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The MONON Train Robbery of 1885

This robbery was not the first train robbery in the United States, which took place on May 5, 1865 near North Bend, Ohio on the Ohio & Mississippi Railroad. This robbery was a significant event in the history of the MONON Railroad. The MONON Train robbery happened next to the "Big Rock" on the tracks between Harrodsburg and Smithville.

Could the rock pictured to the left of the image be "the big rock"?


From the Bloomington (IN) Republican Progress, May 6, 1885, page 2.

NOTE: This very lengthy item was abbreviated as noted by the ellipsis.
George L. Davis was noted variously as George K. Davis; Weber was noted variously as Webber.

DARING DEVILTRY Shot Down for a Few Dollars The night express train that runs from Louisville to Chicago had gone about 2 1/2 miles north of Harrodsburg last Wednesday night when the bell on the locomotive was rung, and the engineer put on his air brakes. The train was then laboring up what is known as the Smithville grade, and it, of course, surprised the engineer to receive a signal to stop there. Soon after the signal was given, and before the train had stopped, the door of the smoking car was hastily dashed open and the baggage master, Peter Weber, staggered in, exclaiming in excited tones, that "there is a robber in the express car killing Davis and me!" There were fifteen drummers in the smoker, and they were panic stricken, none seeming inclined to move. One of the drummers, an effeminate looking fellow from Louisville named Richardson, fainted, and some trouble was experienced in restoring him to consciousness. The baggage master presented a frightful appearance, the eyewitnesses say, his head a mass of clotted blood, and a rivulet of fresh blood trickling
from his face where he had been shot. Finally Tip Wade and Conductor Chambers went into the baggage car where they found the express messenger, George L. Davis, lying unconscious in a pool of blood, his safe open and papers scattered about the floor.

Gradually the story of the terrible deed was told by the baggage master, which was in brief that he had been in the smoking car talking to Wade and went forward from there into the baggage car after the train left the tank; that as he stepped into the door he saw Davis lying on the floor, a man with a club standing over him; that the man rushed at him and knocked him down; that as he recovered he saw the messenger stagger to his feet and reach for his revolver which was in a pigeon hold; the robber jerked it from his hand and shot Davis, the expressman, in the head; that the robber then pressed the revolver against
Weber, the baggage man's head, commanding him to get the keys from the expressman and open the safe on pain of death; this Weber did, the desperado covering him with his pistol while with the left hand he rifled the safe; then shot the baggage man in the face; Weber jerked the bell rope, the robber stood and looked at him a moment, then turned, passing out at the door and jumped from the train...

The train pulled up to Bloomington where the men were given all possible surgical attention. There is but one living witness, Weber, to this terrible crime, beside the assassin, and it is not wondered if, in his condition, his head beaten with a heavy hickory club and afterwards shot, his ideas and recollection of the dreadful affair are somewhat confused. After the train had proceeded on its way, J. O. Howe, agent of the American Express Company, at this point took a locomotive and with a half dozen men went to the scene of the robbery. The assassin jumped off the train while it was yet in the cut and had walked south some 300 yards before leaving the track; he dropped several money packages which were secured by Mr. Howe, the contents aggregating $338.

Early next morning the search was renewed, and the man was tracked about a mile. Not far from the road, in a rocky ravine, was found $16.50 in silver, which he had dropped, and blood was seen upon the ground and leaves leading his pursuers to believe that he had been injured in jumping. Their search was unavailing, however. On Thursday afternoon a train was
made ready and about 200 men and boys went down to the immediate neighborhood, giving it a thorough search, but without any result.

A Chicago Special...Davis' brother arrived from Louisville Thursday noon and found the wounded man very low and beyond recovery. His wounds had been properly dressed and all possible attention given him by Doctors McPheeters, Maxwell and Bryan. Davis was removed to his home at Louisville on the 5 o'clock train Thursday afternoon. He has a bullet in his brain and cannot possibly live...

A Passenger's Story...(Weber) describes (the robber) as a tall, muscular man, aged 35, dressed in a light suit, and with a bristling light moustache... The express officials feel badly over the butchery of Davis as he was an efficient and reliable man. He had been on the road something over four years and had always been careful, brave and honest. He had been wounded several times during his service. In the accident near Salem last Christmas a year, when the train went through the bridge, Davis saved his safe and all the valuables by dumping it out into the river while the train was burning, and got off with the breaking of a shoulder and two ribs... A reporter of the Louisville Courier-Journal interviewed Webber (sic)...On Friday night Davis, the man with a bullet in his brain, returned to consciousness for a few minutes, recognized his friends, and it is rumored, described his assailant. As usual, upon such occasions there is no end of rumors which when boiled down are found to have no foundation in fact... J. O. Howe, the express agent, at this point says that the loss, deducting money found, is but ten and fourteen hundred dollars (sic).

A man named Chambers was convicted of the crime and many people were uncertain if he committed the crime or not. It was thought that " someone" had to be found guilty of the crime or others with the same motives would feel the robbery got away and would be greatly tempted to do the same.

-Courtesy Clear Creek Township, Monroe County-

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