FORGOTTEN TRAILS: Saga of Railroad Bill comes to an end

Published 10:57 pm Wednesday, June 20, 2007

By Staff
This is the last installment of Edley M. Franklin's story on Railroad Bill. I hope you have enjoyed it as much as I did.
Johns rushed from the side room and cut loose with the scatter-gun. He had plenty of nerve now, seeing Bill was harmless.
The load from Johns' gun mangled Bill's right hand and shattered the handle grips on his gun. As Bill's body hit the floor, Johns cut loose again, blowing off the right side of Bill's face.
News of the killing spread. It wasn't long until about half of the people in Atmore were at the scene. Many just couldn't believe it until they saw the body. Many superstitious people said it wasn't &#8220Railroad Bill” but some other man.
An argument arose between McGowin and Johns as to who would get the $1,250 reward and the lifetime pass on the railroad. The money was later divided between the two, with McGowin getting the lifetime pass. He died not long after he killed Railroad Bill.
When Railroad Bill was killed, he had his .38 Winchester rifle down inside of his pants leg. Cut on the side of the rifle receiver were the letters &#8220R.R.” He was wearing a cartridge belt and only one gun, where he sometimes wore two.
The L&N Railroad ran a special train from Flomaton to Brewton to get Sheriff James McMillan and other officials and take them to Atmore. The body of Railroad Bill was brought to Brewton early the following Sunday morning and unloaded under a packing shed that stood beside the railroad in front of Robbins and McGowin Company.
Crowds gathered to view the body. There was much rejoicing over the fact that Railroad Bill was dead. It was hard to believe; yet there he was.
Leonard McGowin was looked upon as a great man - a hero.
People shook his hand and congratulated him, while others cut buttons, bits of cloth, took cartridges and anything else they could get their hands on from the body of the dead outlaw to keep as souvenirs.
Later the body was moved to the back of what is now the liquor store. The Chicago Photo Company of Brewton made pictures of McGowin standing beside the body. These pictures were sold for the benefit of the dead sheriff's widow, Mrs. E.S. McMillan, and two small boys, Ed Leigh and Malcolm McMillan. But they didn't receive any of this money. It was just a scheme to sell more pictures.
The body of Railroad Bill was embalmed and placed in a metallic casket and shipped to Montgomery and put on exhibition to raise money for the sheriff's widow, but like the pictures she didn't receive any part of it. From Montgomery the body was carried to Pensacola, exhibited there, to bring to a close the life and career of the famous Railroad Bill.”
I have other accounts of this saga in our town's history, but I thought this one was very interesting. I also have the account written by a sheriff who came from Louisville to investigate.
Next week we will get to another subject.
E-mail Forgotten Trails columnist Lydia Grimes at