Does anyone know which railroad suffered the most robberies prior to statehood?
I'd be amazed and impressed if anybody could provide a definitive answer to this question. For some reason, Oklahoma was crossed by quite a large number of railroads. Somebody at the OK Gen Web site has come up with a list of perhaps forty railroads passing through the state, but not all of them existed prior to 1907. The list does refer to rail lines mentioned in a 1915 atlas, many of which probably existed before statehood. No less than seventeen railroads make this list, though I think that many of them were "short line" operations consisting of relatively short (and usually east/west) tracks between the major railhead towns.
Just off the top of my head, and I'm sure to overlook some, I think the major rail operations prior to statehood were the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe, with a north/south route through the center of the state, the Missouri Pacific/Iron Mountain, mostly east/west trackage, and the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific (a somewhat localized operation) were the principle rail operations.
And then of course the MKT, the Katy, which had the major north/south track in the eastern part of the state. My guess--and it's just a guess--is that the Katy would be the most often robbed railroad, simply because the population density of eastern OK was generally higher than the rest of the state at that time, such density resulting in accumulations of capital attractive to robbers. Also, the Katy line went through many of the territories occupied by the Five "Civilized" Tribes who were entitled to regular cash dispersements because of treaty obligations, such cash (usually transported by railroad) representing a very attractive target for train robbers. But this is just a guess.
My gut feeling is that the Katy, the MKT, was hit the most often because it is the oldest through line beginning 1870 or thereabouts. Other lines: Atlantic and Pacific 1872 and 1883; Frisco 1886; Iron Mountain 1886; Santa Fe 1886-7; Rock Island 1889; and the Choctaw Midland. Just a spot check from easy to reach references show Territory based gangs hit the Katy 4 times; the ATSF 4 times; the Missouri Pacific 3 times; the Rock Island twice and the Frico once between 1890-1896. I think the Katy was hit several times before 1890 but I'll have to check another source to be sure. There weren't a lot of railroads going through the Indian Nations prior to the mid-1880's because the tribes had such a bad time with the Katy and because the railroad companies kept insisting on the bonus land along the right of way; the alternating sections most companies then sold to settlers. The tribes refused to grant the companies these concessions. There's a heck of a book which discusses the MK&T and the relationship of the tribes with the railroads by Masterson, V. V., The KATY Railroad and the Last Frontier, (University of Oklahoma Press: Norman: 1952)
Thanks for the info. I already have the wonderful Masterson book on the MKT. What was your source
for info on the years between 1890 and 1896. Look forward to your reply.
Mike: I'm amazed and impressed! I have evidence the Katy was robbed once at Vinita on September 13, 1882, by a Barney Sweeney, who claimed to be a cousin of Jesse James. During this attempted robbery the Katy conductor, Mr. "Chick" Warner, was seriously wounded by a gunshot to his jaw. Tom Furlong, the chief detective of the "Gould System" of railroads solved the case. In his employ at that time was Sam Sixkiller, who was not able to assist in the investigation and arrest because he was sick. Instead, Furlong approached Sam's brother Luke Sixkiller who was then living in Vinita for help. It is fair to say that Luke Sixkiller did not cover himself with glory during the ensuing events, as he refused to assist Furlong and his detectives until Sam recovered.
Just for what it is worth, the Masterson book on the history of the Katy is not universally respected by some scholars. Maury Klein, in his definitive biography of Jay Gould (who once owned the Katy and many of the other railroads passing through the territories), says in his annotated bibliography that (and here I paraphrase) "the definitive history of the Katy has yet to be written." His claim is that Masterson's book, while the best history we now have, is highly inaccurate on many details, particularly as they relate to Jay Gould. But that's for what it's worth.
John, I agree a newer, better book should be written, not only on the Katy, but the whole railroad history of the state. The Masterson book was certainly not complimentary of the railroad magnates and rightfully so. They were capitalists with a capital $$$ and their interests came first. David Bowden, in an article, "Toll Roads and Railroads," in the Chronicles of Oklahoma, Winter, 1996-97, states that the railroads ran roughshod over the I. T., extracting as much as possible while putting in as little as possible. He also points out that the traditionalist Indians did not profit from the coming of the railroad. The Indian experience with the railroad was anything but civil. The railroad saw the Indian governments as an impediment to progress, civilization, and profits and actively preached for the dissolution of the Nations. They also refused to recognize the tribe's sovereignty. To make sure the Choctaw did not misunderstand the railroad's intention to remain supreme and above Choctaw regulation, the railroad refused to pay for the right of way used; then obtained exemption from the payment of Choctaw taxes; and then bought raw materials such as wood, coal, and rock from individuals with blatant disregard for tribal law insisting such products were not in private ownership. To make matters worse, the railroad refused to fence the right of way, causing the death of untold numbers of livestock. At the same time the railroad fenced, illegally, as much land around depots as it could get away with. As the Katy Company rails pushed into the Choctaw Nation, so did the marching crime wave of line camps with their cadre of prostitutes, whiskey peddlers, card sharps, and other criminal types intent on gathering in the hard earned coins of the laborers, and any curious Choctaw who happened on the scene. The tribes could not cope with the moving sin cities and the government did not because the railroad felt the laborer had to have his whiskey and entertainment. As a result of the camps and the high handedness of the railroads, coupled with the lack of any real benefit for the people, many in the Five tribes, after the Katy, became staunch foes to accommodation of any white enterprises with corporate interests. And, Mr. Klein had to know that Jay Gould was aware of his corporation's posture and actions, which means that he approved.
Art, as to the resources, most are found in Shirley's "Heck Thomas," and Roger Myers Wild West article, "Dirty doings of Bill Doolin and his Gang," June 2002.
From W. C. Riggs, "Bits of Interesting History,"Chronicles of Oklahoma, June, 1929: "In the spring of 1883 or 84, the Christie gang,...had planned to rob the MK&T as it stopped at the Reynolds tank to take on water. This place is about 5 miles north of Limestone Gap, at that time the residence of Capt. Chas. LeFlore, who was on the police force..." News reached Leflore who called his force of 25 into action, went to the tank and waited in hiding for the gang. The outlaws arrived and a few feet short of the tank were fired on by Leflore's posse. A shot splintered wood from the tank piercing a young Light Horseman in the eye. He told LeFlore, "Captain, we have them whipped, they are out of ammunition and are shooting at us with bows and arrows." The result of the battle was that two of Leflore's men were wounded and 4 or 5 of the outlaws killed and as many wounded. The rest of the gang split and the dead and wounded were loaded on the baggage car and turned over to Federal authorites on attempted mail robbery.
I thought I'd bring this topic up to the fore again as I was recently handed a back issue of Oklahoma Today magazine, Autumn, 1970. At page 6 ff, it has an article entitled "Robbery on the Rails," by Art Shoemaker. Information relative to this topic includes the statement that the Katy railroad has the dubious honor of having both the first and last train holdups in Oklahoma. The first, in 1873 some ten miles north of Dennison by an alleged band of Cherokee who got 2 grand and a sack full of watches and rings. The last by Al Spencer in 1923 at Okesa west of Bartllesville.
Recently, I was surprised to learn of a train robbery on the Santa Fe in 1889 at Berwyn (present Gene Autry, Oklahoma). This one was the handiwork of a bunch of underemployed grifters and their only accomplishment was to prove they were exceeding their competence when attempting train hold-ups. This robbery was followed almost immediately by a robbery of the Katy at Perry Station in the Cherokee Nation where the estimated take was $45K to $55K. Perry Station by the way was the stop south of Adair.
And, in the same week, and before either of the above, the Santa Fe was hit in Texas
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