Murder on the Santa Fe No. 7

The Dastardly Past:  Murder on the Santa Fe No. 7.

On a routine Thursday evening in July 1898, thirty-five years old engineer Joe Williams and thirty-year- old fireman Will Whitaker were in the cab of the locomotive for the No. 7 of the Gulf, Colorado, and Santa Fe passenger train, bringing it south to Fort Worth.  At 9:00 o’clock at night, they had little to think about other than completing their run to Galveston and maybe getting something to eat.

train pass

Gulf, Colorado, and Santa Fe train railroad pass.  Found at San Jacinto Museum of History online Trains to Texas exhibiti,

The train was pulling out of the station at Saginaw, a tiny town eight miles north of Fort Worth, when two men, part of a gang of five, climbed onto the locomotive, scrambled over the top, and fired guns into the cab.  Whitaker took a shot in the head and died instantly.  Williams was shot in the leg.  The killers climbed down into the cab, pitched the two victims out into the darkness, and attempted to drive the train themselves.  They did it poorly.  Witnesses, both on and off the train, reported that it began to run strangely, with many jerks, jolts, and unusual noises.  It eventually stopped at a cut in a hillside several hundred yards from the station.

saginaw station

Old tracks leading south from Saginaw station, 2016

Almost as soon as the villains brought the train to a stop, members of the sheriff’s department set upon them.  A gun-fight ensued, and all the gang member except one, a streetcar motorman name W. R. Petty, fled into the night with their lives but no loot.

A search party eventually found Whitaker’s body close to the tracks.  They found Williams alive some yards away.  He was in considerable pain but managed to relate what had happened.  Every hope existed for his recovery, but he died a several days later due to complications from his injuries.

The railroad’s general manager, C. F. Resseguie, expressed his outrage to the press at the profligate killing, and he offered a $500 reward on behalf of the railroad to augment the $50-per-head reward the state of Texas offered for the capture of the murderers.  Petty informed on the other members of the gang, and other witnesses were quick to come forward with critical information.

As lawmen pieced together the story, it became apparent that the gang completely lacked discretion in planning the job.  They discussed the details of their scheme several times in the open on the corner of 2nd and Main Streets in Fort Worth.  They dressed conspicuously and walked around as a group when they reconnoitered the station in the farming community of Saginaw and the route’s next stop at the stockyards in Fort Worth.  They even discussed their intentions with friends and co-workers, and at least one of them was thoughtful enough to tell his boss he was quitting his job as a hotel dishwasher the night before the robbery.

will whitaker

Grave of Will Whitaker, Goldthwaite Cemetery, Mills County,TX
Image from

With such a wealth of information to work with, law enforcement in Texas and the Indian Territory managed to apprehend all but one of the gang.  Petty, the informer, remained in jail for almost a year while giving testimony in the trials of his partners in crime.  He was later released and returned to civilian life in Fort Worth.

Two of the gang were convicted of conspiracy to rob.  One died within a few months of going to prison, the other was sentenced to two 99-year terms.  One of the men who shot into the cab of the train engine, twenty-five-year-old Jim Darlington, was convicted and sentenced to death.  He was hanged in front of 50 witnesses on the second floor of the Tarrant County Jail on July 28, 1899.

tarrant co courthouse

Later view of the Tarrant Co. Courthouse

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