Mudcat Café message #1385013 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #21456   Message #1385013
Posted By: GUEST,C.B.
22-Jan-05 - 04:34 AM
Thread Name: Origins: Railroad Bill
Subject: RE: Help: Railroad Bill
This may or may not be of interest to anyone who is wondering who Railroad Bill was. I have recently found out that I am a great grandchild of Railroad Bill. Morris Slater is Railroad Bill's real name. I do not know anything about his family origin, but I do know that he came from out West before he showed up in the Alabama/Florida area. He was bi-racial having one white parent, but I do not know which parent. He claimed to have traveled with a circus for seven years and was a performer. He was friend and traveling companion to Charlie Smith, an ex-slave from Texas. There is a book written and a movie about this Charlie Smith and his life, titled "Charlie Smith and the Fritter Tree". In this movie, Morgan Freeman portrays Railroad Bill. Morris Slater ended up living in West Florida near the Bama line. He worked in the woods as a turpentine worker. Slater met my grandmother as he roomed at her boarding house. Even though Slater was half white and light skinned, it was against the law for a "colored person" to marry a "white". Never the less, my grandfather was conceived. It is passed down to me that Morris Slater was a gentle, compassionate person with a lot of self pride. After my grandfather was born, Slater moved on in order to protect my greatgrandmother and her child because their relationship had been in secret. Slater was an educated man and I have learned that when he would write letters and mail them, he always painted a black bird on the envelope. Slater always carried his riffle in his pant leg where ever he went. A new sheriff came into town one day and told Slater he would have to pay money to register his gun or give it up. Slater was very poor at the time and did not have the money to pay and he also felt that he had as much right as the "white" man to carry his gun. He simply refused, saying that he had a right and did not have to register his gun. Because of this incident, the law started badgering him. Eventually, the law went after him along with a posse and the intention of taking his gun one way or another. Slater told them to just leave him alone, but they shot at him and he shot back. Afterwards, Slater had to go on the run after becoming a wanted man dead of alive. He was shot at many times and he returned fire in defense, killing a deputy. He then figured what the hey, he had nothing to lose. He began jumping freight cars, stealing the loot, food, money, whatever he could grab. He threw the food off to the poor people along the tracks and delivered food and money to poor people's doors during the night. He was known to the black and poor white communities as "Railroad Bill" and sometimes called "Wild Bill McCoy" or the "Black Robin Hood." He was a master at eluding the law. All sorts of legends grew about Railroad Bill. He was said to be able to jump a river and could jump from tree to tree. Legend has it that many times an unknown bloodhound would appear out of nowhere when the law was on track of Bill. It is said that Railroad Bill turned himself into a bloodhound and ran with the pack of hounds who were chasing himself. He could disapear at the blink of an eye. Even today local folk, especially in the African American communities, believe that the spirit of Railroad Bill still roams about and when good things happen to the poor people it is Railroad Bill still looking out for the less fortunate. I suppose after a few years of running with no hope in site, Railroad Bill became exausted. It was about 1897 when Railroad Bill took his last walk into town one day to a local store. He purchased some cheese and crackers, ate, got up and walked out knowing what was about to happen. Several groups of men were stalking around waiting for their prey. He was shot in the back numerous times until he fell to the ground dead, gun along his side and peace at last. Sheriff McGowan of Atmore, Alabama stands tall in a photo taken of him with Railroad Bill laying dead on back of a wagon. Photo's were sold, pictures were taken along side the body for fifty cents and a person could view his remains for fifty cents. The body was on display for weeks, taken from town to town. I am sure these "Law men" and other "good citizens" were proud of their catch, not to mention a litte richer to boot. I know that many legends, songs and tales were made up about Railroad Bill, most highly exaggerated. There is currently mention of a movie in progress about the legend of Railroad Bill.