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Bank of Huntington and the James Gang Bank Heist 1875

Historic Sites, Monuments, Landmarks, and Public Art ()

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The Bank of Huntington was established along with the development of the railroad in Huntington, WV, and was originally located on the eastern side of what is now Downtown Huntington.Larger banks were created as the city’s population grew, and the Bank of Huntington closed in the early 1900s. The building was then utilized as a space for local businesses on the first floor, and an apartment on the second. In the 1970s, the building was in danger of being destroyed, however the local community decided to relocate it alongside Heritage Station so that it could be preserved for generations to come. The old Bank of Huntington is now fully utilized by local businesses in Huntington, and still has the original bank teller cages on the first floor. Local legend states that infamous Jesse James and his gang robbed the bank in 1875. However, sources indicated that the bank was not robbed by Jesse James, but rather by two relatively unknown men who may have been assisted by Cole Younger and Frank James.

Bank of Huntington Building today, located beside Heritage Station.
Jesse James before his death in 1882.
Some still enjoy sharing the local yarn that Jesse James did not die, but rather reinvented himself as Stephen B. Elkins.
The Chessie Room.
The preserved teller cages on the first floor retail space.
Bank of Huntington Building today, located beside Heritage Station.

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Sources indicate that the 1875 robbery was perpetrated by two unidentified men along with Tom McDaniels and Tom Webb. McDaniels was shot while making his escape and died from his wounds while Tom Webb was captured. Webb served several years for his crime, and despite pressure by deputies, he never identified the two other men who perpetrated the crime. As a result, it is difficult to prove that the two other robbers were Cole Younger and Frank James although many area residents and local historians believe that this is the case. Some locals believe that Frank James established a farm in neighboring Wayne County after this heist, but historians who have studied the case believe that this is unlikely as Frank James has been positively identified as a participant in other bank robberies well beyond West Virginia in later years.  

Jesse and Frank James were Confederate guerrillas during the Civil War, and continued a life of crime once the war was over by robbing anything they could get their hands on. The brothers often paired with the Younger brothers, and together the James-Younger gang made a name for themselves as they robbed banks and trains. The gang would typically rob a bank in the middle of the day, which was exactly the case in the Bank of Huntington robbery of September 6, 1875. 

On that fateful day, the president of the Bank of Huntington, John Hooe Russel, was out for lunch and left teller Robert T. Oney to tend the bank until he returned. Four men were involved in robbing the bank, two entered and two stood guard. Oney was forced to open up the bank’s safe and hand over $20,000 after a short standoff with a pistol pointed to his head. Russel returned to the bank in time to see the bandits leisurely trot then quickly gallop out of sight. Russel, along with the Cabell County Sheriff, and the bank’s vice president set out on their horses to chase down the gang. The pursuit lasted three days and led to the arrest of one robber and the death of a second. To this day, it cannot be proven whether or not Jesse James and his gang were the culprits of this heist.

As is often the case, circumstantial evidence led to speculation in the case of James and Younger. The same is true of Jesse James, who died in 1882. To this day, some West Virginians continue to spread the local folk tale that suggests James faked his death and reinvented himself as U.S. senator, Stephen B. Elkins, who was the co-founder of Elkins, WV. This wild story attracts intrigue because both James and Elkins were from Missouri, Elkins arrived to the eastern part of the U.S. from New Mexico Territory around the time of James’ death, and Elkins had taught Cole Younger previously in school. After these comparisons, however, there is little more than wild speculation behind this tall taley.  

As for Frank James, he was never convicted for any of his alleged crimes, and started a Wild West Show alongside Cole Younger in the early 1900s. Both Frank James and Cole Younger visited Huntington in 1903 to perform their show modeled after “Buffalo Bill,” and were questioned about the bank robbery and both denied any accusations.

The Bank of Huntington building was moved to its current location in 1975, exactly 100 years after the bank robbery. The building is now a part of the Heritage Station historical center, and houses local businesses. The interior of the building has been well preserved, and still has the teller cages intact. Most businesses place their registers behind the teller cage today. The second floor of the bank building has been re-purposed into a one room B&B, the Chessie Room, named after the C&O mascot, the Chessie cat. 

Sources

1. Platania, Joseph "James Gang." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 04 April 2011. Web. 24 November 2016.

2. Casto, James E. “Huntington Bank Robbed!” January 2014. Accessed November 25, 2016. http://www.wonderfulwv.com/SiteCollectionDocuments/Archive/Jan2014.pdf.

3, 
James Gang Rob Huntington Bank, Wayne county News 1992 as reprinted by Rootsweb, http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~wvcccfhr/jamesgang/james.htm accessed 11/24/17

4. Bob Powell, Bank of Huntington Robbed by James Gang: Sept. 6, 1875. This Week in West Virginia History, West Virginia Public Radio September 6, 2016 http://wvpublic.org/post/bank-huntington-robbed-james-gang-sept-6-1875#stream/0

Address
210 11th St
Huntington, WV 25701
Tags
  • Cultural History
  • Local History Societies and Museums
This location was created on 2015-05-07 by David Plumley II, WV State University; Instructed by Billy Joe Peyton.   It was last updated on 2017-11-24 by Clio Admin .

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