Dennis Cassinelli: The great Winnemucca bank robbery of 1900
History records on Wednesday, Sept. 19, 1900, the First National Bank of Winnemucca at the northwest corner of Fourth Street and Bridge Street in Winnemucca, was held up by three unmasked men. The estimated amount taken in the holdup was $32,640.00. Most of this was in the form of gold coin. One of the robbers held a gun on part owner and cashier at the bank, George S. Nixon. He told Nixon to open the safe and give them the gold coins. When Nixon refused, the robber produced a large knife and threatened to cut the cashier’s throat. The second member of the gang held a carbine on the bystanders. There were three other employees and a visitor in the bank at the time but none of these people were harmed. Nixon complied with the demands of the bandit leader and turned over an estimated $32,640 in gold coins which the third robber placed in a canvas bag.
The three men who committed the daring mid-day robbery were never apprehended and the money was never recovered. In fact, the identity of the robbers was never confirmed beyond a reasonable doubt. Months after the robbery was committed, the Pinkerton group was still conducting their investigation of the robbery for the American Bankers Association. Having made no progress, they sent a copy of a photograph that appeared in Fort Worth, Texas, to Nixon to see if he could identify any of the people in the photo. The photo was of five members of the notorious “Wild Bunch” and included Robert Leroy Parker (Butch Cassidy) and Harry Longbaugh (Sundance Kid).
After the movie “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” came out in 1969, it became a cool thing to celebrate the notoriety of these bandits. Winnemucca celebrated “Butch Cassidy Days” every year for several years in remembrance of the now infamous men who they believed committed the Great Bank Robbery. This was more of a tourist attraction than anything else. The Sundance Kid and perhaps two of the other members of the Wild Bunch may have participated in the robbery. Butch Cassidy may have even known about it, but he couldn’t have been there, since he was planning a train robbery in Tipton, Wyo.
When the gold was secured, the robbers forced the four employees and the visitor out the back door into a fenced enclosure so no one from the front street could see what was happening. They then escaped over the fence and into the alley where they had horses waiting so they could make their getaway. Nixon went back into the bank and came out with a revolver as did bank stenographer Calhoun. Shots were exchanged, but there were no injuries on either side. Bystanders at the Reception Saloon heard the shooting and fired a few shots at the escaping bandits but missed.
The robbers circled around toward the east and when they crossed the White’s Creek Bridge, they dropped a sack of gold and lost some time retrieving it. The bandits continued on , making their way toward Golconda where they had fresh horses waiting.
Citizens in Winnemucca quickly organized a posse and even fired up a yard locomotive to follow along in an attempt to capture the group. The robbers were able to stay ahead of the posse since they had staged fresh horses about every 10 miles in order to make a speedy departure. The road they traveled veered away from the railroad track, so the locomotive proved useless to the chase. They were followed as far as Clover Valley, where they had another set of fresh mounts, then on to Tuscarora. Along the way, the citizen posse gave up the chase.
The robbers made a clean getaway and no one even sustained a scratch in the robbery or the following shootout. Nixon quickly sent out an alarm and contacted the Pinkerton group to help apprehend the persons who robbed the bank.
He later was elected a U.S. senator and kept a complete file of all the events surrounding the bank robbery. This documentation was used to confirm Butch Cassidy couldn’t have been one of the people who robbed the bank.
There’s still a bronze plaque by the utility pole at the old Winnemucca Bank that proclaims Butch Cassidy robbed the bank on Sept. 19, 1900. Old legends never die.
This article is by Dayton author and historian Dennis Cassinelli who can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on his blog at denniscassinelli.com. All books sold through this publication will be at a 20 percent discount and Dennis will pay the postage.