Followers of this site may know that one of the colleges this writer currently teaches for (St. Clair College) is based in Windsor, Ontario, directly across the river from Detroit, Michigan. Windsor has a long history as an “outlaw town” of sorts, whether serving as a refuge for past American bandits, providing alcohol during Prohibition in the US, or offering less restrictive drinking and gambling laws to American tourists today. One of the more famous outlaw gangs of the West that attempted to escape to Windsor was The Reno Brothers Gang.
Based in Indiana, the Reno Gang was the first bandit group to have consistent success in robbing trains. They are credited with likely the second peacetime (post-US Civil War) train robbery ever in the United States when they robbed a train at Seymour, Indiana, on October 6, 1866. The gang had a number of different members and was led by John and then Frank Reno, two of four Renos in the gang; William (“Bill”) and Simeon (“Sim”) were the other two.
Between 1866 and 1868, the Reno Gang either successfully or tried to rob a total of 5 trains in the Midwest. The Renos demonstrated to future outlaw gangs, such as The James Gang, that a train could be stopped and robbed to great profit. In their fourth train robbery, on May 22nd, 1868, they stole an estimated $96,000 (which is over $1.6 million in 2013 dollars).
By the summer of 1868, 6 gang members had been captured by authorities but were seized by vigilante lynch mobs and hung in July of that year. John Reno had been captured and convicted for the gang robbery of a courthouse treasury in Missouri and was then serving time. To escape authorities, Frank Reno and fellow outlaw Charlie Anderson came to Windsor, Ontario, and were tracked there by the famous Pinkerton Detective Agency (who would also later track The James Gang and Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch Gang).
In August, 1868, with information provided by the Pinkertons, Windsor police arrested Reno and Anderson at the then-existing corner of Windsor Avenue and Brant Street (located today south of City Hall in downtown Windsor). Lack of proper legal paperwork initially allowed the men to be released but they were re-arrested shortly afterwards.
Reno and Anderson would be kept in the Sandwich Jail (located then on the first floor of Mackenzie Hall on Sandwich Street) until they could be extradited to the United States. Reno and Anderson tried unsuccessfully to escape from the Sandwich Jail by lifting up the wooden floor planks below them.
Canada was a newly-formed Dominion nation at the time and Great Britain still exercised control over its foreign affairs. Back-and-forth communications between the United States, Canada, and Great Britain, and legal manoeuvring by the defendants, meant it wasn’t until October 1868 that Reno and Anderson were released for extradition by treaty to the US.
Reno and Anderson were transported from Sandwich-Windsor to New Albany, Indiana, to be jailed with Reno brothers Sim and Bill while awaiting trial. On December 12, 1868, a vigilante mob broke into the jail and hung all four men.
One film version of the Reno Gang story is the excellent Rage at Dawn (1955), starring Randolph Scott as an undercover detective that infiltrates the gang. The film, however, does not include any reference to the flight of Frank Reno to Windsor.
(Copyright – Chad Beharriell)