DARING EXPRESS MESSENGER KILLS TWO TRAIN ROBBERS
[From J. Marvin Hunter’s Frontier Times Magazine, August, 1927]
IN THE NIGHT of March 13, 1912, Train No. 9, of the Southern Pacific, running between El Paso, and San Antonio, was held up by two robbers near Dryden, Texas. Both of the robbers were killed by the express messenger, David Andrew Trousdale. The robbers were later identified as Ben Kilpatrick and Ed Welch, both noted desperadoes, and both had but recently been released from prison.
The following story was taken from the San Antonio Express of March 15, 1912, and gives the true facts in regard to the holdup, and the killing of the robbers:
"One of the men got on the engine at Dryden, although I did not know this until the train came to a stop out on the railroad line. But a minute or two thereafter the reporter came to the door of the car and called me. I recognized his voice. Just about this time I was finishing up my work before reaching Sanderson. The negro porter said. "They's some robbers out here. You better git out ' As I opened the door I looked down the barrel of a gun one of the robbers was holding on me. I got out of the car.
"Shortly after getting out of the car I asked both the conductor and porter if either one of them had a gun right after that the robbers put me on the engine. The mail and baggage and express car had been cut off and I guess we ran along for half a mile or mile.
"Just as soon as we came to a stop, or shortly before we came to a stop, the engineer blew the whistle of the locomotive four times. It was as I learned later the signal of the big man to his partner that everything was alright. They were not going to rob the train if there were any soldiers on board. Well, the big fellow went into the cars and the other remained on the outside. In the mail car he got hold of five pouches and one of these was cut open, the man seeing some registered letters, threw these back into the pouch with the intention of getting them later on.
"There were only two express packages removed. One of these was valued at $2 and the other at $35. So you see there was not a great deal obtained by the robber who was doing the work. But you know this fellow was making me madder all of the time. If I was not holding my hands high enough he seemed to take delight in jabbing me in the side with his gun. However, I kept on jollying him along and when he got into that section of the car where the express packages were stacked he broke open a few of these. It was while he was doing this that I wondered how to kill him. I was mad for I was determined I would have it out with him for jabbing me in the side and bruising me up. I'd have fought him with my fists had it come to that.
"Well, in going through the car I saw a maul lying on top of the barrels of oysters. These mauls are built something like a croquet mallet, only the handle is about as thick as the handle of a hatchet. I decided then that if I could get him in the right position I could hit him with the maul. You know you can hit an awful blow with such a maul. Why, I've broken up a box ofice at a blow. To make the story short, I kept on jollying him along. After a while I got his confidence and could lay my hands on him. I helped him along. Then I showed him packages I said I had never seen before.
"He was looking over these packages in a stooped sort of position and as quietly as I could I lifted the maul from the top of the oyster barrel and he slid not detect me. While he was stooping over I struck him at the base of the skull.
"The first blow broke the man's neck. As he went down in a heap a slight groan came from him. He never spoke. I struck him a second and a third time. On the third blow the maul crashed through his skull and the man's brains spattered over the side of the car, After I saw he was done for I took two Colts' pistols from his body. One of these I later gave to the mail clerk and the other one I gave to my helper I kept the man's Winchester. When the robber fell he landed on top of a stack of packages. In some of these there was some glass and this was broken by his weight.
"About the first, thing I did after that was to find the gas key and turnout the lights in the car. Then I waited for some time. Nothing developed, so I decided to fire a shot through the roof of the car to attract attention. Then I took up my position about midway of the car, there being one door still open and that was the one where the porter first called. The lights of the combination car were shining through the end doors of the cars and had the robber entered through the other ear I could have seen him and had he come in at the door of my car I could also have gotten a bead on him.
"After firing that shot I did not have to wait long, I soon heard the other robber on the outside of the car talking low and pretty soon he was calling for Frank. Pretty soon I saw a head poked out from back of some baggage. I could not get a bead on him at once, and so I waited for a little while. It wasn't long, I saw his head again and I cut down on him. The bullet struck him about an inch above the left eye. It passed through his skull and then passed out through the ear. There were just these two shots fired, the first to attract attention and the other was used with deadly effect on the second robber, who was the smaller of the two.
"It was with the first robber's gun that I killed the second man. This rifle is 401 caliber of 1910 mode.
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"From the two men I got four pistols and two rifles. One of the pistols I brought back with me and the officials at Sanderson told me I would be given the rifle with which I killed the second. At Sanderson I appeared before the grand jury in the morning and yesterday afternoon I attended the coroner's inquest.
"The first man I killed was six feet one inch in height and weighed 210 pounds, and the other man, who was always addressed as `partner,' was baldheaded, of medium stature and, I should say, weighed about 160 or 165 pounds.`Partner' seemed to be the man who directed the operations. It was the big fellow who looked to me to be green at the game. I jollied him a lot and frequently complimented him on his work, and the manner in which he went about it. Among other things I gave him to understand that the company did not pay me to protect its property. It was just by jollying him that I got the drop on him.
"At the time I killed the first man the mail clerk was in the combination car and my helper was about ten or twelve feet from me in my car. At the time none of us had any guns on us. My shotgun and pistol were on my desk and then, when I 1 made for the second man I decided I would use the first robber's rifle because I could work that faster than the shotgun I had in the car.
"After a while the fireman came back to the car and asked me to open the door. I told him I had killed two men, and told him to go back and get the conductor and some passengers. When he first called I believed there might be some more robbers on the outside with him who were making him talk. So after a while he and the conductor and probably fifteen passengers came back to the car.
MAIL CLERK BANKS' STORY.
`There were some who believed more than two men were concerned in the holdup. I could not come to that belief after it was all over. There were a couple of hoboes on the oil tank of the engine. One of these was a man with a wooden leg and the other seemed to be a young fellow. Both of the hoboes remained on the oil tank throughout the incident. Possibly they might have gotten off after the train was again coupled up. Their walking away might have started the rumor that others were concerned in the robbery."
M. E. Banks, United States railway mail clerk, who had charge of the mailcar in Southern Pacific train No. 9, which was held up at Dryden Wednesday morning, reached San Antonio yesterday and made the following statement of the holdup to a reporter of The Express:
“I was alone in the mail car at the time the highwaymen stopped the train. I did not think anything was wrong when the train came to a standstill, as I supposed the locomotive had broken down. I opened the door of the car and peered out in the darkness a few minutes after the train had stopped. The fireman upon seeing me made motions in an attempt to make me understand what was really taking place. I did not catch his meaning at the time, and closed the door of the car. I sat down and started reading a magazine. After a few minutes I heard a knock at the door, and the engineer called to me to open up. I did so, and he said to me: `There is a man out here with a gun who wants you to come out and hold up your hands.' I obeyed and the highwayman, who was standing back in the shadow of the train, marched us to the express car. There the engineer was commanded to call on the express messenger to open the car. Trousdale and his assistant, Reagan, were both covered by the marked man, and told to jump to the ground from the car. The porter came up about that time, and he too, was covered. The four of us were then held at the point of an ugly looking rifle, and the porter was informed he was expected to uncouple the combination mail and baggage car and the express car front the other coaches. That poor darkey was frightened almost stiff, but was smart enough to comply with all demands, and dignified our unwelcome visitor with the title `Judge.' He was particular to explain every move he made in advance in order that he might not be misunderstood and punctured by a rifle bullet.
"When the train was uncoupled the messengers, porter and myself were told to walk to the engine and climb up in the cab. When this was done the engineer was directed to run the engine with the two cars a mile up the track. Then one of the desperadoes remained aboard the locomotive guarding the enginemen while the rest of us were told to go back to the cars and assist the other bandit in securing the valuable packages supposed to be in the mail car and express car.
“The masked man looked through the mail car and asked me to unlock the registered pouches. I assured him I did not carry the keys to the pouches and showed him a few registered packages which had been tied out for transfer to the agent who would relieve me at Sanderson, the end of the division. He cut a long slit in one of the pouches, shoved in the loose registered packages, and then had me dump all the pouches out of the door and on the ground. He then went to the express car with the messengers. I remained in the mail car for a little while and then opened the door leading into the express car. I had just stepped inside they express car a moment after Trousdale had felled his entertainer with a blow from the ice mallet. He dealt him a second blow to make sure he wouldn't bother us any more. Trousdale grabbed up the highwayman's rifle which fell to the floor, and I reached underneath the dying man's coat and removed his six-shooter. Trousdale turned out the lights in the car and after Reagan had armed himself with a revolver the three of us went to the far end of the car and waited in the darkness for the appearance of the other robber. Reagan climbed upon some trunks piled in the end of the car and Trousdale and I remained standing on the floor. It was understood between us that Trousdale should fire upon the robber first and if he failed to get him, Reagan and I were to open up. I don't know how long we waited there in the darkness; it appeared to be an age, and after a time, I suppose an hour or maybe longer, we heard the second robber call `Frank!' to his pal, who was then lying dead upon the floor of the express car. Of course, no answer came and he proceeded to open the door and clamber inside. Trousdale's aim was perfect, and as he shot we saw the bandit lunge forward and fall to the floor without a groan. We were afraid he was `stalling' or wounded and not dead, and remained in the dark end of the car. The only light came from the end door of the baggage car, and we could out see well. After a long time the train crew and passengers came up to investigate and find out whether the bandits had killed us or if we had silenced them.
"I shudder when I think of what our finish might have been had Trousdale's shot that dynamite and nitroglycerine on the robber's person instead of tearing the top of his head off.
"That was my first experience of the kind, and I hope it will be the last. Too much cannot be said of Trousdale's nerve and bravery. He was not at all excited, and while we were being marched from the cars to the engine he whispered to me: `These fellows are green, and we'll watch our chance and get them, sure.'"
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