They carried out the first three peacetime train robberies in U.S. history.
The gang ended when ten of its members were hung by vigilante mobs in 1868. Their murders created an international incident between Canada, Great Britain, and the general public. No one was ever prosecuted or identified for the lynchings.
J. Wilkison Reno moved to Indiana in 1813 and married Julia Ann Freyhafer in 1835.
Future gang members Frank, John, Simeon, and William Reno were born to the couple in Rockford, Jackson County, Indiana. the siblings received a conservative upbringing based on the Judeo-Christian ethic. Their parents were part of the Methodist denomination and required their children to read the Bible.
Trouble began with the brothers early. John and Frank swindled travelers with crooked card games. The Renos were also prime suspects in a series of mysterious fires that broke out around Rockford. There was also horse theft on their resume.
In 1861, the Civil War broke out, and the Reno brothers would have to make a decision to join the Union Army or not.
Frank, John, and Simeon became bounty jumpers when they were paid to enlist in the Union Army and then failed to appear for duty. They continued to enlist under different names and locales, taking additional money.
Federal records say that the three brothers deserted. Another brother, William, went AWOL but returned to serve out his enlistment and received an honorable discharge.
In 1864, Frank and John returned to Rockford and began to form their gang. Simeon and William also joined their brothers.
Later in the year, the gang robbed the post office and Gilbert's Store near Jonesville, Indiana. They were arrested, and gang member Grant Wilson agreed to testify against the gang for a lighter sentence.
However, Wilson was murdered before he could testify, and the brothers were acquitted.
Post Civil War
The Reno Gang was the first "Brotherhood of Outlaws" in the United States. They were active in the Midwest and terrorized many of the folks that lived there. They became an inspiration for future outlaw gangs, and their crimes were often copied, which led to several decades of high-profile train robberies.
After the Civil War was over, their gang attracted man ex-military men.
They began their crime spree by robbing and murdering travelers in Jackson County and soon began to branch out to other counties, where they raided merchants and communities.
Their first train robbery took place near Seymour. On the evening of October 6, 1866, John Reno, Sim Reno, and Frank Sparkles boarded an Ohio and Mississippi Railway train as it started to leave the Seymour depot.
They broke into the safe and stole $16,000. When authorities questioned the passengers, a man named George Kinney stepped forward and identified the outlaws. The three men were arrested but were released on bail.
George Kinney was killed soon after their release, and no other passengers stepped up to identify the outlaws. All charges were dropped.
However, the money was insured by the Adams Express Company, which hired the Pinkerton Detective Agency to track down and capture the gang.
On November 17, 1867, the Daviess County Courthouse was robbed. John Reno was identified, arrested by Pinkerton agents, and sentenced to 25 years in the Missouri State Penitentiary in 1868. 10 years later, he was released and returned to Seymour in 1886. He was then caught for counterfeiting and sent to prison again.
John Reno's arrest did not slow the gang down. There were three robberies in Iowa in quick succession, in February and March 1868.
Pinkerton agents caught Frank Reno, Albert Perkins, and Miles Ogle. However, the gang broke out of jail on April 1 and was followed by a second train robbery that occurred in December 1867. The robbers scored $8,000 from the robbery
July 10, 1867, a third train was robbed, and the gang was ambushed by Pinkerton agents. Several of the gang members were wounded, and the robbery was unsuccessful.
The residents of Seymour began to grow tired of living in constant fear of the Reno Gang. They formed a vigilante group with the goal of killing the gang. The gang learned of their plans and fled to the west to Iowa, where they robbed the Harrison County treasury and scored $14,000.
Pinkerton agents again located them and arrested the gang, but the gang escaped again and returned to Indiana.
The Reno Gang robbed its fourth train and scored $96,000. Pinkertons again pursued them, but the gang split up and fled throughout the Midwest.
The gang attempted to rob another train on July 9. Pinkerton detectives had learned of the plan, and ten agents were waiting aboard the train.
When the gang broke in, the agents opened fire, wounding two of the gang. Everyone was able to escape except Volney Elliot, who identified the other members of the gang in exchange for leniency.
Using the information, the detectives arrested two more members of the gang (Charlie Roseberry and Theodore Clifton) the next day in Rockport.
All three men were taken by train to jail. However, on July 10, 1868, the train was stopped, and the prisoners were taken off the train and hanged by the neck from a nearby tree. A group of men calling itself the Jackson County Vigilance Committee had taken matters into their own hands.
Three other gang members, Henry Jerrell, Frank Sparks, and John Moore, were captured and suffered the same fate as previous gang members. They were hanged from the same tree by vigilantes.
On July 27, 1868, Pinkertons captured William and Simeon Reno in Indianapolis. They were jailed and then moved out of fear of vigilantes. The day after their removal, vigilantes broke into the jail, hoping to catch and lynch the men.
Frank Reno, the gang's leader, and Charlie Anderson were tracked down to the Canadian border town of Windsor, Ontario. With the help of United States Secretary of State William H. Seward, the men were extradited in October under the provisions of the 1842 Webster-Ashburton Treaty. Both men were sent to New Albany to join the other prisoners.
On the night of December 11, about 65 hooded men traveled by train to New Albany. The men marched four abreast from the station to the Floyd County Jail where, just after midnight, the men forced their way into the jail and the sheriff's home. After they beat the sheriff and shot him in the arm for refusing to turn over the keys, his wife surrendered them to the mob. Frank Reno was the first to be dragged from his cell to be lynched. He was followed by brothers William and Simeon. Another gang member, Charlie Anderson, was the fourth and last to be lynched at around 4:30 a.m. on December 12.
It was rumored that the vigilantes were part of the group known as the Scarlet Mask Society or Jackson County Vigilance Committee. No one was ever charged, named, or officially investigated in any of the lynchings. Many local newspapers, such as the New Albany Weekly Ledger, stated that "Judge Lynch" had spoken.
Frank Reno and Charlie Anderson were technically in federal custody when they were lynched. This is believed to be the only time in U.S. history that a federal prisoner had ever been lynched by a mob before a trial.
The three Reno brothers are buried in the Seymour city cemetery.
It is rumored that there is a large amount of loot that was hidden and has been searched for by treasure hunters for decades. Nothing has been found.