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Why did train robberies so often succeed?
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This question (about which I have often wondered) is asked by RR Detective Bill Brady:"That two men should walk into a crowded car containing, say, forty men, two-thirds of whom, according to Western usage, are armed, and after ˜holding up' each one separately escape unmolested is a tale that is almost beyond comprehension. But incidents of that sort, you know, were quite frequent . . . ."

--meursault
 
Posts: 215 | Registered: Thu December 11 2003Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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I'd think the last place a sane man would want to be during a robbery is cramped up in a railroad car filled with excitable idiots packing guns and live ammunition. The potential for disaster borders on certainty, like the time in January of 1894, that Judge Albert Rennie, a prominent attorney of Pauls Valley caught the Santa Fe Express intending to go to Ardmore for the winter term of court. It was a peaceful trip until the train pulled up to take on water at the Rock Creek Station"”just shy of the Arbuckle Mountains. There, as the train sat huffing in the dark, the Express car manager, and the baggage masher, in possession of a jug of whiskey and a brace of six shooters, decided to liven things up a mite. Taking turns about, the pair loosened a few rounds on some unsuspecting coyotes which began vocalizing their annoyance at such rudeness. The combination of mutual disaffection created such a racket that panic broke out among the passengers. Thinking to quiet the distraught inhabitants of the sleeping cars, the drunks loosened a few rounds in their noisy direction"”an act which did not help restore tranquility in the least.
Deputy U. S. Marshal Walter Hockery happened to be on the train and he, alone, had the presence of mind to order the lights extinguished in his car and then send men to arouse all the passengers so they might assist in repelling marauders. The conductor, one car up, in a vain effort to be helpful, got lost in the dark and couldn't find the door. Fleeing passengers, most just awakened, expressed the opinion they felt safer off the train since it was the cars the robbers were shooting at, and bolted for the door where they stacked up behind the blind conductor to the point no one could get through. Shouts were heard; so were prayers, (at least many of the voices evoked the name of the deity.) Some men exited the train by way of windows, adding to the general din as they barked their shins plowing through the underbrush; adding some more of that loud praying. Pandemonium was the order of the day.
In the third car, Bert Rennie, with more presence of mind than most in his car, at the first shot yelled, "Put out the lights!"
Unfortunately, Rennie was either not as commanding a figure as Hockery, or was working with a dumber class of citizenry, for a burly passenger interpreted thought the Judge was possibly even Bill Dalton himself, and closed with Bert, pinioning him in a crushing clasp. Luckily, the train picked that moment to start moving again and lights were restored; passengers retrieved and calm returned. Fully exposed, Rennie was able to find sufficient witnesses about to attest to his character and station in life to obtain release. Returning to his seat, the almost hero of the hour muttered in a whisper just below the decibel of a dynamite explosion, "Well, he may be a lawyer, or a homeless tramp who would rob the office boy of a wedding cake, but his ugly face sure gives him away as a Dalton."
Considering the size of the ruffian, Judge Rennie did not condescend to respond to the critique....
Seriously, though, confronting a loaded gun in a boxed in space gives one pause about just how quickly a weapon can come into play and what your odds are that you won't get shot. Besides, how many train robberies have you read about that people were required to strip. A smart man would secret his loot.
 
Posts: 512 | Location: Cortez, Colorado | Registered: Fri December 12 2003Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Great story, Mr. Tower. Passengers often seemed to panic during train robberies, despite the fact that relatively few of them were killed or injured during such crimes. I have one account of a gentleman from Texas who, learning that a robbery was in progress, pried the diamonds from his rings and swallowed them. The train robbers themselves had a sort of informal class hierarchy, with the higher class refraining from robbing the passengers (supposedly, the Daltons only robbed the express cars, never the passengers). Some of the robbers actually believed they were modern day Robin Hoods. I have an account where the robbers stalked through the coaches, demanding to inspect the hands of all the men. Men with calloused hands were not robbed, but those without such marks of labor were fair game.

--meursault
 
Posts: 215 | Registered: Thu December 11 2003Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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