Willis Newton’s First Train Robbery – 1914

On December 29, 1914, Willis robbed his first train, at age 25. He had just been released from serving time in prison and met up with an old friend, Red Johnson. The two had gone to Uvalde and while there had broken into a hardware store to steal some Winchester 30-30s and ammunition for a pistol Willis was carrying. They decided to go to Cline, a small settlement west of Uvalde, by foot the day after Christmas with the intent of robbing the Southern Pacific Number 9 passenger train that passed through the station around midnight.

In his last interview in 1979, he described his first train robbery:

“Just after Christmas, me and Red Johnson set off for Cline (Texas) by foot. I knowed the Number 9 train came in there about midnight and took on water. So I told Red, ‘Let’s rob that train tonight.’

“That night we went down to a little freight house near the depot. While we was waiting we took the linings out of our big overcoats to cover our heads and use as masks. When the train came in that night, we hit the back of it.

“An old brakeman hollered at us and said, ‘Hey! You can’t get on here!’

“I told him, ‘Like hell we can’t,’ and I jabbed that pistol in his belly and he changed his tune. He didn’t give us no trouble. We went in to the first car that was a special car for the superintendent of the Southern Pacific Railroad, old man Watkins. He was in there with another fellow. Watkins had a big old thick pocketbook and we thought we had a wad of money. Damned if his pocketbook wasn’t full of them railroad passes and 40 measly dollars!

“We went on up through the Pullman cars. We ain’t never been in a Pullman car so we didn’t know about them berths upstairs too. We just got the ones on the bottom and went through two of them. If we come up on a woman by herself we let her go.

“When we come through the first car, we didn’t know there was a drawing room in there with a rich old Mexican riding with his daughter. Sure enough, they had several thousand in cash and $15,000 in jewelry in a little bag up there. They was in a compartment car and we didn’t know nothing about that so we passed them up.

“Getting close to Spofford, we pulled the cord, stopped the train, and got off. In a few minutes we was hightailing it through them prickly pear flats headed toward Crystal City. In two days we were in Crystal City, sitting in my mother’s kitchen.

“We got $4,700 off the train; more money than we had ever seen. I give Red half and we went down to the hotel and had us a big steak dinner.”

Along with the stories of ringing in the New Year, the Texas newspapers were ablaze with front-page accounts of the “daring train robbery.” The San Antonio Express quoted a number of first-hand accounts of the train robbery that vary from Willis’ version, particularly in how they treated the passengers when they demanded their cash and valuables.

Two Bandits Awaken and Rob Passengers on Southern Pacific Obtain $7840 And Many Valuables; Overlook $16,000

Robbers Boarded a Train near Spofford And Escaped After 18 Minutes’ Search of Passengers.

Are Headed for Mexico

Posse in Pursuit Following Three Clues In Hope of Effecting A Capture Before Robbers Cross the Rio Grande-Mexican Who Saves His Fortune Reimburses Those Robbed.

… More than $7,840 and a number of watches, jewels, guns and other valuables were taken and $16,000 in gold was overlooked when masked men robbed the two rear sleepers of the Sunset Central Express train between Cline and Spofford about 2:30 o’clock yesterday morning. The robbery required eighteen minutes, during which time the bandits took the belongings of 14 passengers in the San Antonio sleeper at the rear of the train, and using W. F. Kendall, brakeman as a shield continued part way through another Pullman as the train neared Spofford, when the bandits retreated to the rear Pullman, pulled the bell cord and escaped.

Although posses organized by Ranger Phelps and R. C. Watkins, division superintendent of the Sunset Central of this city, one of the victims, were organized at Spofford and Del Rio immediately after the robbery, no trace of the robbers has been found.

Two men discovered in a tool house on the Eagle Pass branch of the road were arrested and released. As the distance to the border is only about 30 miles by rail and about 33 miles by direct route, it is believed that the men are making an effort to reach the boundary line and cross into Mexico.

Jose Martinez, a wealthy mine owner of Durango, Mexico was overlooked by the bandits and remained the happy possessor of about $16,000 in cash and several hundred dollars’ worth of jewelry. Martinez and his wife and daughter, occupied the drawing room in the front end of the last sleeper. They knew nothing of the presence of the bandits until aroused by the Negro porter, John Dunmore, who told him robbers were going through the train and that they had better hide their money and valuables.

The warning was heeded and the trio waited almost breathless for the appearance of the masked pair to search their compartment. Minutes that seemed like hours passed and finally Martinez returned to stick his head out into the car and learned that the bandits had completed their mission.

Whether due to their unfamiliarity of Pullman cars or to their haste, the drawing room was slighted in the holdup game, as were those occupying upper berths. Two men in the rear sleeper occupying upper berths were not disturbed by the bandits and one never knew anything about the occurrences until later aroused by the victims when inquiring about his loss.

He made an inventory and found his purse containing $200, his gold watch and other valuables had not been molested and were under his pillow where he had put them up on retiring.

Overjoyed with having escaped the robbers, Martinez summoned the porter who had warned him and his family of the danger and handed him a roll of bills as a reward.

Learning of the plight of some of the passengers who had been relieved of every cent they had and most of them of everything else of value, Martinez decided to share his good luck and wealth with his fellow travelers. To each he gave money in sums ranging from $25-$100 in proportion to their losses and other circumstances as he learned by personal investigations.

The newspaper article went on to detail how Willis and Red roughed up the passengers to get them to hand over their valuables. Contrary to Willis’ self-described chivalry toward women, the article dispelled any doubts he was more than willing to accost women as well as men when it came to demanding all of their valuables.

… The bandits were described by passengers as brutes and were extremely rough at times in the handling of their victims. While several passengers were struck by the butts of guns in the hands of the robbers and more or less seriously wounded, not a shot was fired. At least four persons required medical attention after the bandits had taken their departure, and one woman whose name could not be learned, suffered an ugly gash in the head, which required 11 stitches to close. Exasperated at the thoughts of parting with her valuables, she first pleaded with the bandits without avail, and then she resisted their attempts to relieve her of her money and jewelry, when one of them drew his gun back and struck her across the head, inflicting an ugly gash and severe bruises.

One woman traveling with her four-month-old baby escaped brutal treatment and managed to save $185, which she had secreted under her bed. Occupying a lower birth in the rear car, she became hysterical when awakened and, looking out saw the masked bandits demanding money from the passengers. Time was valuable to the robbers and losing patience in their efforts to calm her, one of the men called out:

“Oh, let her go: she’s nothing but a baby,” and the pair moved to the next birth with orders to the brakeman to hurry and rouse the passengers.

One man who appeared slow in getting his money and time piece together was given a hard jab with the dangerous end of a gun and he dropped his money in this aisle of the car. Another rap from the gun and he was made to jump out of his birth and gather up the money and handed to the brakeman, who quickly passed it to the robbers.

One man who was a sound sleeper came within an ace of waking up in eternity when he failed to respond quickly to the shaking given him by the brakeman.

The robbers were not inclined to tarry and when the sleeper did not come across they were about to strike him a deadly blow, but the brakeman succeeded in rousing the sleeper and impressing upon him the seriousness of the situation just in time to save him from a beating.

One woman fainted and was quickly relieved of her money, jewelry, and purse containing her railroad ticket before she was revived.

This instance seems to awaken a strain of humor in the makeup of one of the holdup man, for he remarked, “If we could only put them all to sleep as easy-this would be the life.”

Apparently, some of the passengers were more than willing to exaggerate or totally fabricate their recollections of the robbery to reporters covering the holdup. In one case, a passenger identified himself as being the brother of the past president of Mexico.

… One of the first stories of the holdup obtained from an eyewitness came from Walter Grimmer, an employee of the electric light plant at Del Rio. Mr. Grimmer was a passenger out of San Antonio. He was riding in the day coach and declares emphatically that the two robbers boarded the train at San Antonio and sat almost directly across the aisle from him.

Mr. Grimmer says he was attracted to them almost as soon as the train left San Antonio by their suspicious actions and unusually tough appearance. He says a Ranger occupied a seat directly in front of him and that the men evidently recognize the officer and appeared to avoid his eyes whenever he looked in their direction.

According to Mr. Grimmer the two men waited until practically everyone in the day coach was asleep, when they left their seats and walked through the coach. Mr. Grimmer says he was awake at the time, watched the men walk through the day coach and saw them cross the platform and enter the first Pullman. He says he got a good look at the robbers and would easily be able to identify them. One he described as a man of exceptionally heavy build.

He says after going through the Pullmans the men signaled the train to stop and jumped to the ground on the moonlight side of the train. The aroused passengers saw them plainly as they ran. Both men are said to be Americans.

Benjamin Madero, brother of the late President of Mexico, is believed to have been one of the passengers in the upper berths who escaped attention. He arrived at the Sunset Station too late to get a lower birth and was consigned to the upper number five. Madero is supposed to have saved his belongings, although all of the others and excepting the passenger in the remaining upper, and the Martinez family in the drawing room, were robbed.

George Miller, a cattleman from Marathon was one of the passengers in a lower birth, and was robbed of his valuables. It is supposed that several hundred dollars were found in his possession.

Mr. and Mrs. L. T. Wood of 217 San Pedro Ave. lost their money and valuables when the brakeman awoke them and told them that the car was being robbed and to turn over everything they had.

Superintendent Watkins, who was asleep in a lower birth about the middle of the train, was one of the first to be robbed. He was relieved of $25 and pass books. Sam Scammahorn, a yard master at the Sunset Station, lost his revolver, watch and the pocketbook.

F. H. Bednarak, chief dispatcher lost his watch and some money. The three railroad men were on their way to a point on the Eagle Pass branch to hunt big game, but they joined the posse on the trail of the bandits.

C. D. Woodward, the Pullman car conductor in charge of the rear sleeper in the train, was not overlooked and the robbers relieved him of $156 including his own and the company’s money.

Following this article that gave a vivid account of the pistol-whipping some of the passengers experienced during the hold-up, the San Antonio Light ran this front-page reward notice on January 2.

$500 REWARD

The G. H. & S. A. Ry. Co. offers $500 reward for the arrest and conviction of the two men who robbed the passengers on train No. 9 on the night of Dec. 29, 1914 between Cline and Spofford, Texas, by order of Superintendent R. C. WATKINS

Apparently, the reward offer worked; the January 21 edition of the same newspaper ran a bold front-page headline.

Two Men Are Arrested As Train Bandits

Sheriff Johnson of Uvalde Is In San Antonio With

Suspects.

The article went on to describe the arrest of two men who were working on a ranch near Uvalde. One was a recently released convict who had served time for burglary. Working on a tip, the Uvalde County sheriff sent two men to the ranch to surreptitiously identify the two men:

… Superintendent Watkins and W. C. Cox, both whom had been passengers on the train, went to Uvalde and, so as not to excite suspicion, went on a bird hunt to a ranch eighteen miles west of Uvalde, where the two suspects were working. Both declared there could be no doubt as to one of the men and they believed they could identify the other as well.

As it turned out the reward was never paid to the informant; the case fell apart when one of the eyewitnesses, a woman, could not positively identify the redheaded man. The law stayed on the case for a few more months and then slowly let it fade away.

Willis was never arrested for the hold-up. For some reason he concentrated on bank jobs until 1921 when he and his gang reeled off three train heists during that year. Then in 1924, the Newton Gang hit the grand slam, ripping off over $3 million from an express mail train near Rondout, Illinois.

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Newton Gang Robs Two Banks in One Night

On January 9, 1921, the Newton Gang drove into Hondo, Texas, a small town 30 miles west of San Antonio, to rob one of the two banks in town. It was just past midnight and the temperature was near freezing.

The Newtons knew the night watchman in Hondo, and as was his habit, they found him huddled around a pot-bellied stove in the depot. They cut all of the telephone wires and then went back to check on the night watchman. He had not budged from his spot by the stove so Joe was placed across the street as a lookout while the rest went to the bank.

In his 1979 interview, Willis proudly told his version of the story:

“Sometime you just get lucky ’cause they had left the vault door open. They had left it unlocked so we didn’t need no nitro or nothing. We jimmied the window, walked over to the vault, tried the handle and she opened! You would be surprised how many times them banks would just close the door so it looked locked during the night.

“We had the vault cleaned out in no time and went to see if the night watchman was still in the depot. Sure enough, he was reading a magazine and drinking coffee by the stove. Well hell, we figured we had plenty of time so we’d go over to the other bank and give it a try. I kept Joe and Doc watching the night marshal while Jess and I went down to the other bank.

“We got inside that bank and cleaned it out. Damn, two banks in one night and the night marshal, he never come out of the depot!”

The local newspaper, the Hondo Anvil Herald, carried the story with a splash headline:

Yeggs Rob Hondo Banks

One of the Most Daring Robberies Ever Staged in Texas Occurred Here Sunday Morning

The people of Hondo were amazed and angered Sunday morning when it became known that both banks had been entered by yeggs, between midnight and daylight, and robbed of both money and valuables. Entrance to the First National Bank was effected by forcing the front doors; while the entrance to the State Bank was effected by prizing down the bars over the last window in the alley between Parker’s and the bank.

The newspaper went on to give an elaborate description of the robbery:

Owing to most of the money in both banks being in the money safes, with time locks set, the loss in cash was not serious, the First National losing a total of $2,814 while in the matter of actual cash loss the State Bank was a little more fortunate, its loss being $1,879; both banks losing a total of $4,694 nearly all of which was silver coin.

The funds of both banks were covered by burglary insurance, consequently neither will suffer loss. [Just like Willis had assured his brothers.]

Owners of private boxes, who had put their valuables in the vaults of the banks, are the heaviest losers, and their actual loss will not be definitely known for some time-probably a month-as the owners of the boxes are the only ones who can clear up the loss, the officials of the banks not being advised of the contents of the boxes.

The safety deposit box owners had cash, government bonds, War Savings Stamps, jewelry, and other valuables in their boxes so it was impossible to determine the exact amount taken in the robbery. Estimates of as high as $30,000 were never confirmed.

The article continued to describe the “safe experts:’

… That the robbers were experts is borne out by the fact that they were able to work the combination on the vault of the First National Bank. [Willis said it was left unlocked.] They were also experts in the use of explosive, the vault doors of the State Bank being blown open by one of the most powerful explosives known-TNT [ Willis swore in his interview that he never used dynamite-only nitroglycerine.]

The vaults were thoroughly ransacked and the floors were strewn with papers about two feet thick.

From the thoroughness with which the robbers made their search for securities it is evident that they spent two hours or more in the vaults of the banks and the private boxes of the customers are in a sad plight, most of them showing that they were beat open by some heavy instrument, probably with a sledgehammer that had been stolen from the blacksmith shop of Mask & Co.

… That the robbers were no tyros (archaic word meaning beginners) in the business of robbing is again borne out by the fact that they took every precaution against being apprehended by the possession of jewelry, gold coins, and so forth, which might lead to their identity. The floors of the vaults were literally strewn with such articles as might lead to their detection. Notes and other articles of value that could not be turned into money were cast aside and left behind.

It is generally believed that the band was composed of from six to eight men, and that both banks were robbed simultaneously, a gang being assigned to each bank.

Another circumstance that indicates that the robbers were not new to the game of bank robbing is borne out by the fact that every telephone line in town was cut, apparently, before the banks were robbed. And this part of their plans was carried out most effectively and by an expert telephone man.

… Cables were severed, apparently with saws, and single wires were cut with wire clippers. Only three telephones connected with the local exchange were working Sunday morning.

The robbery was discovered by the night watchman about five o’clock Sunday morning and immediately reported to Deputy Sheriff C.J. Bless.

… Harry Crouch, our local telegraph operator, was summonsed and messages were sent east and west in an effort to intercept the robbers, but as far as the general public is advised, nothing was learned as to the direction in which the robbers went.

Detectives from San Antonio and the surrounding area converged on the Hondo banks searching for clues to the duel-heist robbery.

… One of the most remarkable coincidences of this whole business is that these robberies could have occurred right in the heart of the town and not more than 200 feet apart, and not one among our people being any the wiser until daylight it was revealed what had transpired, and that too, it was since developed that the night watchman and the two other men were in the waiting room of the depot, not more than sixty yards from the front doors of the First National Bank, while the robbery was being accomplished. The robbers must have done their work very silently to avoid detection. [It is hard to image a “silent” explosion of nitroglycerine.]

The word the newspaper used for the night burglars was “yeggs,” a popular vernacular expression of the era. It is interesting to compare the newspaper reporting to Willis’ account in which the vault of the First National Bank had been left unlocked and they used nitroglycerine (rather than TNT) to blow the vault door on the State Bank. Even more interesting was the fact that there were no follow up articles on the robbery. There was not a single mention of the multi-bank burglary over the ensuing months-although it contained large advertisements from both banks. It was as if both banks had never been robbed.

The Galveston Daily News on January 10 reported the robbery describing a “clew” that proved to be a red herring:

Robber Heel May Lead to Arrest

Telephone Connections Cut When Banks at Hondo Are Looted

San Antonio, Texas-January 10-A rubber heel, lost from a shoe, may lead to the identification of the bank robbers who made a successful haul of $20,000 from the First National Bank of Hondo and the Hondo State Bank early Sunday morning.

The bank robbers gained entrance to the two banks by prying the iron bars loose from rear windows of the buildings and manipulating the combinations of the vault in the First National Bank, but blew off the door of the vault in the state bank.

The haul was made from the safety deposit boxes in both banks, the robbers obtaining only $1,500 in cash from the First National and $29,350 of the state bank’s money. The smaller vault safes in both institutions were untouched.

The balance of the loot, it is estimated by officers at the two banks, was secured from owners of safety deposit boxes in the banks. Hondo was not aware of the visit of the bank robbers until almost noon Sunday, when the open windows at the rear of the two bank buildings were discovered.

Heel lost in bank.

Sheriff J.S. Baden, during his investigation was given the lost rubber heel, which had been found in front of the vault of the First National Bank. Further investigation disclosed a set of burglar tools consisting of a pipe wrench, saw, and chisel, which had been left by the robbers. These however are not considered as important for they are of a standard make, easily purchased at any hardware store.

Just outside of the window through which the robbers entered the state bank, Sheriff Baden found the numerals 13,555 scratched on the brick work. This, bank officials believe, indicates the amount the robbers secured from the deposit boxes in the bank. [This curious piece of information appears to have been just another “red herring.”]

Sheriff Baden believes the robberies were committed by a band of six men, who sent an advance guard of two into Hondo last week.

… Hondo citizens, who were up at an early hour Sunday morning, reported to the Sheriff that they saw a high-powered automobile leaving the outskirts of town occupied by six men. These, the Sheriff believes, were the Hondo robbers.

[Ironically] Sheriff Baden suffered a loss by the early morning visit of the robbers, as his safety deposit box in the First National Bank was broken open and $300 in stamps and $150 in bonds were taken. A $100 Liberty bond, the property of his son O.J. Baden, of Donna, was left in the box.

In light of the erroneous “clews’, the Newtons were never tried for the Hondo bank robberies.

Willis Newton was born in 1889 and died in 1979, making him the longest living Texas outlaw. He and the Newton Gang hit trains and banks in the early 1920s but their biggest haul occurred in 1924 when they robbed a train outside of Rondout, Illinois-getting away with $3,000,000. They still hold the record for the biggest train robbery in U.S. history.

Horse Racing: How To Find The Missing Link In Racing

Finding the missing link in racing and making millions or how to find it in racing is what every single player that handicap is searching for. Is there a missing link that no one knows? For all practical purposes all information on horse racing is known. All of it is simply not known by one person. That information is scattered in every direction through out the mass media. The player might think that no one knows it all but you don’t have to know it all. Only specific things. You don’t have to know what the trainer eats for lunch.

It would be sensible to know what the jockey ate for lunch because what you eat affects behavior. So the point becomes: what is it that the player must know? (1) That horse racing is made of two major divisions: profitcapping and handicapping. (2) That there’s in fact enough money left over in the payouts to make a profit over the long-term. (3) There’s a way to make a profit from racing or a way to do it but you must learn advanced profitcapping and advanced handicapping and work with it. Once again: there’s – no – missing link in racing.

Only a limit in your knowledge of the game. The information is there. But you have to get to know it. To make money in racing the player must first know how money flows in the game which is by field size, that money can be made, how much can be made and how it is to be made. (1) Each field size has a different amount of money in it (that’s profitcapping). (2) Each field size has a different handicap method(s) or system(s) that’s best to predict and select the horse(s) with (that’s handicapping).

Those two things alone tells the player an immense deal. If only you knew. The way to do racing is to go into detail on how to do the money side of the game (profitcapping) which includes some of these: correct profitcapping ticket formatting form, correct ticket pricing, finding potential profit which can be in the 100’s of thousands of dollars to millions of dollars, knowing ticket probability, grasping pass or play (both profitcapping and handicapping forms), money management, learning how to create a line-up, how to rank horses correctly, how to compare rankings, handicap ticket formatting form, finding elimination methods, creating handicap odds and much more. These are the things every player needs to know.

This is to advance themselves in the game. The only limitations is your knowledge in the game. To advance in the game you must have right knowledge. This is partially how to understand the missing link in racing.

What Are Paper Bets and How Can They Improve Horse Racing Handicapping Betting?

Betting on horses is a skill and therefore requires practice, lot of practice. Handicapping horse races is sometimes called an intellectual sport, like chess. I couldn’t agree more. You might also compare it to golf, in that it is very frustrating and can ruin a perfectly beautiful day outdoors, okay that was tongue in cheek, however, I think you understand what I mean. Handicapping horse races requires practice in order to develop the skill necessary to make a profit from your wagers.

But how do you practice making bets on horses? Paper bets are on method of handicapping and then deciding what your bets would be and making the bets by writing them down on paper. While actually making bets with real money can be thrilling, it can also be expensive. Think you’ve got the horse racing game beaten? Ready to go to the track and clean up? How about testing your theory on paper first?

If you think you are a good handicapper and bettor, try handicapping the races and making 50 paper bets first. Be honest with yourself and write them down and do not change them, once they are on paper. Consider it the same as if you actually handed your money to a teller and you are unable to change the bet.

To put a little more pressure on yourself, and to make it more realistic by being stressful, which real gambling is, by the way, make a commitment that you will not make a real bet until you can show on paper that you made 50 bets and they showed a clear cut profit, no ifs, ands or buts about it. With the possibility of not being able to go to the track or make any bets until your paper bets show a profit, you will quickly learn to weed out those “iffy,” bets and start betting like a true professional.

With that said, however, let me caution you about something else. In horse racing handicapping, as in life, things seldom work out in real life as they do on paper. Therefore, just because your paper bets seem to make a profit, don’t mortgage the house and put it all on your latest system. Slow steady and moderate is the way to make money by using any horse racing system or ability that you may have. When you are betting with real money you will find that you think differently and bet differently.

The whole idea of making the commitment that you wouldn’t go to the track and bet real money unless your bets paid off on paper was to put some real pressure on yourself. There will be real pressure on you when you bet with real money, so getting used to that pressure and seeing how it will affect your betting is very important. The most important lesson to be learned from paper bets, is not only whether your handicapping skills are good, but whether you can take some pressure and still make money betting on horses and the only way to do that is to have something to lose if your paper bets fail to show a profit.

if you don’t want to make the commitment about going to the track, make the commitment about something else that you really enjoy in life and don’t want to give up. Tell yourself that you will give it up until your paper bets make money and then stick to it. Like I said, you will soon learn just how tough it is to make money betting on horses and how you handle that kind of pressure.