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Clay Coppedge
Texas | Columns | "Letters from Central Texas"

The Seven-Up Gang

by Clay Coppedge

One otherwise unremarkable evening in 1892, a group of rowdy and possibly intoxicated young men tried to board a Missouri, Kansas and Pacific train in Troy without tickets. A bouncer came along and tossed them off the train, pleasing the delinquents not at all. They whipped out pistols and fired off a few rounds at the train as it left the station and probably called it bad names.

The incident was still fresh in engineer J.W. Pepple's mind when about three miles north of Temple he spotted what appeared to be lanterns on the tracks. Pepple's common sense warned him there might trouble ahead, so he wasn't surprised to see six or seven men with masks and guns standing on the tracks, brandishing firearms and commanding the train to stop.

If they thought Pepple would comply, they were wrong. The engineer rammed the throttle forward, scattering bandits to either side of the tracks like tenpins. The men fired off several shots and probably yelled variations of "Stop or I'll yell stop again" as the train once again sped away without them.

A week later, three men trying to sneak aboard an open baggage car on a Missouri, Kansas and Pacific train found two other men already occupying the car. One of the men had a mask, a pistol and an axe. The second man carried a pistol in one hand and a bottle of whiskey in the other. Their cover blown, they stashed the mask and axe but kept the pistols so they could once more shoot at the train as it pulled out of the station without them.

Why they would employ the same MO a few nights later isn't hard to figure out. Like the majority of criminals we never hear of and most of the ones we do, these guys weren't smart enough for work that didn't include incarceration and violent death as occupational hazards.

However, Pepple, the engineer, was plenty smart. When his train pulled around a bend a few days later and he perceived two men with rifles set up in a sharpshooting position, he knew just what to do. He pushed the throttle down and ducked as bullets ricocheted off the train and rattled around the inside of a passenger car, causing great alarm but only two minor injuries. Pepple said it sounded like the bullets came from six or seven guns. But the law was closing in.

Greatly annoyed by this motley group of trigger-happy goofballs, the railroad and local law enforcement conducted an investigation that resulted in the arrest of seven men: the Seven-Up Gang.

The gang's namesake was a gambler named Henry Russell, or Seven-Up Russell to a group of cohorts that included Charles Franklin, a.k.a Deadeye Dick, Bud Miller and three Ward brothers-Charles, Will and Ben.

When the lawmen charged Temple saloonkeeper O.P. "Jack" Buchanan with harboring the gang, he found the inspiration for a full recital of everything he knew about robberies that six of the men-he claimed Miller was innocent-had committed in Waco and Temple.

In jail, Seven-Up Russell and Deadeye Dick met two men named Griffin and Dillard who were charged with robbing a Chinese laborer named Wah Sing of forty dollars. Griffin and Dillard promised to bust Seven-Up and Deadeye Dick out of jail if they would just take the fall for robbing Wah Sing. Why this sounded like a good idea is anybody's guess, but Dead-Eye Dick went ahead and confessed to the robbery and got ten years in prison.

Griffin and Dillard, of course, forgot all about busting Deadeye Dick or anybody else out of jail once they were released. But here's a weird thing. They were arrested and charged a second time with Wah Sing's robbery, but the courts never bothered to reverse Dead-Eye Dick's conviction; he served the full 10 years.

Seven-Up Russell and the other members of the gang went to prison for varying amounts of time. Seven-Up escaped once but not for long. After his release, he turned up in Bell County in 1897, charged with rape but acquitted when the alleged victim changed her story on the stand. Buchanan's charges were dropped in exchange for his testimony. Will Ward's trial resulted in a hung jury.

That ended the escapades of the Seven-Up Gang, hardly remembered now except as an Old West version of an early Texas version of The Gang that Couldn't Shoot Straight. Like so many other their criminal counterparts, they didn't think straight, either.
Clay Coppedge
"Letters from Central Texas" March 1, 2019 column

Clay Coppedge's "Letters from Central Texas"

  • The Border Blasting Goat Gland Doctor 2-18-19
  • Peg Leg Stage Robberies 2-2-19
  • The Rubbing Doctors 1-18-19
  • Too Full of Alabama 12-30-18
  • Who Was That Masked Man? 12-15-18

    See more »
  • Clay Coppedge's "Letters from Central Texas"

  • The Border Blasting Goat Gland Doctor 2-18-19
  • Peg Leg Stage Robberies 2-2-19
  • The Rubbing Doctors 1-18-19
  • Too Full of Alabama 12-30-18
  • Who Was That Masked Man? 12-15-18

    See more »


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