The Vagabond – Colonel R.B. Kyle’s costly decision

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By Danny Crownover

Colonel R.B. Kyle, pioneer industrialist, capitalist and builder of Gadsden, told an interesting story about his first and only race for public office and of the circumstance that caused him to lose the election.

During the Civil War, Kyle (pictured at far right) was asked by the governor of Alabama, Thomas H. Watts, to run for the state legislature in order to help put through a scheme to build a railroad, which would have run from the Tennessee River to the Coosa River as a war project. Kyle was one of the contractors that built the railroad from Opelika, Ala., to Columbus, Ga, in 1852.

Kyle had been wounded and was recuperating at home from service in the Thirty-First Alabama Infantry, of which he held the rank of first lieutenant. It was while Kyle was recovering in Gadsden that Union raiders appeared in the vicinity. An effort was made by Kyle and his neighbors to save the livestock by running the animals out into the nearby mountains and swamps.

Kyle was too hurried to take any food, pointing out that his neighbors were abundantly supplied for the task. His wife sent a servant after him with a half pint of whiskey. While others ate, Kyle drank for sustenance and to ward off the cold temperatures. Since his friends had plenty to eat, Kyle never thought to pass the whiskey bottle around.

Soon afterwards, Kyle became a candidate for the state legislature. One of the neighbors who was with him in the effort to save the livestock from the Yankees went all over Etowah County saying that “Kyle was too good to drink with a poor man.” That spelled defeat at the polls for Kyle as well as the end of the railroad project.

That episode was the only time it was ever heard of Kyle taking a drink. He was almost a teetotaler, a person who never drank alcohol. Kyle owned more property than any other man in Gadsden, yet he never rented a building to a saloon.

Like many other who had experience with prohibition in the early 1880s, Kyle was against any further efforts along that line. When the fight came along to close the saloons in Gadsden, he took the wet side and was chairman of the campaign committee of the “Wets.”

Contact The Vagabond at dkcrown@bellsouth.net.

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