It is time to get real. Train robberies of the early 20th century allowed Hollywood a chance to popularize a short, violent period in U.S. history. The movies, in glamorizing the robberies, made questionable folk heroes of bandits and murderers.
Doug Hocking’s Southwest Train Robberies is a fine contribution to the lore of the Southwest. Far more realistic but still entertaining, his pages abound with humorous newspaper accounts and imposing photographs from both sides of the law. The robbers left a mark, especially in Cochise County and surrounding communities. Railroad lines invited trouble alongside small-town settlements. The outlaws, almost cynically known as “cowboys,” shot with impunity any of the train crew who got in their way, though few passengers became victims. They aimed to upset the righteous and make money fast, without thought of long-term riches. Mostly, they gambled on survival and a darn good time at the saloons.
But the robberies were destructive, rails and spikes upended to halt the trains, dynamite blasted open express cars to reveal any reward, often far less than hoped. The book reads like a formidable chat among buddies rather than a history lesson. Many names are forgotten, but the deeds immortalized.