Eyewitness To A Train Robbery
Eye-Witness accounts of people that were right there at that time of history has always interest me. For through their eyes you see what they saw that day. This Eye-Witness was a engineer on the Santa Fe Railroad, a Arkansas City man named Carl Mac.
In his manuscript he describes a train robbery in the Cherokee Strip at Wharton Station, near now day Perry. The date May 25th, 1891 is where I have a question. No train robbery were reported on that date but earlier on May 8, 1891, The Dalton Gang robbed their first train in the territory. Because of his age Carl might have made a mistake of the date. Also he never told who these people were. You would think maybe he would know that it was The Dalton Gang or would he? The newspaper was the only means to know anything in 1890's. Also the Daltons weren't known as good as there are today, so to them they were just train robbers.
But one thing is true is they robbed the Santa Fe, Texas Express, which is what Engineer Mac was pulling that day. So with all of this I believe it was The Dalton Gang, with members Bob and Emmett Dalton, Charley Bryant, and George "Bittercreek" Newcomb.
Now Wharton was not a center of population, it consisted of a small frame station and one or two general stores, with post office attachment. Friction between towns people and the railroad had caused the Santa Fe to locate it facilities some distance from Wharton. Actually, Wharton was the depot, with one house back on the hill where the agent lived and the night operator boarded.
No towns existed in the Outlet until after the opening in 1892, at which time the railway station was included in the southern part of Perry. Half a mile south, the railroad bridge crossed Cow Creek, where loading pens had been constructed for the convenience of cattlemen who leased the surrounding grazing area from the Cherokee.
The following is Engineer Carl Mac's story:
"My first experience in a hold up occurred May 25th, 1891. I had been pulling the Texas Express on the Oklahoma Division of the Santa Fe the previous two years. On our first trips after the road was completed, we were somewhat apprehensive of train robbers; but their failure to make raid gradually eliminated the thought from my mind.
The character of the country at that time made an ideal place for their work; but notwithstanding this, we soon became accustomed to our lonely ride through the Territory, with seldom any thought of desperadoes. But on the previously-mentioned date, I stopped at Wharton (now Perry) for water and was oiling my engine when, to my great surprise, I felt the vigorous thrust of something in my side and turned to look into the eyes of a man with the traditional slouch hat and red bandana around his face, just blow his eyes.
The average reader has no idea of the horror of the situation or thoughts of a person being thus held up, knowing that his life is hanging by a thread and that ay any instant he is liable to be stricken down by the murderous villain, who has nerved himself to accomplish his end, even at the cost of any numbers of lives.
The ignorance of the robbers as to the many things to be done and the uncertainty of the uncoupling of the cars, the operation of the air brakes and other unforeseen conditions that are sure to arise, all flash through the mind; and the anxiety of the result of an error or misunderstanding during the time necessary to do the work is a trial of the nerves that leaves a man in a condition not appreciated by the uninitiated. You do not know how little provocation will prompt them to shoot or strike with their guns.
"Come on," the robber said. He did not say where, but I instinctively started towards the express car.
"Do you want this torch?" I asked.
"No, put it out," he replied.
After three or four attempts, I managed to blow it out, and as we passed the gang-way between the engine and tank, I attempted to throw the oil can and torch in the engine, but I made a poor throw and they both fell on the ground. I did not stop and pick them up, as I was afraid my "friend" might think I was hunting for a rock to throw at him.
While on our way to the express car, I thought it as good an opportunity as we would have to get acquainted. So I asked him, in case things did not work out just as he thought they should, that he give me an opportunity to make an explanation before he shot, as it would be my intention to do as he directed.
"All right," he said, "you do what you're told, and you won't be hurt." I felt some better, but I did not believe it.
"Here, uncouple these cars."
While I was down on my knees hunting in the dark for the stop cocks in the air pipes, the conductor came up with a lantern, which helped me in locating the different levers.
"What's the matter, Carl?" asked McTaggart, the conductor.
The robber told him to help me uncouple the cars, and he got busy right away.
When I told the robber that the cars were uncoupled, he ordered everybody but the fireman and me to get back in the cars. (Marshall Payne and one or to others had come out on the platform of the smoker and were immediately invited to the ground, and they watched the uncoupling of the cars with their hands up.)
Then we started to the engine. One robber got up on the platform of the express car, and the robber who had been guarding the fireman joined us in the cab.
"Now pull out," he said.
"How far do you want to go, Boys?" I asked.
"Oh about a mile," he replied.
We had moved about four coach length when I felt the air brakes set and the engine begin to slow down. I knew that the brakes would stop us, and as the robbers soon noticed that we were stopping, their guns were placed, one against my cheek, the other at my head, so that I could not turn around to talk to them. I realized that I was in a dangerous situation and would have to talk to win, with little hope of convincing the robbers that I had not set the brakes.
"Boys, she is going to stop," I said
"Don't let her stop here. Go on! Do you hear?"
"She will stop in spite of all I can do. The brakes are set, and she won't pull them," I replied.
"Who set them?" he asked.
"The messenger, probably," I answered.
"Let the brakes off and go on!" he commanded.
"I can't do it Boys, until the air pump pumps up the air he let out to set them. You see, the throttle is wide open, and she won't move. I'm doing all I can do," I responded.
By that time we had stopped and not a gun was fired, but he had squeezed all the juice out of a quid of tobacco I happened to have on the side where the gun pressed my cheek.
"What will we do now?" I asked.
"Can't you pull them now?" he asked.
"No. The throttle is still open and the air replenished, but I can go back and drain the reservoirs and cut the brakes out, and then we can go."
"Well never mind. We will do the work here. Come on!"
We descended to the ground. By that time the air pump had pumped up sufficient air to release the brakes, and the steam cylinders, from the throttle being to open so long, caused the engine to start, and no one was in the cab.
"Boys, she's going now, and we can go to the place you intended, if he doesn't set the brakes again," I said.
"No, we'll do it here," he replied.
"Let me get up and stop her, or she will run away."
"All right. Stop her." (But he followed me up in the cab)
We then followed the other robber and the fireman to the express car.
"Engineer, tell the messenger to open the door!" he demanded.
"Say, Tom! Open the door!" I shouted.
"We want to do a little business with you," I replied.
"I can't open the door," he retorted.
"You might as well," I replied. "It will save me handling the dynamite," which the robbers had informed me they intended to use if necessary. Not having any experience with explosive, I felt reluctant to use it and so informed the robbers.
"Never mind. I'll show you," said one.
Placing himself behind me to protect himself from a possible bullet from the messenger's gun, we approached the express car door, while he drew from his pocket a stick of dynamite with a fuse about six inches long. This, I was instructed to place on the bottom sill of the door and light the fuse. After admonishing the messenger not to shoot, as he would not hit anyone but me, and telling him to go to the other end of the car as I was going to blow him up, I found a match and made several attempts to light the fuse. The robber said it was not burning owing to the drizzling rain which was falling.
He directed me to hand the dynamite to him. I picked it up and handed it to him. After commanding me not to move, he proceeded to cut the fuse about the middle and split the end about half an inch. Placing it back on the doorsill, he ordered me to light it and run. I applied another match to the powder in the fuse, and we had not taken six steps when the explosion occurred. When the rattle of glass from the doors had ceased, I looked for my "friend" as I had not forgotten his orders "to run." But he was still with me so that I was unable to more fully comply with his orders. We then walked back to the express car and found a large hole blown in the door and all the door lights broken, the door being twisted so badly it could not be opened. But the dynamite had the desired effect as the messenger had had a change of heart and decided to open one of the other doors.
"Come to the other end, Boys. I'll let you in if you won't hurt me," said Tom.
"Open the door then, and we'll settle that later," one of then said.
I thought it time to intercede and persuaded the robbers to promise that they would not molest the messenger. Notwithstanding, Tom had placed me in a very dangerous position by "pulling" the air brakes when we were trying to pull away from the train.
After the door was opened and one of the lamps in the car had been relit, Tom assured the robbers that there was no one in the car but himself. Two of the robbers went in, leaving one to guard the fireman and myself on the outside.
"Have you any chewing tobacco?" our guard asked.
"Yes," I replied, handing him a plug with only one chew gone.
"I'd like to keep this if you don't care," he said.
"All right," I replied.
"I believe I've got ten cents. If I can find it I will pay you for it," he remarked.
"Never mind the money. I believe I have another piece on the engine that will run me to Guthrie."
Without further ceremony he bit off a little more and put the remainder in his pocket. The men in the car were apparently busy, and one of them called out to hand him the sack.
"Where is it?" I asked.
"I dropped it when we got in the cab," he replied.
After feeling around in the dark, I managed to find it. Handing it up to him, I inquired how they were getting along.
"Hardly worth the trouble," he answered.
We then resumed our wait on the outside, and our guard asked me what time it was. I hesitated. My watch was a gold one with a diamond in the back, and I was afraid if he saw it he would not offer to pay for it, as he did with the tobacco, especially after the remark of his companion in the car that "there was not much doing." So with the thought, "Goodbye Watch," I looked at it by the light from the door of the express car and told him it was 11:10.
"Why that's a beaut! I'd like to have that," he remarked.
"Yes, that's a pretty good watch. We have to carry good watches, you know, as a watch that wouldn't keep good time might cause us to have a serious wreck. I paid out some hard-earned money for that watch, and I'd hate to lose it," I replied.
"Oh! I wouldn't take it because you would have to have one to run your engine," he remarked.
The robbers in the car, having finishing their work, came out and after bidding us a hearty goodbye, started down the side of the track towards the engine.
"Any further instruction?" I asked.
"No, go back and get train and go on and tell them that it was us."
After Jim and I got to the engine, I picked up the lantern and held it up to see how Zorn looked.
He said, "I'm all right now, and my heart never failed me but once, and that was when the messenger pulled the air. I had no idea you could convince them you had not set the brakes, and I expected them to shoot you and make me take your place. And of course I could do no more than you, and they would shoot me. I see now that you got my watch and we are both alive. Lets get out of here and hurry to Guthrie!"