Frank Reno

Frank Reno

Frank Reno was born in Jackson County in about 1840. During the American Civil War federal recruiting officers paid a cash bounty to each man who signed up for military service. So the Reno brothers (Frank, John, Simeon, Clinton and William) became bounty jumpers. They joined up, took the money and then deserted from the Union Army. They then moved to another part of the state and repeated the process.

On 6th October, 1866, the Reno brothers committed the first train robbery in American history at Seymour, Indiana. It was a great success and the gang galloped away with $10,000. This was followed by a bank raid in Missouri. Soon afterwards Allan Pinkerton and six of his agents arrested John Reno. He was convicted and sentenced to forty years hard labour.

Frank Reno led a raid on the Harrison County Bank in Magnolia, Iowa. This was followed by an attack on the Jefferson, Missouri and Indianapolis Railroad train on 22nd May, 1866. This time they got away with $96,000 in gold and government bonds. These activities continued and in 1868 the Southern Indiana Vigilance Committee published a leaflet warning that they would take revenge if the Reno brothers continued to break the law.

Pinkerton discovered the Reno gang planned to rob another train near Seymour. When the train was stopped, instead of gold, it contained Pinkerton and his men. After a gunfight the Reno brothers tried to escape from the scene of the crime. Three members of the gang were captured and lynched by a local vigilante group. Frank, William and Simeon Reno, as well as Michael Rogers, Miles Ogle, Charlie Anderson, Albert Parsons and Charles Spencer were also captured.

On 12th December, 1868, 56 hooded men entered New Albany jail. Frank Reno was the first to be dragged from his cell to be lynched. He was followed by his two brothers, William and Simeon. Another gang member, Charlie Anderson, was also lynched.

Primary Sources

(1) Southern Indiana Vigilance Committee, poster published in 1868.

We deeply deplore the necessity which called our organization into existence; but the laws of our State are so defective that as they now stand on the Statute Books, they all favor criminals going unwhipt of justice; a retrospective view will show that in this respect we speak only the truth.

Having first lopped off the branches, and finally uprooted the tree of evil which was in our midst, in defiance of us and our laws, we beg to be allowed to rest here, and be not forced again to take the law into our own hands. We are very loth to shed blood again, and will not do so unless compelled in defence of our lives.

We are well aware that at the present time, a combination of the few remaining thieves, their friends and sympathizers, has been formed against us, and have threatened all kinds of vengeance against persons whom they suppose to belong to this organisation. They threaten assassination in every form, and that they will commit arson in such ways as will defy legal detection. The carrying, out in whole, or in part, of each or any of these designs, is the only thing that will again cause us to rise in our own defence. The following named persons are solemnly warned, that their designs and opinions are known, and that they cannot, unknown to us, make a move toward retaliation.

Frank Reno, Clinton Reno, William Reno, James Greer, Stephen Greer, Pee Johnson, Chris Price, Harvey Needham, Meade Fislar, Mart Lowe, Roland Lee, William Sparks, Jesse Thompson, William Hare, William Biggers, James Fislar, Pollard Able.

If the above named individuals desire to remain in our midst, to pursue honest callings, and otherwise conduct themselves as law abiding citizens, we will protect them always. If however, they commence their devilish designs against us, our property, or any good citizen of this district, we will rise but once more; do not trifle with us; for if you do, we will follow you to the bitter end; and give you a "short shrift and a hempen collar." As to this, our actions in the past, will be a guarantee for our conduct in the future.

We trust this will have a good effect. We repeat, we are very loth again to take life, and hope we shall never more be necessitated to take the law into our own hands.