A Tale of Four Brothers

By | December 23, 2018

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The Newton Brothers (Photo from www.hillcountryexplore.com)

Once upon a time in Texas, there lived four brothers. Their names were Willis, Joe, Jess, and Wylie (Doc), and they were just four out of eleven children born to Jim and Janetta Pecos Anderson Newton, who were poor farmers. Those four brothers eventually joined together and made a name for themselves during the 1920s as the Newton Boys, one of the most notorious gangs of bank robbers in history, taking in more loot than all the other outlaws of that time combined.

Willis Newton, the leader of the group, was born on January 19, 1889, near Cottonwood, Texas. He and his brothers had sticky fingers from childhood, with a reputation for breaking into stores. At first, Willis followed in his parents’ footsteps, working as a farmer until he and Doc were arrested in 1909 under charges of vagrancy and stealing cotton. They served five years – having escaped together once and been recaptured – before they were pardoned by Governor O.B. Colquitt. Willis claimed to have been wrongfully accused but had no desire to return to the unrewarding job of farming after his release. Instead, he chose to embrace the life of the criminal he was already reputed to be.

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Liberty (or War) Bonds (Photo from Wikipedia)

On New Year’s Eve in 1914, Willis and a friend boarded a train in Cline, Texas, and proceeded to rob the passengers, taking in $4,700 before disembarking in Kinney County. While in Durant, Oklahoma, he joined a gang of bank robbers who stole $10,000 from a bank in Boswell. After being arrested and released in Marble Falls in 1917, he became involved in petty theft and gambling. He returned to robbing stores with another group of men, before hitting a bank in Winters, Texas and making off with $3,500 in Liberty bonds. One of the men was shot and killed the next day while fleeing the authorities. Afterward, the men began robbing banks and stores by blowing the safes open with nitroglycerin.

Meanwhile, his brothers, Doc, Jess, and Joe, had committed crimes of their own and by 1919 were incarcerated in separate facilities, though Willis and Joe were released that year. They joined forces in 1920 and teamed with John Glasscock to rob banks in Omaha, Nebraska, and Glenwood, Iowa. Unfortunately for them, the spoils of $400,000 in Victory and Liberty bonds had already been registered and was, therefore, useless to them. By 1920, Doc had escaped prison and joined Willis and Joe, who were living in Tulsa at the time. Jess was released in 1921 and became the fifth member (and fourth brother) of the gang.