As the railroad spread across this land, and payrolls began coming in by way of the railroad, a new breed of criminal showed up on the scene…the train robbers. At first, the train robbers got away with it, because no one had really given much thought to the possibility of such a thing happening. Gangs like Jesse James…who was best known as a bank robber, but was also one of the early train robbers, Butch Cassidy and the Wild Bunch, the Dalton Gang, and the Reno Gang terrorized the railways, stealing the payrolls of crews working on building the railroads and towns in the west.
With the advent of train robberies came a need for a solution. Enter the train police. At first the railroads would arrange for a posse to go after the robbers, but eventually they realized that the posse was too little too late. They had to take affirmative action. So they put the police on the train with the money. I’m sure that more violence came from that action, but the robbers probably didn’t get away with it as often as they had been.
I think that in many ways, we have almost romanticized the train robbers, but in reality, they were like any other criminal. They would kill for the money they were after. The police were under as much pressure as the police these days. You can’t face a gun as a regular part of your job and not have some degree of fear for your life. These men were the law, and they were pretty much on their own. They couldn’t call in the state police, or the police from the next town over. Those were too far away…especially with the distances the trains traveled. The railroad police were the only thing standing between the robbers and the money.
Theirs was an important job too. Every time the train was robbed, peoples lives were affected. Without the payroll money, the workers couldn’t support their families, and that caused more problems. The workers were angry and then desperate. I don’t think police work would be for me, but I have to wonder if police work was harder back in the old west, or now, with the terrorism and gang issues…or if police work is police work, no matter what era it is.