WPA History of Lamar County,
The Barney Lewis Train Robbery
At the time Barney Lewis
robbed the N. O. & N. E. train #42, that runs from New Orleans to
Meridian, of from $42,000 to $92,000, he was a resident of Cocomo,
Mississippi in Marion County. He was about 38 years old at this
time. It is said that Barney Lewis received a phone call in
Hattiesburg, Mississippi, from New Orleans, Louisiana, that on
the night of April 12 or 13 train #42 passing through Purvis,
Mississippi about 11 o'clock P. M. was to carry a large sum of
money. Barney and a Mr. Ennis left Hattiesburg going to Okohola
where Ennis stopped at the switch. Some say Lewis went on to
Purvis and boarded the train there; others say he boarded between
Purvis and Okohola where the train stops for water. Barney Lewis
uncoupled the baggage car from the engine while Ennis crawled
into the cab and told the engineer to drive a little further down
the track. Lewis went to the baggage car and found the safe had a
double lock. Boring a hole in the safe and using one charge would
not open the safe, so he bored another hole and put two charges
of explosive in and opened the safe. After they had put the money
into a mail pouch they fled into the woods and it took them two
days to reach their home. On reaching their destination Lewis
gave Ennis $2,000 for his part. Ennis went to Alabama, got drunk
and pinned $20 bills all over his clothes. It was in 1915 when
these men were arrested for the robbery. This was brought about
by Lewis buying a large farm and car loads of cattle and spending
large sums of money in general. He was tried and convicted and
sentenced to ten years in the penitentiary at Atlanta, Ga.,
serving about 7 1/2 years of the sentence. He was tried in
Federal Court in Biloxi, Mississippi
HOLDUP GANG MAKES RICHBURG HAUL
Train No. 2 upon the New Orleans and Northeastern
Railroad, due here in Hattiesburg at 11:08 P. M. was held up
about one half hour ride south of here in Lamar County last night
by two masked men.
The robbers molested only the express car in which they
blew the safe and robbed it of it is estimated $200,000. Five
charges of dynamite were used in blowing the safe, while one of
the robbers worked on the safe the other stood guard over the
The train had stopped to take water when robbers boarded
it. One robber lined up the train crew alongside the train while
the other entered the express car. The train was carrying a large
amount of government money from New Orleans to eastern points.
Two guards were in the express when it was entered. One of them
was disarmed and sent into the passenger coaches to warn the
passengers of the fact that the train was being robbed. The guard
was instructed to tell the passengers to hide their valuables.
After looting the express car the robbers left the train
and took to the woods. One of the packages taken is said by the
messenger to have contained $14,000. The chief of police of
Hattiesburg and the sheriff of Forrest County have left with
bloodhounds and will endeavor to trail the bandits while the
trail is fresh. A large posse of Hattiesburg citizens accompanied
the officers--County officers were notified. Posses were
immediately formed and mounted on horses started in pursuit of
the robbers, who it is said, took a northeasterly direction,
evidently heading for the Alabama State Line. (This is known as
the Barney Lewis Train Robbery) (Copied form Marion County record
files of May 16, 1912)
TRAIN ROBBERY SOLVED, BARNEY LEWIS
Barney Lewis, aged 40, was arrested at his home yesterday
in Tangiphoa or 4 miles from that parish (Louisiana) , on a
charge of being one of three men who held up a Queen and Crescent
Train at Okahola, Mississippi in Lamar County, May 1, blew open
the express car and escaped with a sum said to be $92,000.
The arrest was made by Sheriff Ballard of Tangiphoa, and
Detective T. K. Trigg, of Birmingham, Ala. Trigg brought Lewis to
New Orleans last night and kept him in the Parish prison. They
will leave at 8:00 this morning for Purvis, Mississippi, Lamar
County. Purvis is the County Seat in the robbery section.
According to Trigg, the evidence against Lewis is
conclusive. His trail picked up ten days after the hold-up, one
of the most daring in history. Lewis has been shadowed every
since. The other two men, the detective says, are on the verge of
arrest in a town near Birmingham, Ala. Lewis wouldn't talk except
to say that he could prove an alibi, by friends in New Orleans.
He named Dr. Swords as a man who could testify in his favor, "You
won't get nothing from me," he said.
Trigg claims that Lewis made a practical confession on
the way to New Orleans last night. "He told me he knew that he
was being shadowed for eight or nine months," said Trigg "This is
a relief from an awful suspense", he said. "A dozen dicks have
crossed my path in the last few months. I could pick out every
one and I knew my arrest was coming. Everywhere I went I knew a
detective was shadowing me", " and then he intimated that it is
up to us to convict him. We have got the goods strong on him,
every move that he has made, the detectives have followed him, if
he is the right party that has served time in the penitentiary in
Alabama. I think, too, that he is the same man who blew up the
penitentiary in Jackson, Miss several years ago and escaped. One
of his early jobs was at Reform, Ala., many years ago, when he
and others cracked the safe at the Southern Express Company and
made away with a lot of money. He was arrested, placed under a
nominal bond, and jumped it."
Lewis will be placed in the jail at Purvis, Mississippi,
Lamar County today, he won't be kept in jail very long. The
guards will be on him all the time.
An effort is being made to connect Lewis with a gang that
robbed the express cars of the Illinois Central at Batesville,
Mississippi two months ago, according to a statement by Sheriff
Ballard of Amite City, last night. The gang has been traced to
that vicinity. Trigg does not place much confidence in that
theory, he thinks Lewis has retired from the "Yegg" gang.
Of information against Lewis, he is a modern alias Jimmy
Valentine. He wants to live a straight life and with proceeds
from the Northeastern Robbery he intended to establish himself as
a peaceable citizen. After this work at Okohola Lewis came to New
Orleans; he was in and out of the city for several months it is
said. Then he married a young girl. Just when he married;
officers don't know, but behind him in Tangiphoa farm yesterday
afternoon he kissed a sweet faced weeping woman good-by, the
detective says, for several minutes they were in embrace, husband
in handcuffs. The woman expects his early return to the farm.
After marrying the girl, Lewis went straight to Tangiphoa
and spent several days prospecting. Then he purchased a 400 acres
farm four miles from Tangiphoa Station, took his wife there and
furnished the house in elaborate style, prepared to settle down
and live a peaceful life. Then the detectives began to pop up now
and then in Lewis' sight, his happiness began to fade, deep lines
began to appear in his face and his eyes sank back into his head,
but Lewis did not flinch. This is according to the detective's
Lewis prospered on his farm. He has one of the finest
cotton crops in the parish and is said to have been recently on
another deal which would involve $5,000. He did not work the land
himself, but acted as overseer, kept an itemized account. He was
highly respected and his arrest yesterday afternoon created a
surprise to his neighbors. He offered no resistance when the
officers drove up in the buggy but walked part of the way to meet
"You are Mr. Lewis?", the sheriff asked.
"Yes," he replied.
"We have a warrant here for your arrest," continued the
officer. The Sheriff made further explanation. Lewis only grinned
when Trigg pulled out a pair of handcuffs and clamped them to his
wrist. He agreed to make a trip to Purvis, Lamar County,
Mississippi without any extradition papers.
The robbery was committed in the early morning of May 16,
1912, just out of Okahola, about eight miles from Hattiesburg,
Mississippi and was committed by only two men of average build,
who succeeded in perfecting their escape through the swamp
surrounding the scene of the desperate deed. The hold-up was done
in a truly wild and woolly manner. Riding quietly out of the
station in Hattiesburg, until they passed Okahola, the two
robbers, wearing masks, carrying revolvers crawled over the
tinder and commanded the engineer and fireman to stop the train.
"Shall I stop here?" queried the frightened engineer when
the scare had worn off.
"No, just around that curve'" commanded the robber with a
flourish of his revolver.
When the train came bumping to a halt the desperadoes
commanded the engineer crew to preceed them to the baggage car.
At the door the engineer was forced to call a messenger. When he
responded looking out the door of a car he was looking into the
nose of a blue steel revolver.
"Call your friend," suggested one of the robbers with an
air of bravado.
Forced to the door from curiosity the special guards
found little consolation in looking down the face of a heavy gun.
The robbery, while theatrical in the extreme, was effected
without a shot being fired.
After the train crew had been lined up and searched for
weapons one of the robbers stood guard while the other attempted
to crack the safe. Before the patented lock affair was blown open
six shots of nitroglycerin had to be prepared by the bandits.
Scooping up the fat rolls of currency and as much of the
silver as they could carry comfortably the robbers without as
much as a glance at the dollars scattered about the car ordered
the train forward. When the train had gone out of sight the two
disappeared around a cut in the trees and were later trailed
along a long road with hounds until the trail was lost in the
swamp. They were ultimately believed to have escaped with the use
of a motor boat hidden in one of the numerous bayous southeast of
where the robbery occurred. The robbery entailed $92,000 while
$300 was left scattered around the car and stuck to the safe
which had been blown. Owing to the amount of money carried the
car had been equipped with a special safe with a special lock and
carried a special guard. The arrest and conviction of the two men
entailed a reward of $1,000 offered by the Adams Express Company.
BIRMINGHAM, ALABAMA August 17,
1913.-- Henry Ennis, alleged to be one of the bandits that held
up and robbed train No. 42 on the N. O. & N. E. Railroad on the
night of May 16, 1912, and secured $92,000 from the Southern
Express Safe, was captured at 4:45 this morning, seven miles from
Carbon Hill in the western part of Alabama. The arrest was made
by a party of Birmingham detectives. Ennis was brought to
Birmingham and lodged in jail here. He refused to make any
ENNIS SERIOUSLY SICK TELLS OF TRAIN ROBBERIES
CONFESSES HIS PART IN TWO AFFAIRS AND SAYS LEWIS HELPED HIM
Hattiesburg, Mississippi Aug.
23.-- All doubt of a confession from Jerry Ennis has been
removed. The confession was made in the Forrest County Jail and a
transcript of it made by Gower Meader of this city. The release
of Henry Ennis followed the confession and his connection with
the case will end after the preliminary trial of Jerry Ennis and
Barney Lewis at Purvis next Friday before Justice Parker. Express
Agents say that the trial will be a calm affair as they have all
of the testimony necessary to convict both men.
According to the confession as reported the men in
question held up both the N. O. & N. E. near this city and the
Mobile and Ohio near Corinth a few weeks earlier. Ennis states
that the booty acquired at Corinth was only $427 and after the
comparatively small haul he returned to his Alabama home and was
earning a living by the sweat of his brow; on March 1, 1912,
after the Mobile and Ohio hold up , he (Ennis) was plowing in his
field when Lewis came and suggested another train robbery, and
after much persuasion induced him to come to Mississippi and take
a part in the holdup. They came to the state and on the night of
the holdup at Okahola, they boarded the train at Purvis and after
a short run they covered the engineer and fireman and ordered the
train stopped. They marched these men back to the express car and
demanded that the car be opened. Ennis stood guard while Lewis
did the work. This P. M. Engineer Marker and Fireman Jones were
both taken to the jail and identified the prisoners as the men
who held them up. They stated that they could recognize them by
their voices. Ennis states that after the work was accomplished
he was handed the largest bag of booty, while, Barney Lewis came
from the car with his arms filled with bills. He states that they
stopped after having gone a short distance and burned all papers
except money. He says they took no jewelry. He also says that the
story that they made their escape in an automobile is not true,
for they walked all that night and the next day till they came to
a branch line of the Illinois Central (Supposed to be the
Kentwood and Tylertown branch) and after reaching the main line
they went to Winona, Mississippi, leaving this point. They buried
their money at some point in Mississippi before reaching the
Alabama line. Ennis does not recall the place the treasure was
The story goes further that on or about September 1, 1912
Lewis came to Enis' home in Alabama bringing him $9,000 and was
told that this was his share of the booty. Rumor yesterday was
that Jerry Ennis made his brother Henry a present of $1,000 of
this money and this was the connection Henry had in the case.
Ennis it seems does not know the full amount of money gotten.
R. L. McDaren of Vicksburg, Chief counsel for the South
Bound Express Company, is in the city and has associated Tally
and Mason with him to assist in the prosecution of the accused at
Purvis, Friday. Ennis is very ill in the county jail. His
temperature is 104. Express Railroad Officials are resting on
their oars having the case well in hand and satisfied with the
work this far. No other persons are implicated and Detectives
Trigg and Bodeker have returned home.
Free Press, August 21, 1913. Pearl River County Paper