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April 27, 2017

Robbing A Train – By Wrecking it

Robbing A Train – By Wrecking it

By: David Heighway, Hamilton County Historian

The town of Fishers and Delaware Township had a lively history prior to the First World War that has been largely forgotten.  I’ve talked about some of it before, such as the grave robbing trials here, here, and here.  I’ve also looked at the “Battle of Mudsock” which left one dead and 32 wounded.  I thought I might look at a few other incidents which gave the early community a “wild west” reputation.

After the Civil War, the crime of train wrecking had become a problem around the United States.  It was usually people who were angry at the railroad for some reason.  For example, there was the case of Daniel Potorff who was arrested in August of 1893 for placing several railroad ties across the tracks just south of Noblesville.  At first, he tried blame it on a gang from Fishers Station.  Under questioning by a detective, Potorff admitted that he was angry about being thrown off the train for not having a ticket.

Since there seemed to be regular issues with crime in the Delaware Township area, train robbery should have been expected.  However, it seems that some train robbers didn’t bother with movie-style holdups where they halted the train and then went through cars collecting valuables. Some desperadoes simply tore up the track, let the train crash, and looted the wreckage. This almost happened a short distance from Fishers in August of 1896.  Fortunately, it was discovered before the train came through.  Sheriff Frank Thacker was able to get there in time and things got pretty exciting after that.  The story got regional attention because a newspaper in Maysville, Kentucky, reported:

“Sheriff Thacker and a posse of citizens, who were called to the scene shortly before 12:00, did not return until yesterday. They did not succeed in capturing the would-be wreckers, but they were discovered in a large cornfield, and a lively skirmish ensued. A dozen shots and more were fired, but so far as known, none of the wreckers were injured.The night was very dark and the only mark the officers had to aim at was the flash of the weapons in the hands of the desperadoes. The exchange of a few shots was
followed by a running fight, in which only a few of the posse took part, but so far as has been ascertained, none of the shots took effect on either side.

It was learned, in addition to ties being piled across the track, that the spikes had been removed for distance of 200 yards, showing conclusively that is was a carefully laid scheme to damage the property of the company and endanger the lives of the passengers.”

The sheriff was unable to catch the perpetrators, so the Lake Erie and Western Railroad assigned a special officer, Detective Bennett of Lafayette, to the case.  Nothing has been found yet as to whether or not the mystery was solved.