Timothy Brazzil scouted up a little hell-raisin’ music from the estimable folk music outfit Yazoo Records. As you all know, the music of the Old, Weird America is the heartbeat of Frontier Partisans. Love the cover photos on both Vol. I & II. Somehow these collections passed me by, a circumstance I will have to rectify.
Listening to these songs put me in mind of one of my favorite outlaw ballads, Railroad Bill, which is not on these records, but is given a fine treatment by Colter Wall. That lad can pick a little…
I did not know until recently that Railroad Bill was a real-deal outlaw who ran wild on the railroad lines in the Florida Panhandle and Alabama in the 1890s. There’s a book that delves into the history — and the folklore — surrounding the man who “never worked and never will.”
Here’s the caper:
For over a year, Railroad Bill eluded sheriffs, private detectives hired by the L&N line, and bounty hunters who traveled across the country to match guns with the legendary desperado. The African American outlaw was wanted on multiple charges of robbery and murder, and rumor had it that he stole from the rich to give to the poor. He terrorized busy train lines from east of Mobile to the Florida Panhandle, but as soon as the lawmen got close, he disappeared into the bayous and pine forests — until one day his luck ran out, and he was gunned down inside a general store in Atmore, Alabama.
Little is known about Railroad Bill before his infamy — not his real name or his origins. His first recorded crime, carrying a repeating rifle without a license, led him into a gunfight with a deputy and made him a wanted man throughout Florida in 1894. His most celebrated escape — a five-day foot chase with scores of men and several bloodhounds — led to tales of Railroad’s supernatural ability to transmogrify into an animal or inanimate object at will. As his crimes progressed from robbing boxcars to wounding trainmen to murdering sheriffs, more and more reward money was offered for his capture — dead or alive.
I know that Rick Schwertfeger is delving into the weird, wild and sad border tale of Gregorio Cortez, another real-life figure from the same time period who is now enshrined in folklore. Maybe we need to do a series on outlaw folk heroes. I’ve got a humdinger from southern Africa…
And he’s off down another sidetrail…
And here’s to Craig Rullman… “Gonna buy a pistol as long as your arm…”