1911: Ogden’s most daring train robbery?

Thursday , May 08, 2014 - 4:06 PM

Lynn Arave

The Golden Spike in Utah completed the transcontinental railroad 145 years ago on May 10, 1869. However, one of the Ogden area’s most dastardly of train robberies actually happened almost 42 years later and more recently than most Hollywood versions of the Wild West portray -- just over 103 years ago, on Jan. 2, 1911.

According to the Jan. 3 Ogden Standard-Examiner of that year, “Train held up, one man killed and passengers robbed just west of Ogden” was the key headline. This may have been one of the last of the area’s big train robberies and was referred to at the time as “the most daring train robbery ever planned and executed in the West.”

Thieves robbed the Overland Limited, at Reese, about nine miles west of Ogden. Besides the robbery, the two masked men with short-barreled rifles shot and killed a porter and wounded another porter. Both those shootings appeared racially motivated.

The robbery happened shortly before midnight and word of the robbery reached Ogden about two hours later.

The men had tried to steal the engine of the train, to reach Ogden, but were thwarted by a freight train following the limited. The men robbed two girls in Warren, en route to Ogden, and were believed to be somewhere in town. The men appeared to have intricate knowledge of the operation of the railroad and their only shortcoming was in failing to account for a train following their train.

Posses set out in every direction but failed to find a trace of the bandits the day after the robbery.

However, the bandits, W. Lewis, 39, and Peter Murphy, 37, were caught 11 days later sleeping in an Ogden lodging house at 2417 Grant Ave.

The Jan. 14, 1911 Standard said, “Holdups make no effort to resist officers,” as they were caught napping by officers. One of the men captured immediately held out his wrists to be handcuffed.

A “great crowd was attracted to the scene of the arrest.” Their landlady said they had been gambling with their new wealth. Two other men, who acted as a fence for the thieves, were also arrested.

Police reported they believe the same two men held up the Oregon Short Line, near Ogden, in the summer of 1910 and had also robbed an Ogden pawn shop.

“All afternoon the (Ogden) police station was besieged by persons desiring to catch some sight of the bandits,” the Standard reported.

”Trains are to carry guards” was the aftermath and a Jan. 7, 1911 headline in the Standard. All Harrison Co. passenger trains would now include heavily armed guards to prevent future such robberies.

Yet, the 1911 train robbery wasn’t the last for the Ogden area, as occasional, much smaller railroad thefts still took place. For example, in March of 1916, a so-called “Gentleman robber,” whose “commands were mild in good language” stole mail off a train in Roy. The lone robber missed taking the local mailbag and walked off with two out-of-state mailbags, according to a March 29 Standard report. There was no report indicating this train robber was ever caught.

Lynn Arave is a veteran journalist who started writing for newspapers in 1970 at Roy High and for daily papers starting in 1976 with high school game reports for the Standard-Examiner. He has been an avid history researcher for three decades. He can be reached at lynnarave@comcast.net.

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