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Texas | Columns | Somewhere in the West

The Day I Rode with the Newton Boys

by Linda Kirkpatrick

The notorious Newton Boys played havoc on banks and trains during the Roaring Twenties. Jim and Janetta Newton the hard working parents of the Boys and seven other children worked hard to keep food on the table. Jim Newton, known as a cyclone farmer, moved his family from place to place always looking for something better.

Of the eleven children it appears that only four turned out bad, well bad in the minds of the law. The brothers looked at bank and train robbing just a little different than the common folk. They robbed banks and trains to make money and considered it just a business, just as you or I go to the office and wait for the check. They never killed anyone and never wanted to; all they wanted was the money. The four bad apples were Willis, Doc, Jess and Joe.

Back in 1909, Willis and Doc took a little cotton that wasn't theirs and because of this little incident, the Texas State Penitentiary became their home for two years, until they escaped. They were later pardoned but decided that if everyone thought that they were outlaws then outlaws they would be.

Willis pulled the first train robbery just west of Uvalde. On December 31, 1914, he boarded a train at Cline, Texas and got off at Spofford, Texas in Kinney County. When he disembarked the train in Spofford his pockets were a little heavier, about $4,700.00 heavier. Willis continued a life of crime.

Brother Joe joined Willis in 1920 and in 1921 brothers Jess and Doc joined the family business with Willis, the ring leader of the group.

And wouldn't you know it; those Newton Boys committed the largest train robbery in history. It was June 12, 1924 when they robbed the mail train in Rondout, Illinois. The take for this little business adventure amounted to over three million dollars. The robbery was successful for a few days. A stray bullet hit Doc in the leg which slowed them all down for the time being. The law caught up with Doc, Willis and Joe a few days after the robbery. Jess escaped to Texas but never got to enjoy the $35,000 he took with him. While in San Antonio, Texas Jess got somewhat inebriated and decided that for safe keeping he would bury his money. He dug a hole on the top of a hill and then dropped the money in it covering it all with a special flat rock to mark the exact location. With his money now safe, he decided to party his way to Mexico. A few miles out of town he had a change of heart and decided that the money would be just safer with him so he went back to get it. But where in the heck was that hill. So for all you fortune seekers, somewhere in San Antonio on a hill under a special rock is $35,000 more or less of Jess Newton's money. The law never found the money but they did find Jess! This heist became their last business adventure.
All four, once again, found new homes in Leavenworth Prison. Doc hung around there for six years while Willis called it home for four. Joe served one year and Jess served nine months.

The Roaring Twenties faded into the sunset. The Newton Boys kinda sorta thought about living a clean, productive life. Willis once said, "Joe was ashamed of what we did and would have probably made a good Baptist." And Joe did try to turn his life around. He moved to Uvalde, Texas. He worked on a ranch, in a butcher shop, drive-in and he did a little horse trading in order to live the clean life.
Around the late 1950's my dad decided that we needed another ranch horse and it needed to be one that I could ride. Many of the ranch horses were just too salty for a ten year old girl to handle. We needed to find another one that you could turn out for a few months and then just catch it, throw on some shoes and put me in the saddle, with no worries of me being thrown in the middle of the pasture. Daddy checked around with several of the local horse traders. He finally located this horse trader in Uvalde that had a big gentle sorrel gelding for sale.

The trip to Uvalde seemed awful quiet. Daddy did seem confident that this would be a horse that he would buy because we drug along the horse trailer. The thrill of a new horse always excited me and I was probably bouncing off the wall by the time we arrived in Uvalde. Then my dad began the lecture of minding my manners and not saying anything and he would talk to me on the way home. It appeared to me that a mystery just might be at hand.

We crossed the road by the stock yards and pulled up to a house there on the outskirts of Uvalde. Daddy got out and I just followed along behind. The horse trader, an older white haired man, shook Daddy's hand and said hello to me. We walked around behind his house and there in the pen stood a huge sorrel with a flaxen mane and tail. I knew immediately that if we bought this horse I would have to climb up on the fence or have a boost to get on him. I went back to the pickup for my saddle and tried to think of names for the new horse. After saddling, Daddy tossed me aboard. I walked this gentle giant around the pen for a couple of rounds then moved him into a trot, reversing and stopping him along the way. Then we moved into a gentle canter. I remember the horse trader saying, "That girl sure can ride."

We bought that big sorrel. I thought he looked a little like Trigger. I started to call him that but decided Nugget would be good enough. Daddy quietly headed the pickup home with the new horse in the trailer. All of a sudden, he ask if I knew anything about the horse trader. Well of course I didn't and then the story began to unfold. The horse trader was none other than Joe Newton. THE Joe Newton, the outlaw, inmate, train robber. I could not believe that I was now the owner of a horse that belonged to a real, live, bona fide outlaw. I rode Nugget many a mile after that and I always pretended that I was part of the Newton Gang.

When all was said and done you might say that the Newton's were a successful gang, successful at least in their eyes. They robbed well over eighty banks and six trains. The total of their take added to more than the Dalton Gang, Butch Cassidy and the James Brothers combined.

In their minds they never really did anything wrong, it was just business.

Doc attempted a bank robbery in 1968 at age 77. He died in 1974. Jess died in 1960. Joe died at the age of 88 in 1989. Willis died in 1979 at the age of 90.

The Boys called Uvalde home off and on and it is ironic that the movie of their life starred Uvalde native, Matthew McConaughey. I am sure that Matt thought this was a feather in his cap but he could never say that he actually rode with the Newton's!

© Linda Kirkpatrick
Somewhere in the West
February 5, 2009 Column
TSHA Online-Newton Boys
Recorded interview with Joe and Willis
The Newton Boys-the movie
"The Newton Boys: Portrait of an Outlaw Gang" Willis & Joe Newton, State House Press

Related Story:

The day Doc Newton robbed Bonnie Parker's bank

Texas Outlaws

















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