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  Texas : Features : Columns : All Things Historical


A RAILROAD HOLDUP

by Bob Bowman
Bob Bowman
Railroaders love to tell stories, and the one they relish the most is about the railroad president and the holdup man.

Confirmed as true by Cotton Belt Railway historians, the story occurred in the late l800s as a plush business coach carrying a group of Cotton Belt officials, including president Colonel Samuel W. Fordyce, rolled north into Arkansas during an inspection tour.

At twilight the train stopped at the Red River, waiting for a drawbridge to lift.

As Fordyce and his officers rested in their car, a shot rang out several cars ahead. Fordyce jumped to his feet, stepped on the platform at the rear of the coach, and found himself staring down the barrel of a pistol held by a masked man.

"Get back inside," ordered the man.

As the Colonel stepped back, the masked man seemed startled. He seemed to recognize his victim. At the same time Fordyce recognized the bandit's voice.

It was an old friend, Shag Doland, who had been a freight conductor in Ohio when the colonel worked as a station agent. Doland later turned up in Hot Springs, and he and the Colonel met again.

In Hot Springs Fordyce helped Doland land a job as a policeman, but he killed a man and was sentenced to life in an Arkansas prison. After serving a short time, he was freed through the Colonel's help.

As the two men stared at each other on the Red River, the Colonel said, "Shag, aren't you ashamed of yourself, robbing a railroad as poor as the Cotton Belt? Why don't you rob the Iron Mountain; they're a lot richer." Doland was startled. He pulled off his mask and extended his hand. "Excuse me, Colonel," he said, "If I'd known this was yore train, I wouldn't have held it up. I'll go and stop the boys."

With that, the train robbers left the railroad and fled into the night. A few nights later, Doland took the Colonel's advice and held up an Iron Mountain train near Texarkana.

Several weeks later Colonel Fordyce received a keg of moonshine liquor, along with a note from Doland. He said he and his gang were hiding out in the hills and had found a whiskey still. The liquor was so fine, he said, that he wanted the Colonel to have some.

In his memoirs, Colonel Fordyce recalled: "I took great delight later in giving a federal judge some of that liquor and then told him the revenue tax had never been paid on it."
All Things Historical >
Sept. 26-Oct. 2 , 2004 Colum
Published with permission
(Distributed by the East Texas Historical Association. Bob Bowman is a past president of the Association and author of 30 books about East Texas.)

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