A Century in the Making: Union Pacific Special Agent Honored for Pursuing Notorious Train Robbers

William T. Canada newspaper clip and Wild Bunch train robbery | L

William T. Canada’s “Bandit Hunters” pursued Butch Cassidy’s “Wild Bunch,” who blew up a Union Pacific express car during a train robbery in Wilcox, Wyoming, on June 2, 1899.

Nearly 110 years after his death, Union Pacific Railroad Chief Special Agent William T. “Bill” Canada is solidifying his place in railroad history with a headstone honoring his efforts to safeguard the nation’s freight from bandits.

Retired Union Pacific Safety employee Lynn Beebe, who researches fallen law enforcement officials in the railroad’s history, discovered Canada was buried in an unmarked grave at Wyuka Cemetery in Nebraska City, Nebraska.

Canada was sheriff of Otoe County, Nebraska, from 1884 to 1885 and later worked for Union Pacific as a special agent from 1891 to 1914 before retiring as chief special agent, a role now known as chief of police.

His order from the railroad’s CEO, Sidney Dillon: “Keep our trains from being held up.”

To combat railroad crime, Canada formed the “Union Pacific Bandit Hunters,” a Cheyenne, Wyoming-based group who pursued the notorious “Wild Bunch” gang led by Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, among other Wild West outlaws. By the time Canada retired in January 1914, only two of these robbers remained at large.

William T Canada headstone | M

Canada's new headstone

“All involved felt it was necessary to commemorate his history with an appropriate headstone,” said Richard Bombeck, Union Pacific senior manager, who partnered with the Otoe County Sheriff’s Office to pay for a headstone. 

Current Otoe County Sheriff Colin Caudill verified the years of Canada’s term as sheriff, and with help from a cemetery employee, Bombeck and Mark Rowley, Union Pacific senior director, located Canada’s gravesite.

Union Pacific special agents have worked for the betterment of railroad safety since the mid-1800s, when the number of U.S. Marshals was insufficient to police America’s growing rail network.

Railroad police are certified state law enforcement officers with investigative and arrest powers both on and off railroad property in most states, investigating crimes related to trespassing, theft and threats of terrorism.

Each May, for National Police Week, Union Pacific Special Agent Honor Guard members stand watch at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C. One hundred and two special agents from Union Pacific and its affiliated railroads are recognized on the memorial.

Interested in learning more about William T. Canada and the evolution of law enforcement on the railroad? Visit the Law & Order on the Railroad exhibit at the Union Pacific Railroad Museum in Council Bluffs, Iowa, on display through August 2025.

Former Union Pacific employee Lynn Beebe and Joe Yocum, former sheriff of Seward County, Nebraska, will virtually present their research on railroad special agents on June 25 at 5:30 p.m. CT. Starting May 28, register for the free presentation by booking a spot on "Club Car Conversations." 

Share This!

Latest Stories