20. From Civil War Bounty Jumpers to Deadly Gang Leaders
Frank and John Reno returned to Indiana in 1860, but they had not been forgotten. To escape angry neighbors, the brothers enlisted when the Civil War broke out. They did so not out of any patriotic motives, but purely opportunistic ones. The US government offered enlistees “bounties”, or signing bonuses, so the Reno brothers became serial bounty jumpers. They would join a Union regiment, collect the enlistment bonuses, which steadily grew as the war progressed, then desert at the earliest opportunity. They would then enlist in another regiment elsewhere with fake names, collect more enlistment bonuses, desert, and repeat the cycle.
Frank returned home in 1864, and with his brother John formed the Reno Gang. They were joined by horse thieves, safe crackers, counterfeiters, gamblers and other ne’er do wells, and began robbing Post Offices and stores in southern Indiana. Frank and two gang members were arrested, but released on bail. One agreed to testify against Frank, but it turned out to be a deadly mistake: he was murdered before the trial, and Frank was acquitted.