Double Trouble: The Burrow Gang and the Train Twice-Robbed (Part 2)

After robbing the Texas & Pacific train on the bridge over Mary’s Creek near Benbrook on June 4, 1887 (see Part 1), the Burrow gang lay low for a while, mostly working cattle.

Well, where’s the fun in that?

But that Benbrook MO—stopping the train on a bridge to restrict the movements of passengers and crew, not to mention law enforcement officers—had worked pretty well. So well, in fact, that the Burrow gang decided to try it again.

On September 20, 1887—fourteen weeks after the Benbrook robbery—the Burrow gang used the same MO to rob the same T&P train manned by the same crew at the same location—on the bridge over Mary’s Creek. Fort Worth Gazette clip is from September 23.

This is the current railroad bridge over Mary’s Creek east of Winscott Road at Benbrook. 

After the two robberies on Mary’s Creek, on September 24 the Gazette voiced its consternation and that of other Texas newspapers. (The “Bruce” reference is to Scotland’s King Robert the Bruce, who at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314 had his soldiers dig pits into which fell the advancing English soldiers.) Meanwhile, the Waco Day speculated that the robbers had used “the warm precincts of Hell’s Half Acre” as their base.

No wonder the T&P bridge over Mary’s Creek is labeled “Train Robber’s Bridge” on this 1895 county map. (From Pete Charlton’s “1000+ Lost Antique Maps of Texas & the Southwest on DVD-ROM.”)

After the Benbrook double dip the Burrow gang high-tailed it out of Texas, robbing trains in Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana, and the brothers’ home state of Alabama.

For example, in December 1887 the Burrow gang stopped a St. Louis, Arkansas & Texas Railroad train in Arkansas. When the agent inside the train’s Southern Express Company car heard gunfire outside, he blew out his light and hunkered down. The robbers demanded that he open up. When he refused, Rube Burrow ordered the engineer to douse the express car with oil. Rube intended to set the express car on fire. The Southern Express agent gave in and opened up. The Burrow gang escaped with a Louisiana lottery payoff—about $2,000.

The Southern Express Company did not take the loss lightly. It called in the Pinkerton Detective Agency. Now the Burrow gang was being pursued by the same outfit that would later pursue Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

Soon after the December 1887 robbery, Pinkerton detectives caught Burrow gang member William L. Brock, who gave the detectives the names of Rube and Jim Burrow. Until the brothers had begun robbing trains, they had no criminal record. So, they had not initially been suspects in the Texas train robberies, and law enforcement officers had followed red herrings at first. But Brock had given the pursuers of the gang their first lead: names.

Then came another break for the detectives. Early in 1888 a conductor on a Louisville & Nashville Railway train in Alabama became suspicious of two passengers and notified police. Police surrounded the train when it stopped and captured Jim Burrow after a gunfight. Rube Burrow shot his way out and escaped. Clip is from the January 28 Fort Worth Gazette.

Jim Burrow was jailed in Texarkana and would die there of tuberculosis in October 1888.

Working without his brother now, Rube Burrow became more reckless, less calculating.

On December 15, 1888 Rube Burrow robbed an Illinois Central train in Mississippi. His accomplice was Leonard Calvert Brock (not related to William L. Brock). Leonard Calvert Brock was also known as “Joe Jackson,” and some accounts of the day said Jackson had been the only member of Sam Bass’s gang to survive the shootout at Round Rock in 1878. During the Illinois Central robbery Burrow shot and killed passenger Chester Hughes after Hughes tried to apprehend him. (Sketch from Rube Burrow, King of Outlaws, 1890.)

In 1889 Rube Burrow killed an Alabama postmaster, Moses Graves, when Graves demanded that Burrows sign for delivery of a package. The contents of the package? A wig and false beard that Burrow had ordered under an alias to wear as a disguise.

Rube Burrow was becoming known as the “outlaw king of Alabama,” the “Alabama Robin Hood” who never robbed a poor man.

Late in 1889 Leonard Calvert Brock and Rube separated, agreeing to rendezvous later. But Brock was captured and would commit suicide in prison. So, now Brock was dead. Rube’s brother Jim was dead. Now the outlaw king was without his court. Rube Burrow was alone. A gang of one. Rewards offered for his capture totaled $3,500 ($88,000 today).

On the night of September 1, 1890 Rube Burrow boarded a Louisville & Nashville Railway train in Flomaton, Alabama. Just as he had done in Benbrook (twice), Rube Burrow ordered the engineer to move the train out of the station and to stop on a bridge over a stream, this time the Escambia River in northern Florida. Rube ordered the engineer to use a coal pick to break down the door of the express car. Rube’s take? Just $256.19. This would be the tenth—and last—train robbery of the (now one-man) Burrow gang. Clip is from the September 3 Fort Worth Gazette.

Detectives tracked Burrow from Florida back into Alabama. On October 7, aided by four “If you see something, say something” civilians, including John McDuffie and Jefferson Davis “Dixie” Carter, detectives captured Burrow in Marengo County. (Sketches from Rube Burrow, King of Outlaws, 1890.)

On October 8 Rube Burrow, in a jail cell in Linden, Alabama, complained of being hungry. He asked John McDuffie, who was guarding him, to hand him his saddlebags, which, Burrow told McDuffie, contained some crackers. Burrow did not tell McDuffie that the bags also contained two pistols. Burrow, now armed, locked McDuffie in the cell and left to find Jefferson Carter, who was holding the Louisville & Nashville Railway robbery money and the sixteen-round Marlin rifle that had been taken from Burrow upon his capture. Burrow found Carter in a general store; the two men exchanged gunfire. Carter was wounded; Rube Burrow was killed. Clip is from the October 9 Dallas Morning News.

One writer of the time estimated that the Southern Express Company had spent $20,000 ($500,000 today) tracking down the Burrow gang. That writer estimated Rube Burrow’s total share of the money that his gang had taken at $5,500 ($138,000 today).

And so, on October 9, 1890 Reuben Houston Burrow boarded a train for the last time: His body was carried back to his father by rail—in an express car of the Southern Express Company.

Posts About Fort Worth’s Wild West History
Posts About Crime Indexed by Decade

This entry was posted in Crime, Life in the Past Lane. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Double Trouble: The Burrow Gang and the Train Twice-Robbed (Part 2)

  1. Clay Coppedge says:

    How did the robbers manage to move around on the bridge over Mary’s Creek? From looking at the picture, it seems like it would be just as hard for them to move around as it was for the passengers and crew.

    • hometown says:

      Clay, I suspect that the bridge of today is not the bridge of then, which might have had shoulders. Also, it may be that the robbers and the robbed moved about on the train, not on the bridge itself.

  2. Keith Robinson says:

    Maybe they had to have the thrill of the robbery. More than the money.

    • hometown says:

      Am sure you are right, Keith. Had to be at least as much psychological as financial.

  3. Terry Edwin Walstrom says:

    What is most difficult for me to comprehend is how a robber with such an abundance of purchasing power inherent in his boodle managed to spend it on anything to such an extent it soon became necessary to steal again.
    Such men could have traveled the world in luxury, become business speculators, investors–hell-even humanitarians. Why not bribe politicians or judges favorable to their welfare for future insurance?
    I just don’t understand the profligate mindest. But it is a terrific story well told.

    • hometown says:

      Thanks, Terry. I’m with you. Take the money and run. Don’t press your luck. The “I’ve got more than I could ever spend, but I think I know how I can get even more” mind-set baffles me, especially when getting even more comes at the risk of your life.

  4. G.R. Johnson says:

    I’ve heard so many stories about my great grand father “Dixie” Carter and now to put a face with the story makes it even more exciting! He and my grand father look so much alike. (handsome)!!!!

    Thank you.

  5. Dale Hinz says:

    Great Story Mike, It seems it was a small world even back then…..Dale

    • hometown says:

      Thanks, Dale. Noticed the label “Train Robber’s Bridge” on an old map and spent the next two days finding out why it was called that. Like the Holmes case, entire books were written about the Burrow gang.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *