There are people these days who think we should get rid of the police officers, but they are obviously not thinking about the Old West. In the early days of the Old West, there were no law men. People had to take care of themselves. And contrary to what you might think, many people didn’t just carry a gun everywhere then either. That basically left them defenseless in many situations. On this day October 6, 1866, the Reno Gang carried out the first robbery of a moving train in United States history. Prior to that day, trains had been robbed while they were at the stations or in the freight yards, but that was proving to be a little dangerous, as the lawmen that were in the west were mostly in the towns. The Reno Gang changed the way criminals thought about things.
I’m not sure if their plan would have been considered innovative exactly, but as crime goes, I suppose it was. Their idea was that if they robbed the train in some remote area of the track, the crew of the train, and the people on it would be at their mercy, and they could take what they chose to. That first moving train robbery was on an Ohio and Mississippi train in Jackson County, Indiana, and netted the gang a profit of $10,000. It was a piece of cake, because there was no one to save the people on board. While I don’t believe anyone died, they were all very scared.
The news of this new type of robbery traveled fast, and before long, trains became a moving target. There were gangs, like Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch who found train robbery so easy and profitable, that for a time, it became their specialty. The large stashes of cash and precious minerals on the trains and the sparsely populated landscape, gave the gangs just what they needed for success. Nevertheless, like all crime, eventually precautions were taken to prevent continued loss. By the late 1800s, robbing trains became increasingly dangerous. Railroad owners started protecting their trains’ valuables with large safes, armed guards, and fortified boxcars.
The Reno Gang was finally captured in 1868 after a series of robberies. That December saw another type of problem that develops when there is a lack of lawmen…vigilante justice. A mob of the citizens of the town, stormed the jail and hanged the brothers, Frank, Simeon, and William Reno and fellow gang member, Charlie Anderson. Their brother John Reno had been caught earlier and was serving time in a different prison.