Mudcat Café message #1385169 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #21456   Message #1385169
Posted By: GUEST,Bob Coltman
22-Jan-05 - 09:59 AM
Thread Name: Origins: Railroad Bill
Subject: RE: Help: Railroad Bill
Got inspired to root around some more.

Olive Woolley Burt in American Murder Ballads, 1958, really did her homework. She reports the following, I quote:

   From 1894 to March 7, 1897, a Negro outlaw kept Alabama and Florida in a state of terror. He was Morris Slater, nicknamed Railroad Bill, and he always went armed with a .38 Winchester rifle and two heavy revolvers. He was 38 to 40 years of age, a powerfully built fellow, five feet ten in height.

   At first, Railroad Bill confined his activities to robbing freight cars, a predeliction which doubtless gave him his name. He would get into a car and as it rolled along toss out merchandise, which he later picked up. Railroad detectives and town officers set out to catch the robber, but their signal lack of success gave the Negroes of the region--and some of the white folks, too--the idea that Railroad Bill led a charmed life.   Legends burgeoned: Bill could assume the form of a bloodhound and run with the hounds upon his own trail; he could turn into a norse or sheep and calmly watch a posse race by.

   During the pursuit of the robber, which lasted three years, a deputy sheriff of Baldwin County, AL, J.H. Stewart, was killed. Excitement grew, and various schemes were tried. A capable Negro detective was to become chums with Railroad, and when the fellow was off guard, arrest him at gun point. Railroad was never off guard. Suddenly the reports from the detective, Mark Stinson, stopped coming into headquarters. Stinson has never been seen, alive or dead, since that day.

   Finally Railroad killed Sheriff McMillen, and the protests became vehement. J.B. Harlan, former chief of police at Louisville, KY, was asked to take over the hunt. He deputized a number of men grimly determined to bring the bandit in or die in the ttempt. At Atmore, AL, they found their man in a little store eating crackers and cheese. Stealthily the officers surrounded the store. One of them, Constable J.S. McGowan, raised his gun and shot. At the same moment the grocer, seeing re-enforcements at hand, also shot the outlaw, Railroad slumped to the floor, crackers and cheese still clutched in his hand. He was dead.

Burt also notes Bill worked for, and subsquently robbed, the L&N (Louisville and Nashville) Railroad. She says she got her account from the horse's mouth: a first-person story written in the L&N magazine, May 1927, by none other than former police chief Harlan himself.