On December 9, 1887, 125 years ago, a gang of train robbers stopped and boarded the St. Louis, Arkansas and Texas Railway train just as it began to pull out of Genoa, Arkansas, 30 miles north of Texarkana. After forcing the train to a stop, the men ordered the engineer to set fire to the Southern Express Company car unless the man inside surrendered and unlocked the door. He did so, and the thieves proceeded to gather up a few thousand dollars from the car. As one of the men began to make his way toward the mail car another reportedly warned him that “if they disturbed the mail it would go hard on them.” Mail clerk R.P. Johnson noted that with that admonition the men left the mail car undisturbed, taking their loot and running away. Detectives found a raincoat at the scene, and traced it through the store to the man who bought it, W.J. Brock, who admitted his guilt and fingered two brothers as his accomplices.
The men Brock named were none other than James and Reuben “Rube” Burrow who had already robbed at least three other trains prior to this one. The brothers were found, and while James was captured, Rube managed to escape. James’s trial for the Genoa train robbery was still underway when he died from tuberculosis in a Texarkana jail. Brock was released for his part in turning the boys in. Rube and Brock paired up again for another train robbery, this time Rube killed a passenger in the attempt. Rube’s friends and extended family helped hide him in their home county - Lamar County, Mississippi. Wanted posters and alerts for Rube were sent to a number of post offices in the area, and in July 1889 Burrow shot and killed postmaster Mose Graves when Graves refused to turn over a suspicious package to Burrow (it held a wig and fake moustache).
Rube was captured the next year on October 9, 1890 and taken to jail in Linden, Alabama. There, he managed to get his hands on a gun and after locking the guards in his cell headed out for his escape. He was quickly spotted and shot dead on December 8, 1890.
About the Author
The late Nancy A. Pope, a Smithsonian Institution curator and founding historian of the National Postal Museum, worked with the items in this collection since joining the Smithsonian Institution in 1984. In 1993 she curated the opening exhibitions for the National Postal Museum. Since then, she curated several additional exhibitions. Nancy led the project team that built the National Postal Museum's first website in 2002. She also created the museum's earliest social media presence in 2007.