The First Big Train Robbery in the US

The First Big Train Robbery in the United States

During the years immediately following the Civil War, Indiana and the rest of the Midwest were terrorized by a gang of outlaws composed entirely of Hoosiers who rode under the banner of The Reno Gang. This gang was the first of the outlaw brotherhoods in the United States and was responsible for more than 100 robberies and a great many murders.  Its biggest notoriety stemmed from the commission of the first train robbery in history, which occurred on October 6, 1866 in Seymour, Indiana.

The Reno Family and their Early Beginnings

Reno GangThe nucleus of the outlaw gang was four brothers, Frank, John, Simeon and William Renno. Later shortened to Reno.  All came from the small rural community of Rockford, then two miles north of Seymour in Southern Indiana’s Jackson County.

The Reno family had moved to the community from Kentucky and farmed more than 400 acres.  The site of the Reno farm today is just north of the Seymour Riverview Cemetery along highway 31A.  The Reno’s had five sons and one daughter, Laura Ellen.  In addition to the four outlaw brothers, the other Reno son was Clinton or “Honest Clint” as he was known, since he was the only one of the sons not to ride with the gang.  Laura Ellen was just as wild as her outlaw brothers; however, she eventually settled down, married and became a respectable citizen.

The Rockford community had experienced trouble with the Renos ever since they had moved in from Kentucky.  At first it was horse-stealing and small burglaries but in the mid – 1850’s the community merchants were mysteriously burned out and the Reno’s were suspected for arson. 

Wilkinson Reno, the father, and his four sons fled from Jackson County and settled near St. Louis, Missouri.  However, by 1860 they reckoned that the heat had died down and the suspects returned to Indiana.

Off to War

The Civil War broke out soon after the return of the Renos and the four Reno brothers enlisted, primarily to stay away from the angry citizens of Rockford, who still accused the boys of starting the fires that burned out the town merchants.

The sons all ran into trouble in the Army.  John served with Company A, the 13th Infantry, in the early months of the war, but deserted in July of 1863.  Frank, the oldest son served with the 6th Indiana Infantry and both he and Simeon were charged with bounty jumping before they also deserted from the service.  Bounty jumping was the widespread practice of enlisting, collecting the bonus, deserting, reenlisting, collecting another bonus, etc.—was an inherent defect in the military system of the time.  William was the youngest son served with the 140th Indiana Regiment.  Like his brothers he also got into trouble but was the only one to receive an honorable discharge.

The Civil War ended in 1865.  By 1866 the Renos had all returned to Rockford and had begun to organize the most ruthless group of cut-throat killers that ever existed in this country.  Their specialty was robbing and murdering the strangers and travelers who passed through Jackson County, but they also branched out to neighboring counties where they robbed and raided merchants of small communities.  They became so well organized that no law officer dared to arrest them, and no witness dared to appear in court against them to press charges.

It Didn’t Take Much Convincing

It was Frank, the oldest son, who convinced his brothers of the idea of train robbery, the “sport” that was to eventually make the James, the Daltons and the young Reno brothers infamous.  Surprisingly, it never brought to the Renos the worldwide notability the later outlaw brotherhoods gained.  The Reno Brothers chose their first train robbery to be in Seymour, Indiana because it was an important rail center in south central Indiana with several trains with express cars passing through each day.    

The First Trian Robbery in the United States

The first Train Robbery by the Reno BrothersOn the evening of October 6, 1866, three of the Reno gang boarded an Ohio & Mississippi Railway train (now the B & O) as it slowly chugged eastward out of Seymour depot.  The outlaws John and Sim Reno and Frank Sparks broke into the express car and beat the lone guard.  They broke open the “local safe” containing packages picked up at the station en route and obtained approximately $16,000.  They threw the larger safe out of the car.  It contained the packages shipped from St. Louis and was know as the “through safe.”

Waiting for the larger safe were Frank Reno and the rest of the gang.  The outlaws attempted to break open the safe but were unsuccessful.  The gang was eventually scared off by a posse that was aroused by Gordon Kinny, a witness of the robbery.  It was noted that Gordon Kinny, was mysteriously murdered the following month. 

The Adams Express Company, which was responsible for the robbery loss, soon had the famous Pinkerton Detective Agency on the trail of the robbers.  The outlaws headed west to Missouri, where they robbed the Daviess County Treasurer at Gallatin for more than $22,000.  John Reno was recognized by a witness to the robbery.  When the Renos returned to Seymour, John was seized by local officials and turned over to the waiting sheriff of Daviess County, west of Seymour.  John was rushed to by train to Missouri where he received an immediate trial and was sentenced to 25 years in the Missouri Penitentiary.  John was the only one of his outlaw brothers to escape the hangman’s noose.  He returned to Seymour in 1886 and was later convicted of counterfeiting and sentenced to three years in a northern Indiana prison.

The Second Train Robbery

In December of 1867, the second train robbery occurred at Seymour.  Two of the Renos’ cohorts, Walter Hammond and Michael Colleran, decided to try the Reno game and robbed the Ohio & Mississippi Railroad near the same location as the first robbery.  They escaped with $8,000 and immediately headed for Rockford, where they sought sanctuary with the Reno gang.  However, the Renos took the loot away from the robbers and gave them a severe beating and hauled them to the Seymour and turned them over to the local law officials.  The Renos then divided the stolen money amongst themselves.

In March of 1868, the Renos learned that Seymour citizens were organizing a vigilante group and so they headed west again, this time to Iowa.  They soon gained attention in that state by robbing the Harrison and Mills County treasurers within a few days’ time and escaped with nearly $26,000.  However, the Pinkerton men were soon on the trail of the outlaws.  From an informer’s tip, the Pinkerton men received a tip that four members of the Reno gang were hiding at a farmhouse near Council Bluffs.  The four robbers were apprehended and imprisoned in the Council Bluffs jail.  On April 1, a few days later the remaining members of the gang broke into the jail and freed the prisoners and the desperadoes headed back to Indiana.

The Biggest Robbery Ever in the US and the Slow Demise of the Reno Gang

On their return to the Hoosier state, the Renos planned the biggest robbery of their career.  This was the famous Marshfield Train Robbery that was to bring nationwide attention to the Reno gang.

On the night of May 22, 1868, a train on the Jeffersonville, Madison & Indianapolis Railroad (now the Penn Central) pulled out of the Jeffersonville depot and headed northward for Seymour.  At 11:00 PM the train stopped at Marshfield, a small station 14 miles south of Seymour and located between the cities of Scottsburg and Austin, Indiana, to take on wood and water.

Suddenly 12 men moved out of the darkness and in a few minutes overpowered the engineer and uncoupled all the cars except the express car.  Before the startled passengers knew what had happened the locomotive and the express car disappeared at full speed towards Seymour.  Four of the brothers broke into the express car and after pistol whipping the express manager, Thomas Harkins, threw his body off the train.  Hawkins was found fatally injured the next morning.

The stolen train finally halted in the Mascatatuck River bottoms about six miles south of Seymour.  There the gang broke open the Adams Company safe and made away with over $96,000 in bonds, cash and currency notes.  The Adams Company again rushed the Pinkerton detectives in full pursuit of the outlaws, but the gang had scattered to all parts of the Midwest.

Soon, some of the gang members returned to Jackson County and they immediately began to plot a train robbery without the help of the famous brothers.  On July 9, 1868, six of the Reno gang, Frank Sparks, Volney Elliott, John Moore, Charles Roseberry, Henry Jerrell and Theodore Clifton, attempted to rob the O & M train at the Shields watering station near Brownstown, Indiana, just west of Seymour.  However, the engineer, James Flanders, had gained knowledge of the plan and 10 Pinkerton detectives were hidden in the express car. 

When the outlaws attempted to enter the express car, they were met with a fusillade of gunfire.  Jerrell, Elliott and Moore were wounded, but all the outlaws were able to escape except Elliott.  He informed on the other five members of the gang and Clifton and Roseberry were arrested near Rockford.  The three prisoners were taken to the Seymour jail for confinement.

Jackson County Vigilance Committee

On the night of July 20, the three criminals were placed on an O & M train about three miles west of Seymour.  The train was stopped by a large mob of hooded men who called themselves the Jackson County Vigilance Committee.  The hooded group forced the law officials to turn over the three terrified prisoners, who were immediately taken to a large nearby beech tree where the three outlaws were lynched.

Meanwhile, Sparks, Moore, and Jarrell had fled to Coles County, Illinois, where they hid out at the farm of a friend.  Through the interception of a letter from Jerrell, the authorities found out their hiding place and they were seized the day after the lynching of their comrades.  The remaining three criminals were brought to Seymour by train and then placed under escort in a wagon for the trip to the Brownstown jail.  Again, on the night of July 25, the wagon was stopped at the same large beech tree by the same hooded vigilantes and the remaining outlaws were lynched from the same limb as the others.

The site of the hanging of the six victims is still know as Hangman’s Crossing, although the old beech tree is gone, the story is told that it was supposedly burned to the ground by relatives of the lynched outlaws.

Jailed in Scott County

That same month the authorities began to catch up with the Reno Brothers who so far had eluded the law.  Simeon and William Reno were captured by Pinkerton men in Indianapolis and taken to Lexington, the county seat for Scott County.  Upon the arrest of the two Reno boys the scarlet masked riders openly announced they would raid the jailhouse and hang the outlaw brothers.  It is important to note, the jail house in Lexington was a very unsubstantial one story brick structure built in 1847.  At the same time the scarlet riders announced their intentions, members of the Reno gang sent warnings to the railroads “that all trains would be derailed, bridges burned and the tracks torn up if our friends, the Renos, are lynched by the vigilantes.”

The sheriff of Scott County, William Wilson, strengthened the jail and pleaded for assistance from the citizens of Lexington to fight off any raid attempts by the vigilantes. Governor Conrad Baker announced a state of insurrection and issued marching orders to the state militia.  On July 27, he sent from Indianapolis to Lexington 200 stands of arms and instructed the Sheriff to summon the Posse Comitatus, meaning the power of the county.  By the common law the sheriff may summon every male inhabitant of the county who is above the age of fifteen years of age and not infirm to use them for the protection of the prisoners.

When the Renos in the jail were told of the recent lynchings of their six fellow outlaws in Jackson County, William Reno “shook the bars of his cell, cursed and shouted defiance to the Sheriff’s men,” while Simeon lay on his straw bunk “and shook with fear and apprehension.”

Reno Brothers transferred to New Albany Jail

Laura Ellen Reno, sister of the Reno Brothers, offered to pay the county all expenses of transferring her brothers to the sturdier New Albany jail, was readily accepted by the Scott County officials.  Ex-sheriff, William Daily, assisted by Sheriff Deputy, William Amos, and a heavy guard, secretly removed the Renos from the jail and traveled all night on horseback through the rain, a distance of thirty miles, in a despite gamble to escape the threatened attack by vigilantes.  They arrived in a very bedraggled condition at the New Albany jail at about 7:00 AM on July 29.  They turned the prisoners over to Sheriff Thomas Fullenlove of Floyd County.

A preliminary hearing was set for July 30th, so it became necessary to return them to Lexington almost immediately.  The Seymour Vigilantes Committee promptly declared that the Reno Brothers would never reach Lexington alive.  The brothers were whisked out of the jail at New Albany taken to Louisville, Kentucky and hustled on board a steamer General Buell which departed for Cincinnati at 3:00 PM. At 6:00 PM, the steamboat landed the officers and prisoners at the Madison Wharf, fifty miles up the river.  They were met by a large posse of Scott Countians, armed to the teeth with pistols and rifles.  To afford maximum protection from the lynchers the officers decided to travel after dark, so they left Madison at 8:00 PM to avoid detection.  Thus, the desperadoes were escorted back to Lexington, a distance of about twenty miles over country roads arriving there just before dawn. 

That morning the State Militia, composed of about fifty local recruited Civil War veterans under General Mansfield, marched into Lexington.  The ordinarily peaceful little town was soon turned into an armed camp with soldiers strung in double lines about the courthouse and jail.  Lynching threats had been received and the newspaper predicted “that an army of hangmen is expected hourly.”

A correspondent who signed himself VIENNA, is a dispatch to the Seymour Democrat said in part, “an amateur artillery company was organized.  The brass cannon, which had done service in General Jackson’s defense of New Orleans but was disabled by Morgan on his Indiana raid in July 1863, was brought out of the courthouse and loaded with a very long chain and a quantity of broken pieces of iron.  It was aimed straight down the Vienna Road.”

For a while it appeared as though the Vigilance Committee would ride into Lexington and openly attack the militia.  To add to the utter confusion thousands of curious people streamed into town on foot, horseback, by wagon and train to observe the impending battle.

The hearing of the Renos was set for 10:00 AM, July 30th.  Long before the doors of the little brick courthouse, built in 1821, were open there were a long line of spectators anxiously waiting to be admitted.  When Judge Jewett took the bench, there was not a spare inch of space in the courtroom.  Outside of the building a huge crowd milled about impatiently in the bright sunshine, hoping to get a glimpse of the famed outlaws.  Never since its founding in 1805 had Lexington experienced such intense excitement as prevailed then.  The brief sojourn of General Morgan and his 2,000 Confederate cavalrymen just five years previously seemed like a Sunday school picnic as compared to the roar of this occasion.

At 10:15 AM there was a stir in the courtroom, heads twisted about, and voices were raised in anticipation.  Someone yelled, “Here they come!” as a squad of ten blue uniformed militiamen appeared, forcing their way through the tightly packed crowd and up the aisle, with the two Reno brothers packed in the center of the men.  The outlaws were dressed in black suits, white shirts and broad black plantation hats.  They stumbled along as fast as was possible with their manacles of leg irons.  The appearance of the two train robbers in the courtroom was a signal for an outburst which bordered on pandemonium.  Men shouted and pounded the floor and benches with their heavy boots, crying, “Hang them! Hang the train robbers!”

Judge Jewett pounded furiously with his gavel trying to obtain order enough to open his court.  The militiamen moved closer about the prisoners, fingering the triggers of their rifles.  The two brothers stood motionless staring at the judge.  At least there was comparative quiet in the courtroom.  Robert M. Weir, the prosecuting attorney, rose impressively with a sheaf of paper in his hand and read several affidavits stating that the two Renos and others had participated in the robbery at Marshfield on May 22, 1868.

The prisoners’ plea of not guilty, signaled another demonstration and shouts of disappointment and vexation filled the crowded room, as the spectators began leaving their benches and milling about the room.  The deputies posted around the perimeter of the room moved forward cautiously. 

Colonel Samuel S. Crowe, attorney for the defense, said that the Renos would waive preliminary examination and ask for bail.  Judge Jewett stated that the bail would be $63,000 each.  Colonel Crowe acknowledged that the brothers would have to default and be recommitted.  General Mansfield wasted no time.  He shouted an order.  The militiamen flanking the Renos executed an about face and marched out of the courtroom with their prisoners amid the angry roar of hoots and hisses from the disappointed spectators.  Then in a few moments they reappeared in the courtroom, pushing their way through to the bench, ignoring the angry growls of the audience.  After the judge had again banged for order the prosecutor read a warrant signed by Major Allan Pinkerton charging the prisoners with conspiracy to commit a felony on May 22nd, and named Frank Reno, Charles Anderson, Albert Perkins and Charles Spencer as their accomplices.

When the prisoners again plead not guilty the disturbance that followed was sheer pandemonium.  Men leaped over the benches, clawing and punching the militiamen, trying to get to the cowering outlaws.  All the while the judge was vainly hammering with his gavel, attempting to obtain some assemblance of order and threatening to clear the courtroom.  The crowd slowly sank back in their seats, but the noise and confusion continued unabated.

Using their bayonets and rifle butts the guardsmen were finally able to fight there was out of the courtroom with their prisoners.  Windows were smashed and those inside shouted to the mob outside. Again, the militiamen found themselves surrounded.  The crowd began kicking, pushing, fighting as their uniforms were torn and ripped, they made their way back to the jail battling the angry mob every step of the way.  Luckily, both sides kept their heads after a fashion, and there was no shots and no casualties, but the turmoil didn’t end as it spilled out onto the courthouse square.

Jailhouse Reporting 

A Cincinnati Times reporter received permission to interview the brothers in their cells.  As he was admitted to the jail, he observed Laura Ellen Reno talking to her brothers.  He overheard her say in a low tone, “Be careful, boys; if all the world deserts you there is still one left who will stand by you at all hazards, your sister?”  He described her as follows: “She is of rather medium size, finely molded form, as beautiful an eye as was ever in women’s head, hair quite dark and in short ringlets all over her head.  She is in fact as handsome a girl of seventeen as I ever saw and has a look of the most intellectual character.”

As she left the jail “several unfeeling remarks were addressed to her by bystanders, “and she retorted, “Can you blame me, a sister, for standing by my brother?”

The reporter had a long conversation with the Renos.  “They seemed quite anxious to know what the feelings of the mob were; and when informed that the danger had passed and that they would have a fair trial, each of the brothers gave a vent to their relief in words showing how great had been the suspense and fear.”

Outlaws transferred back to the Floyd County Jail

The following day, July 31st, the Pinkerton detectives, General Mansfield, Judge Jewett, Prosecutor Weir and Defense Attorney Crowe held a secret meeting and decided that the two outlaws should be returned to New Albany’s jail for security.  So that night a large body of militiamen and detectives accompanied Sheriff Wilson and his deputies on the roundabout journey which, as before, was completed by horseback and wagon to Madison; then by steamboat Major Anderson to Louisville, and thereon to the apparent safety of the Floyd County jail.

The hot summer days slipped by without incident, but an uneasy calm seemed to hang over southern Indiana.  The on August 5th, 1868, the New Albany Ledger, against the wishes of the authorities, “let the cat out of the bag” when it announced on its front page the news that the Reno trail had finally been set at Lexington on September 7th.  This tidbit of information was just what the vigilantes had been waiting for…  They immediately began laying plans for an attack on Lexington.

On the night of September 6th mounted messenger pounded along the backroads of Jackson County.  Men met in out-of-the-way farmhouses and in homes and business places in Seymour and wrote out their plans and orders by candlelight.  Soon all was in the readiness.  By midnight a hundred masked me had gathered at the J.M. & I. depot in Seymour.  Each man wore a scarlet flannel mask covering his entire face, with holes cut out for eyes and had his coat turned inside out.  Some had numbers chalked on their backs.  Many were armed with rifles, army muskets, shotguns, and even clubs.  Others had hunting knives and cap and ball pistols stuck in their belts.  Several carried coils of manila rope.

There was no noise or disorder.  A whispered command ran down the lines as s puffing, wood burning locomotive and two coaches backed into a siding along the main tracks.  One by one the silent masked men noiselessly entered the unlighted cars.  The train, begun its journey southward.  At about 1:00 AM the train jerked to a halt beside the depot in Vienna, just eight miles south of Marshfield, where the Reno gang had committed their most successful holdup just four moths earlier.  The cars were emptied in a few minutes then in rows of four, with military precision, the vigilantes marched up a slight rise to the main part of the sleeping little village.  The leader called “Number One” by his men ordered small groups of men to visit certain houses that had been carefully selected days before. 

Speed characterized all of their movements which were orderly and quietly carried out.  Their plans had been well organized, and the procedure was always the same.  The house was surrounded, and one man would knock at the door.  When the door opened by the unsuspecting resident, several armed men would push their way inside.  The astounded night shirt clad man of the house would be forced to put on his coat and boots and forced to accompany the vigilantes to his barn.  There he was ordered to hitch up his team to the wagon.  Then he was told, “go back into your house and go to bed.  Keep quiet and no harm will come to you.  Don’t worry, your property will be returned to you in good condition before the night is over.”

Within a half and hour, more than a dozen wagons were lined up in the street.  Then at a signal from the leader the creaking, but otherwise silent, caravan made its way to Lexington, five miles to the east.  About 2:00 AM the scarlet masked night riders entered Lexington and completely surrounded the little town.  They “arrested” a few citizens found on the streets and detained them in the courthouse under guard.  A group of vigilantes went to the home of William Wilson, the sheriff.  A deputy, William Amos, was in charged there in the absence of the sheriff, who was in New Albany.  The door was barred on the inside and he refused to open.  The vigilantes broke down the door and entered the house with drawn weapons.  They ordered him to get the keys and open up the jail.

When the deputy told the vigilantes that no one was in the jail they dragged him outside and beat him with clubs.  Seeing that further resistance was useless, he consented to open the jail.  Spluttering torches lighted the eerie scene as he inserted the large key and opened the heavy wooden door.  Several of the vigilantes, their red masks flapping in the breeze, tossed ropes over the limbs of nearby trees, as their companions pushed their way into the jail behind Deputy Amos.  A quick search reveled the absence of any one in the iron-barred cells.

As soon as he was released Amos hurried back to the jailer’s house and sent his son to the residence of Judge Jewett to ask him what he should do?  The judge sent word back to the father “to keep cool and do not try to resist the mob.”

Meanwhile the leader of the army split his vigilantes into three groups.  One block off the road which lead from Lexington to New Albany and to Madison on the supposition that the two Renos might yet arrive over these avenues.  The second, and largest group, galloped out of town bound for Vienna to halt the 6:00 AM train for New Albany, which they assumed might possibly have the outlaw brothers on board.  The third group remained at Lexington patrolling the streets and surrounding the public square wherein the courthouse and jail both sit.  Couriers on fast horses provided lines of communication between all three groups.

When the J.M & I train from New Albany chugged into Vienna, on time, the scarlet-masked mob was waiting for it.  The vigilantes carefully searched every car but again they were disappointed.  The telegraph operator at the station had been surprised at his instrument before he could spread the alarm.  He was quickly locked up in a storeroom and a man in a red mask took over his key and intercepting all incoming messages, but all were merely routine. 

Finally, Number One, who was with the group in Vienna, gave the order for the mob to regroup at Vienna.  Riders summoned the men on guard at the two roadblocks and at the square in Lexington.  One climbed up a telegraph pole and cut the wires.  Within the hour the vigilantes had reassembled and boarded the train cars which were still waiting on the siding for them.  The leader gave an order to the engineer to return to Seymour.  The big driving wheels turned slowly, and the train puffed away from Vienna depot headed back north.  About two miles south of Seymour the train stopped, and the mob quietly scattered into the surrounding countryside.

The surprising thing about the invasion of Lexington was that few of the citizens heard of the affair until after the vigilantes had left.  But, as one might have expected, the dramatic invasion created no end of excitement and conversation in the little town.  Later that day Scott County officials disclosed to the world what had happened that saved the Renos from the hangman’s noose at the hands of the vigilantes.  A telegram had been received from Allan Pinkerton, that Frank Reno and Charles Anderson had been arrested in Windsor, Canada and would be extradited to the United States for trail.  Rather than have his client, the Adams Express Company, together with the state and county bear the expense of separate trails, he suggested postponing the trial of William and Simeon Reno and trying all four desperados together.  The jittery county officials reluctantly accepted the suggestion, and the Sheriff of Floyd County, Thomas J. Fullenlove, was ordered by the Governor to keep the Reno brothers in New Albany.

If they touch my brothers, God will punish them

In a masterful piece of understatement one newspaper stated, “Had the Renos been taken to Scott County they would certainly have suffered!”  Laura Ellen Reno, accompanied by a young lady friend, arrived in Lexington only a few short hours after the vigilantes had left, herself not aware of what had taken place there earlier that night.  She was told that the trial had been postponed and of the visit of the mob.  Back home at the Reno farmhouse in Rockford she solemnly declared to a newspaper reporter from Cincinnati, “If they touch my brothers, God will punish them.”  Returning Frank Reno and Charles Anderson to the United States was no easy matter as it turns out.  Outlaws, assassins, bickering politicians, President Andrew Johnson, Secretary of State William Seward, Governor- General-Vincent Monck and British Ambassador to the United States Edward Thornton, all played important roles in the extradition proceedings.  Finally, on October 6, 1868, the prisoners were ordered by Justice McMicken remanded for the extradition to the United States.  The next day Pinkerton and his hardened prisoners boarded a steamer bound for Cleveland.  From there they traveled under heavy guard by train to Cincinnati.  They came to Louisville on the steamer America and spent one night there.  The following day the prisoners were delivered to the New Albany jail where Frank Reno had an unhappy reunion with his two brothers.

When it became known that more of the Reno Gang had been spirited into the jail at New Albany the citizens of that city and Floyd County became terrified.  It was no secret that the Seymour Vigilance Committee were making plans to storm the jailhouse.  One newspaper reported in a dispatch from Fort Wayne that the remnants of the Reno Gang “had held a convention resolving to lay Seymour to ashes if the Renos were hanged and threats were made against the people.”

Some editorial writers lambasted and ridiculed Scott County officers for imprisoning the outlaws in New Albany – a move which they thought would obviously result in mob violence.  Others taunted Judge Patrick Jewett for “being afraid to examine the prisoners.”

Jackson County Vigilance Committee visit New Albany

Feelings about the matter grew so intense that Sheriff Fullenlove of Floyd County 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.”  This was a brave but foolhardy statement as later events would prove.**  On the night of December 11, 1868, a mysterious train left the Seymour depot of the Jeffersonville, Madison & Indianapolis Railroad.  It pulled into Jeffersonville depot just after midnight and several hundred scarlet-hooded men left the first train and seized another for their short journey to New Albany.  The smaller train chugged into the Pearl Street station in New Albany and the masked men quickly formed rows of four for the short march to the jail at the corner of State and Spring Streets.

Arriving there they immediately cut the telegraph wires and seized the jail guard Chuck Whitten, who had been hired to patrol the outside of the grounds of the jail.  The mob then broke into the combined jail and Sheriff’s residence, where they seized Sheriff Fullenlove and his wife.  They also captured County Commissioner C. H. Neal and Henry Perrett who were spending the night with the Sherriff.  When the Sheriff refused to hand over the keys to the Renos’ cells, the mob beat him severely and shot him in the right arm.

Lynch Mob Justice for the Renos

The Sheriff’s wife surrendered the keys to the vigilantes and they immediately dragged the three Renos and Anderson from their cells.  At 4:30 AM on the morning of December 12 the last members of the Reno Gang received frontier justice from the lynch mob.  One by one, the four outlaws were carried or dragged to the top of the iron stairway at the second story of the jail.  First to be hung was Frank from cell 24.  The next was the youngest of the brothers, William from cell 7.  The third Reno, Simeon, was taken from cell 11 and also hung down in the old stairway.  Last of all was Anderson, who died with a prayer on his lips and who had to be strung up twice since the first rope broke.

Swiftly as it had come the mysterious mob marched out of the jail and back to the waiting train.  At Jeffersonville, the original train was again boarded and the Seymour Vigilance Committee or the Scarlet Masks as they were thereafter called, returned to their homes just as dawn was breaking. 

The outlaws’ sister Laura was attending school at the St. Ursula Academy in Louisville and she was brought to New Albany to identify the bodies and to take them home to Seymour for burial.  The infamous outlaw brothers were buried in a large plot in the old Seymour Cemetery now at the corner of Ninth and Ewing Streets with large stones erected for all four graves.

The cemetery has now been abandoned and is covered with weeds.  However, the old Reno plot can still be found, although most of the monuments have been destroyed by vandals.  The only stone remaining is a “government stone” at the grave of William Reno.  This stone can still be deciphered although it is broken off.  The stone marking the graves of Frank and Simeon Reno have disappeared.

Thus, came to the end the most ruthless gang in the history of Indiana, undoubtedly much better organized and more dangerous than the Dillinger Gang and the other hoodlum gangs of the Twentieth Century.

For more historical information on the Reno Gang and other Scott County History visit the Scott County Heritage Center and Museum located at 1050 S Main St, Scottsburg, IN 47170 or call them at (812) 752-1050.

Story written and reshared by Mary Wilson and Sharon Y. Asher with excerpts taken from “Outdoor Indiana,” written by Arville L. Funk and reprinted from “The Scarlet Mask” written by Carl R. Bogardus, Sr., M.D., 1960

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