By Danny Crownover – The Vagabond
Reuben Houston Burrow was an infamous train robber and outlaw in the southern and southwestern regions of the United States. During the final years of the American frontier, he became one of the most hunted men in the Old West since Jesse James.
From 1886 to 1890, Burrow and his gang robbed express trains in Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, the Indian Territory and Texas while being pursued by hundreds of lawmen, including the Pinkerton National Detective Agency.
Born in Lamar County in Alabama on Dec. 11, 1854, Burrow worked on the family farm until the age of 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, and eventually start a family. He attempted farming but his wife died of yellow fever in 1880, leaving him to care for two small children. Burrow remarried in 1884 and moved to Alexander, Texas, but when his crops failed, he turned to robbing trains with his brother Jim in 1886.
Burrow’s unexpected turn to crime occurred on Dec. 11, 1886 when he and his brother Jim teamed with others to rob the Denver & Fort Worth Express while returning from a trip to the Indian Territory.
Six months after their first robbery, Burrow and his gang boarded the Texas & Pacific Express heading eastbound from Benbrook, Texas, on June 9, 1887.
Burrow continued to rob trains despite being a wanted fugitive. He later robbed the Mobile & Ohio express train near Buckatunna, Miss., then the Northwestern Railroad train in Louisiana two months later. Following the robbery, Burrow was pursued by Pinkerton detectives for two days across the Raccoon Mountains in Blount County, Alabama.
Gadsden’s historian Will I. Martin wrote:
“Rube Burrow, the famous Alabama outlaw and train robber, passed through Gadsden and Cedar Bluff in his desperate effort to escape from a posse. He was surrounded in a house near Brooksville by Sheriff Morris and four deputies in Blount County.
“Burrows seized a woman of the house, threw open the front door, shook his fist at the officers and made a dash for freedom, his pal following him. With their Winchesters leveled at the officers, the outlaws retreated to a clump of woods, where they released the woman.
“Early the next day, a posse of 40 surrounded the woods. A rifle cracked, and then another, and two members of the posse fell dead. Two others were wounded. Burrows and his companion dashed through the gap that their guns had made, firing at every man they saw and wounding six more. The deputized posse fired 100 shots but without result.
“Burrows and his pal were heavily armed. Each carried a Winchester rifle, two pistols and a Bowie knife. Near Cedar Bluff, they held up a storekeeper, got some supplies and crossed Coosa River in a boat, to disappear entirely. It was thought they were headed for Georgia.”
Accounts of Burrows’ robberies spread nationwide. The New York Country Gentleman reported on Nov. 16, 1889: “Rube Burrows, a desperate outlaw, is terrorizing Blount County, Ala. Houses are locked and guarded, children kept at home, and even churches are closed.”
The New York Times reported that after one of Burrows’ robbery, “a reward of $7,500 was offered for his capture dead or alive.” The paper called Burrows of Lamar County, Alabama, “The King of the Outlaws.”
Although Burrow usually was a cautious and detailed planner, he began to develop a reckless attitude that was further encouraged by his recent series of near escapes.
Burrow was captured in 1890 but soon escaped. He was killed in a shootout a few days later on Oct. 8, 1890. His body was taken to Birmingham and displayed to the public and seen by thousands before being sent home for burial.