James and Julia Reno's family was composed of sons Will, Frank, John, Simeon, Clint, Bill and daughter Laura. They farmed about 1,200 acres near Rockford. James was a good man who wanted his family to be good citizens. He sent them to school and insisted they study the Bible on Sunday.
Most of the boys were not interested in education and they chafed against the Bible study. At an early age they began to play crooked card games and bilked travelers who passed their farm. The Reno family was considered well--to-do for the time but unfortunately James and Julia separated and he moved to a nearby town while she, Laura and some of the boys stayed on the farm. The family began to fragment and engage in miscreant behavior. John left home at age 11 but returned a year or so later but left again.
Over a seven-year period the peaceful community of Rockford suffered through a rash of unexplained fires in numbers too large to be accidental. People blamed arsonists. Undaunted they partially rebuilt the town only to see it burned again. Gossip and whispered conversations around the community gave clear indication that townspeople blamed the Reno boys for the fires.
Some of the boys engaged in bounty jumping. That meant that a man would pay them money to avoid service during the Civil War. The bounty jumper would assume his name, join the army and desert only to repeat the process. Becoming more brazen they formed a gang that met in the burned out buildings of Rockford. They robbed post offices, stores and homes. One gang member agreed to testify against them but he was murdered before the trial could begin. They holed up in a hotel in a larger town nearby and robbed and cheated people who stayed there. The local newspaper, The Times, warned travelers and citizens alike of the danger of lawlessness in Jackson County and called for vigilante law and action to restore order and rid the county and area of the influence of the gang.
The year 1865 began with the murder of a Rader Hotel guest whose beheaded body was found in the river. More robberies and murders followed. The community was alarmed and fearful.
In October 1866 three Reno brothers boarded a train and while enroute they entered the express car and robbed it of about $10,000 and a large safe. They pulled the cord to cause the train to stop and then kicked the large safe out of the door and jumped after it. The train sped up as the gang went back to find the safe. Other gang members arrived but they could not open the safe so it was abandoned as law enforcement and train agents returned.
The famous Reno Brothers Gang performed that first moving train robbery not in Texas, or Oklahoma, or Arizona but right here in Indiana near the town of Seymour in Jackson County. Their crime spree continued but within a year they were captured by the Pinkerton Agency and lynched by vigilantes.
Larry grew up north of Calvertville on a farm and graduated from Worthington High School and Indiana State University. He can be reached at Goosecrick@aol.com or (317) 839-7656. He has published six books.