1881 Train Robbery at Winston, MO

This accounty is reprinted from the July 21, 1881, edition of the Gallatin North Missourian. It’s subheadings were: “Conductor Westfall and Frank McMillen Killed” and “The Express Car Robbed.”

This account is reprinted from the July 21, 1881, edition of the Gallatin North Missourian. It’s subheadings were: “Conductor Westfall and Frank McMillen Killed” and “The Express Car Robbed.”

Friday night the regular Kansas City and Chicago passenger train, on the Rock Island road, was robbed just this side of Winston, and the Conductor, Wm. Westfall and a passenger, Frank McMillen of Wilton, Iowa, were killed by the train robbers. The train was on time, and as it left Winston at 9:30 p.m., three armed men stepped onto the front end of the smoking car. They fired through the glass in the car door, three men disguised with heavy black whiskers entered the car and fired through the windows in the front end of the car. While thus terrifying the passengers they ordered “hands up.” Conductor Westfall was about the middle of the car, taking up tickets when he was shot in the back. He was between S.T. Brosius, Esq., and Joseph H. McGee of this place. They say he dropped his lantern and staggered to the door. Whether he fell off the platform of the car or was pushed off by one of the robbers they do not know. His body was found just this side of the section house at Winston.

J.L. Penn and Frank McMillen were on the platform of the baggage car, and while looking in at the door window he was shot in the forehead and rolled off the car.

Two of the robbers went into the express car and ordered Murray, the express messenger, to open the safe. He began parleying with them, when instantly they knocked him down with a pistol and made him open the safe. It is not known but it is thought they got about $4,000.

They shot out the glass of the cab of the engine and made the engineer stop the train at the Dog Creek bridge. Quite a number of hands are at work at this bridge, and hearing the firing on the train they were aroused, and it is probable for this reason that the robber made the engineer run the train one half mile further to Little Dog Creek where they left the train. Their horses were tied in the brush about 200 yards south of the Dog Creek bridge. They did not take time to untie their horses but cut the halter straps, but before they mounted they threw out the empty shells from their pistols. Our City Marshal, Albert Gibbons, got the pieces of the halter straps left on the trees. He carefully examined where the horses stood and he thinks there were only three horses at that place.

On Friday, two men having very fine horses, got their dinner at Kld. Benj. Machette. They told him that they lived at Plattsburg and were hunting horse thieves. That afternoon Kara Souls was in the brush near the Little Dog Creek bridge., and the same two men who were laying in the woods by their horses. They told him that they lived at Plattsburg, were resting and were going to Ben Matchetts to buy a cow. They had got their dinner at Matchett’s and that is the way they knew his name.

Sheriff Crozier and our City Marshal Gibbons tracked the three horses about seven miles towards the H & St. Joseph, and the lost the track. Young Caster living south of Winston, says he was up in the night and saw three men loping their horses past his house, and they were tracked past his house from Dog Creek. This is the last that was seen of them so far as we can hear.

About 11 o’clock the word came here of the robbery. Sheriff Crozier waked up about 30 of our citizens and hurried to the depot to get the train going to Winston. It was about 12 o’clock before the train left and then had orders to lay on the Higland switch until the robbed train passed. It was 2 o’clock before they got to Winston. The robbers then had 4 hours the start of them. Sheriff Crozier and Oscar Naylor hurriedly mounted horses and rode to Kidder, and gave the alarm. As soon as it was daylight they watched the road carefully to Winston for tracks of the robbers but did not see any until they came near Mr. Casters.

Mr. Walker, Division Superintendent of the Rock Island RR, was not at home or there would have been an extra through sooner.

Everything looks as if it was the work of the James boys or their gang. Westfall was the conductor on the train which carried the Pinkerton detectives to Mrs. Samuels the time her boy was killed and she lost her arm by the explosion of the shell which the detectives threw into her house. They James boys swore they would kill him, and they or their gang have done it.

Tuesday, Mrs. Samuels, the mother of the James boys, was in Kansas City. She talked freely with the reporters about the robbery. She says Frank and Jesse James are both dead, and could have had nothing to do with the robbery unless their ghosts were there.

Sheriff Crozier was out three days and nights but could get no clue to the whereabouts of the robbers.

The express company has offered $5,000 and the railroad company $5,000 for the robbers.

— taken from July 21, 1881, of the Gallatin North Missourian

Wm. Westfall (Jan. 8, 1843 — July 15, 1881). This photo shows the burial monument for Wm. Westfall, killed during the Winston train robbery by Frank and Jesse James on July 15, 1881. Train conductor Westfall is buried in the old Plattsburg Cemetery; this photo was taken in 1989.