of the Pecos” are four words that used to be synonymous with “wild
But from the 1820s to the mid-1870s, “West of the Colorado” would
have been an equally suitable phrase for describing unsettled Texas.
The Colorado and its tributaries constituted the line of demarcation
between settled and wild Texas for at least a decade after the Civil
War. Even into 1880-81, before the Texas and Pacific Railroad finally
made it across West Texas,
“West of the Colorado” meant way out there.
Crime proved a particular problem, especially state coach robbing.
a Texas newspaper writer with a fine sense of humor, once described
a stage coach holdup west of the Colorado where “we had just come
to the San Saba [River] bottom.”
Telling the story in the third person to a doctor he never named,
referred to himself as “the reporter.”
The reporter was one of four passengers in a stage coach traveling
on a day so cold that the side curtains of the coach were all buttoned.
When the stage came to a sudden halt, one of the passengers, not
being able to see out, asked the driver if they had come to a stage
“No,” the driver
reported, “this is a six-shooter post office.”
Two pistol-packing robbers then relieved the passengers of all valuables
they had not been able to hurriedly hide, but no one got harmed
other than financially.
“The reporter,” Sweet
went on, “concluded by saying that this was the only stage-robbing
experience he had ever had. The driver looked earnestly at the doctor,
and winked at all that part of the state west of the Colorado river.”
Stage robbery occurred so often “West of the Colorado,” Sweet
continued, that “the traveling public became so accustomed to going
through the usual ceremonies that they complained to the stage company
if they came through unmolested. Being robbed came to be regarded
as a vested right.”
years after the fact, Austin
resident Sam Moore still liked talking about the time he faced highwaymen
Just back from a trail drive, Moore had boarded the west-bound stage
in Austin. The Capital
City had rail service to points north and east, but stagecoaches
remained the only form of public transportation “West of the Colorado.”
“When we reached the Peg Leg Crossing, on the San
Saba River, a fellow wearing a mask rode out and unhitched the
horses and ordered everyone from the coach,” Moore recalled in an
interview in the long-defunct Austin Dispatch in 1937.
Four traveling salesman – then called “drummers” – and a young woman
shared the stage with Moore. Drummers usually conducted their business
in cash and road agents considered them “rich pickings.”
The outlaws searched the salesmen and relieved them of cash and
coin. After examining the lady’s purse and jewelry, the lead robber
handed it back, courteously saying he didn’t rob women.
Then the gunman turned his attention to Moore.
me in the ribs with his gun, and said, ‘Keep your stuff, there ain’t
no cowboy got a damn thing.’”
Noticing the masked man’s eyes looked somewhat familiar, Moore figured
the robber knew him. The young cowboy may or may not have known
the robber, but he later maintained the man was Rube Burrow, “a
rather notorious character with whom Uncle Sam was acquainted.”
Eventually arrested for murder in Tucson, Ariz., “Burrow” was extradited
to Texas and booked into the Travis
county jail, a castle-like stone structure built in 1875 across
from the Capitol.
“After a time,” Moore continued his tale, “a woman, representing
herself to be ‘Burrow’s’ wife, appeared at the jail to visit her
husband, with food and clean clothing.”
The visits continued with regularity for several months.
“Then one afternoon, when time came to let her out the ‘wife’ pushed
a Colt into the jailers’ ribs and demanded the keys. Wearing a Mother
Hubbard, ‘Rube Burrow’ clattered down the steps and made his escape.
The woman dressed in her husband’s garb, remained in jail.”
“Burrow,” whoever he really was, never again appeared in Texas.
That was Moore’s story, anyway. An Alabama-born character by the
name of Rube Burrow with a Robin Hood-like reputation did spend
some time in Texas during the 1870s
and 1880s, but his first crime is not believed to have occurred
until 1886, well after the robbery Moore remembered.
The Texas Rangers eventually rounded up the Peg Leg stage robbers,
but the only thing that truly put an end to stage coach robbing
was the expansion of rail
service in Texas. And then bandits took to robbing trains.
© Mike Cox
- May 21, 2014 column
More "Texas Tales"
Town Sagas | Columns |
Texas Town List | Texas
Order Books by Mike Cox