The Daltons' Life of Crime

The Dalton Gang was composed of three Dalton brothers and at least seven other Indian Territory outlaws. Led by Bob Dalton, they made their specialty train robbery.

During the summer of 1890, Grat, Bob, and Emmett Dalton fled to California, where they had family, including brother Bill, to escape some horse theft charges. While there, they attempted their first train robbery, resulting in the arrest of Bill and Grat. Bob and Emmett escaped by to Indian Territory with a $3,600 reward on their heads. Eventually, Grat broke out of jail and escaped, while Bill received a "Not Guilty" verdict in his trial. They also made their way back to Indian Territory.

By this time, May of 1891, the Dalton Gang had already set its sights on lucrative cargo running on the railways through Indian Territory. In early May, five masked gang members stopped the Santa Fe passenger train, making off with $1,500. The rest of the money in the train was cleverly hidden in a stove by the express messenger. He fooled the thieves by pointing to a pouch and telling them that it contained a large sum of money when it only contained some worthless papers.

In the aftermath of this robbery, two hundred men went out searching for members of the Dalton Gang. The accumulated reward stood at $6000.

The gang next struck in September of 1891, relieving the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railroad of $25,000; $2,500 of which was in silver. The job was done so quietly that the passengers did not even realize that the train had been robbed.

The Santa Fe passenger train was again the victim of robbery at Red Rock in June of 1892, losing over $70,000. The robbers, described by train passengers as well dressed gentlemen, broke through the safes with sledgehammers and chisels.

Up to this time, no one was seriously injures in the Dalton Gang's heists. That was to change in July of 1892 in the aftermath of a hold up at Adair, one man was killed and four wounded. Although eight guards were on board the train, the gang blew open the safe and made off with an unknown sum of money.

The Adair holdup was the last train robbery for the Dalton Gang. They next sought to make history by robbing two banks at one time in Coffeyville, Kansas.

Juliet Galonska
March 1996

References: The Dalton Gang Story by Nancy Samuelson.

This sketch is part of a series, “Fort Smith Minutes,” originally developed by the park staff to provide one minute long public service announcements for local radio stations. These sketches provide a light and entertaining glimpse into the complex history of Fort Smith.

Last updated: April 10, 2015

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