Story written and reshared by Mary Wilson and Sharon Y. Asher with excerpts taken from “Outdoor Indiana,” written by Arville L. Funk and reprinted from “The Scarlet Mask” written by Carl R. Bogardus, Sr., M.D., 1960.
This story is the final of five installments on this blog. Each week the story will be continued for your enjoyment!
In a masterful piece of understatement one newspaper stated, “Had the Renos been taken to Scott County they would certainly have suffered!” Laura Ellen Reno, accompanied by a young lady friend, arrived in Lexington only a few short hours after the vigilantes had left, herself not aware of what had taken place there earlier that night. She was told that the trial had been postponed and of the visit of the mob. Back home at the Reno farmhouse in Rockford she solemnly declared to a newspaper reporter from Cincinnati, “If they touch my brothers, God will punish them.” Returning Frank Reno and Charles Anderson to the United States was no easy matter as it turns out. Outlaws, assassins, bickering politicians, President Andrew Johnson, Secretary of State William Seward, Governor- General-Vincent Monck and British Ambassador to the United States Edward Thornton, all played important roles in the extradition proceedings. Finally, on October 6, 1868, the prisoners were ordered by Justice McMicken remanded for the extradition to the United States. The next day Pinkerton and his hardened prisoners boarded a steamer bound for Cleveland. From there they traveled under heavy guard by train to Cincinnati. They came to Louisville on the steamer America and spent one night there. The following day the prisoners were delivered to the New Albany jail where Frank Reno had an unhappy reunion with his two brothers.
When it became known that more of the Reno Gang had been spirited into the jail at New Albany the citizens of that city and Floyd County became terrified. It was no secret that the Seymour Vigilance Committee were making plans to storm the jailhouse. One newspaper reported in a dispatch from Fort Wayne that the remnants of the Reno Gang “had held a convention resolving to lay Seymour to ashes if the Renos were hanged and threats were made against the people.”
Some editorial writers lambasted and ridiculed Scott County officers for imprisoning the outlaws in New Albany – a move which they thought would obviously result in mob violence. Others taunted Judge Patrick Jewett for “being afraid to examine the prisoners.”
Feelings about the matter grew so intense that Sheriff Fullenlove of Floyd County made a public announcement, “we do not believe that there is any danger of the Jackson County Vigilance Committee extending their visit to New Albany. They would be sure to meet a hot reception here, and they had better keep at a safe distance. These men were sent here for safekeeping and they will be safely kept if it is in the power of the authorities to do so.” This was a brave but foolhardy statement as later events would prove.** On the night of December 11, 1868, a mysterious train left the Seymour depot of the Jeffersonville, Madison & Indianapolis Railroad. It pulled into Jeffersonville depot just after midnight and several hundred scarlet-hooded men left the first train and seized another for their short journey to New Albany. The smaller train chugged into the Pearl Street station in New Albany and the masked men quickly formed rows of four for the short march to the jail at the corner of State and Spring Streets.
Arriving there they immediately cut the telegraph wires and seized the jail guard Chuck Whitten, who had been hired to patrol the outside of the grounds of the jail. The mob then broke into the combined jail and Sheriff’s residence, where they seized Sheriff Fullenlove and his wife. They also captured County Commissioner C. H. Neal and Henry Perrett who were spending the night with the Sherriff. When the Sheriff refused to hand over the keys to the Renos’ cells, the mob beat him severely and shot him in the right arm.
The Sheriff’s wife surrendered the keys to the vigilantes and they immediately dragged the three Renos and Anderson from their cells. At 4:30 AM on the morning of December 12 the last members of the Reno Gang received frontier justice from the lynch mob. One by one, the four outlaws were carried or dragged to the top of the iron stairway at the second story of the jail. First to be hung was Frank from cell 24. The next was the youngest of the brothers, William from cell 7. The third Reno, Simeon, was taken from cell 11 and also hung down in the old stairway. Last of all was Anderson, who died with a prayer on his lips and who had to be strung up twice since the first rope broke.
Swiftly as it had come the mysterious mob marched out of the jail and back to the waiting train. At Jeffersonville, the original train was again boarded and the Seymour Vigilance Committee or the Scarlet Masks as they were thereafter called, returned to their homes just as dawn was breaking.
The outlaws’ sister Laura was attending school at the St. Ursula Academy in Louisville and she was brought to New Albany to identify the bodies and to take them home to Seymour for burial. The infamous outlaw brothers were buried in a large plot in the old Seymour Cemetery now at the corner of Ninth and Ewing Streets with large stones erected for all four graves.
The cemetery has now been abandoned and is covered with weeds. However, the old Reno plot can still be found, although most of the monuments have been destroyed by vandals. The only stone remaining is a “government stone” at the grave of William Reno. This stone can still be deciphered although it is broken off. The stone marking the graves of Frank and Simeon Reno have disappeared.
Thus, came to the end the most ruthless gang in the history of Indiana, undoubtedly much better organized and more dangerous than the Dillinger Gang and the other hoodlum gangs of the Twentieth Century.
For more historical information on the Reno Gang and other Scott County History visit the Scott County Heritage Center and Museum located at
1050 S Main St, Scottsburg, IN 47170 or call them at (812) 752-1050.