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Engines of RedemptionRailroads and the Reconstruction of Capitalism in the New South$
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R. Scott Jr. Huffard

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9781469652818

Published to North Carolina Scholarship Online: January 2021

DOI: 10.5149/northcarolina/9781469652818.001.0001

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Ubiquitous, Promiscuous, Frequent, and Numerous

Ubiquitous, Promiscuous, Frequent, and Numerous

Chapter:
(p.168) Chapter Six Ubiquitous, Promiscuous, Frequent, and Numerous
Source:
Engines of Redemption
Author(s):

R. Scott Huffard Jr.

Publisher:
University of North Carolina Press
DOI:10.5149/northcarolina/9781469652818.003.0007

This chapter discusses the life and legend of two train robbers active in Alabama in the 1890s – Railroad Bill and Rube Burrow. While there is a tendency to see train robbers as embodiments of resistance to capitalism, this chapter argues that it is more useful to see these men as personification of the dangers of capitalism. In their train robbing careers, Rube Burrow and Railroad Bill both exploited the increasing systemization, expansion, connectivity, and circulation of the southern railroad network. The crimes of these men touched off panicky reactions that revealed southerners anxieties about the railroad itself. In the end, these anxieties were obscured by the mythmaking that occurred after their violent deaths. Railroad Bill faded into legend as the subject of a folk song that stretched the truth about his deeds and popular memory and the media conflated Rube Burrow’s legend with that of Jesse James and sought to portray him as an anti-capitalist and neo-confederate avenger.

Keywords:   Robbery, Train robbers, Alabama, Railroad Bill, Rube Burrow, Jesse James, Folk Songs

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