IN DARING DAYLIGHT HOLDUP 12 OUTLAWS
ROB LIBERTY, MISSOURI, BANK OF $60,000
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.