The quiet hamlet of Bellevue, Texas today is known primarily as a low-speed area on the highway between Wichita Falls and the DFW Metroplex, but for a brief moment, long ago, Bellevue marked the beginning of an infamous career .
The Wichita Falls area has long been associated with the James Gang, the gang of highwaymen led by brothers Jesse and Frank after the Civil War. Frank briefly managed a stud farm in downtown Wichita Falls, and his sister Susan James Parmer resided in town until her death. Susan, her husband Allen Parmer and several of their children are buried in Riverside Cemetery. It’s possible that Jesse James was roaming the city incognito.
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But another outlaw with arguably more kills to his credit got his start in North Texas.
Reuben Burrow became a skilled train robber and killer who got his start in Bellevue in Clay County.
“Rube” Burrow seemed destined to live the quiet life of a farmer in his native Alabama. Things changed when his wife died in 1881, leaving him with two children to care for. He tried his luck in farming near Stephenville, Texas, but when the crops failed, he turned to a life of crime.
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The beginning of a (short) life of crime
On December 11, 1886, Burrow, his brother Bill, and four other men attended the Bellevue depot until the Denver & Fort Worth Express arrived from Indian Territory. Then they pulled the six shots and got on the train. Their first attempt at banditry was not very impressive. The Fort Worth Daily Gazette reported that they got away with just $100 and a handful of pocket watches. Most passengers had time to hide their valuables as the thieves made their way down the aisle.
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Second time around is the charm
Burrow has learned from experience, though. Six months later his gang robbed the Texas and Pacific Express just outside of Benbrook, near Fort Worth. This time Burrow forced the engineer to stop the train on a trestle where the bandits could search the passengers more thoroughly without interference.
The gang got about $1,350, which was enough to get Burrow to try the same thing again at the same place a few months later. The second time was charm. The bandidos got away with an estimated $12,000 to $30,000. Flushed with success, Burrow and company robbed a Southern Express train in Genoa, Ark., and hit the jackpot, possibly as much as $40,000. There was one problem, though. Southern Express did business with the famous Pinkerton Detective Agency. From then on Rube was on the run.
Detective Pinkerton on his trail
Investigators traced a tip to Dublin, southeast of Fort Worth, where they caught a gang member singing like a feces pigeon, first providing the ringleader’s name. In January 1888, the party had tracked Burrow to his family farm in Lamar Count, Alabama, but he had been warned and deceived.
A couple of weeks later Rube and brother Jim were spotted on a train in southern Alabama. A shootout ensued and Jim Burrow was captured. Rube made his way through, killing a man. He was wounded in a second firefight that day, but he managed to escape.
The close encounter and the loss of his brother – who died in a Texarkana prison from tuberculosis – didn’t stop Rube from his criminal ways.
Rube’s gang expands criminal activity in the South
He and his gang robbed an Illinois Central express train in Duck Hill, Miss. where Rube killed a passenger who tried to interfere. He later shot and killed an Alabama postmaster in an argument over a package that contained a fake beard disguise. With the law and the Pinkertons hot on his trail, Rube continued to rob trains, first near an improbably named town of Buckatunna, Miss., and then in Louisiana.
The final shootout
As the manhunt continued, Burrow killed one Pinkerton man and seriously wounded three others. Some Alabama men captured him in a cabin in December 1890 and took him to Linden Jail, but Rube Burrow was not done yet. He locked two jailers in a cell and took a third hostage. He met a farmer named Jeff Carter on the street. They had an old-fashioned shooting. When the smoke cleared, Carter was injured, but Rube Burrow died on the road at the age of 34.
Rube took one last ride back to his family’s farm. The train stopped along the way and showed her dead body to thousands of onlookers who cut locks of his hair and tore off his buttons and boots. An iconic photograph shows the outlaw erected in his coffin, guns still in hand. The train crew dumped Rube at his father’s feet. His small headstone in a tiny, remote Alabama cemetery has been chipped away by souvenir seekers over the years.
Brief glimmer of infamy for the small town
Legend has it that Jesse James killed 20 men. Although he probably had several notches on his pistol, only one death can be historically verified. Rube Burrow killed four men in his four year crime spree. He was the subject of the largest manhunt of his time and became widely known for his actions. In a strange twist of fate, Jesse James remains famous while Rube Burrow is largely forgotten.
The trains still rumble through Bellevue, but they don’t stop anymore. The city’s brief glimmer of infamy has been lost in time.
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