Law and Order on the Railroad

Railroads became the primary mode of long distance transportation in the United State during the mid to late 1800s. As the number of railroads increased so did problems such as theft, vandalism, robberies, labor disputes and trespassing. These criminal activities resulted in lost revenue and compromised safety for both passengers and employees. Local law enforcement agencies did not have the resources to handle this new type of criminal activity and the railroads were left to handle them.

Union Pacific Railroad faced all these criminal problems as well but with logistics that were much more complicated. Simple geography made it almost impossible for the railroad to secure its lines. Vast distances in Wyoming and Utah, with towns spaced 25- 50 miles apart, made UPRR trains good targets for bandits and robbers. This coupled with the movement of payrolls and the mail on UP trains, not to mention wealthy travelers, made these overland lines irresistible!

Prior to the Civil War, most railroads used contractors to investigate losses and criminal activity. The most famous of these contractors were the Pinkertons. As states began passing laws formally recognizing railroad police, however, railroads began to develop their own special agent departments. Pennsylvania was the first state to pass such legislation with the Railroad Police Act of 1865. Most states passed similar legislation, permitting railroad officers to carry weapons, make arrests, and enforce laws anywhere the railroad owned property.

Union Pacific began with Pinkerton agents in 1869 and by 1889 the Union Pacific Secret Services Department was formed from this small group of agents.

Bill Canada and the Union Pacific Bandit Hunters

"Keep our trains from being held up. We don’t care how you do it."

William T. Canada is one of Union Pacific’s more noteworthy special agents. Bill, a veteran of the Civil War, made his way to Omaha and was hired to be a special agent. On June 1, 1891; Bill was appointed to the supreme direction of policing all the roads that made up the Union Pacific. He was given the following instructions: "Keep our trains from being held up. We don’t care how you do it." His response was to organize the "Union Pacific Bandit Hunters". Based out of Cheyenne, Wyoming; the "Bandit Hunters" lived in a sleeping car. Their horses were stabled in a specially constructed baggage car. A third car was used as a kitchen and dining room. The three cars were coupled together at all times. When a holdup occurred, a special locomotive would take the train to the scene of the crime. By organizing the "Bandit Hunters" in this way, Agent Canada was able to get his men and fresh horses to the crime scene quickly; before the trail went cold.

Special Agent Canada’s innovation was put into practice several times.

One of the most notorious of these was the posse who followed the Wild Bunch, notorious train robbers led by Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid after robberies in Wyoming 1899 and 1900 in remote areas outside Wilcox and Tipton.

“Gentleman” Bill Carlisle

One of the more notorious train robbers captured "Gentleman" Bill Carlisle. Carlisle gained his reputation as a train robber who refused to rob women or children.

William Carlisle, an orphan from Pennsylvania, found himself trying to make a living in Denver, Colo., in late 1915. He continued to have trouble finding any employment from Denver to Cheyenne, Wyo., to Rawlins.

On February 9, 1916, William Carlisle snuck on board the Portland Rose as it was leaving the station at Green River, Wyo. During the robbery, Carlisle wore a white bandana across his face and did fire his gun through an empty berth, but he also bowed to a lady, gave the porter coins to cover his lost tips and a silver dollar to pay for another man’s breakfast! He made $52.35 from that robbery, but earned a $1500 reward on his head from Union Pacific. He eluded capture from the posse sent after him and even returned to Green River to buy a ticket from the station!

He went on to rob several more trains and eluded several posses and Union Pacific’s reward went up to $6500. Finally he was caught 12 miles north of Rawlins, Wyo. On May 10, 1916,

Carlisle was sentenced to life in prison. In 1919, this was lessened to 50 years, but Carlisle wanted out. He escaped from the Wyoming State Penitentiary in Rawlins, Wyo., by hiding in a carton of shirts made by the prisoners.

On Nov. 19, 1919, he robbed the Overland Ltd near Rock River Wyoming which was full of World War I veterans returning from France. He refused to take money from the soldiers and made off with $86.00. He was arrested two weeks later.

Carlisle was imprisoned for 16 more years and after his release opened a cigar shop and café in Laramie, Wyo. He died of cancer in 1964.

Union Pacific’s “Old Iron Hat” - Chief Special Agent, John C. Gale

Credited with bringing Union Pacific’s special agents into the "modern age", John C. Gale began his career with the railroad as a switchman in 1905. A former police officer in Rock Springs, Wyoming, Gale relocated to Cheyenne, Wyoming at the behest of William Jeffers, who was then superintendent of Union Pacific. It was there he was advanced to railroad detective. After outsmarting and catching a train robber following a chase, Gale was recognized for his work and moved to Omaha, eventually becoming chief special agent and finally General Manager of Union Pacific, where he earned the nickname "Old Iron Hat", because of his fondness for black, bowler-style hats. Gale was a special agent during the William Carlisle case, interviewing the prisoner in 1919 and conferring with Union Pacific General Manager, William Jeffers in Omaha.

Nebraska Secretary of State, John A. Gale is John C. Gale’s grandson. He reported from the family scrapbook that the Omaha World Herald said of "Grandpa Gale" in 1945, "He was in charge of the movement of hundreds of important personages across Union Pacific’s lines, notably all US Presidents since Woodrow Wilson. Since Pearl Harbor, Mr. Gale’s assignment was expanded to cover the safe and expeditious movement and protection of the vast quantity of war material and the thousands of military personnel moving over the lines."

During his tenure Gale was responsible for bringing many would-be train robbers to justice. In 1939, Gale became Jeffers’ assistant. In 1941, he was promoted to General Manager of Union Pacific.

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