The Newton Boys

The Newton Boys were a gang of brothers from Uvalde, Texas operating mostly in the 1920s.  Probably many people had never heard of them until the 1998 film by that name.  The Newtons were Willis, Joe, Jess and Dock (Willis’ twin brother whose birth name was Wylie).  In total, they robbed six trains and over 80 banks.  They were active for about four years before they were apprehended.  All spent some of their lives in prison and after being released, most returned to Uvalde, living there into their senior years.

Their first robbery was a train robbery on December 29, 1914.  Joe and another Uvalde friend rode horseback to nearby Cline, boarded a Southern Pacific train at a stop and robbed the passengers, netting $5,700.  Willis eventually recruited his brothers and a few other associates to join him and they switched their focus to robbing banks.  They did not consider themselves to be harmng anyone, because the businesses he stole from (banks and trains) were insured.

In a newspaper interview Joe said that they were motivated by an old grudge against an insurance company.  Back in Tennessee, he said, their father was cheated by an insurance company on a claim.  Their father had said that all insurance companies were dishonest and that led to the brothers’ dislike for the institutions.

Their typical target was a bank in a small town and during their active years, they are suspected of robbing banks in Mineral Wells, Abilene, Denison, San Antonio, Hondo, San Marcos, New Braunfels, Boerne, Pearsall, Winters, Waelder, Dallas, Texas and other banks in Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Indiana, Colorado, Iowa and Michigan.  They also robbed a few in Canada.  The gang planned their capers out in advance and favored Studebakers as their getaway cars.  With Brent Glasscock, they used dynamite to blow open the safes, though they tried to be nonviolent, Joe said.  Joe often carried a shotgun, but said it was loaded with number seven birdseed.

There was a postal inspector by the name of William Fahy who made himself acquainted with the gang and began to advise them.  They collaborated on one train robbery out of Chicago.  Along with another associate, Brentwood (Brent) Glasscock, they boarded the Milwaukee Railroad mail train in Chicago and commandeered it in nearby Rondout, Illinois on June 2, 1924.  They wore overalls in the train station and weren’t noticed when they hid themselves on board, with Willis and Glasscock hiding in the coal tender.  As they came near Rondout, they took showed their guns and took over the train.  There were detectives on board the train, but the gang kept them inside the cars by firing warning shots.

Initially they were successful and took cash and securities worth 2 to 3 million dollars.  This was a record at the time and it stood until 1963, when a United Kingdom robbery broke the record.  In the Illinois robbery, Dock Newton was badly injured from gunshot wounds when he was mistakenly shot by Glasscock.  Dock’s wounds were severe and could have been fatal, but getting treated for them led directly to their capture.  Willis, Dock and Joe were arrested fairly quickly, but brother Jess escaped and fled to Mexico, only to be captured a little later.

Fahy, Glasscock and the four brothers were all tried and convicted with Fahy and Glasscock receiving the longest sentences, 25 years, Willis, Dock and Joe receiving less and Jess only a little over a year.  After their release, the Newtons basically lived as law abiding citizens except for Dock who walked out of his Uvalde nursing home in 1974 and with two friends, attempted to rob a bank in Rowena, Texas, ironically the birthplace of Bonnie Parker.  One person escaped, but Dock and a friend named Robert Talley (age 47) were apprehended.  Talley pled guilty and served five years and Dock was convicted and served eight months before being released at least partly due to a head injury he received during his arrest.  Dock alleged that he’d been struck by a billy club or gun butt during the arrest, but the police personnel said he had hit his head on a door frame.  Dock was also suspected of robbing a bank in Ballinger when he was well into his 80s, but to the best of our knowledge was never tried for it.

Joe served ten years of a twenty year sentence in McAlister, Oklahoma and then returned to Uvalde to live.  He became something of a local celebrity and was happy to give interviews and talk about his days as a gangster.


(Image credit: – Pictured: a group of Texas Rangers)

In a side note, a week or two ago we posted the above picture which we misidentified as being the Newton Gang.  Someone alertly (and kindly) corrected us and said the photo actually a group of Texas Rangers that included her grandfather, J. R. Hunnicutt, who had been a Ranger from 1917 to 1921.  Her grandfather had served in the United States Army during both WWI and with the US Army Medical Administrative Corps and with the 103rd General Hospital in England and finally Brooke Army Hospital in Texas during WWII, as well.  In addition, he had been a United States Customs Service and Border Protection pilot (even surviving a plane crash), an IRS alcohol tax investigator, a hospital administrator, medical supply salesman and a landman during his long career.  He also attended medical school but had been forced to withdraw near the end due to a lack of funds.  If this weren’t enough, Mr. Hunnicutt and his brother Walter had both attended high school in Marlin.  J. R. then attended Texas A&M while his brother Col. Walter Hunnicutt had attended the University of Texas.  As a result of an argument between the brothers, Col. Hunnicutt collaborated with the Marlin high school band director James E. King to pen the familiar song Texas Fight, now the University of Texas fight song. What an interesting group of Texans!

The Newton Gang were the subject of at least two films.  The first was a documentary made by David Middleton, Claude Stanush and Jack Landman, of Trinity University in San Antonio.  It was called “The Newton Boys: Portrait of an Outlaw Gang.”  It was financed by the Texas Commission on Arts and Humanities  and the National Endowment for the Arts and debuted in 1976.  The second was the 1998 feature film, “The Newton Boys” which starred Matthew McConaughey as Willis, Skeet Ulrich as Joe, Vincent D’Onofrio as Dock and Ethan Hawke as Jess.  Dwight Yoakum plays the part of Glasscock.  The script is attributed to Richard Linklater, Clark Lee Walker and Stanush (the latter of the earlier documentary) and a number of scenes were filmed in Texas.  The film names the well known Ranger Frank Hamer as the person who captured Jess, but in reality it was his brother, long time Texas Ranger Harrison Hamer who caught him.  The younger brother Harrison had worked as a Ranger at various times between other law enforcement jobs.  He happened to be working as a mounted customs agent in 1924 when he captured Jess at a rodeo in Texas.

Joe Newton died in 1989.  Willis died in 1979, Dock in 1974 and Jess in 1960.  All four brothers are buried in Texas.

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