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It's said, by those who take it on themselves as to study such things, that the Lower Crockett Bank Robbery of 1882 was one of the most curious bank heists ever seen in the western part of Texas, if not the Old West.

On a dark Tuesday night in late July, a gang of three men broke into the First Bank of Lower Crockett, owned by one Lovell Smith. Smith, a former banker from New York, had opened the bank some five years earlier, and was proud of its security -- a stout lock on the front door, and a large safe, manufactured by the Goedinger Founderies of Sweden.

The three invaders -- Olaf "Horse Head" Jonson, Wade "Gill" McGillicutty, and Randall "the Mad Wolf" Davis -- entered by way of the front door, witnessed by a single person, the owner's daughter, Elmira Smith, who had just celebrated her ninth birthday. Miss Smith had been restless that night, and had descended from the family's quarters over the bank to the lower floor to "dance with the wolves in the moonlight," as she told the marshall later. Her father claimed this was a game she played that involved spinning around rapidly until she fell down, panting.

Jonson was an immigrant from Sweden, a mental defective who had been known for his erratic behavior in that Scandinavian country. He'd been previously charged for assault, as well as fortune telling and poaching. McGillicutty had a long record of various crimes, mostly petty theft; this was his first known bank robbery. Davis, on the other hand, the oldest and most murderous of the trio, had served in the Civil War, fighting for the North. Part of a band of raiders sent in advance of Sherman into the south, he was widely reputed to have an inerring sense of direction and a cut-throat instinct for killing.

Miss Smith, who hid as soon as she heard the door open, insisted that the bandits used a large key made of dull metal, and that Jonson referred to it in ensuing conversation as their skeleton key.

Miss Smith watched from behind her father's desk while the three men made their way over to the vault. As she told it, Johnson use the key on the lock there, too, though it was a combination lock and had no key hole. This portion of her story was widely discounted by the people of the town.

Upon opening the safe, the bandits loaded a set of saddle bags with approximately two thousand dollars in silver coins from inside. This represented most of the wealth of the town -- the loss of which would lead to ruin for Lowell Smith and much of the population besides.

While returning to the front door, they overheard Miss Smith sneeze. Davis pointed his gun in her direction, and compelled her to come out of hiding. Davis then indicated that he was going to strangle Miss Smith so as to keep her from identifying them.

At this point, Miss Smith claims that Jonson struck Davis on the head with the saddle bags he was carrying, shouting something in a foreign tongue. Jonson then pointed his gun at McGillicutty, forcing him to drop his weapons. Jonson grabbed Miss Smith and the saddle bags and dragged her out into the main street of the town, toward their horses, shouting excitedly as he went.

Several patrons of the Rose Rock saloon exited at the tumult, only to witness the madman Jonson putting girl and bags onto his horse, yelling something further in a strange language, and riding off into the night. It seems likely that his rantings were in Swedish, as Gustav Hess, a local customer of the Rose Rock, said that the words bore a passing resemblance to his native German, and that Jonson was talking about being a "brave knight" and "protecting the queen" from either "wolves" or "pocketwatches."

During the commotion, Davis and McGillicutty slipped away out the back of the bank.

Miss Smith returned to town the next day on foot. She reported that Jonson had ridden them a short ways out of town, then stopped helped her off her horse, and bowed low to her, before riding off. She was unhurt.

The stolen money was never recovered.

Miss Elmira Smith grew up in Crockett, adopted by Gustav Hess after her father killed himself over the robbery. She eventually moved to the central part of the state, where she opened a small gift and fortune telling shop in Midway, regaling customers with her childhood tale. She died in 1954, ironically, in a botched hold-up.

Olaf "Horse Head" Jonson was found six months later, in a hunting shack in the mountains of southern Utah. He had been dismembered by a sharp object, but his body had also been attacked by wild animals, presumably? after his death.

Wade "Gill" McGillicutty was arrested in 1892 after a botched robbery attempt in Snake Corners (now Prosperity), Arizona. Convicted of killing two bank guards, he corroborated Miss Smith's story of that night, but denied any participation in the death of Jonson, nor any knowledge of the whereabouts of the third man in the robbery. He claimed that the money had all been spent save for one quarter which he kept for good luck. He was hung on Christmas Eve of that year.

Randall "the Mad Wolf" Davis was never seen again. It is thought he changed his name and travelled south into Mexico, but that story, as are so many other myths of the Old West, is unconfirmed.

By Dave Hill



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