FORGOTTEN TRAILS: Historical articles recount Railroad Bill saga
Published 8:52 pm Wednesday, June 6, 2007
I want to remind you that I did not write this account of Railroad Bill. It was written 50 years ago by a man by the name of Edley M. Franklin. He wrote several stories for The Brewton Standard and I really enjoy reading his material. I hope you like this segment of the story.
But so far as the public knew then, or even now, the story of “Railroad Bill” begins at Bluff Springs, Fla., in the early 90s.
He was known as Bill and was of average height with a large bulging neck. He was said to be a gingerbread color. His age could have been anywhere from 30 to 40.
He was a turpentine worker, easy to get along with and minded his own business. He kept to himself most of the time, and associated very little with other people who were afraid of him. They believed him to be a superhuman because he could do so many tricks. He claimed to have spent seven years in a circus.
He could swallow whole eggs, shell and all, and spit them up with the shell still unbroken. He could walk and run on his hands and to entertain the kids around Bluff Springs with his tricks and then pass his hat for pennies and nickels.
Besides doing tricks, Bill was an expert marksman. He had a .38 Winchester rifle, which he carried with him all the time. It was very seldom that he was seen without it. Even while working in the woods he carried it with him from tree to tree. His description matches that of the Bill McCoy of Parker Springs, and no doubt he was the same person.
The state of Florida, at that time, had a $5 license to carry a repeating rifle or pistol. Bill didn't have one, and was warned by Allen Brewton, deputy sheriff of Escambia County, Fla., that he would have to get a license to carry a rifle. Each time it was mentioned to him Bill would say, “I don't think so,” or “I believe not.”
One day while he was in Bluff Springs Allen Brewton decided it was a good time to make Bill get a license or quit carrying the Winchester. Hearing what he intended to do, and wanting to see just what would happen, a few of the fellows loafing around the stores tagged along after Brewton. Two of the fellows were named Tom Boutwell and Hal Cowart.
Bill lived alone in a little shack in the turpentine quarters, and just before reaching it the party saw Bill come out and head in the opposite direction. As usual he had his Winchester.
Allen Brewton called to Bill -- telling him he had come to fix him up with a license for his rifle. Bill started walking a little faster. Brewton called to him to stop. When he didn't, Brewton, who was carrying a Winchester himself, jerked it to his shoulder and cut down on Bill but missed. Bill started running in a zigzagging fashion, darting in first one direction and then the other.
The fellows with Brewton had guns and they all started throwing lead at Bill. When he got several hundred yards away, Bill suddenly whirled around and began throwing lead back at them. For a little the lead flew thick and fast with both sides ducking and dodging.
Suddenly Bill made a break for the swamp and got away, but not before one of his bullets clipped the ear of one of the men with Brewton. From that day on Bill was a wanted man. It was the beginning of the most famous manhunt ever to take place in this section.
After the gun battle with Deputy Sheriff Allen Brewton, it was generally thought Bill McCoy would leave the country for good, but he continued to hang out and hide out in and around Bluff Springs, but was careful to keep out of the way of the law. When it got too hot for him he would skip out to other parts.
Suddenly along the railroad at points north of Mobile and south of Flomaton to Pensacola, freight cars of merchandise were broken into and parts of it stolen. From the vicinity of these robberies would come reports that someone had seen Bill McCoy or a man of his description around there prior to the robbery. His name was quickly linked to these robberies. Someone shouted he was the robber. Others got the same idea. Someone gave him the title of “Railroad Bill.” The L&N Railroad decided “Railroad Bill” had to be put either in prison or boothill, and hired a flock of detectives to see that he got there.
Up until the freight car robberies, only the state of Alabama wanted part of it. Both sides made it hot for Bill but he always managed to stay three jumps ahead of them and their bloodhounds, which they used to trail him.
As far as it is known, the first man “Railroad Bill” ever killed was a man by the name of John A. Stewart, a posseman from Bay Minette. It seems Stewart and some others cornered Bill in a barn but he shot his way out, killing Stewart and getting away.”
I will continue with this account next week.
I haven't said anything about the book “Heritage of Escambia County” because copies were not too plentiful. I called the publisher last week to let them know that all copies had been sold. I was informed that there were a few more copies at the publisher's and they are sending me some more. I don't know exactly how many, but if you want to get your copy, let me know. The cost, tax and all, is $64.80.
I certainly hope that you are enjoying the reprinting of the old articles in this space. We have had a lot of comments on the information that we have printed here over the past couple of weeks.
If you have a story idea or some historical information you'd like to share with me, I'd certainly like to hear from you. You can give me a call at 867-4876, drop by the office at 407 St. Nicholas Avenue in Brewton or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Until next week, Happy Hunting!