HISTORY: Erath County farmer-turned-train robber Rube Burrow

“Rube Burrow moved from Alabama to Texas in 1872, when he was 18, to farm with his uncle in Stephenville. The story goes he was intent on working hard and living right, which he did initially, saving enough money to secure some land, get married, and have children. He farmed in Stephenville until 1880, when his wife died, leaving him a widowed father of two at 25.

In 1884, he remarried and moved to Alexander, Texas. But when his crops failed two years in a row during a drought and his second marriage ended, he became bitter and turned to crime, robbing trains with his younger brother, Jim. His first robbery was a FW&D train near Bellevue, Texas, on December 11, 1886. His next hold-ups were T&P trains in Gordon, Texas, and Benbrook, Texas, in 1887. From there his life of crime escalated as he and his gang robbed trains from Arkansas to Alabama.

When he killed a conductor and a passenger, he became despised by the railroads & the target of one of the most widespread manhunts in American history for the next few years. Eluding authorities for almost 5 years, Burrow was captured by two black men, Jesse Hildreth and Frank Marshall, with the help of two white planters, John McDuffie and Jeff “Dixie” Carter, in Myrtlewood, Alabama on October 7, 1890.

Former slaves Hildreth and Marshall jumped Burrow and held him for McDuffie and Carter. Rube offered Hildreth $100 to let him go, but Hildreth said, “I couldn’t use it then, ‘cuz you’d kill me first,” All four captors took Burrow, known as a charmer, to jail in Linden, Alabama, with Burrow entertaining them all the way with funny stories.

While in jail the next morning of October 8, 1890, Burrow complained of hunger and talked his jailers into handing him his bag, which had ginger snaps inside. It also contained a gun and Burrow whipped it out and held it at the head of one of the guards. He thought he’d escaped, locking two guards in his cell and taking another as hostage to get back the stolen money taken from him. However when Burrow went outside, Dixie Carter was again waiting for him and a gun fight erupted. Afterwards, Burrow lay dead in the street.

Burrow’s body was shipped by train back to Lamar County, Alabama, where he grew up. At a transfer connection stop in Birmingham, this photo was taken before the beginning of a publicized public display. Thousands showed up to walk past & view the corpse, some snatching buttons from his coat, cutting hair from his head and even stealing the boots off his feet. His guns, however, were removed before the event for safe keeping.

Burrow’s father Allen met the train at its final destination, Vernon, Alabama, where train attendants threw the coffin at his feet. He took his son’s body back to his home and buried him. Moral of the story, kids: Don’t grow up to be train robbers.”

The photo and write up were originally posted on Traces of Texas Facebook page by Chino Chapa who “graciously sent in this dynamite historical photo of former Erath County farmer-turned-train robber Rube Burrow in his coffin, propped up against a train in October 1890.


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