The Great Bristow Train Robbery of 1866

By Cory Ramsey

It seems the focus these days of Kentucky and Warren County are the goings on out at the industrial Kentucky Transpark off exit 30 of the Interstate. Sandwiched between the two old railroad station stops of Sunnyside and Bristow, money is being printed up out there on a grand scale with bigger industries yet to cut their ribbons, putting the masses to work and calling a growing south central Kentucky home. Scattered money was also a newsworthy note for the tiny Bristow Station on the crisp fall day of October 11, 1866. A brilliant plan was hatched to rob the payroll car on the L&N train as it was making its run out of Louisville. The total sum on board in 1866 dollars was fourteen thousand and change. When picturing the scene, I’d like to imagine that the fourteen thousand dollars were hauled in burlap bags brandished with black dollar signs… much like what one would see in an old-fashioned Western film. Adjusting that pay car amount for inflation of 2023 dollars, we would need A LOT more burlap sacks. It would equate to nearly $278,000. The bank on rails was rolling towards Bristow, hauling what would be over a quarter of a million dollars today. The L&N knew better than to try transporting such a substantial amount of money transport in the night, so the car moved its course throughout daylight. The crew had counted on the car staying on the rails, safe and out of harm’s way. As the currency chugged towards the station, the robbers had already completed unexpected deeds to pull off their plan. They had detached a rail from the tracks but left it looking perfectly in place. To those on the railcars, the track had appeared as it always did. Unbeknownst, it was attached to wires that would derail the train off into the Bristow brush. When the locomotive got close to the loose rail, the bandits jerked the rail, and it clinked off the bed. According to the recorded accounts, the engineer had just enough time to call for brakes. In 1866, the locomotive would have still needed the aid of brakemen hopping the cars. There just wasn’t enough time to bring the train to a stop, and unfortunately in this situation that time was money. Money scattered everywhere, as the whole train toppled over. Pandemonium broke out at Bristow Station. As the wheels continued to turn and steam sighed from the wreckage, everyone checked their pulses while the robbers appeared from the brush and confusion, taking off with a gob of cash. While the bandits made off with some money, not all of the $14000 was lost. Paymaster and hero of the L&N on that day, G.W. Craig, saved about 6 thousand of it. The thieves were able to steal 8 thousand before they took off. In today’s money, they were able to escape with nearly $165000. The boys had wrecked a whole train, escaped without interference, and made off with a significant amount of money. A Bristow posse was formed and took off on their horses after the bunch, but the newly rich robbers were never found. It was just the start of big news to come out of that part of the county.

 

Source: The Louisville And Nashville Railroad, 1850-1963 by Kincaid A. Herr. 1964. University Press of Kentucky.