Forgotten Trails: Saga of outlaw Railroad Bill continues
Published 7:03 pm Wednesday, May 23, 2007
I will continue this week with the story of Railroad Bill. I have had to edit it a little bit, but most of it is as Edley Franklin wrote it in 1950. I was reminded that we had done a story on him some weeks past. It was nowhere nearly as detailed as this one, and I still think you will enjoy it.
Thinking he had either been killed or wounded badly enough not to get away, everyone gave their attention of Sheriff McMillan. However, later, when they went back to get “Railroad Bill” he wasn't there. As they found out later, the firing hadn't even touched him.
Nobody had been able to figure out how a grown man behind a 10-inch tree, even by standing sideways, can keep from being hit - from the way that persimmon tree was drilled and grooved with lead that night.
The railroad ran a special train that night from Flomaton to Brewton to get Mrs. E.S. McMillan, the sheriff's wife, and take her and others to Bluff Springs. Sheriff McMillan died that same night around midnight at the home of a Mr. McDavid.
The whole countryside was alarmed. News of “Railroad Bill's” killing Sheriff McMillan spread. Crowds gathered. The sudden death of Sheriff McMillan shattered the nerves of the men who were with him that night, as well as others.
In a fever of excitement and not taking the time to think it over they believed Andrew Cunningham had led them into a trap. There was talk of lynching him.
But I'm sure when it was all over with and they had more time to think they came to realize that if Andrew had intended to lead them into a trap he would never have advised them to go a certain way while warning them not to go another.
Andrew Cunningham was in a tough spot that night in Bluff Springs, when Sheriff McMillan was killed by “Railroad Bill.” He knew it, too.
Some say a rope was placed around Andrew's neck. Others say the hanging didn't get that far along.
With the exception of Neal McMillan, ex-sheriff of this county and brother of the slain sheriff, and maybe several others, the rest wanted to see how far Andrew's neck would stretch, as they believed he had led them into a trap.
Neal McMillan said there wasn't going to be a necktie party. I couldn't find out just when or how he got in on it, but Sheriff Smith of Escambia County, Fla., backed him up with the “No necktie party” idea.
The ones in favor of the hanging and the ones against it had Andrew stretched out on the station platform, with one side pulling on him one way and the other side the other.
Sheriff Smith won the argument. As the story goes, Andrew was put on a train and taken to Pensacola where he stood trial on charges of being connected with “Railroad Bill” and leading Sheriff McMillan into a trap. He was cleared of all charges.
As for “Railroad Bill” himself, who he was, his name or where he was originally from - your guess is as good as anyone else's.
Some old newspaper lists his name as Morris Slater; others as Bill McCoy. People who claim they knew him before he became an outlaw say he was known as Bill McCoy, which fits the “Railroad Bill” title.
I haven't been able to find any dope on the name Morris Slater. The chances are that neither one was his right name. Some claim he was from South Carolina and came to Georgia and then to this section. Others say he came from Florida.
I have decided nobody knows what his name was or where he came from, but from all indications he had committed some crime somewhere and was afraid of being caught or was just plain cautious.
The first trace I can find of him was at Parker Springs, a little community 20 miles southeast of Brewton. Around 1880, a man about 30 years of age and described as being a “gingerbread color” came to Parker Springs. He got a job with a man by the name of Gibson, helping him with his sheep and cattle and doing other odd jobs about the place.
He was known as Bill McCoy. He was very active and of the acrobatic type. He told of having once traveled with a circus, and could do a number of tricks such as walking on his hands and standing on his head and eating.
Bill McCoy was quiet and good natured but kept mostly to himself and didn't associate much with others. For some reason he was known to always carry a pistol. When showed a picture of “Railroad Bill” an old resident of Parker Springs identified it as being that of Bill McCoy.”