Holding Up a Train (Henry)

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Holding Up a Train
Summary of the Short Story
Microsummary: A former outlaw recounts his experiences of robbing trains, describing the ease of the job and the element of surprise, but also highlighting the dangers and the eventual downfall of a train robber.

A man who had been an outlaw in the Southwest for several years shared his experiences and insights on train robbing. He explained that holding up a train was not as difficult as people might think, and that the element of surprise was key to a successful robbery. He recounted his first train robbery in 1890, where he and his partners, Jim S, Tom Moore, and Ike Moore, managed to steal a relatively small amount of money and valuables from the passengers and express car.

Jim S — former cowboy turned outlaw.
Tom Moore — outlaw partner of Jim S.
Ike Moore — outlaw partner of Jim S.

During the robbery, the outlaws confronted the engineer and fireman, forcing them to get off the train.

“Hit the ground,” I ordered, and they both jumped off. We drove them before us down the side of the train.

The man went on to explain that train robbers often spent their money quickly and recklessly, as they viewed the railroads and express companies as their personal banks. They also had to rely on a network of friends and allies to provide them with safe havens and support. However, the life of an outlaw was far from glamorous, as they constantly lived in fear of being betrayed by their own comrades and eventually being caught or killed.

Despite the dangers and hardships, the man claimed that train robbers were not deterred by the law enforcement officers who pursued them. He believed that many of these officers were former outlaws themselves, who had turned on their former partners in order to gain immunity and a position of authority. This knowledge only served to make train robbers more cautious and suspicious of those around them, further contributing to the difficulties of their chosen profession.

During one of the robberies, the outlaws forced a passenger to play a tune on a small French harp.

“If you can’t pay—play,” I says. “I can’t play,” says he. “Then learn right off quick,” says I, letting him smell the end of my gun-barrel.

The Messenger — express car messenger; forced to open the safes.
The Passengers — train passengers; frightened and compliant.
The Pullman Conductor — conductor of the sleeper car; tries to prevent the robbers from entering.
The Old Man — passenger in the sleeper car; tries to remain calm.