You might already have read the article about the Reno gang and their infamous end – and if you’ve checked out “Travel Tidbit” you might have also seen the entry on Jerry’s un-updated Garmin. Here’s the story of how Jerry and I got there.
I freely admit it – when I first came across the entry in Roadside America concerning the graves of America’s first train robbers, I thought it was cool. I’m fond of trains, and the Wild West fascinates me – the hardships and the romanticism of the pioneers as they opened up vast areas of the New World, the generation-shame of how the indigenous people were treated, the thought of cowboys spending all day on horseback and not seeing another soul for possibly weeks. And while of course I condemn the act of theft as a way of making a living, there’s a certain kind of thrill involved with the thought of robbing a train, particularly given how the bandits do it in the movies.
So I added it to the list of places were going to visit while we were in southern Indiana.
It was a great drive – curvy back roads, dead-end bridges, a beautiful sunset… and a really interesting way to get across the train tracks in downtown Seymour. Wish I’d taken a picture of it; a ninety-degree turn, a short stretch, then a cross street with a one-way street across the way. The cross street turned right just to cross the train tracks and then immediately turned ninety degrees left to become an one-way alleyway that led parallel to the train tracks to what looked like a warehouse district next to the cemetary. Several times while we were following the Garmin’s directions Jerry and I eyeing each other, wondering where in the world we were going to end up! The route was complicated by the fact I couldn’t find and address on the gravesites and didn’t at the time have GPS coordinates – and didn’t know enough about the Garmin to enter them anyway!
Nice little town, Seymour. Friendly smiles and waves from the other drivers on the road, great architecture.
And even the sites were kind of neat; three stones, standing just above the ground, with the customary names and dates found on markers… plus military information.
That surprised me. Military veterans, turning to train robbing? I decided I was going to look into this further, and shocked the heck out of myself.
Except for William, they were multiple deserters – bounty jumpers, which was a thing I hadn’t ever heard of before researching these guys. William did go AWOL, but then returned and was honorably discharged in 1861. Jerry had said that the gang was all five boys plus the sister – well, I found out that that wasn’t true; Clinton and Laura were never part of the gang activities, though “Honest Clint” was indicted in 1880 for running a gaming house, and Laura was known for being nearly as wild as her brothers while they were growing up.
I mean, talk about your romanticism doing a crash and burn! The Renos were bad news. They robbed, murdered, and burned. Seymour and neighboring towns in Jackson County were terrified; even the police couldn’t do anything about them. Any time a member of the gang was arrested, they either made bail, threatened or bribed their way out, or killed witnesses so that charges had to be dropped. In all my research, I didn’t find one report of a redeeming quality among any of them. Gang members eventually went too far and the citizens of Seymour formed what they called the Jackson County Vigilance Committee which ended up lynching ten members of the gang – including Frank, Sim and Bill – and went on to threaten the same kind of justice for any Reno supporter that tried to retaliate against the lynch mob.
No, it definitely wasn’t a pretty situation, or a pretty time… and yet, and yet… there’s wisdom to be had here. Don’t go taking, and giving only terror in return; eventually, those you’ve terrified will decide they’ve had enough, and display the darker side of their own natures that you’ve brought out of them.