The first train robbery 148 years ago – Utah State Quarter

Today, the Utah State Quarter with its trains reminds of us a bygone era.

No, the robbery did not happen in Utah. It happened almost three years before the golden spike connected the Eastern and Western train systems.

On October 6, 1866, the Reno brothers and their gang made history with the first peacetime train robbery.

The family included five brothers – Frank, John, Simeon, Clinton and William – along with a sister, Laura.

One of the brothers was known as “Honest Clint” and did not participate in the life of crime his brothers led. Sister Laura wholeheartedly supported her lawless brothers but did not join them in their thievery.

Let’s revisit that dark night courtesy of author Ralph L. Brooks and the first portion of his article “World’s First Train Robbery Was Staged by Reno Gang of Indiana” printed in the Indianapolis Star Magazine back in the 1940s.

“The night train of the Ohio & Mississippi railroad rumbled into the depot at Seymour, Jackson County, Indiana. Wood smoke belched from the funnel shaped stack of its panting little locomotive, a white cloud of steam hissed from pistons.

“The Adams Express Agency messenger leaned against the open door of the baggage car, his figure a black silhouette against the yellow lamplight.

“It was a scene familiar to the Hoosier townsfolk who loitered at the depot to watch the exciting arrival of trains. There was nothing about the arrival of this particular O.&M. night train to hint that history was about to be made.

“But a few yards away, in the shadows of a boxcar, three pairs of eyes watched the express agency messenger. The eyes narrowed to sinister slits as the locomotive whistled, the train jerked forward, and the messenger waved casually to the station baggageman.

“Three men sprang from the shadow of the boxcar. They raced alongside the moving baggage car; swung lightly through its open door. They forced the astonished messenger to hand over packages of money, and then knocked him cold with the butt end of a ball and powder pistol. A stocky little iron safe stood in a corner of the baggage car. The train robbers pushed it to the door. With a final, grunting heave-ho, they sent it hurtling through the door and down an embankment. The trio leaped after it.

“The world’s first train robbery had been staged. On that cloudy, pitch black night of October 6, 1866, the notorious Reno gang of Jackson county had set the pattern which was followed later by Jesse James, the Dalton brothers and lesser gangs of train robbers.

“Word of the robbery flashed through Seymour like a prairie fire. A man at the depot had recognized the bandits. A farmer saw them roll the safe out of the baggage car. A posse was formed.

“But a scout warned the gangsters. They abandoned the safe. The world’s first train robbery had netted the bandits $15,000 in cash. The safe was said to have contained an additional $30,000.

“The Adams Express Agency and the O.&M. railroad employed detectives. All clues led straight to the Reno gang, already infamous as robbers, sluggers and bullies. Gang leader John Reno, his brother Simeon, and a desperado named Frank Sparks were arrested. But arrest meant nothing. The gangsters were soon at liberty under bond. They never came to trial. One witness was shot down in cold blood on the threshold of his home. The Reno gang, which had grown powerful during the turbulent days of the Civil war, held Jackson county in the grip of cold, clammy fear.

The Reno gang kept up their lawless ways for the next couple of years.

At one point, officials captured John. They sentenced him to 25 years in prison.

The rest of the lawless brothers with moral support by their sister, Laura, continued robbing and looting.

However, the Seymour townsfolk, tired of the criminal element, began ridding their town of the less savory characters.

As the people of Seymour took control, the Reno gang split into smaller groups, which became their downfall.

As officials caught the bandits, a vigilante group of masked men would overpower the officials and take the men for lynching.

This happened at least three separate times.

The last incident occurred at the jail in New Albany. Frank, William and Simeon Reno along with their cohort Charles Anderson awaited trial in the jail.

The vigilantes, 50 or so, battered the door until they gained access. One by one the four men were hanged at the jail.

Laura Reno vowed to extract vengeance on the vigilantes, but no recorded incidents specifically mention retaliation.

John Reno served his time and returned to farm.

Some claim that Jesse James or the Dalton gang may be more famous, however the Reno gang not only did the first train robbery, their robberies netted them more money.

The trains of the Utah State Quarter show against a background of a steam locomotive.

Utah State Quarter with Train Background