On this day, 146 years ago, the Reno Gang carried out the very first moving train robbery in the United States. To close Lomography’s “Break the Lock” challenge, we bring you a tale of crime innovation in this installment of Today in History.
On October 6, 1866, a group of bandits called the Reno Gang managed to embezzle a fortune off a moving Ohio & Mississippi train in Jackson County, Indiana, running off with a loot of more than $10,000. Before this innovative caper, robbers only declared hold-ups on trains parked at freight yards and stations.
The Reno Gang’s existence was a history maker on its own, being the first “brotherhood of outlaws” in the United States. The innovation in robbery was a risk worth taking for the four Reno Brothers and their accomplices around the time, particularly due to the booming economy of the west. Many trains started carrying loads of cash and heaps of precious minerals, making them attractive targets for daring robbers. The fact that transcontinental and regional railroads passed along areas that had poor security and lax law enforcement meant that robbery groups could carry out their crimes with little risk of getting caught.
Robbing trains on the road eventually became such an effortless and lucrative act that for a time, some bands of bandits opted to make it their criminal specialty, like Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch. Railroad owners soon felt the need to be wiser and started implementing precautions to these robberies by equipping their trains with large safes, armed guards, and even reinforced boxcars.
As for the Reno Gang, they were all finally captured in 1868 after carrying out a series of train robberies and other crimes. In December of the same year, a mob charged into the Indiana prison holding the bandits and imposed vigilante justice upon them. Reno brothers Frank, Simeon, and William (John, their other brother, was captured earlier and was already imprisoned in a different jail), and gang member Charlie Anderson met a grisly fate and were hanged by the angry mob.