Last week, while I was working on a column about railroad dinkeys and others, I ran across some interesting information about an early day railroad robbery that was entertaining to say the least.
We hear of bank robberies, other holdups and thefts by gun pretty regularly around the country today, but one crime we hear very little about is the robbery of a train. It would be a little hard to get away with most anything being hauled by a train today since most passenger transportation ceased years ago.
But this was not so in Denison’s early days. As in the movies, robbers came galloping up on their horses or got on the train at a station while someone on the ground was prepared to “rescue” them along the way after the robbery was committed.
I have read just about everything that my friend Jody Thomas of Amarillo has written in her historical western romance novels. I recently read one about a young woman and a robber who met when the thieves were on board a train to Austin and most of the robbers were killed when the train wrecked.
One robber saved the life of the young woman when he grabbed her and jumped off the train, injuring himself severely. It was an interesting book, like all of Jodi’s books.
While the book doesn’t say which railroad line the train was traveling on, there is no doubt that the Missouri, Kansas & Texas (Katy) was involved in a few such robberies during the days it was in business. In fact, there were at least two actual robberies, western style, for which I found information. One was in 1901 and the other was in 1921.
On Aug. 18, 1901, Denison’s Sunday Gazetteer reported the daring robbery of a southbound Katy Limited at Cainey Tank in Indian Territory a little more than an hour before it was due to arrive in Denison. The robbery took place early on a Tuesday morning and was described as one of the most daring train robberies in the Katy’s history.
Train No. 3 was due in Denison at 2:20 a.m. Four masked men boarded in regular style. Two crawled over the tender while the train was moving and leveled Winchesters on the engineer and fireman and ordered them to stop at Cainey Tank and take on water.
The train stopped, although water wasn’t needed. The engineer and fireman were ordered off the train and while one of the robbers guarded them, the others went to the express car and ordered the messenger to “open up.” They refused so the robbers placed a stick of dynamite under the door of the car and it exploded, blowing open the car and putting the lights out.
The fireman was ordered to bring a lighted torch and the messenger was told to come out if he wanted to stay alive. The article said the robbers must have known something of the regulations of the express companies because the messenger was not asked to open the safe. He couldn’t have done that anyway. One express ticket calling for a package containing $160 in cash was handed out by the messenger. That was all the money in the express car.
The robbers then went to the mail car when postal clerks were ordered to bring the registered mail. Two pouches were searched, but not much money was found. Evidently, it was money they were wanting because jewelry and other valuables were not disturbed.
The crew was told to put the stuff back in the car and one of the postal clerks, George F. Tulley, was ordered to take one of the rifled mail pouches and walk in front of the masked men into the chair car and sleepers as they intended to “do” the passengers.
There, as in the express and mail cars, nothing but money was taken by the robbers who joked and kidded the crew and passengers. They even offered the engineer, W.R. Lannam, several items as souvenirs and were hurt that the gifts were refused. Nothing was found to show that the robbers were ever captured.
While the 1901 thieves didn’t fare well in finding money on the train, the 1921 robbers hit the jackpot. A report from Dallas said that a consignment of $400,000 was on the train. It was rumored that it was heading for the Denison Bank & Trust that had just closed its doors a few days earlier to pay off the bank’s depositors.
They entered the railway postal car, then tied up three railway postal clerks and took several sacks of registered and unregistered mail. The full amount of the loot wasn’t known, but it was believed that it might have been more than half a million dollars, including the shipment from Dallas and other money on board.
The two robbers wore masks as they entered the side door of the mail car as the train began pulling out of Bells. Three clerks, O.V. Wingren, J.C. Walker and B.J. Polk were working with their backs to the open door. The robbers ordered them to throw up their hands and threatened to shoot if they didn’t obey. The clerks were armed with Army revolvers, but when they were caught by surprise, they were unable to do anything but put their hands up.
After they were disarmed, they were tied up while the robbers looted the registered mail. One robber tried to get Clerk Polk to give him information, but Polk refused and was hit over the head with a heavy six shooter by the robber, who it was said later apologized.
The article said the robbers had only 14 minutes to complete their work because the train was traveling at the usual rate of speed. As they approached Denison, they watched out the window and knew where they wanted the train to stop. As it neared the one mile post southeast of Denison, the air signal was pulled signaling Engineer Marsters to stop. Conductor E.S. Scott looked out a window of the day coach to see why the train was stopping suddenly. He was fired at by one of the robbers, who had dropped from the mail car.
Ed Huber, a Katy engineer who was deadheading on the Limited, came out of the smoking car to see why the train had stopped. He saw two men running from the train near the right of way fence. He yelled “What’s the matter?” and drew a shot in reply. Huber went to the mail car and found the three clerks who by then had released themselves from the heavy cord. Polk was bleeding badly from the wound over his temple.
The train was signaled to proceed into Denison and telephone and telegraph messages went out to points between Dallas and Oklahoma City. All small stations on the Katy were warned to watch for the robbers. Officers in Grayson and nearby counties began searching their areas looking for the men.
It is believed that the robbers never were captured. The exact amount of money taken was never learned, but it was a pretty good pot full.
Donna Hunt is former editor of the Denison Herald. She lives in Denison and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.