"Southern Minnesota's Own Train Robbers"

Documentary about the Sontag Brothers and Chris Evans
based on the book "Robbers of the Rails" by John J Koblas
Click here for details

George Sontag

The Sontag Saga

The Sontag Brothers were born and raised in the river town of Mankato, Minnesota during the Civil War years. John (May 27, 1861) and George (April 10, 1864) were born to Maria (Bohn) and Jacob Contant. In 1867 their father died and their mother remarried to Matthias Sontag who had served in the 2nd Minnesota regiment during the Civil War.


George began his life of crime when at 15 he was sent to the state reform school in St Paul for stealing cigars from his employer, Nicholas Peterson. A few years later in Omaha, after another theft, he was given a sentence at the Nebraska State Prison.

In 1889 John Sontag joined up with Chris Evans of Visalia, California and started his life as a train robber in what was to be known as the Sontag Evans gang. Two years later George became a member of the gang. They based their operations in Visalia and during this period most of their train hold ups were done in such California locations as Pixley, Goshen and Ceres.

The Sontag-Evans gang had a way of robbing trains that was simple but well thought out. Their method was to determine the place on the railroad track where they wanted to stop the train, tie up their horses and walk back to the train station. When the train arrived they'd sneak aboard the engine and hide in the blind baggage. After reaching the designated point they would appear and order the engineer to stop the train. Using dynamite they would blow up the express car and gather up the money, then find the horses and make their escape.

End of The Line

Back in Minnesota their exploits became known when, on July 1, 1892, George, along with Chris attempted to rob the Omaha train on a railroad line between the Minnesota River towns of St. Peter and Kasota. They were not able to acquire anything during this hold up but their activities came under the eye of railroad officials and Pinkerton detectives.

On August 3, 1892, after returning to California they robbed the train at Collis. This time, however, they were not as lucky as they had been with previous hold ups. Several days after the robbery the authorities arrested George while John and Chris escaped to become fugitives in a California manhunt that would last almost a year.

George Sontag was found guilty and sent to Folsom Prison in October of 1892. The following year in June his brother John was killed by a posse and Chris, badly shot up, was captured. At his trial Chris, too, was found guilty and given a prison sentence at Folsom.

John Sontag Mortally Wounded
California Posse With John Sontag
Fight At The Stone Corral June 10, 1893


George Is Released

Having served fifteen years behind bars George Sontag was given his freedom and, with Opie Warner, wrote his autobiography called "A Pardoned Lifer." He also began a speaking tour and lectured about the life of an outlaw. His talks were presented in such cities as Minneapolis and Milwaukee. He also gave a talk at the Opera House in Mankato, Minnesota the town of his birth and was well received. (This was the same opera house that appeared in the 1943 Maud Hart Lovelace book "Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown.")

Elaborating on his quest to warn the public about the dangers of becoming a criminal he filmed the story of his outlaw career. The film was called "The Folly of a Life of Crime" and was filmed in Chico, California in 1915 (some sources say 1913). No copies of this movie are known to exist but George is listed as having written the story and starring as himself.

When George Sontag died is not known. Many skilled researchers have attempted to track down this information but have been unable to do so. The last documented reference to him is in May, 1929 when his mother passed away and her obituary listed him as a survivor living in San Francisco.

George Sontag shortly after his release
from Folsom Prison (circa 1908).

Lake Washington

Lake Washington:
Where, according to George, on May 16, 1891 he and John planned a life of crime while fishing for bass and pickerel.

News story of the St Peter/Kasota hold up from the St Paul Pioneer Press

News of the St Peter/Kasota hold up from the St Paul Pioneer Press July 2, 1892 the day after the attempted robbery.

Tracks at Site of Attempted Kasota Hold Up

It was on this railroad line that George Contant (Sontag) and Chris Evans held up the Omaha One on July 1, 1892. They tied up their horses about a mile and a half from the East St. Peter train station, walked back to the station and hid on the train. This is the approximate location where they stopped the train and attempted to rob the express car.
Photo taken on July 1, 2002 - Exactly 110 years after the event.

Robbers of the Rails - Sontag Brothers NEW!!

Robbers of the Rails: The Sontag Boys of Minnesota.

Newly published from the North Star Press of St Cloud, Minnesota, this book is all about the early years of the Sontag Brothers and their careers as California train Robbers.

Robbers of the Rails was written by John J Koblas who is the author of several books about the James/Younger gang.

For a list of outlaw books written by John J Koblas link to Koblas.

Sontag and Evans on TV

Episode # 28, SONTAG AND EVANS
Tuesday February 8, 1955, b&w; 26 mins

In the 1890s these two criminals waged a bloody war against the railroad after their homestead was threatened. The sheriff of the town finds a coin linking the two to a holdup. Frankie poses as the "wife" of Jack Sontag. This causes Susie, Evan's niece, who is sweet on Jack, to ride to the hideout. Matt follows the girl with a posse. Susie convinces Jack to give himself up. Evan's is sentenecd to be hanged for murder and Jack is sentenced to prison.

Starring Jim Davis as "Railroad Detective Matt Clark"; Kristine Miller as "Margaret Jones"'; also with John Smith as "John Sontag", Morris Ankrum as "Chris Evans",Claudia Barrett as "Sue Evans", Howard J. Negley as "Sheriff Owens", Jimmie Dodd as the "Deputy", Carl Christian as "Jefferson".

associate producer Edward J. White; directed by Franklin Adreon; written by Maurice Tombragel; cinematography by Bud Thackery.

Stories of the Century Episode List

Morris Ankrum as Chris Evans

Evans (Morris Ankrum) vows to fight the railroad telling Sontag: "When a family is threatened with extinction, a man's first duty is to take up arms against the common foe." in SONTAG AND EVANS.

As most films go this story of Sontag Evans is full of inaccuracies. The television program which ran for 39 episodes during 1954 and 1955 also featured stories about Jesse James, Belle Starr, Doc Holliday and others.
The entire 39 episodes of "Stories of the Century" may be purchased by contacting Jim's Rare Serials & B-Westerns

Learn more about the Sontag Brothers with the following URLs:

The shootout with John Sontag and Chris Evans (John's death)

Capture of George Sontag in California

Chris Evans' gravesite and some more info on the gang

Some(not much) info about the George Sontag film The Folly of a Life of Crime

Click 'History' then Sontag and Evans
A specials thanks and a tip of the hat to Troy Tuggle for this link

More neat Sontag/Evans links


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