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Texas | Columns | "Texas Tales"

Bud Newman
Part II

See Part I

by Mike Cox
Mike Cox
Outlaw Bud Newman apparently believed himself bullet proof, figuratively and even literally.

After all, he had beaten the rap after killing a man in a gun battle in 1895 and then gotten acquitted of robbing a Southern Pacific train near Comstock two years later. Not only had Newman come off Scot free, he had made a few bucks for his effort.

Evidently, the 23-year-old Newman believed he could do better. Not better as in going straight, but better in terms of making a bigger score.

About 11 p.m. on June 9, 1898 at a point called Coleman Switch about four miles west of Santa Anna, Newman and three other masked men descended on a Santa Fe passenger train that had stopped there to switch tracks on its run from Brownwood to San Angelo. The other three robbers were later identified as Pierce Keaton and Bill and Jeff Taylor, brothers.

After getting the drop on the train’s engineer, some of the gunman escorted the engineer and fireman Lee Johnson to the always-locked express car and told Johnson to have the messenger open up. Staring into a gun barrel, the fireman did as told.

Newman and company planned to blast open the money safe with dynamite once the messenger let them inside.

Unfortunately for the fireman and the robbers, an armed Santa Fe livestock agent riding in one of the passenger cars snapped to the robbery attempt and alighted from the train with .45 blazing.

A general firefight erupted. Johnson crumpled with a gut shot that would prove fatal. Newman took a slug in his right arm while a bone-shattering ball thudded into Keaton’s right leg.

Sans money, the robbers mounted their horses with varying degrees of ease and galloped off into the night. They pretty much kept riding until they reached Sutton County, 125 miles to the southwest. That’s where the Taylor family had a ranch.

Meanwhile, back at the crime scene, the train crew put the wounded fireman on board and backed into Santa Anna. A day later, Johnson died.

Lawmen from all over that part of West Texas rushed to Coleman County. The investigation was made easier by the fact that in their haste to escape, the would-be robbers had left behind their dynamite. While fingerprint technology had not yet become a forensic tool, the packages containing the explosives bore advertisements from merchants in San Angelo and Sonora. On top of that, the tracks left behind by the fleeing bandits lay in the direction of Sutton County.

Tom Green County Sheriff Gerome Shield telephoned the Sutton County sheriff and asked him to see if the retailer in Sonora remembered who he sold the dynamite to. The Sonora lawman soon had a name.

Led by Shield and a deputy U.S. marshal, a multi-agency posse soon headed toward the Taylor Ranch. Without much trouble, Newman and his colleagues were arrested.

Apparently figuring he could game the system one more time, Newman later agreed to flip for the state and in exchange for immunity. On his damning testimony, Keaton and Jeff Taylor got 99 years to do for the murder of the fireman and another 8 for the attempted robbery – more years by far than either had to spare. Bill Taylor got convicted of participating in the botched holdup and awaited trial on the murder charge when he managed to escape from the Coleman County Jail.

Knowing that Taylor would be getting in touch with the now-free Newman, officers got Newman to convince Taylor that he planned another train robbery back in Comstock. Taylor fell for it and soon found himself back in the pokey.

Finally, it dawned on Taylor that Newman had betrayed him not once, but twice. More than a little annoyed, Taylor vowed revenge.

With that mission in mind, Taylor sawed his way out of his cell and made good his escape. Regrettably for him, the first house he came to after fleeing the lockup was the sheriff’s.

Taken to a presumably sturdier jail, the Brown County lockup, in June 1900 Taylor broke out a third time.

Again, the Coleman County sheriff recruited Newman to help him catch Taylor. A posse including Newman caught up with Taylor some 70 miles south of Sonora.

According to a story filed by the Coleman correspondent for the Dallas Morning News on August 14, 1900, at some point, “Taylor got the drop on Newman and killed him, but not before Newman had fired his Winchester, which took effect in Taylor’s groin.”

Returned to Brownwood, Taylor said that in killing Newman he had realized “the only object in his life.” Now, he allowed, he stood “perfectly willing for the law to take its course.”

That noble sentiment aside, he soon escaped a fourth time, never to be heard from again. Some said he crossed the Rio Grande into Mexico. No matter where he ended up, Bill Taylor had proven Bud Newman had been wrong in thinking himself bullet proof.

© Mike Cox
"Texas Tales"
May 29, 2008 column

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