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Trousdale Genealogy

December 1999

Sudden Death Ends*
(*From the Southern Pacific Bulletin of October 1957.  Originally reprinted with permission of Donald J. Russell, President of the Southern Pacific Company)


    "FRIDAY THE 13TH was a mighty unlucky day for two hold-up men who attempted the last recorded robbery of a Southern Pacific passenger train in Texas and Louisiana.
    It all happened on a cool, moonless night in March, 1912.  Number 9, SP's daily transcontinental passenger train, had been delayed at Del Rio, and Engineer D. E. Grosh was making up time as they left the water tank at Dryden, headed west.
    Express Messenger David A. Trousdale listned to the rumble of the drivers on No. 709 as the big locomotive gathered speed to make the ascending grade ahead.  He closed the side door of the express car and sat down at his desk to finish some paper work by the light of a coal oil lamp.  His helper, a man named Reagan, readied some packages to be unloaded at Sanderson, the next stop.
    No one on board had seen two men slip out of the darkness and climb on the back of the locomotive tender at Dryden just as the train was getting underway.  The surprise was complete, therefore, when both of them, wearing masks, covered Engineer Grosh and Fireman M. M. Holmes with six-shooters.
    'Do as you're told and you won't get hurt,' they said as they climbed down from the tender into the engine gangway.
    The bandits ordered the two crew members to take the train past the station of Mofeta and down a long grade into a winding canyon.
    'Stop the train so that all the passenger cars are on that trestle,' one of the robbers snapped.  'We want just the engine, the mail and the express car across on the ground.'
    Grosh eased the locomotive to a stop, and one of the bandits, later identified as Ben Kilpatrick, settled himself in the cab to cover the crew members.  The other hold-up man, sometimes known as Frank Hobek, holstered his six-shooter and picked up a Winchester.
    Meanwhile, Conductor Henry Erkel, realizing the train had stopped on a trestle, hurried forward to the door at the head end of the smoking car.  Through the open door he could see Porter R. Robinson uncoupling the head end of the train from the passenger cars under the supervision of a masked man with a rifle.  Bandit Hobek spotted the conductor and ordered him to help with the job.
    When it was completed, the two SP men were forced to call Express Messenger Trousdale to the door of his car.  He slid back the door to look into the muzzle of the Winchester.  The robber told him to 'fall out' with his hands up.  He was searched for weapons and lined up with the two trainmen.  All three were marched up to the combination mail and express car, where Helper Reagan and Mail Clerk M. E. Banks were added to the group covered by the bandit.  The conductor and the porter were told to go back and stay with the coaches.
    'Poke your heads out of those cars and you'll get them blown off,' they were told.
    The express messenger, his helper and the mail clerk were ordered to get on the engine.  With one bandit riding on each side of the gangway, the engine and two cars proceeded around a rock bluff to a point known as 'Baxter's Curve', named after an engineer who had been killed at the location in a derailment years earlier.
    When the train stopped, the three men were marched back to the baggage car, and Trousdale was forced at gun point to open the safe.
    Describing the incident in a report to the superintendent of Wells Fargo & Company in San Antonio, Trousdale said:
        'I only had seven money waybills in the safe and out of this seven I told him there were only two of any value to him.  I got him to take the two packages, one valued at $2.00 and the other at $37.00.  After he had looked over the car, he said he would go through and get what Uncle Sam had, and he carried the three of us back to the mail car.  He cut one mail pouch open and put all the loose registers in it, and threw it out with four others filled with registers.  Then he told me he would take me back to the coaches and see what the passengers had, and that he would take me across the river (meaning the Rio Grande) with himů'
    Trousdale's heart must have chilled at those words.  He was to be taken along to carry the loot; then when they were through with him he could expect a bullet in the back.  Thinking quickly, he made a show of cooperating with the bandit.
    'Have it your way,' he said, 'I'm not getting fighting wages.'
    Passing through the combination car, Trousdale's eye fell on an ice maul lying beside a sack of oysters.  He managed to snatch up the heavy hammer and hide it behind his overcoat, without attracting the bandit's attention.  Then he pointed to a package consigned to Sanderson.

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