Moment of Indiana History

Reno Gang

Frank, John, Simeon and William Reno were raised on a 400-acre farm in Jackson County along with a sister, Laura, and a relatively law-abiding brother, known later as “Honest Clint.” Sundays, the children were required to spend the day reading scripture. By the mid 1850’s, a series of burglaries and arsons were rumored to be the work of the Reno boys, who consequently absconded, with father Wilkison Reno, to St. Louis. Once the war began, the Renos returned to Rockford, where the reign of lawlessness resumed. Travelers, merchants, farmers and bankers in Jackson County and beyond were terrorized by the siblings and their associates, who became equally well known for the practice of bounty jumping—that is, presenting themselves for military service, pocketing the recruiter’s payment and deserting camp. This fraudulent practice was even more lucrative when it involved accepting payment from a draft-dodger to take his place.

With its home base in Seymour, the Reno Gang parlayed the accident of its geographical bearings into the criminal feat that secured its place in history. Located at the intersection of major rail lines running between Louisville and Indianapolis (the Jeffersonville, Madison & Indianapolis Railroad), and Cincinnati and St. Louis (the Ohio and Mississippi Railway), Seymour saw its share of trains—especially those transporting payroll deliveries and wealthy city folk. On the evening of October 6, 1866, three members of the Reno posse boarded an eastbound train, beat up the guard and broke open a safe containing $16,000, throwing a larger safe off the train, where their cronies lay in wait. A copycat train robbery the following year proved to have been wrangled by Reno associates. Though the legendary Pinkerton Detective Agency was by this time hot on the Renos’ trail, the gang’s second rail heist, May 22, 1868, was its most ambitious, and most profitable. Boarding the northbound train at Marshfield, 14 miles south of Seymour, twelve outlaws subdued the train’s officials—killing one—and uncoupled the locomotive and the express car from the rest of the train. Cracking the train’s safe yielded spoils approaching $100,000.

Just over a month later, the Renos’ third attempt at railway larceny was their undoing. A train engineer they’d bribed tipped off the Pinkertons, who were hiding in the express car at a watering station near Brownstown when the gangsters boarded. But their arrest on the night of July 9, 1868 only signaled the start of one of the most notorious chapters of vigilante justice in American history.

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