|A Year of Indiana History - 2016|
The town of Marshfield, Indiana was the site of one of the earliest recorded train robberies in the United States. The locally famous Reno gang pulled off the robbery that proved to be the last criminal act by the gang.
Platted on May 22, 1857, the founders named the town after Marshfield, Massachusetts. The post office opened on April 6, 1857 and remained until 1989. By the 1860's the town had grown to include a dry goods store, a hotel, three churches, three saloons, two blacksmith shops, a grain warehouse, a wagon and carriage manufactory, a grocery store, a drug store and three physicians. The Jeffersonville, Madison and Indianapolis Railroad used it as a water stop. The locomotives of that era needed to stop to replenish the water in their boilers every few miles to keep going. The now abandoned town is on US 31 about three miles north of Scottsburg, Indiana
The Reno Gang operated primarily in the southern Indiana countryside in and around Jackson County. Their repertoire of crime included robbery, arson, bribery, murder and burglary. Their train robbing activities provided a primer for later western outlaws like the James Gang.
The Reno Family
James Reno moved into Indiana from Kentucky in 1813, locating near the small town of Rockford, Indiana. His son, Wilkinson Reno married Julia Ann and had five sons and one daughter. Frank was the oldest, born in 1837, followed by John in 1838, Simeon ("Sim") in 1843, Clinton in 1847, William in 1848, and Laura, in 1851. The only sibling not involved in the gang was Clint. The parents tried to instill a righteous upbringing by requiring the children to study the bible for hours at a time on Sunday. Four of the sons rebelled, as well as Laura.
Criminal Activities Begin
Their criminal activity began with card games they would play with travelers along the road. The children cheated and hoodwinked travelers out of their money. Their activity soon expanded to arson in 1851 when several businesses in Rockford were burned. Everyone suspected the Reno’s, but no one ever filed charges. When the Civil War began, the Reno’s discovered the art of "bounty jumping." They would enlist in an army unit; collect the bounty, and then desert. Before the end of the war, the Reno’s had recruited other outlaws to come into the area. Using a hotel called the Radar House as a headquarters; the gang planned their criminal activity, which included post office robberies, burglaries and arsons. The authorities arrested them several times, but witnesses never came forward for fear of their lives, so they always released them. There was cause for the witnesses fear, because many who did threaten to testify were murdered. Jackson County had become a nest of crime with county officials either accepting bribes or intimidated into inactivity. A precursor to their famous train robbery occurred on October 6, 1866 when three members of the gang boarded an Ohio & Mississippi train. After the train started, the gang members forced their way into the Adams Express Company car and forced the messenger inside to surrender his keys. The gang members opened a safe, stole the cash and gold inside. They rolled one safe off the back of the train and pulled on the signal rope. The engineer stopped the train. The gang members then pulled on the rope again, signaling the "all clear" message to the engineer. As the train pulled away, the gang made off with the loot. They were unable to open the safe they had rolled off the back.
The Train Robbery
The Marshfield train robbery served as the model for the James Gang and those that came after. It occurred on May 22, 1868. The train had left Jeffersonville, Indiana and reached Marshfield around 11:00 PM. Twelve gang members moved out of the darkness and overpowered the train crew. They uncoupled the train from the locomotive, leaving only the Adams Express coupled to the locomotive. They took the train on, ordering the engineer to proceed, at gunpoint. The train continued to Seymour while the outlaws ransacked the car. The Messenger resisted and they threw him from the speeding train. The Messenger survived, though hurt badly. Their efforts paid off when the outlaws found $96,000 in US Government bond, cash and gold. They ordered the engineer to stop in a valley of the Muscatatuck River where other gang members waited with horses. After dividing the loot, the gang took off into the darkness.
Over time, most of the Reno brothers were apprehended. A band of vigilantes in Jeffersonville hanged them on December 12, 1868 as they awaited trail. Legend has it that there is $96,000 in gold, cash and securities still buried somewhere in Jackson County, as the gang members never divulged where they stashed the loot.
Excerpted from the author’s book:
Exploring Indiana's Historic Sites, Markers & Museums - South East Edition
A Year of Indiana History - 2016