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James Bandits Escaped to Wayne County after Thrilling Bank Robbery
Among the many tales of pioneer life in Wayne County is the story of the escape of Jesse James, the bandit, through this county in 1875 after his "gang" had robbed the Huntington Bank. There are still people living here who recall the "heroes of dime novels" as they made their get-away from Huntington, which was then a town instead of a city.
When the James "gang" were making their escape from Huntington toward Kentucky, they stopped over in the town of Wayne (then Trout's Hill) and ate dinner with Aunt Lizzie Christian in the old house which formerly stood on the Northwest corner of the Freizzells Square. While here they talked with the citizens but not until the next day did the people of the town discover that they had entertained the noted "Jesse James" crew that were in those days well known in the yellow back novels. From Wayne they went up Toms Creek to the Kentucky State line.
The 47th anniversary of the robbery of the Huntington National Bank by Jesse James and his co-horts causes pioneer citizens of Huntington to recall some of the interesting details of the bank hold-up.
It was Huntington's first big robbery and the story as told by John H. Sanborn, D. I. Smith who was sheriff at the time, and Gene Salmon, deputy clerk of the county court, reads more like one of the tales of Jesse and Frank James and his gang, printed in one of the yellow backed dime novels of 25 years ago.
Mr. Salmon, by coincidence, wrote the commitment papers which sent Miller under the name of Webb to the state prison for fourteen years, and seven years later, as clerk in the secretary of state's office, when the capitol was in Wheeling, he wrote Governor Jackson's pardon of the bank robber.
On September 15, 1875, the robber quartet appeared at noon at a blacksmith shop owned by Mr. Sanborn's father. Hitching their horses, members of the gang approached the bank. One entered the store operated by Lindsay T. Powell, ordered Powell and Dr. S. J. Unseld to sit down and remain silent. One bandit stood outside the bank, two others entered.
Robert T. Oney, cashier, cowed at the point of two guns, gave up $10,252. Leisurely, the bandits left, mounted their horses and trotted out 12th Street and Fifth Avenue. Reaching that point they flourished their guns, fired a fusillade of shots in the air and spurred their horses and trotted their horses past 5th and Ninth Street and thence out 8th Street Rd toward Four Pole.
Sheriff Smith organized a posse. He was joined by Thos. Garland, James Elkins and Mrs. Sanborn's father. Other posses were formed each striving to head off the robbers. The chase lay through Wayne County and into Kentucky at White's Creek.
The chase grew so hot the bandit gang divided, James and Younger swinging to the north and McDaniel and Miller continuing over the original route to the Cumberland mountains of Tennessee. The loot was divided. A rendezvous in northern Texas was decided upon.
James and Younger won clear but Miller and McDaniel, crossing thru Bell Co., KY, had a skirmish with the Dillon boys who thought they were horse thieves and McDaniel was killed. Miller continued his wild ride into Fentress Co., TN. His horse lost a shoe and while the animal was being shod the sheriff of that county found Miller bending over the animal's hoof in front of the blacksmith shop.
Cashier Oney went to Fentress Co. and identified Miller and recovered $4,000 found on the robber. The remaining $6,000 disappeared with James and Younger.
Judge Evermont Ward sentenced Miller, who after conviction said other members of the gang came from Missouri but his home was in Kentucky. The robbers first met in Wheeling with a view of robbing a bank there. Then it was planned to rob a B & O train, next the gang went to Charleston by way of Point Pleasant by the Kanawha River, blocked a speedy getaway there. The gang came to Huntington, staged the robbery and made a getaway on horseback.
Note: There are at least two homes in Wayne County where pieces of furniture exist reportedly made by Frank James while he was in the area - a chest and a rope bed.
From a Wayne County News article 47 years after the robbery
Reprinted in the KYOWVA Newsletter, Volume XXVI, No. 2, Summer 2003 Edition, p. 4