WILKISON RENO was born March 04, 1802 in mouth of Salt River, Jefferson Co., KY, and died January 29, 1877 in Seymour cemetery, Jackson Co., IN. He was the son of
James Reno and Anne Gates. He married JULIA ANN FREYHAFER August 04, 1835 in Jackson Co., IN426, daughter of HENRY FREYHAFER. She was born July 23, 1813 in Switzerland427, and died August 29, 1868 in Seymour cemetery, Jackson Co., IN.
Father of the famous Reno Gang brothers, who were train robbers and safe-crackers in Indiana and adjacent states in the 1860's. His son John, in his 1879 book "The life of John Reno, the world's first train robber", wrote that "My mother was a highly educated woman, while my father, who was reared in the backwoods of Kentucky, where there was no opportunity for education, was very illiterate. They lived together comparatively happy for about 28 years, but the last five years were very disagreeable to themselves, as well as to the rest of the family. I am satisfied that their troubles had a great deal to do with demoralizing my brothers and myself; and believe that if they had lived together peaceably and had not separated and squandered their properties, that the boys would have been living and been good citizens of society today". A citizen of Seymour later wrote that Wilkison was "a man of ordinary intellect, of a hot, quite excitable temperament, full of sudden impulses, boils over in religion or anything else. When excited he sometimes gets quite angry, and usually uses abusive language. On this account Mr. and Mrs. Reno have not resided together for some length of time. With these unfavorable elements he is otherwise esteemed a tolerably good citizen." John Reno complained that other boys were allowed to play on Sundays, but he and his brothers were compelled to read their Sunday-school papers after church and could not play. "Our parents being so strict, and not allowing us the liberties we saw the other boys enjoy, made us rebellious, and we did not hesitate to deceive them whenever we were out of their sight". John says that his parents were "strict adherents to the Methodist faith", and they attended the Rockford Methodist Church.
John Reno called his father "Wilkerson", and many records incorrectly spell his name as Wilkerson or Wilkinson, but it is likely that his actual name was John Wilkison Reno. In his 1948 Master's thesis on the Reno gang, which was actually written by Robert W. Shields based upon 12 years of research, Robert F. Volland wrote "Although his son, in his autobiography, calls his father "Wilkerson", a spelling employed by Dr. Rule as well as in other documents connected with the case, the official court and deed records of Jackson County, Indiana, his residence for more than forty-five years, use the spelling "Wilkison"; an occasional use of "Wilkinson" is noted, but rather infrequently. We use the form "Wilkison" because it is the spelling found in the only copy of his signature discovered. This copy, taken from the records of the Jackson County court, is the only known writing in his hand. There seems to be some letter or initial prefixing the first name...". Inspection of this initial shows it to be a "J", and he signed his name "J. Wilkison Reno". Wilkison's will, written in his own hand, clearly shows his name as Wilkison. Also, his obituary in the Seymour Times for Feb. 1, 1877 reads "J. Wilkes Reno died at Seymour Tuesday, age about 70 years".
According to John Reno's book, Wilkison Reno was one of the largest taxpayers in Jackson County when the boys were growing up. John said that he came to Indiana in 1816. The first land recorded to Wilkison Reno in Jackson Co. was dated May 1, 1821 for 97.92 acres of White River bottom land. The Reno farm was northwest of Seymour between the White River and what is now highways 31 and 238. By the time Laura was born, Wilkison had become the largest landowner and taxpayer in Jackson County, and the town of Rockford where many of his lands were located had a population of 900 people. Wilkison played an important role in the early history of Jackson County and the competition between Rockford and Seymour to be the main commercial center, and the Renos and Shields were continually at odds over trespassing and land disputes as documented in Jackson County court records. The earliest court entry was on March 30, 1827 where Wilkison Reno filed charges against Meedy W. Shields for malicious trespass, and the State of Indiana fined both of them $6 for affray. By 1850, Rockford had become a major pork packing and flat boat stop on the White River. Shields persuaded the Ohio and Mississippi Railroad to cross the tracks of the Jeffersonville and Indianapolis Railroad on his land, and as part of the deal he named the town of Seymour that he laid out at this intersection of two major railroads in honor of the engineer that he had enticed, Henry C. Seymour. Then, as a State Senator, Shields had a law passed in the Indiana Legislature requiring all trains to stop whenever they reached an intersection. His town of Seymour grew rapidly as a result of this requirement for trains to stop there. Meanwhile, Rockford suffered from a series of fires set by arsonists, and John Reno was one of the main suspects for these fires. The Reno family purchased many of the burned buildings and land in Rockford at reduced prices, adding further suspicion, and Rockford became a hangout for many of the thieves and outlaws that preyed upon the locals and returning civil war soldiers during and after the civil war.
John Reno ran away from home in 1855 when about 16 years old, and mentions two cousins: James Smith, who was at Frank Rose's tavern in Jeffersonville near Louisville; and Hiram Smith, a steamboat mate living in Mobile, Alabama. He said that he had never met Hiram Smith, "but had often heard my father speak of him". I have done considerable research trying to determine who these "Smith" cousins were, but have been unable to identify their family.
The 1840 census for Jackson Co., p. 35, has Wilkinson Reno with 2 boys under 5; 1 male 30-39; 1 girl under 5; and 1 woman 20-29. The 1850 census for Redding Twp., Jackson Co. lists Wilkison Reno, 48, born KY; Julia A. 37, born Switzerland; Franklin 14, IN; John 12, IN; Clinton 9, IN; Simeon 7, IN; and William 2, IN; also Eliza Anderson 24, born IN. The 1860 Jackson Co. census, p. 66 (or p.708) , has Wilk Reno 58, farmer, b. KY; Julia Ann 46, Switzerland; John 22, Simeon 17, William 12, Laura 9, and Sarah Reno 16. Sarah is listed last, although the others before her are listed by age, because she is Wilkison's niece, daughter of his brother James Reno, Jr. Frank Reno is listed in a separate household in 1860 in Old Rockford, age 23, working as a whiskey seller. At the time that his sons were robbing trains and committing other crimes, newspaper stories described Wilkison Reno as a wealthy and respected landowner in Jackson County. The 1870 census for Redding Township has Wilkinson Reno 69, retired farmer, real estate valued at $6,610, Clinton 28 farmer with real estate valued at $11,000, Annie 22, Leon A. 6 months (Feb.), and Laura 19 w/o occupation with real estate valued at $3,500.
His last will and testament reads "I Wilkison Reno being now in good health and of sound mind and disposing memory but mindful of the uncertainty of life and being desirous of settling my world affairs to my own satistaction do make and publish this my last will and testament to wit. Item First: I direct that as soon after my decease as is suitable and proper my body be respectiable intered according to my station and rank in life. Item Second: I further direct that as soon after my decease as possible my executor herein after named pay all funeral expenses the expense of my last sickness and also all my just debts. Item Third: I hereby give and bequeath to my daughter Laura Goudy, wife of Elishu Goudy five acres of land to be taken out of the Sixth West corner of the West half of the SE quarter of Section Seven Township Six North Range Six East situated in Jackson County in the State of Indiana. Item Fourth: I give and bequeath to my sons Clinton Reno and John Reno the said west half of the SE quarter of Section Seven Township Six North Range Six East except the said five acres herein before to wit in the third item above given to Laura Goudy to have and to hold the same to them their heirs and assigns forever as tenants in common each to have and own. One equal undivided one half in value thereof. Item Fifth: I give and bequeath to my said sons Clinton and John all the residue of my estate both personal and real that may remain undisposed of after the payment of my last sickness and my just debts herein before provided for each of said legatees Clinton Reno and John Reno to have and to hold half one half of said residue. Item Sixth: I do not give Sarah V. Reno widow of my son Frank Reno deceased nor Appaleno Reno daughter of my said son Frank Reno dec'd any portion of my estate. I mention these names only in this my last will and testament to show that I have not forgotten them and to avoid any claim on their part that their names were left out of this will through accident or mistake. Item Seventh: I have appointed my son Clinton Reno executor of this my last will and testament. In witness whereof I have hereunto set my hand and seal this 12th day of October 1875." Wilkison Reno. His will was probated before the Jackson Circuit Court on Feb. 16, 1877 (Probate Book 3, p.169). It should be remembered that Julia Reno, Wilkison's wife, died in 1868 and because Sarah V. Reno and her daughter Appalina were not mentioned in Julia's will, Sarah sued Julia's estate. Wilkison made sure in his will that it was clear he didn't want to leave Sarah V. Reno anything.
In a letter dated August 18, 1936 from Effie Goudy Dorsey to Minnie Babcock regarding the family history, Effie said that Wilkison (she spelled it Wilkerson) and Julia were married on August 8, 1935. She wrote "Grandfather lived on the farm and then came to our house with his cow and lived there until he died Jan. 29, 1877. I just know that grandmother came from Switzerland with her father, mother, and a sister. I do not even know where grandfather was born."... "The Reno children were all born on the farm west of Seymour on the road to Brownstown (the house has been replaced) and they sold that some time before the war and went traveling looking for a location but came back and bought the Gimesor grocery store. The fortune of the family seemed to have had a sad ending. Mother said grandfather broke himself up trying to keep his boys out of trouble. I think the divided family must have done something to them. Mother said she had known her father to call his boys in on Sunday afternoons to read the Bible but it didn't seem to have the desired effect"... "I told Appa there was a daughter Emmeline who died in infancy and she never knew that."
Children of WILKISON RENO and JULIA FREYHAFER are:
386. i. Franklin8 Reno, b. June 27, 1837, Jackson Co., IN; d. December 12, 1868, hanged in New Albany, Indiana jail by vigilantes; buried Seymour cemetery.
ii. John Reno, b. July 23, 1838, Seymour, Jackson Co., Indiana429; d. January 31, 1895, Jackson Co., IN; buried secretly next to his brothers in Seymour cemetery430; m. Sarah Ford430, August 05, 1880, Jackson Co., IN; b. June 22, 1844, Brownstown, Jackson Co., IN431; d. November 12, 1930, Jackson Co., IN; buried Riverview Cemetery near Seymour432.
Notes for John Reno:
One of the Reno Gang brothers, he was in the Missouri State Penetentiary in 1868 when his brothers were hanged in a New Albany, Indiana jail. His nickname was "Trick" Reno. He wrote a book in 1879 entitled "The life of John Reno, the world's first train robber". In his autobiography, John Reno tells of running away from home at the age of 16 on a stolen horse, making his way to Louisville, and then boarding the "Fannie Ballet" riverboat to get to Mobile, Alabama where his cousin Hiram Smith lived. Upon finding hard times in Alabama and Mississippi, he eventually returned back upriver to Louisville and to the family farm near Seymour, Indiana.
John Reno joined Captain Cockefair's company in the Civil War and fought in Maryland and Virginia for a total of 2 years and eight months. His enlistment record reads "Private, Co. H, 6th regiment, enlisted for three months. Enrolled April 22, 1861; mustered Nov. 24, 1861. Enrolled at Seymour by Fielder A. Jones. Mustered at Indianapolis by T. J. Wood. Age 24. Mustered out at Indianapolis, Aug. 2, 1861." He also enlisted as a corporal in Company A, 13th regiment. Mustered in June 19, 1861 at Indianapolis; deserted July 20, 1863, Norfolk, Virginia. In September 1866, John Reno, his brother Simon and Frank Sparks robbed their first train of $16,000. The well-told story about how Allen Pinkerton tricked him at the train depot in Seymour and kidnapped him is false. He was arrested for the Gallatin, MO robbery by Sheriff John Ballinger and Mr. Woodruff, in Indianapolis at 3 a.m., not by Allen Pinkerton. In January 1868, John pleaded guilty to robbing the treasury office in Gallatin, MO because he thought he would be lynched by an angry mob if he didn't. He was held in the Missouri State Prison for 10 years and 1 month before his sentence was commuted. As soon as he was released from prison, he was re-arrested for his first train robbery in Seymour. At his trial in February 1879, he was acquitted.
After leaving prison, he lived in Chicago for awhile with his niece Appelena Reno and her husband. On February 6, 1879, the Prosecuting Attorney for Jackson County dismissed the remaining charges against John Reno, and said "It is therefore considered by the Court that the defendent go hence fully discharged". John Reno was a free man. On August 5, 1880, he married Sarah Ford Reno, widow of his brother Frank. A few years after he wrote his book, John Reno was arrested by federal agents at a saloon he owned in Seymour, and was found in the possession of a large amount of counterfeit notes that he had made and circulated. He was sent to the Michigan City Prison. Sarah divorced him on April 19, 1887 and took her maiden name of Ford back, but in 1890 when John was released from prison, they remarried again in Columbus, Indiana. He died of paralysis at his home in Seymour on January 31, 1895 at the age of 56 (Jackson Co. Death Records Vol. 1, p.60). The story by Volland (1948) that he was losing badly in a card game, and after telling his opponent "I will beat you, damn it, or die doing it!", fell backwards to the floor, stricken unconscious and paralyzed, was fabricated, as were many other stories related to the Reno Gang.
Loren Noblitt, the historian for Jackson County, claims that John Reno had an illegitimate son named John by Mollie Nagle of Rockford, whom he was seeing just before he enlisted in the Civil War. John and Mollie went to Clay Co., Indiana and rented some farmland from a Dr. Leabolt, 2 miles west of Brazil, but they "sold out" and she returned to Rockford and John enlisted in the military.
Notes for Sarah Ford:
Sarah Ford was the daughter of John L. Ford, a member of the Indiana State Legislature from Jackson Co., and the grandaughter of Captain Lemuel Ford, warden of the State Prison at Jeffersonville (New Albany Daily Ledger, Dec. 12, 1868, p.2). She is listed in the 1850 census for John L. Ford as Sarah V., age 5. She married Frank Reno on March 2, 1865, but became a widow when he was hung by vigilantes in a New Albany jail on December 12, 1868. They had one daughter, Appelina. In her second marriage to John Reno in 1880, she is listed as Sallie V. Reno (Book H, p.310). She divorced John Reno on April 19, 1887 and had her maiden name of Ford restored (Order Book DD, April 19, 1887, p.340), but she then remarried John in 1890 when he was released from the Michigan City prison (they were married in Columbus, Indiana), and they lived in Seymour until her death in 1930. She was not mentioned in her mother-in-law Julia's will, and sued Clinton Reno on behalf of herself and Appelina, with the result that Julia's will was not probated until 22 years after her death. Wilkison, in his will, made it very clear that he did not want to leave her and Appelina anything. Her tombstone in Seymour reads only "Sarah F. R". Her death record in Jackson County Death Records, Vol. 4, p.34, lists her cause of death as paralysis and sinility at the age of 86.
Robert W. Shields and various documents claim that she first married a Van Vrankin or Van Franklin before her marriage to Frank Reno when she was 20 years old, but that the marriage quickly ended in divorce. An article in the Seymour Times dated Dec. 22, 1864 says that "Sarah Van Vrankin's house in Rockford has burned". Another article in that paper on May 11, 1865 says that "Mrs. Sarah Van Vrankin is a dressmaker and needleworker of Rockford"; however, the second article is after her marriage to Frank Reno in March 1865 and the paper probably made an error in reporting her last name as Van Vranklin.
Clinton Reno, b. September 1842, Seymour, Jackson Co., IN; d. September 01, 1921, Topeka, Kansas.
Simeon Reno, b. August 02, 1843, Jackson Co., IN; d. December 12, 1868, hanged in New Albany, Indiana jail by vigilantes; buried Seymour cemetery.
William H. Reno, b. May 15, 1848, Seymour, Jackson Co., Indiana; d. December 12, 1868, hanged in New Albany, Indiana jail by vigilantes; buried Seymour cemetery.
Notes for William H. Reno:
Shortly after her three brothers were hanged in New Albany, William's sister Laura Reno arrived from Louisville where she was attending St. Ursuline Academy, a catholic school. It is said that her cries over her dead brothers were "piteous and heart-rending". She stooped over the body of William and exclaimed "Oh! my brother! my baby! my baby brother!". It is said that she then took her handkerchief and placed it over William's face, who had declared his innocence to the last, and with her left hand placed over his heart, raised her right hand toward heaven and said "Oh, my poor murdered brother, may God curse your sister if she avenge not your death terribly and fully. This I will do - so help me God!".
It is said that on the day of his sons' funeral, Wilkison Reno said that perhaps John and Frank may have been guilty of some misdemeanors, but he knew that his two younger sons were entirely innocent, and that had the legal trial taken place, the evidence of that innocence would have been complete. It was learned after the hanging that on the night of the express car robbery, Wiliam Reno was in a public saloon in Seymour, playing billiards with Thomas Shepard, a well-known and credible citizen, until a little after ten o'clock, after which he went up the street and into his mother's house and went to bed. The robbery occurred at about eleven o'clock, 20 miles away from Seymour, and it is doubtful that William Reno was involved in the crime.
Laura Amanda "Ellen" Reno, b. January 16, 1851, Seymour, Jackson Co., Indiana; d. July 20, 1919, Washington Co., Indiana of chronic nephritis; buried Riverview Cemetery, Seymour.