The first gang ever to commit a train robbery was the Reno gang. In 1866, they stopped a train and stole the safe from the baggage car. There was $15,000 inside. They committed a few more robberies, and one murder, until they were caught a short time later. They were locked up on a train that was to take them to Seymour, Indiana for a trial. Before the train got to Seymour, it was stopped, and a band of angry horsemen pulled the members of the gang off from the train and hanged them all from trees near the tracks. That was the end of the Reno gang.
Trains were popular with outlaws for several reasons:
First, they were easy targets. In the Wild West there was a lot of unguarded track out in the desert or prarie. Sometimes the trains had to go so slowly around a bend or up a hill, and someone next to the track could simply jump on.
A re-enactment of a train robbery!
Second, some trains carried lots of cash or gold, and these shipments were made at regularly scheduled times. Outlaws who stopped a train had a pretty good chance of finding something in the safe. Trains carried gold, silver, payroll, mail, freight, and passenger possessions. All of these were tempting to an outlaw.
Third, once a robbery had been committed, people usually weren’t excited about helping the railroad recover its money. They kept quiet if they knew who the criminals were, because people hated the greedy railroad owners worse than they hated train robbers.
When theTranscontinental Railroad was completed, it wasn’t long before it was robbed. On November 5, 1870, the train left Sacramento, California. It was stopped near the California-Nevada border, and the $40,000 payroll that was headed to miners in Virginia City was stolen. The train traveled on again for a few hours, and then it was stopped again by another gang of robbers near the Nevada-Utah border. These robbers also got away with some money!
A train from the Virginia and Truckee railroad
Butch Cassidy and the Wild Bunch were some of the most infamous train robbers. The railroad companies had started using time locks so that safes on trains could not be opened. But Butch Cassidy had a solution. Dynamite had just been invented. Once, his gang used too much dynamite, and when they blew up the safe, they blew $30,000 into the sky too!