First Daylight Bank Robbery in U.S. History!

The Old West Cover by Time Life

Innocent Bystander Shot Down as Desperadoes Make Their Getaway

    Shortly before two o'clock on a February afternoon in 1866, a dozen men rode into Liberty, Missouri.  It was St. Valentine's Day, but none of the horsemen looked like anybody's beau.  All of them were muffled in long soldiers' overcoats, and some wore six-shooters strapped outside their coats.  The first three riders dismounted in the deserted town square, taking up posts from which they could watch the surrounding streets.  The others reined up in front of the Clay County Savings Association.  Two of them dismounted and stepped into the small bank.
    Inside, a clerk and a cashier were laboring over accounts at desks behind a wooden counter.  The cashier, Greenup Bird, saw the two strangers stop to warm themselves at the stove.  His son William, the clerk, went on writing.  After a moment one of the men walked to the counter and slid a $10 bill across the polished wood.  "I'd like a bill changed," he said.  As William reached for the bill, the stranger drew a six-shooter and, almost as an afterthought, broadened his request. "I'd like all the money in the bank," he said.
    No one had ever said that, or anything like it, to an American bank clerk before.  Except for a raid on a small Vermont bank by a band of Confederate guerillas during the Civil War, no one had ever robbed a bank during business hours.
    William Bird backed away in disbelief as the robbers hurdled the counter.  One of them leveled a revolver at Greenup Bird.  "Make a noise and we'll shoot you down," he warned.  His partner struck William Bird with his gun and pushed himi toward the bank's open vault.  "Damn you, be quick," he said, shoving the clerk into the vault and following behind.  There William gathered gold and silver coins from a shelf and stuffed them into a grain sack the robber had taken from under his coat.
    The second robber, standing at Greenup Bird's desk, asked where the paper money was. "In the box," the cashier replied, pointing to a large tin container resting on the table.  Six-shooter still in hand, the robber began to stack the contents -- currency, bonds, bank notes and sheets of revenue stamps.  When his partner emerged from the vault with a bulging sack, the legal tender was stuffed into it too; the total, it was later estimated, came to about $60,000.  The cashier was then forced into the vault to join his son, and the door was slammed shut.  "Stay in there," one robber called.  "You know all Birds should be caged!"  Clearly, the punster was familiar with the bank and its employees.
    But the cage proved unconfining; the lock of the vault door had failed to catch.  Father and son waited a moment, then pushed open the door and peered out.  Through the bank's front window they saw several riders galloping past, whooping and shooting into the air.  Opening the window to shout for help, the Birds witnessed a chilling sight.  George Wymore, a 19-year-old student at Liberty's William Jewell College, had been walking down the street to his classes.  As the mounted men swept toward him, he ran to take cover.  One rider fired four times and young Wymore fell to the frozen ground, killed instantly.  The men who later examined the body found that any one of the bullets would have been fatal -- an awesome display of accuracy.
    Jesse James and his brother Frank -- for this was the first of the James Gang raids -- were in business.  They would be for the next 15 years, amassing a record of depredations that included, at a minimum, holdups of 12 banks, seven trains and five stages in 11 states and territories.