Rube Burrow

Like the more famous outlaw Jesse James, Lamar County native Reuben Houston Burrow, better known as Rube Burrow, headed a gang of train robbers that included his younger brother Jim and that made off with thousands of dollars. The outlaws worked from Texas to Alabama. A number of legends have grown up around Burrow as the “Alabama Robin Hood” because he allegedly never robbed the poor.

The undated Victorian-Era photograph depicts the visage of notorious Old-West outlaw gang leader Rube Burrow

Reuben Houston “Rube” Burrow (1855-1890) was born on his family’s farm in Lamar County, Alabama. Rube Burrow worked on the family farm until the age of 18 when he moved to Stephenville, Texas to work on his uncle’s ranch. By all accounts, Burrow fully intended to become a rancher by saving up enough money to buy a spread of his own, marry, & eventually start a family. He attempted farming but his wife died of yellow fever in 1880, leaving him to care for two small children. He remarried in 1884 & moved to Alexander, Texas, but when his crops failed he turned to robbing trains with his brother Jim in 1886.

In June 1887, Rube & his “Burrow Gang” robbed a Texas & Pacific Express train near Marinda, Texas. The robbers boarded the eastbound Texas & Pacific Express at the Ben Brook Railroad Station in the town of Marinda (present-day city of Benbrook) south-west of Fort Worth. Burrows had the engineer held at gunpoint & forced him to stop the train on the bridge over Mary’s Creek outside the town. This was meant to discourage passengers, who would “have to brave the heights & meagre footing” in order to interfere with the robbery. The bandits then forced the engineer to break down the door to the express car with a coal pick, after which they absquatulated with $1,350.00 in cash & three registered letters.

Three & one-half months later, on Tuesday, September 20, 1887, the Burrow Gang robbed a second train at the same spot. On the second occasion, news reports estimated that Burrows & his gang escaped with anywhere from $12,000 to $30,000. The bridge where these robberies occurred has been known ever since as “Train Robber’s Bridge.”

In December, while still in Alabama, the brothers appear to have met up with William Brock and robbed the St. Louis, Arkansas & Texas Railroad line in Genoa, Arkansas. On December 9, they made off with the monies collected for the Illinois lottery, raising the attention of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency, a private security and investigative organization often employed by railroad companies. After a brief skirmish with a sheriff and his men outside Texarkana, Arkansas, the Burrow brothers returned to Lamar County, and William Brock headed back to Texas. There, Pinkerton agents traced him via coats the men had discarded near the tracks after the robbery and arrested him on December 31, 1887, outside the town of Dublin, Texas; he soon implicated the Burrow brothers and told the detectives where they were.

In early January 1888, Pinkerton assistant superintendent John McGinn raised a party in Lamar County to arrest Burrow at his house but lost him after a series of errors about which house was the right one. That night, the brothers boarded a Louisville and Nashville (L&N) train just south of Birmingham and headed south. A conductor on the train recognized them from police flyers, wired ahead to the station in Montgomery (where the brothers intended to get off), and arranged for the police to meet the train when it stopped.

The police attempted to lure them to the jail when they left the train by posing as railroad workers and offering to find them lodging; however, the Burrows realized the ruse and fought with the police. Rube escaped after shooting an officer, but Jim was captured. Burrow escaped the subsequent manhunt, stole a horse, and headed south, where his pursuers lost his trail. Burrow then turned back north and returned to Lamar County to seek news of his brother, who was now imprisoned in Little Rock, Arkansas.

In March 1888, Burrow partnered with Leonard. C. Brock (also known as Lewis Waldrip), who had worked with Burrow as a ranch hand in Texas, and convinced him to adopt the name of notorious Texas train robber “Joe Jackson” to strike fear in pursuers by convincing them that he had taken up with an even more dangerous outlaw. The men set out from Lamar County and travelled south through Columbus, Mississippi, before heading east and seeking shelter in a logging camp in the backwoods of Baldwin County, Alabama. In May, Burrow and Brock headed back north to Lamar County, hoping that their pursuers had given up interest in the area.

After reaching home, Burrow began working on a plan to free his brother from jail. In August, Burrow and Brock headed for Little Rock after learning that Jim Burrow would be moved to Texarkana. The men could not intercept Burrow’s train, however. After arriving in Texarkana, Jim Burrow wrote home to his family to send funds for a lawyer and voiced his belief that he would be acquitted of all charges when his trial took place the following March. In late September, however, he fell ill, and he died on October 5, 1888, most likely of tuberculosis.

Having failed in their rescue attempt, Burrow and Brock headed back to Lamar County, taking back roads to avoid detection. On December 15, 1888, they robbed a train in Duck Hill, Mississippi, and shot and killed a passenger who attempted to thwart the robbery. His murder raised alarms in the national press and among the railroad companies, who feared a loss in revenue if the safety of train travel came under question. Because the description of the shooter also matched that of train robber Eugene Bunch, the Pinkertons pursued him rather than Burrow. Burrow and his men returned safely to Lamar County, where Burrow’s extended family provided the men with supplies and safe haven throughout the spring of 1889 and kept watch for detectives and bounty hunters.

During the final years of the American frontier, Rube Burrow became one of the most hunted outlaws in the Old West since Jesse James. From 1886 to 1890, he & his gang robbed express trains in Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, the Indian Territory & Texas whilst being pursued throughout the southern half of the United States by hundreds of lawmen, including the Pinkerton National Detective Agency.

Brothers and Lamar County natives Rube (left) and Jim Burrow were part of an outlaw gang that robbed trains in southern states during the late 1880s. Rube and his brother would continue to rob the trains until eventually his luck ran out, after the capture of his brother in Montgomery and his subsequent death in jail, Rube would eventually make the fatal mistake of trusting the wrong people which led to his arrest.

On October 7, 1890, Rube Burrow was captured by two black men, Jesse Hildreth & Frank Marshall, with the help of two white planters, John McDuffie & Jeff “Dixie” Carter, at George Ford’s cabin, at the town of Myrtlewood in Marengo County, Alabama. McDuffie had suspected that Burrow would be in the area & had warned Hildreth to be on the lookout. When Burrow showed up at Ford’s cabin, Hildreth was inside & was able to get word back to McDuffie. Hildreth & Marshall jumped Burrow & held him for McDuffie & Carter who took him to the jail at Linden, Alabama, with Burrow entertaining them all the way with funny stories. Rube offered Hildreth a hundred dollars if he would let him go. Hildreth said “I couldn’t use it then, ‘cause you’d kill me first.”

During the early-morning hours of December 9, 1890, Burrow complained of hunger & talked his jailers into handing him his bag, which contained some ginger-snap cookies. Rube’s bag also contained a gun, which Burrow held at the head of one of the guards he then made his way to the front of the jail, .He escaped, locking two guards (including McDuffie) in his cell, & taking another guard with him to find Carter at Glass’s store to get back money that had been taken from him. Burrow reportedly believed that Dixie Carter was Nick Carter, the famous fictional detective. Carter was in the store, & when he came outside, he & Burrow exchanged gunfire Burrow fired all of the bullets in his pistol, striking Carter once in the abdomen, before Carter shot Burrow in the chest as he turned to run, killing him instantly. Burrow was dead in the street & Carter was wounded.

His body was sent back to Lamar by train and was put on public display.

A coroner’s inquest was held, and the body of Rube Burrow being thoroughly identified a verdict of death in the manner described was rendered. After treating the body with preservatives it was taken to Demopolis, Ala. Here hundreds of people assembled to view the remains of the great bandit.

The body of train robber Rube Burrow was displayed to the public on its way back to Lamar County from Linden, Marengo County, where he was killed in a shootout while attempting to escape from jail in October 1890.

On arrival at Birmingham, at three o’clock on the morning of the 9th of October, it is estimated that over a thousand people were in waiting to get a glimpse at the body of the great train robber. Special officers were employed to keep the morbid crowd at bay. Photographs of the body were taken, and at seven o’clock A. M. the train leaving Birmingham for Memphis conveyed the remains to Sulligent, making several stops along the way so that the public could see the body of the famous train robber. His weapons were also put on display in Memphis, Tennessee, and attracted huge crowds.

A telegram had been sent to Allen Burrow, stating that Rube’s dead body would be delivered to him at noon that day at Sulligent. When his body reached Sulligent, it was collected by his father, and Burrow was buried in Fellowship Cemetery. Exactly one month later, former gang member William Brock leapt to his death from the top floor of the Brock Penitentiary in Jackson, Tennessee, after receiving a life sentence.