Boy, shades of Butch Cassidy and Sundance, there was a time when guys with guns really did hold up trains.
Right here in little old Utah, too.
Someone said I should look into those robberies, so I did and it’s great fun. A quick search of the old newspapers turned up several.
This one, in June of 1910, happened just north of Ogden. It didn’t involve horses running beside the train and bandits leaping across cars, but other than that good old Butch would have felt right at home.
The story in the Box Elder News for June 30, 1910, reads like a pulp novel, with the train being brought to a halt by “torpedoes” on the line (which were just what we call flares). Then, “with daring equal to any robbery pulled off by the infamous James gang,” they rifled the safe and strolled through the cars, taking watches, emptying wallets and even ripping the diamond ear rings off of one poor passenger.
The train was No. 1 of the OSL line — Oregon Short Line, a subsidiary of the Union Pacific — which left Ogden’s Union Station at 1:30 in the morning, going north. The engineer stopped it at 2nd Street when he saw the flares on the track. The three robbers got to the scene in “a rubber tired rig,” which I am only guessing refers to a car of some sort, but horses and buggies were still common back then.
When the head brakeman went forward to see what the flares were about the robbers hit him on the head with a gun, then took him to the express car and ordered him to tell the messenger inside to open the door.
(Does this sound exactly like the robbery in the film about Butch Cassidy staring Robert Redford or what?)
The messenger opened the door, the robbers crawled in, ordered the guy to open the safe, and emptied it.
Shots were fired when they met rear brakeman, N. J. Franklin, who was walking ahead to see what was going on. The robbers ordered him to stop, fired two shots but didn’t hit him, then knocked him to the ground where he rolled into a ditch and feigned being unconscious. After the robbers passed into the passenger cars, he got up and ran three blocks to the home of Deputy Sheriff John Hutchens.
Hutchens hustled off, but by the time he got to 2nd Street the train was pulling out. This is fascinating — the train was held up, the brakeman was missing, the passengers robbed, but after the robbers flee the engineer and conductor just say “OK, schedule to meet, Let’s go!”
In any event, while one robber held a gun on the crew, the others went through the day coach, sleep and two chair cars, guns drawn, relieving people of their valuables. Then they got back in their rubber tired vehicle and made their escape.
A posse was formed, which did locate the vehicle, abandoned. The posse was “mounted” in automobiles, but other than that the whole thing played out the same.
If they caught anyone, the local papers that survive did not report it, but I’m happy to be proven wrong.