America's most successful bank robbers, men who used nitroglycerine to blow safe doors under the quiet of night; committed the largest train robbery in U.S. history - - the famous June 12, 1924 Rondout Robbery;
(Rondout, Illinois) never killed anyone; and who were nabbed when their greed caught up to them.
When Willis Newton gets out of the Texas penal system, innocent of the crime with which he was convicted, his grudge against a society obsessed with wealth is formulated under the guise of robbing banks. He enlists his brothers, Joe, Jess and Doc as well as nitroglycerin expert Brentwood Glasscock.
(my note: I wonder if Brentwood Glasscock had
previous military experience, engineering experience, mining or oil industry experience
to know about making/using nitroglycerin?)
Out Yonder: Little-known Newton Gang finally makes it into spotlight
By ROSS McSWAIN
``The Newton Boys,'' a new movie that was released all over the country last week, should be of interest to West Texans because these fellows made quite a name for themselves robbing trains and banks, including several money houses in the Concho Valley.
I haven't seen the movie, but I've seen the real thing. I don't believe the movie story will tell about Dock Newton's attempt to rob the Rowena bank at the age of 76. He claimed he got restless in the nursing home at Uvalde and just had to get back to business. ``I have had my last fling,'' Newton told reporters.
I got acquainted with the old bandit while he cooled his heels in the Runnels County Jail after he and his colleague, Robert C. Talley of Del Rio, were arrested by Sheriff Don Adkins. The pair had attempted to burglarize the Rowena First National Bank but were caught inside when an alarm sounded.
In fact, one of the men fired a shot at the officers when they surrounded the bank building that early morning on Feb. 29, 1968. The officers returned fire before Talley hollered that he wanted to surrender. Adkins subdued Dock Newton after a scuffle in which the old man hit his head against a door facing. Later, Newton claimed a deputy had hit him in the head with a blackjack.
When first caught, Newton was believed to be his brother, Willis, who was considered the leader of the Newton Gang, who carried away more loot from trains and banks than did any of America's better-known bandits - the James Brothers, the Daltons or the Wild Bunch.
According to fairly accurate figures, the Newtons, during a four-year period, robbed 80 banks and six trains, netting millions of dollars. In one train holdup on June 12, 1924, the men took more than $3 million from a single mail train at Rondout, Ill. It was the biggest train robbery ever staged in the United States.
Despite taking more money than any other bandit gang, the Newtons did not gain the notoriety of other outlaws because they did not kill anyone. Each, however, spent most of his life in some prison.
After paying their debts to society, the Newtons lived quiet, peaceable lives in their hometown of Uvalde. The men had been mostly forgotten until Dock Newton left the nursing home where he had been staying and broke into the bank at Rowena, the hometown of Bonnie Parker.
Dock Newton and his partner, Talley, were indicted for bank robbery and were tried at Fort Stockton in late 1968. Because of his age and deteriorating health, Dock was sentenced to two years in the penitentiary after pleading nolo contendre. Talley was given five years.
Considering the kind of work the brothers were in, it is amazing the men died in bed. Dock died in 1974. Jess Newton died in 1960 of cancer. Willis, the oldest, died at the age of 90. His brother, Joe, died in 1989 at the age of 88.
According to one news account, Jess Newton spent the last days of his life looking for some $35,000 taken in the Rondout train robbery that he buried near Eagle Pass before his capture. Jess was drunk when he hid the money, however, and never found it.
In their later years, Willis and Joe gave a number of interviews and even helped to film a documentary about their bandit careers.
Joaquin Jackson, a retired Texas Ranger who served at Uvalde and Alpine, told a reporter in 1982 that the ``Newtons were all nice. Those old bank robbers felt the money was all insured, and they weren't really hurting anyone. Even though they were bank robbers, they had morals,'' he said.
Joe Newton was asked about his robbing days: ``You mainly enjoyed the money you got out of it, but I'll tell you one thing, it's kind of exciting while you are doing it.''
Willis Newton, asked whether he had considered robbing the bank in Uvalde, grinned and replied ``No. We had to have some place to keep our money.''
There are lots of great characters Out Yonder. I appreciated getting to meet Dock Newton that cold windy day in Ballinger.
in the 1970s Willis Newton was interviewed in a documentary and Joe Newton appeared on Johnny Carson's " the Tonight Show" in 1980.
A story from A Treasury of Texas Tales
By Jack Maguire
I KNEW THE LAST TRAIN ROBBER
When Joe Newton died in Uvalde, Texas, in 1989, the newspapers headlined his death as the passing of "the last U.S. train robber." He was that, to be sure. But to those of us who were his friends, Joe was the nicest, most genial ex-outlaw one could ever hope to meet.
Joe and I first met in 1983, more than a half century after the Newton "boys"—Willis, Dock, Jess and Joe—pulled off the biggest and most lucrative train robbery in American history. It happened in the early morning of June 14, 1924, when the four brothers from rural Texas and some confederates robbed a Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul mail train of $3 million in cash, negotiable securities, and jewelry at Rondout, Illinois.
It was the largest haul in a train robbery ever made anywhere in the world up to that time. It remained so until August 8, 1963, when brigands held up the Glasgow-London Mail outside the British capital and escaped with seven million dollars. The Newton heist remains, however, the biggest such robbery in the United States.
During the decade when the Newtons were active (1914-1924), Joe and his brothers robbed only six trains. But in between, they also managed to hold up more than 75 banks. It was their loot from the Rondout mail train robbery, however, that made their total take as criminals greater than that of Jesse James, Butch Cassidy, the Daltons, Bonnie and Clyde and all other such outlaws put together.
That is why, in 1985, I asked Joe, the last survivor of the Newton foursome, to tell me their story.
At our first meeting, Joe, in his white Stetson, Western shirt and boots, looked like the successful rancher and businessman he had become. After a warm handshake, he adjusted his horn-rim glasses, looked directly at me for a moment, and said:
"If you want to write this up, o.k. But don’t call us outlaws! Stealin’ from trains and banks wasn’t like takin’ money from some pore rancher or farmer. Everything we stole was insured and we felt that we had a score to settle with the insurance companies because our grandpa had been rooked by one back in Tennessee.
"The railroad dicks, the post office cops, and the newspapers called us outlaws. We wasn’t. We never wanted to hurt nobody and we never did. We all came through o.k. except brother Dock. He was shot five times by one of the lame brains we had picked up to help us with the Chicago mail train job."
They didn’t plan it that way, but train robberies started and ended the career of the Newtons. It began with a train robbery four days after Christmas in 1914. Willis, who farmed near their hometown of Uvalde, had a brainstorm. He and a friend rode their horses to Cline, a water stop on the Southern Pacific about 20 miles from Uvalde.
When a train paused there about midnight, the two boarded it. One held a gun on the conductor while the other went through the Pullman methodically robbing the passengers
"There was one problem," Joe recalled in telling me the story. "These country hicks had never been in a sleeper before and didn’t know there was two beds in each section. The dummies robbed only those in the lowers, and then only the men. No Newton ever mistreated a lady or robbed one."
Even without taking the women’s purses and rings or robbing those in the upper berths, Willis and his friend got about $5,700 in cash and jewelry. Willis, suddenly rich, returned to farming at Uvalde for awhile.
"The money was soon gone, but Willis decided that robbin’ was better’n farmin’," Joe said. "He and two other friends decided they’d try hittin’ a bank. They went all the way to Oklahoma and must’ve thought they was movie stars or somethin’. They rode their horses into this little town in broad daylight, stuck up the bank and then outrun a posse."
These successes apparently made Willis decide that there was a profit potential in robbery if it was treated as a business and staffed with experts. He chose Tulsa as his headquarters and began to plan for the future.
The robbery of Southern Pacific No. 9 at Cline had been easy and profitable, but Willis believed that banks were easier targets than passenger trains. Although he and his brothers were to become the most famous train robbers in the nation with their holdup of the Chicago mail train, the Rondout caper was only the sixth (and last) of their escapades on the high iron.
Joe, always the reluctant member of the gang, was involved in five of the train heists. He insisted, however, that his only ambition always was to own a small ranch. He was led into crime, he explained, when big brother Willis wrote him from Tulsa and sent him two $20 bills with this laconic message: "Come on up. I’ve got you a good job."
"So I got on a train and went up there," Joe said. "Put my saddle in a sack in the express car. He met me at the station and we was gettin’ in his car when I remembered my luggage. When I come back with the sack on my shoulder, Willis asked ‘What’s that?’
"When I said it was my saddle, he said: ‘You can throw the damn thing away. You’re goin’ to start robbin’. Then he handed me a stack of $100 bills and told me to get rid of my ranch clothes and get some duds more suitable for the business of investin’ in high finance at gun point!
"And that’s how I got started holdin’ up trains and banks," Joe said simply. "You can say that I don’t think what I done was very smart. In fact, I was a damn fool! But none of us ever thought that we was thieves."
When all four brothers had finally joined Willis, the Newton Boys began operating like the business they always claimed it was.
"We could’ve been called the ‘Newton Gang, Inc.,’" Joe recalled.
Willis knew that fast automobiles were a necessity, so he supplied the brothers with their choice of Cadilllacs or Studebakers. He also decided that while guns might be useful in holding up small banks, more sophisticated ammo was needed for train robberies. He laid in a stockpile of explosives.
For almost ten years, the Newtons satisfied their urge to play Robin Hood and steal from the rich by concentrating on banks and robbing only an occasional train.
"We did pretty well," Joe said. "We never kept strict books, but Willis figured that we had lifted about a million from banks and trains before the big haul in Chicago. It wasn’t enough to make us rich, but we lived well. The truth is, we ran through it about as fast as we made it."
"Living well" meant getting out of the Texas ranch country, and Chicago appealed to the small town bandits. They spent much of their time in the Windy City. They were baseball fans and liked to be in town to see both the Cubs and the White Sox play as often as possible.
The brothers became well known around the Chicago underworld, a reputation that made them easy choices to execute the Milwaukee Road robbery.
Looking back, Joe said there was no way the Newton Boys could have planned and then pulled off the mail train robbery alone.
"We didn’t need no brains for that job," Joe would point out decades later. "All we needed to do was to show up with our guns and our fast cars and follow orders. You can’t lose when you’ve got a real-life cop bossin’ the job.
"It had to be the work of an ‘insider’—somebody smarter even than Willis," Joe said. "We didn’t even know anybody like that."
However, such an "anybody" knew of the Newton Boys. He was William J. Fahy, a Chicago postal inspector rated as one of the best detectives in the business by his superiors. He had started his career with the Postal Service as a railway mail clerk, worked his way up to inspector, and had achieved an enviable record of running down crooks.
Joe said that in the five previous years Fahy had solved almost every mail robbery in the Chicago district. That included a $280,000 mail robbery at Chicago’s Dearborn Street Station, robberies in Harvey, Illinois, Grand Rapids, Michigan, and elsewhere. However, his $300 a month salary wasn’t enough to satisfy Fahy’s idea of the good life.
Fahy spread word around the underworld that he knew when every big money rail shipment moved out of Chicago. This impressed J. Mahoney, a one-time beer baron and Chicago politician, Brent Glasscock, an underworld gunman, and Herbert S. Holliday, another gangster with some experience in robbing the mails.
When Fahy told Glasscock that he could provide a complete list of all the mail sacks stuffed with cash, jewelry, and negotiable securities on any mail train moving out of Chicago, Glasscock didn’t wait. He rushed to Kansas City where Willis Newton was operating at the time, and persuaded him to come to Chicago.
Once Willis and his brothers were in the Windy City, Fahy was ready. He took Glasscock and Newton to the Union Station and pointed out to them how shipments were handled. He told them that all registered mail would be in the third car of the train and that only three of the guards aboard would be armed.
Joe said that Fahy told Willis not to worry about the guards. "Fahy said: ‘They won’t shoot. They don’t know how!’"
Willis and Glasscock were old hands at robberies, however, and knew from experience that the actions of those involved can’t always be predicted. Guns were useful, but they decided extra protection was necessary. They equipped themselves and their cohorts with their own version of poison gas.
"This was formaldehyde, the same stuff they used to embalm the dead," Joe said.
"It’s kind of like a home-made tear gas bomb. Willis and Brent thought it would smother the mail clerks and send `em chokin’ to the doors and we could just walk in and pick up the mail sacks."
Joe remembered the details of that robbery as if it had happened only yesterday.
"Willis and Holliday went to Union Station wearing overalls," Joe recounted. "They wanted to look like railroad workers. When the engine and tender had been coupled to the train, they leaped onto the back of the tender. It was 30-odd miles to Rondout where the heist had been planned. When the train got close, they climbed over the tender and pulled their guns on the engineer and fireman.
"The rest of us had driven to Rondout. When they saw our flashlights, Willis and Holliday forced the train to stop. From then on, it was easy goin’. We jumped on the mail cars and yelled at the clerks to open the doors. Another gang member pulled one of the Cadillacs alongside car No. 2105 where Fahy said the loot was located."
It wasn’t as easy as Fahy had said it would be, however. The clerks refused orders to open the car and those who were armed fired some shots.
"That’s when we tossed our home-made bombs through the windows," Joe said. "The windows had bars but the stuff got inside anyway, and you can bet your boots them clerks piled out of there coughin’ and tryin’ to breathe. We all had on gas masks and somebody thought to put one on the chief mail clerk so he could see to open the car and toss out the mail sacks."
To that point, Fahy’s careful planning had been perfect. However, there was one slip-up that almost proved fatal for Dock Newton. The brakeman, following railroad rules, asked, and was given permission to go to the rear of the train with a red lantern to warn any oncoming traffic. Dock was ordered also to move to the right rear to stand guard and keep an eye on the brakeman.
Dock, however, started back on the left side, discovered his error and, gun in hand, crossed the tracks between the cars. Glasscock, who hadn’t worked with the Newtons before, thought that Dock was a member of the train crew or a mail clerk and fired five slugs into his body.
"Every shot hit Dock," Joe said. "Two went into one side and one each into his jaw, right hand and shoulder. As you can guess, we was pretty mad. No Newton had ever hurt anybody and no Newton had ever been hurt."
Joe and Jess Newton placed their brother in the back seat of one of the gang’s Studebakers and headed for Chicago. Dock was near death, but the brothers drove around the city for two days before they could find a physician with underworld connections. They finally found one. To protect himself, however, the doctor made the required report to police that he had treated a patient for gunshot wounds. That broke the case.
Within days, Dock, Willis and Joe had been arrested. Jess, the youngest brother, managed to get out of Chicago and to San Antonio with part of the loot.
"Jess had about $35,000," Joe remembered. "Then he got drunk one evening and decided to bury it. He hired a cab to take him into the country and he hid most of it. When he sobered up the next day he decided to dig up the money and head for Mexico. The problem was that he couldn’t remember where he buried it."
Joe said that Jess still had a little money that he hadn’t buried so he went on to Mexico where he spent most of his time drinking with friends in Via Acuna, across the border from Del Rio. A Federal agent located him there, but couldn’t extradite him under Mexican law at that time.
"The agent decided to fool Jess, and he fell for it," Joe said. "He knew that Jess loved horses and bragged that he had never seen a buckin’ bronco that he couldn’t stay on. The agent told him that a rodeo set for Del Rio advertised a killer stallion that no brush-bustin’ cowboy had ever ridden. He bet Jess $500 that he couldn’t stay 10 seconds in the saddle.
"Jess couldn’t resist, and when the two walked across the Rio Grande bridge, the agent put him in handcuffs."
The arrest of Jess effectively put the business firm of Newton Gang, Inc., into permanent bankruptcy. Except for about $100,000, their loot in the Rondout robbery was returned to the government. Joe insisted that except for the cash that Jess had buried, the brothers got nothing from their $3 million haul. He said they traded their share of the theft for lighter sentences.
William J. Fahy, the postal official who had master minded the robbery, was sent to Federal Prison at Leavenworth, Kansas, for 25 years. Willis and Dock Newton (still on a hospital stretcher at the trial) were given 12-year sentences. The caper cost my friend, Joe, three years of his freedom.
Jess (who never got the chance to ride that killer stallion) got only a year and a day in jail. The reason Jess received a light sentence was reported to have been because the engineer of the robbed train gave such sympathetic testimony at the trial. He said that when Jess had approached him with demands to stop the train, Jess had smiled and said, "Isn’t this a helluva way to make a living?"
When Willis completed his jail time, he bought a ranch in Oklahoma. He had one further brush with the law, however, in 1964. When he was 75 years old he was sentenced to one year in prison for kidnapping a man who worked for him. According to Willis, the man, a hired hand who had worked for him, had stolen some jewelry, and Willis was just trying to scare him into telling where it was hidden. The jury decided, however, that chaining the man in the trunk of a car and forcing him to ride halfway across Oklahoma was not justified.
Jess (who never found the money he had buried near San Antonio, either) died in 1960. According to Joe, Dock, like Willis, didn’t entirely give up a life of crime. He missed the excitement of robbing. Before he died in a nursing home in 1974, he wanted one last fling.
On March 5, 1968, when he was 78, Dock and a friend from Uvalde armed themselves with two .38 caliber revolvers and a .30-.30 rifle. Late that night, they entered the First National Bank of Rowena, Texas (pop. 466). The bank’s alarm awakened the owner who was asleep in the back of a liquor store across the street. He summoned the sheriff.
"Dock and his buddy held them off for awhile, but it all ended when a deputy slipped up behind Dock and arrested him," Joe said. "That ended the saga of the Newton boys."
It didn’t, however, end their publicity. Filmed in and around Austin and San Antonio, based on the book The Newton Boys: Portrait of an Outlaw Gang by Claude Stanush, and directed by Richard Linklater, the motion picture The Newton Boys came to the silver screen in 1998. Some twenty years earlier, however, students at Trinity University in San Antonio had produced a documentary about the Newtons’ exploits that was shown around the country and won Joe a television interview with Johnny Carson on the Tonight show. When the film was shown in San Marcos, Texas, to raise funds for a local museum, Willis and Joe made personal appearances.
"We felt it was our way of repaying a little of the debt we owed the town," Joe said. "You see, years before we robbed the Chicago mail train, we stuck up the San Marcos bank for $42,000."
By the way, there is a movie out called
"the Newton Boys" that opened in 1998.
Dwight Yoakam played Brentwood Glasscock.
After serving time with his siblings in prison, one Newton Boy, Joe, earned an honest living as an extra in Hollywood westerns (his trained horse, inevitably, was named Old Paint). In The Last Command (1955), one of the better movies about the Alamo, you can see Joe, garbed as a Mexican lancer, battling himself dressed as a Texan rebel. To his brother Willis's disgust, Joe came to regret his earlier career in crime. Sneered Willis: "He woulda made a good Baptist."