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The Modern Dick Turpin
Harper's Weekly—January 16, 1892

WHEN train robbery was in its infancy, it was infinitely more easy than to-day. In those times the cars were coupled together with a pin, as is seen now on freight-cars. The road-agents would wait until the train had stopped at some little country station selected for the scene of their operations, when they would loose the coupling-pin between the express and passenger cars, and springing up on the tender, command the engineer to "pull open the throttle." This command was emphasized by a rifle, and the engineer knew that failure to obey meant death. When the express car had been carried a sufficient distance, to where the "gang" was in waiting, the order would be given to stop, and then the robbers could do as they pleased regarding the contents. Such a course was adopted by the Reno brothers in Indiana, the town of Seymour being their regular operating-place. Engineers and messengers were killed at their post of duty, immense hauls of money made, until the railroad company abandoned the station, and ceased to stop there at all. Then the gang was driven over into Canada, and effort was made to extradite them, but the attorneys for the accused held that their clients would never reach the court-room alive, as summary vengeance had been meted out to other men of like character. Allan Pinkerton was in Canada on the trail of the outlaws, and while there was shot by their friends and paralyzed. At length Mr. Seward, then Secretary of State, promised that all means would be used to protect the men, and bring them to a fair trial; so the Renos returned to this country, and were lodged in a strong jail. But the citizens were aroused, and one night a mob assailed the jail, and the prisoners were hung in the building wherein they had been placed.

The detectives Pinkerton have been the means of running many of these fellows to earth, and many of their men have been killed by the bullets of the robbers. On one occasion a robber by the name of Farrington, a member of a strong gang, was run down by William Pinkerton. He had assisted in a train robbery, and the detective was to take him to Memphis for trial. The agent at St. Louis feared that he would be lynched, and objected, but Pinkerton promised to use all precaution, and took a Mississippi steamboat. While going down the stream, the detective and his prisoner were standing by the guard rail. Both wore long holsters and suddenly the robber, holding his manacled hands together, dived into the detective's pocket and hauled forth his pistol. There was not a moment to lose. Quick as thought, Pinkerton caught the other under his chin with his fist, and the man rolled over into the river. There was nothing else to be done.

Everybody remembers the James and the Younger brothers, who held their territories paralyzed by fear, and not until they went forth to pastures new were they captured. But these men did not confine themselves to trains. In a train robbery the safe of the express messenger is the objective point, although very often the robbers have incidentally relieved the passengers of their valuables. And, strange as it may seem, one man has held many a car-load of passengers at bay, while his accomplice has collected tribute. Often have the men thus robbed been armed, but as often have they refrained from shooting. The reason given is that when the train is attacked, the robbers begin by a fusillade that throws everybody into a panic; they also know that no mercy is to be looked for. A laboring man, who happened to be in a car that was boarded by robbers, obeyed the injunction to hold up his hands, but he also held up a mason's trowel that he was carrying, and the robbers, supposing that it was a pistol, shot him dead on the instant. Whether they become panic-stricken, or are afraid of the consequences, it is hard to say, but it is a fact that one man may subdue a dozen other men, and work his own sweet will regarding them.

The papers of late have reported an unusual lot of train robberies in all sections of the country. The trains have been stopped in some out-of-the-way place, and the express car looted. Obstructions placed on the track have caused the engineer to stop, and then the robbers, who have been in waiting, have come forward and accomplished their desire. Dynamite has been used to blow open the doors of the express car, after which the messengers have been compelled to open their safes. Again, the robbers have boarded the trains at different points as passengers, and when a secluded spot is reached, the bell-cord has been pulled, and the seeming passengers have come forth in their true light. As a rule, however, the men are disguised, as shown in the picture, where part of the gang has come forward to watch the engineer. A late example of the dangers of train robbery has been illustrated in the arrest of the leader of the men who robbed the San Francisco train at Glendale, Missouri, on November 30th, and got away with $70,000 from the Adams Express messenger. Robert Pinkerton, the noted detective, at once started to unravel the mystery that enveloped the robbery, and the leader was arrested, having been followed from St. Louis to the Pacific coast, just one month after the deed was committed. This is very quick work, and shows the danger that the robbers run. In this case it was Adams Express Company that developed a great desire for the apprehension of the bandits, for their messenger was robbed, which is not always the way. Robbers have been known time and again to leave untouched the Adams Express package, while the safe in which the other valuables have been stored has been cleaned of all else.

The truth is that the robbers are afraid to take the money that is in charge of Adams Express Company, for they know that they will be hunted down for years. The company has the reputation of being most unceasing in their search for the criminal, and a like sum to that stolen will be spent in prosecuting the case. Whenever any money is lost by them, the Pinkerton detectives are, set to work at once, and all trails are followed unceasingly until the criminal is captured. The robbers know this; they know that there may be a hundred thousand dollars within their grasp, but they will decline to take it, for capture is almost assured. There is no place in the world where they can go with the assurance that they will not be followed. This last capture proves the certainty, and they do not care to take the risk. The messengers are brave men, as a rule, and many a one has lost his life in discharge of his duty. As the express company is quick to punish, so is it to reward, and on one occasion a messenger was presented with a thousand dollars for his bravery in defending the property in his care. Soon after this, another express car was boarded by a masked man, and the messenger made to open the safe, from which everything was taken. As the robber turned to go out, the messenger shot him from behind, and when the mask was lifted, the dead man proved to be the messenger lately rewarded for his fidelity.

All safeguards that have been devised for the prevention of train robbery have been overcome by the natural cussedness of man. There is really no prevention, unless the passengers rise to the occasion, which they have never done yet. The messenger maybe will fight, but he has no show, and the engineer and conductor of the train are probably looking into the muzzle of a gun; so there is only the passenger to call upon, and he shows a degree of backwardness that is hard to be believed. When an obstruction is placed upon the track, the engineer has to stop to save his train; there are no two ways about it. And there have been cases where the track has been removed, so that the train may be wrecked to satisfy the greed of the robbers.


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