Before the world knew of Butch and Sundance, before the world knew of the Barrow gang, the world knew of James and Reuben and the Burrow gang. From 1886 to 1890 brothers James and Reuben Burrow and their gang robbed trains across the South while being pursued by hundreds of lawmen.
Reuben Houston Burrow (born 1854) and James Buchanan Burrow (born 1858) were born in Alabama to Allen and Martha Burrow. Allen was a farmer and moonshiner. Rube helped his father in both vocations. Mother Martha was an occultist, reputedly able to cure illnesses by incantation. Rube was said to have been only ten years old when he killed a companion, but there had been no witnesses. His defense was self-defense, and Rube was acquitted. (Sketches from Rube Burrow, King of Outlaws, 1890.)
In 1870 the two brothers were still living at home in Alabama. But by 1872 Rube was in Texas, working on the farm of his uncle Joel, who lived first in Wise County and then in Erath County. In Wise County in 1876 Rube married Virginia Alvison. But in 1880 she died of yellow fever. Brother Jim joined Rube in 1884, the year Rube married Adeline Hoover in Erath County. The two brothers continued to farm and also did some cowboying.
But in 1886 Rube and Jim put down the plow and picked up the pistol.
On December 11, 1886 Rube and Jim, aided by associates William L. Brock, Nep Thornton, and Henderson Bromley, robbed a Fort Worth & Denver train as the five men were returning on horseback from a trip to Oklahoma, where they had allegedly gone with the intention of robbing a wealthy woman. When the train stopped for water in Bellevue near Wichita Falls, the robbers drew their guns and boarded the train. But they collected only $300 ($7,800 today) and some watches because passengers had hidden most of their valuables by the time the robbers passed through the passenger coaches. Among the passengers were some prisoners being escorted by soldiers. The robbers relieved the soldiers of their pistols, two of which Rube Burrow would use in later train robberies. The robbers also offered to liberate the prisoners, but the prisoners declined. Clip is from the December 12 Fort Worth Gazette.
If at first you don’t succeed . . .: After the paltry take from the Bellevue robbery, at 2 a.m. on the night of January 23, 1887 the gang robbed a Texas & Pacific train in Gordon in Palo Pinto County. The men boarded the engine in the station and ordered the engineer to move the train to a railroad bridge and stop. This time the gang’s “swag” was considerably more. This Dallas Weekly Herald clip of January 28 put the figure at $10,000 ($260,000 today). Another report put the figure at $4,000. Either way, the Burrow boys saw that plundering paid a derned sight better than plowing did.
So, . . .
On the night of June 3, 1887 Rube and Jim Burrow, Henderson Bromley, and William L. Brock left Erath County and rode through the night. By dawn they were near Benbrook, a station on the Texas & Pacific line. They waited in the woods outside town until the evening of June 4. The train bound for Fort Worth stopped at the Benbrook station about 7 p.m. Rube Burrow and Henderson Bromley, their faces darkened with burnt cork, boarded the engine and ordered the engineer to move the train out of town and to stop over the bridge at Mary’s Creek (called “Brushy Creek” in the Fort Worth Gazette report). As the train neared the bridge, Jim Burrow and William L. Brock, handkerchiefs over their faces, stepped in front of the engine. After the engine stopped, Rube Burrow escorted the engineer from the cab to the express car and ordered him to use a coal pick to break down the door.
As the robbers galloped away to Erath County, they now had $1,350 ($36,000 today) to celebrate. More importantly, they now had an MO.