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 Texas : Features : Columns : "Texas Tales"

Stagecoach Holdup

by Mike Cox
Mike Cox
Stagecoach robberies happened so often along the Texas frontier it came to be considered something of a right of passage to hand over one’s money and valuables to a masked man with a gun on some lonely roadside.

“At one time,” wrote journalist Alexander Sweet in his humor sheet Texas Siftings, “the traveling public became so accustomed to going through the usual ceremonies that they complained to the stage companies if they came through unmolested. Being robbed came to be regarded as a vested right.”

Fifty-eight years after the fact, Austin resident Sam Moore still liked to talk about the time highwaymen stopped the stage he was riding in 1879.

Just back in Texas from a trail drive, Moore had boarded the west-bound stage in Austin. The Capital City had rail service to points north and east, but taking a stage was the only form of public transportation to West Texas.

“When we reached the Peg Leg Crossing, on the San Saba River, a fellow wearing a mask rode out and unhitched the horses and ordered everyone from the coach,” Moore recalled in an interview in the long-defunct Austin Dispatch in 1937.

Riding with him that day were four traveling salesman – then called “drummers” – and a young woman. Drummers usually conducted their business in cash and were considered, as Moore put it, “rich pickings for road agents.”

The outlaws searched the salesmen and relieved them of their cash and coin. After examining the lady’s purse and jewelry, the lead robber handed it back to the woman, courteously saying he didn’t rob women.

Then the robber turned his attention to Moore.

“He…punched me in the ribs with his gun, and said, ‘Keep your stuff, there ain’t no cowboy got a damn thing.’”

Moore figured the robber must know him. Indeed, the gunman’s eyes looked somewhat familiar.

The young cowboy may or may not have known the robber, but he later maintained the man was an outlaw who went by Rube Burrow, “a rather notorious character with whom Uncle Sam was acquainted.”

Eventually arrested for murder in Tucson, Ariz., “Burrow” was extradited to Texas and booked into the Travis county jail, a castle-like stone structure built in 1875 across from the Capitol.

“After a time,” Moore continued his tale, “a woman, representing herself to be ‘Burrow’s’ wife, appeared at the jail to visit her husband, with food and clean clothing.”

The visits continued with regularity for several months.

“Then one afternoon, when time came to let her out the ‘wife’ pushed a Colt into the jailers’ ribs and demanded the keys. Wearing a Mother Hubbard, ‘Rube Burrow’ clattered down the steps and made his escape. The woman dressed in her husband garb, remained in jail.”

“Burrow,” whoever he really was, was never again seen in Texas.

That was Moore’s story, anyway. An Alabama-born character by the name of Rube Burrow with a Robin Hood-like reputation did spend some time in Texas during the 1870s and 1880s, but his first crime is not believed to have occurred until 1886, well after the robbery Moore remembered.

The Texas Rangers eventually rounded up the Peg Leg stage robbers, but the only thing that truly put an end to stage coach robbing was the expansion of rail service in Texas. And then bandits took to robbing trains.
© Mike Cox
"Texas Tales" - May 26, 2005 column
 
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