First American Train Robbery – 10/6/1866

US History |


On October 6th of 1866, the Reno Brothers Gang committed America's first train robbery.

The Reno Brothers Gang was a group of natural born criminals that included four brothers from the same family – Frank, John, Bill, and Simeon. Along with other criminals, the brothers operated in the Midwestern United States during the late 1860s. They carried out the first three moving train robberies in United States history. Most of the stolen money was never recovered. They also committed a series of other crimes.

Despite being raised in a strict religious (Methodist) household, where they were forced to read the bible all day on Sunday, the Reno brothers were trouble from the start in the small Indiana town where they lived. Their transgressions included running crooked card games, setting fires and stealing horses, among other things. The behavior of the Reno brothers was so bad that eventually the family had to flee to St. Louis.

On the first moving train robbery by the Reno Brothers Gang, they escaped with more than $10,000 from an Ohio Mississippi train coming through Jackson County, Indiana. Prior to this event, train robberies had only been committed on trains that were sitting in stations or parked in freight yards. However, this new method of sticking up moving trains proved helpful to the train robbers, for the lack of law enforcement in remote areas of the early American West. The recently constructed railroads created tempting targets for criminal activity. Since the west was booming, trains often carried large stashes of cash, gold, and other valuable items. In fact, train robberies were so easy that gangs like Butch Cassidy and his Wild Bunch made a living from robbing trains.

Owners of the nation's railroads eventually got the message and upgraded the protection on railroad trains, equipping them with large, secure safes, and hiring armed guards for personal protection. By the late 1800s, robbing trains had become a job so dangerous that almost no one dared to try it.

As for the Reno brothers and quite a few of their associates, they were captured in 1868 after committing a series of murders, train robberies, assaults, and other felonies. On capture, they were thrown in an Indiana jail. In December of that year, while the Reno Brothers Gang awaited trial, a vigilante lynch mob broke into the jail and hung ten members of the Reno Gang from nooses located behind the jail. Included in the lynching were three of the Reno brothers. The fourth Reno brother was serving time at a different jail. 

It was the only time a lynching occurred on anyone who was awaiting federal trial. This created an international diplomatic conflict with Canada and Great Britain, as well as an uproar among the general public. However, in spite of the International news coverage of the lynching of these men, no one was ever prosecuted for the murders.

The Reno Brothers Gang have been portrayed in two movies, one of them starring Elvis Presley as “honest” Clint, the only Reno brother who was probably not a criminal. 

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Cody Cartier

The "Boss"

Cody is a native of Tampa Bay, Florida and lets it be known on a daily basis. Each day he is wearing some kind of Tampa Bay sports apparel, mainly that of the Buccaneers. He is a season ticket holder and hopes to one day see them make it back to the Super bowl. He started as our resident photographer, but has found that his talent lies in writing.