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Train robbery gone wrong

Mary Phillips Published: December 18, 2010

Here’s a story from The Oklahoman, published Nov. 1, 1936, that makes a great tale:

“Probably the only train robbery in which the entire loot consisted of three gallons of whisky was recorded for posterity Saturday by the Works Progress Administration writers’ project.

“And if you wonder just where such a thing occurred, you might have known it would be in Oklahoma, back in the early days when anything could happen and usually did.

“The story was told to a project writer by Lon Stansberry, pioneer Tulsa citizen, who swears by all that was holy in whooping early day Oklahoma, that it’s the truth, yes-sirree. The tale probably will be included in the American Guide book as one of the tidbits of pioneer life.

“The exact date is not listed, but along about that time a certain outlaw gang headed by one Bill Cook, notorious for his law flaunting, was roaming the hills and dales of eastern Oklahoma. In the gang was Jim Cook, Henry Nunsing, Curtis Davis, Lon Gordon and Everett Baldwin, all pretty bad in their own right, and fit to strike terror in the hearts of any bank clerk.

“They got a tip that a Frisco train was coming into Red Fork, southwest of Tulsa, with pay for a cattle shipment from the Spike S ranch south of the town.

“An hour before the train time they galloped into town and took possession of the depot. One of the more inquisitive outlaws discovered a gallon of whisky there and commandeered it. Each member had a sip or so.

“When the train puffed in, two men took control of the engine and the remainder guarded the express car. Shaking like an autumn leaf, the express messenger dropped his receipt book and thrust his hands into the air. He denied the money was on the train.

“The robbers then decided to look around and found two more gallons of whisky. That hit them as right fine and they proceeded to get friendly. They marched up and down the cars, forcing passengers to take a few drinks. In great spirits they celebrated and the victims joined right in, surprised at the queer Oklahoma outlaws’ hospitality.

“Finally the whisky ran low, and the outlaw band decided to leave. The express messenger retrieved the receipt book, and away with the wind went the badmen.

“With a sly grin, the express messenger looked inside the receipt book, and right there was the cattle payment, all in crisp currency ready to be paid. Some people claimed the whisky deadened the outlaws’ sense of perception, while others claimed they just didn’t give a hang for the money, what with three jugs of spirits.

“Any way the story is being prepared for Oklahoma’s section of the guide book. And posterity can believe it or not.”

The Writer’s Project index at the Oklahoma History Center includes an interview with Lon Stansberry, and a search of the Internet indicates that the gang robbed a Frisco train July 18, 1894, but due to the quick-thinking express messenger, left empty-handed.

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