frank, John, and possibly Simeon became bounty jumpers. They were paid to enlist in the Union Army, then failed to appear for duty. They continued to enlist under different names and locales, taking additional money. Federal records show that Frank, John and Simeon deserted. Many residents of southern Indiana were sympathetic to the Confederate States of America or were Northern Democrats wanting a Southern victory (known as "Copperheads"). It is not known if the Reno brothers were Copperheads or simply taking advantage of the situation. William briefly went AWOL, but did return to serve out his enlistment. He was the only one who received an honorable discharge from the army. (There is a possibility that he was not a member of the gang.)
In 1864, Frank and John returned to Rockford. A gang began to form under their leadership. Simeon and William joined them. Late that year, Frank and two other gang members, Grant Wilson and a man named Dixon, robbed the post office and Gilbert's Store in nearby Jonesville, Indiana. They were arrested, but were released on bond. Wilson agreed to testify against his fellow robbers, but was murdered before he could do so, and Frank was acquitted.
The Reno Gang was the first "Brotherhood of Outlaws" in the United States. They terrorized the Midwest for several years and inspired the creation of a host of other similar gangs who copied their crimes, leading to several decades of high-profile train robberies. Their gang attracted several new members after the end of the war. They started by robbing and murdering travelers in Jackson County and began to branch out to other counties, where they raided merchants and communities.
They planned to rob their first train near Seymour; the town was an important rail hub at that time. On the evening of October 6, 1866, John Reno, Sim Reno, and Frank Sparkes boarded an Ohio and Mississippi Railway train as it started to leave the Seymour depot. They broke into the express car, restrained the guard, and broke open a safe containing approximately $16,000. From the moving train, the three men pushed a larger safe over the side, where the rest of the gang was waiting. Unable to open the second safe, the gang fled as a large posse approached.
Later, passenger George Kinney stepped forward to identify two of the robbers. The three men were arrested, but were released on bail. When Kinney was shot and killed, the other passengers refused to testify and all charges had to be dropped. However, the robbery would ultimately lead to the gang's downfall. The contents of the safe were insured by the Adams Express Company, which hired the Pinkerton Detective Agency to track down and capture the gang.
On November 17, 1867, the Daviess County Courthouse in Gallatin, Missouri was robbed. John Reno was identified, arrested by Pinkerton agents, and sentenced to 25 years in the Missouri State Penitentiary in 1868. (He was released in February 1878.) He returned to Seymour in 1886, but was again sent to prison, this time for counterfeiting, for three years.
However, this did not deter the gang. Three robberies in Iowa followed in quick succession, in February and March 1868. Frank Reno and fellow gang members Albert Perkins and Miles Ogle were caught by Pinkertons led by Allan Pinkerton's son William, but broke out of jail on April 1. A second train robbery occurred in December 1867, when two members of the gang robbed another train leaving the Seymour depot. The robbers netted $8,000, which was turned over to the brothers. A third train, owned by the Ohio & Mississippi, was stopped by six members of the gang on July 10, though the Reno brothers were not involved. Waiting in ambush however were ten Pinkerton agents. A shootout ensued; after several of the gang were wounded, the would-be robbers fled. Volney Elliott was captured and gave up information that led to the arrest of Charlie Roseberry and Theodore Clifton.
In March 1868, the residents of Seymour formed a vigilante group with the aim of killing the gang. In response, the gang fled west to Iowa where they robbed the Harrison County treasury of $14,000. The next day, they robbed Mills County treasury of $12,000. The Pinkerton detectives quickly located the men and arrested them at Council Bluffs, Iowa. On April 1, the gang escaped from their Iowa jail and returned to Indiana.
The Reno Gang then robbed its fourth train on May 22. Twelve men boarded a Jeffersonville, Madison and Indianapolis Railroad train as it stopped at the train depot in Marshfield, Indiana, a now defunct community in Scott County, Indiana. As the train pulled away, the gang overpowered the engineer and uncoupled the passenger cars, allowing the engine to speed away. After breaking into the express car and throwing express messenger Thomas Harkins off the train (causing fatal injuries), the gang broke open the safe, netting an estimated $96,000. This robbery gained national attention and was published in many major papers. The Pinkertons pursued, but the gang broke up and fled throughout the Midwest.
The gang attempted to rob another train on July 9. Pinkerton detectives had learned of the plan and ten agents were waiting aboard the train. When the gang broke in, the agents opened fire, wounding two of the gang. Everyone was able to escape except Volney Elliot, who identified the other members of the gang in exchange for leniency. Using the information, the detectives arrested two more members of the gang the next day in Rockport.
All three men were taken by train to jail. However, on July 10, 1868, three miles outside Seymour, Indiana, the prisoners were taken off the train, and hanged by the neck from a nearby tree, by a group of masked men calling itself the Jackson County Vigilance Committee. Three other gang members, Henry Jerrell, Frank Sparks, and John Moore, were captured shortly after in Illinois and returned to Seymour. In a grisly repeat, they too fell into the hands of vigilantes and were hanged from the same tree. The site became known as Hangman Crossing, Indiana.
On July 27, 1868, the Pinkertons captured William and Simeon Reno in Indianapolis. The men were jailed at the Scott County Jail in Lexington. They were tried and convicted of robbing the Marshfield train, but because of the threat of vigilantes, they were moved to the more secure Floyd County Jail. The day after their removal from Lexington, the vigilantes broke into the vacated jail, hoping to catch and lynch the men.
Frank Reno, the gang's leader, and Charlie Anderson were tracked down to the Canadian border town of Windsor, Ontario. With the help of United States Secretary of State William H. Seward, the men were extradited in October under the provisions of the 1842 Webster-Ashburton Treaty. Both men were sent to New Albany to join the other prisoners.
On the night of December 11, about 65 hooded men traveled by train to New Albany. The men marched four abreast from the station to the Floyd County Jail where, just after midnight, the men forced their way into the jail and the sheriff's home. After they beat the sheriff and shot him in the arm for refusing to turn over the keys, his wife surrendered them to the mob. Frank Reno was the first to be dragged from his cell to be lynched. He was followed by brothers William and Simeon. Another gang member, Charlie Anderson, was the fourth and last to be murdered, at around 4:30 a.m on December 12. It was rumored that the vigilantes were part of the group known as the Scarlet Mask Society or Jackson County Vigilance Committee. No one was ever charged, named or officially investigated in any of the lynchings. Many local newspapers, such as the New Albany Weekly Ledger, stated that "Judge Lynch" had spoken.
Frank Reno and Charlie Anderson were technically in federal custody when they were lynched. This is believed to be the only time in U.S. history that a federal prisoner had ever been lynched by a mob before a trial. Secretary of State Seward wrote a formal letter of apology as a result. A new bill was later introduced into the U.S. Congress that clarified the responsibility for the safety of extradited prisoners
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
THE "RENO GANG."
A history of Seymour would be far from complete without more than a mere allusion to the dark days of 1865 to 1868, inclusive, and the scenes of lawlessness that were enacted in and about the town during that period.
Situated at the junction of two great railways, connecting four of the largest Western cities, namely Cincinnati, St. Louis, Louis-ville and Indianapolis, it was of easy access to the camp followers, thieves, counterfeiters, garroters and confidence men who gathered at all railway centers to entrap the unwary soldier returning to scenes of peace.
Here, too, was the home of the long famous, or infamous, Reno gang, whose daring feats of robbery have taken front rank in the pages of the criminal history of our country.
Frank Reno, the recognized leader of the gang, was the oldest of five brothers; three of whom met their deaths at the hands of a mob; another has but recently begun his second term in prison, while the fifth has at all times been adjudged innocent of crime. The family was reared on a farm near Seymour, and, previous to the latter days of the war, were highly respected and prosperous. Frank was a strange compound admixture of good and evil, the latter trait predominating. Among his neighbors and every-day associates he was very popular, was strictly honorable in business transactions, and more than once he gave warning to friends of impending robberies about to be perpetrated by some of his associates. He was tainted with that dangerous doctrine of the communist, whose chief tenet is that the rich may be robbed with impunity, having more than their share. Perhaps, to the end that his conscience might find relief, he distributed a part of his ill-gotten gains with a lavish hand among the needy of his native town.
It is the generally accepted belief that the Reno brothers themselves took little or no part in the petty robberies, burglaries and other thefts that were of almost nightly, and sometimes daily, occurrence from 1864 to 1868. They were, no doubt, however, cognizant of what was going on in that regard, but confined their personal operations to more prolific fields. Numerous bank and county-safe robberies, which took place in various parts of the country, during the period named, were, without doubt, their work, or that of some of their more skilled confederates.
Marshfield, an isolated water-station, is situated about twenty miles south of Seymour, on the Jeffersonville, Madison & Indianapolis Railway. Here, at 11:45 on the night of May 22, 1868, while the engine was taking water, the engineer was surrounded by half a dozen men, one of whom knocked him down, while another presented a pistol to his head and threatened to take his life if he uttered a sound of alarm. The fireman shared a like fate. The robbers then uncoupled the combination baggage and express car from the train, and all were disengaged, getting on board; the engine with the baggage and express car were run northward. After passing Austin, the first station north, they forced an entrance to the car, overpowered the messenger, and broke open the safes. They were rewarded for their work in the capture of $90,000 in new notes. On nearing Seymour they halted, and, leaving the engine and car on the main track, dispersed.
Some eighteen months previous, a train on the Ohio & Mississippi Railway was boarded when a short distance east of Seymour by three robbers, said to have been John and Simeon Reno, and Frank Sparks. The messenger was knocked senseless, and after rifling one safe containing some $15,000, the other, containing $30,000, was rolled from the moving car. The robbers in this in-stance being close pushed, the safe and contents were recovered intact.
In December, 1867, Michael Collarn, then it mere boy, and Walker Hammond boarded the Ohio & Mississippi train near the same place, and, under almost similar circumstances as related in the foregoing paragraph. They secured $8,000, but were recognized and were soon after arrested. Previous to his arrest, Hammond was decoyed to Rockford, two miles north of Seymour, through a message from a dissolute woman of that village, and, while on his way at night, was set upon by one of his companions in crime and robbed of his share of the booty. Both himself and Collarn were sent to jail, where they baffled the law for a time, but a plea of guilty and a sentence of seven years each finally saved them, no doubt, from the terrible fate that was meted out to so many of their companions by the vigilance committee.
The last of the four great attempts at express robbery, which went so far to give Seymour an unenviable name, was not only not successful, but it proved most disastrous to the gang and was destined to be the beginning of the end of outlawery in this region. James Flanders, an engineer on the Ohio & Mississippi Railway had by some means gotten into the good graces of the robbers, and they counted him as one of them, though he was by no means so regarded by the community. The plot to rob the train at Brownstown was hatched and Flanders agreed to render them all the aid in his power. The plan was that they should come upon him unexpectedly, at the water station, apparently overpower himself and fireman, and uncouple the express car as was done at Marshfield. The attempt was made early on the morning of July 10, 1868; the program worked perfectly to all appearance at first. The car was uncoupled without the least alarm being given and the engine and express car moved swiftly eastward with six robbers on board the former. After going a few miles, the engine was halted in a lonesome spot, and the robbers made a rush for the express car and forced open the door, being eager to finish their work. Flanders had secretly notified the authorities, and six guards, armed to the teeth, were ready to receive them. This was a most grievous surprise to the robbers; but the guards acted in-discreetly in opening fire before the robbers could get into the car. The result was, that after a short resistance, the robbers beat a hasty retreat and escaped, all but Val. Elliott, who received a severe wound in the shoulder. The, engine and express car were returned to Brownstown, and the train went on its way to Cincin-nati, where Elliott was placed in jail. The other robbers proved to be John Moore, Charles Roseberry, Frank Sparks, Frelingheysen, Clifton and Henry Jerrell. In the surprise and shooting from the express car, Sparks had a finger shot away, and Moore received a wound in his side.
The news of the attempted robbery was soon made known, and in less than an hour a squad of thirty men started in pursuit of the robbers. After a long search, Clifton and Roseberry were found and captured in a dense thicket near Rockford: they were at once heavily ironed and conveyed to Cincinnati for safe keeping.
JUDGE LYNCH'S WORK.
Whatever the opinion of the casual reader may be, the residents of Seymour and vicinity at the time of which this history treats, felt that they were justified in taking steps to check the lawlessness which worked as a menace to honorable trade, rendered life and property insecure, and offered an example for the rising generation which must ultimately result in ruin. The recognized law being found inadequate, through the manipulation of the leaders of the gang, whose stolen money was found an even ready means with which to influence juries, witnesses and prosecutors, the law of might was appealed to. A vigilance committee was organized in the ranks of which were the majority of the best and most trustworthy men of the city and county. A brief summary, to follow these details, will enable the reader to judge whether or not the extreme measures they inaugurated for relief were justified.
Ten days after the attempted robbery of Brownstown, July 20, 1868, Roseberry, Clifton and Elliott were taken on board a train at Cincinnati for the purpose of being conveyed to Browns-town, where a preliminary hearing was to be given them. The train and prisoners passed Seymour unmolested, but two miles west, the engineer was brought to a sudden halt by a red light vigorously displayed before him. As soon as the train halted a crowd of masked men entered the train and demanded the three prisoners, calling them by name. A slight resistance on the part of the guards was ineffectual, and Elliott, Roseberry and Clifton being taken in charge by the mob, the train was signaled to move on. The train had been halted at the mouth of a narrow lane. A beech tree stood by its side some 200 yards distant from the railroad. Here the prisoners were halted and told that their time had come. A few minutes were given them to prepare for eternity. Roseberry maintained a dogged silence, Elliott was defiant and Clifton begged in vain for mercy, declaring his innocence to the last. Soon the word of command was given by the leader, ropes were hurriedly placed about the necks of the three wretches, and, at a second command, they were launched into eternity.
So quietly was the work done that a German farmer living but a few rods away was not aroused. Next morning he was horrified to find three stark and Stiff bodies dangling from a tree almost at his door. He promptly gave the alarm, and after a coroner's verdict of strangulation by parties unknown, the bodies were allowed to be taken charge of by relatives.
THE SECOND HANGING.
It will be remembered that Frank Sparks, John Moore and Henry Jerrell were concerned in the attempted robbery at Brownstown. They were in the thicket near Rockford when the pursuers were pressing them, but escaped and made their way by rail and on foot to Coles County, Ill. Here, being out of money, they went to work as farm hands, though two of them were suffering from painful, though not serious wounds. Jerrell had a sweetheart at Louisville, and, unknown to his companions, wrote to her, detailing his distress and that of his friends, and soliciting an answer to be sent under an assumed name. Of course every friend of the outlaws was shadowed by Pinkerton's detectives, who were employed by the Express Company to hunt down the guilty parties. The young woman, being illiterate, asked a second party to read the letter, and the reading was over-heard by a detective. Two days later the three were arrested, and on their way to Brownstown jail via Indianapolis.
The south bound train from Indianapolis to Seymour was late, missing connection with the night train west on the Ohio & Mississippi Railway. There being no place of safety in Seymour the officers having the prisoners in charge determined to convey them by wagon to Brownstown, eleven miles distant. A wagon was at once procured in which they were placed, heavily guarded. Having to pass under the very tree on which their companions were hung but a few days previous, the prisoners were naturally uneasy until beyond that point, when they manifested relief. Their rising spirits proved without warrant. When some 200 yards beyond the fatal tree there arose, as if from the ground, a crowd of men numbering at least 200, all wearing masks. The wagon was promptly surrounded and halted. The guards were ordered out and placed under guard of a detachment of the Vigilance Committee; the driver was ordered to "right about face" with his team and load, and was again brought to a halt under the hangman's tree. Here Jerrell, Sparks and Moore met a similar fate to their three companions in crime, with no witness to their awful fate save those who were sworn to secrecy.
THE NEW ALBANY TRAGEDY.
Thus far the Renos had escaped the vengeance of the mob. Simon and William Reno were under arrest and in New Albany jail, charged with participating in the Marshfield robbery. (It is proper here to state that many believe William Reno, who was not more than twenty years of age at the time of his death, innocent of the charge which cost him his life.) Frank Reno and Charles Anderson, accused of the same crime, were at Windsor, Canada, well out of the law's reach. Under a solemn pledge of Mr. Seward, then Secretary of State, backed by promises of the express company which had been the sufferer, that Reno and Anderson would be granted a fair trial, a writ of extradition was secured, and the two prisoners were brought to New Albany jail to await the action of the court in Scott County, where the crime was committed. Here on the early morning of December 12, 1868, Charles Anderson, Frank, Simeon and William Reno were taken from their cells, presumably by a band of men from Jackson County, and hung until dead from the stairway of the jail The details of this tragedy are too well known to need repetition. Let it suffice that the sheriff and turnkey, Mr. Fullenlove, now dead, made every resistance in his power. He was severely wounded in one arm by a shot from one of the band, and his life was threatened in vain, that he might be induced to give up his keys. His wife, at last, to save him, imparted the desired in-formation, when the mob found ready access to the cells.
Thus was ended the career of the chief outlaw, his companion, Anderson, and his two younger brothers. Clinton Reno, who, as before stated, was never accused of wrong-doing, was a farmer by occupation, residing near Rockford when the tragedy occurred. He is now a prosperous merchant of a Western town, and through-out all he has maintained a reputation for honor and integrity among his fellowmen.
John Reno, who was next in age to Frank, was found guilty of burglarizing a county treasurer's safe in a town in Missouri, and sentenced to the penitentiary for twenty-five years. He began his term about one year previous to the hanging of his brothers. He served ten years and ten months when he was pardoned by Hon. B. Gratz Brown, then governor of Missouri. He was rearrested at the threshold of the prison on the charge of participating in the second mentioned express robbery. On reaching home he readily procured bail of $20,000 through the instrumentality of well-disposed persons, who believed that himself and family had been sufficiently punished for their misdeeds. Soon after this the case against him was dismissed, and he was once more a free man. He engaged in farming, which he followed with indifferent success for about five years. But the old liking for crime returned, and in the winter of 1885 he was arrested on the charge of passing counterfeit money. Some months later he entered a plea of guilty, and was sentenced to the northern Indiana penitentiary for a term of three years and three months.
A correspondent of one of the leading daily papers, writing soon after the New Albany tragedy, summed up the other crimes happening in and about Seymour, during the four preceding years, about as follows: Moore Woodmansee, a merchant of Medora, twenty miles west, while on his way to Cincinnati, having on his person $2,800, took lodging at the Rader House, then the leading hotel in Seymour. After retiring to his room he was never again seen. Some decomposed remains, supposed to be his, were afterward found in White River, but were not fully identified.
Grant Wilson, a colored man, who was known to be an important witness against some of the gang, was shot dead, in daylight, while walking from his home to Seymour. A Mr. McKinny, who was also a witness, was called to his door one night and shot dead. William Mower was murdered in a saloon row, but his murderers were never arrested. Pages could be filled with accounts of burglaries, robberies and thefts of all kinds, but more than enough has already been told. Let the reader judge if the good citizens of Seymour were or were not justified in adopting the summary means they did to check this deluge of crime which they had tried in vain to check in any other way.
Source: 1886: History of Jackson County, Indiana. Brant and Fuller.
Copyright © Genealogy Trails